House Of Commons
Friday, 3rd December, 1971
The House met at Eleven o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, supported by Mr. David Crouch, Mr. Douglas Dodds-Parker, Mr. Robert Edwards, Mr. Ian Lloyd, Mr. John Pardoe, and Dame Joan Vickers, presented a Bill to require certain companies to appoint non-executive directors; to require such directors jointly to present independent annual reports to the shareholders; and for purposes connected therewith: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday next and to be printed [Bill 41].
Authors' Lending Rights
I beg to move,
In calling attention to the lending of books by libraries without payment to their authors, I should like immediately to pay a tribute to the late A. P. Herbert, who died on 11th November after 20 years of vigorous and devoted campaigning to bring about this rectification of an injustice. He was a man of outstanding humour, integrity and independence of thought, and his death at the age of 81 will be a great loss not only to his profession but also to the nation which he served so admirably. In the 20 years during which he campaigned he was assisted by many organisations and individuals, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James), who has shown great tenacity and perseverance. The Society of Authors and the Publishers Association have played an immensely important part, as well as the Arts Council under the diligent direction of Lord Goodman, and Lord Eccles has given considerable encouragement in his recent pronouncements on the subject. I will explain why I believe it is timely to discuss this matter. Lord Eccles last April set up a working party to consider this subject. The best information I have been able to obtain is that it is likely to report early in the New Year, perhaps as early as next January. Its terms of reference were to consider how any amendment of the Copyright Act, 1956, to add lending to the public to the acts restricted by copyright might be implemented. The conclusions of the working party are to be embodied in a report to the Minister to help him decide whether amendment would be a practical and worthwhile step. I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State when he intervenes, as I hope he will, will find it difficult to be precise, since he is, clearly, anxious to obtain the results of the working party before being specific. Nevertheless, I am convinced that it is desirable for the Government to have Parliament's latest views on this subject as a necessary part of the backdrop against which they will come to their conclusions. What is important and essential in discussing this subject is to make it clear that we are airing an injustice. It is very much to the credit and indeed to the glory of this House of Commons that we find time, albeit on a Friday morning, to discuss matters of injustice affecting on some occasions mere dozens of people and on others many millions. Nevertheless, whether the injustice be large or small, it is an injustice and we should concern ourselves with it in the first instance and primarily. I emphasise that it is not merely an injustice and an unfairness—indeed, a wrong—but a matter which has been with us, and certainly has been in the consciousness of this House, for many years. There can be argument about how to administer and pay for the rectification which I hope we shall be making in the near future; but if we accept that there is an unfairness, it follows that acceptance of the ends obliges us to will the means to achieve the rectification of that injustice. Let me turn to the details and to the question of P.L.R., as it has come to be known; that is to say, the public lending right. What we are discussing is the right to payment for repeated use of an author's work either on the spot in a public lending library or on loan from such a library. In short, it is the right of an author to copyright protection. Lord Haldane once described copyright in the following wordsThat this House urges Her Majesty's Government to bring their examination of public lending rights to an early conclusion.
Today, we are dealing with the protection of literary property. The case for a public lending right is not that authors are hard-up, which indeed many of them are. The case is not that musicians and composers have performing rights, or that actors get repeat fees, which indeed they do."Copyright does not bestow a privilege on anyone. It provides protection for property."
Sometimes—if they are good enough. The case is that authors are entitled to be remunerated for public lending of copyright work.So much for the background to public lending right over the last 20 years. Action on this matter becomes more necessary year by year because there is, as the late A. P. Herbert said, an "elephantiasis of borrowing", and it is accelerating. He added in the last work he wrote before his death:
No one is more vulnerable to this form of theft than authors. It may be argued that they are to blame because they are so individualistic in their garrets that they do not know how to combine in a trade union to fight for their rights. But this is completely irrelevant. Lord Goodman, in an introduction to a recently published work on the subject, wrote:"Works of art are by their very nature especially vulnerable to the thief".
Indeed, books give a living to everyone involved in their production and sale except the authors. Surely something must be wrong if this is the case. Let me give the House an idea of the scale on which this anomaly is operating. There is obviously unfairness when hundreds of thousands of borrowers—indeed, millions over a period of years—read books whose royalties are based on sales which very often are numbered merely in hundreds. Mr. Jack Dove, the Borough Librarian of Hove, has estimated that in 1969 about 550 million borrowings took place in this country. No doubt these figures have escalated in the intervening period, but at that time only £11 million was spent on buying books. Another estimate suggests that for each copy bought privately by an individual buyer there may be two or perhaps three readers. Yet for each copy bought by a lending library some 50 or 60 readers exist; and then after a period of time the book may have to be rebound and perhaps a further 50 or 60 readers will have the opportunity of reading it. Therefore, between 50 and 150 readers may well have enjoyed one book from which one author will have received only one royalty payment. May I give an example which has been brought to my attention in a letter sent to me earlier this week by an author in Surrey? He wrote to me at great length. I will not delay the House with the whole of his letter, but the significant points that he makes are these:"Public lending right should be bestowed on authors as an act of simple justice. It is not an act of kindliness or generosity."
He goes on:"I have published 15 books of various types since 1953, including an anthology, a book about university life, three career books for boys, a book about broadcasting, five detective stories, a school textbook and three social histories.… My most recent book … took four years to write and involved collecting the reminiscences of 1,200 people, so the expenses were very high."
That cannot be right. Regrettably, there are some ignorant and deplorable attitudes to be found among ill-informed members of the public on the subject. For example, it is sometimes said that the more of the garret that a writer gets, the better it does him. It is also said that anyone can write if he tries: and, anyway, authors do not have to be authors; they can find another living if they want to. But I doubt whether there is anything to beat the letter written to the Evening Standard and quoted by A. P. Herbert in his memoirs. The lady wrote:"The book has had 'rave' notices in every major newspaper and magazine and has, for a book of this price, £4·50, sold remarkably well.… One correspondent today said it took four months for her name to reach the top of the waiting list.… Yet on a copy read perhaps 50 times, of the one really major book I shall be able to write in my lifetime, I receive only one royalty."
I am no expert on writing books, and certainly I do not know whether they have been written on full or empty stomachs, but one wonders, regardless of whether the writer of a book had a full stomach, whether his wife and children were expected to have empty stomachs as well."Writers need to be kept hungry to write more. What good book was ever written on a full stomach?"
My hon. Friend may remember that it was Sir Alan who, in one of his musicals, wrote the little quatrain:
"As my poor father used to say
Once people start on all this Art
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for emphasising my point.If we grant, as I believe reasonable people do today, that there is a right which should be respected, if we grant that it is a question not any longer of "whether" but of "how" and "when", we must address ourselves to a further question. Who is to pay the money which is to find its way back to the author and perhaps the publisher as well? Should it go on being the author? Should it be the borrower? Should it be the ratepayer who supports the municipal library? Should it be the taxpayer, through a grant from the Government? Again I quote Lord Goodman, who makes this point extremely effectively:
Clearly, it is anomalous and unjust that the authors of books should be expected to bear the cost of the free library service. I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of the various options which are open. Obviously, it is on that, among other matters, that the working party will advise the Minister. Perhaps it would be desirable to wait until its report is available. But surely an author's entitlement to recompense is unaffected by who it is decided should pay for it. As I say, I do not intend to rehearse the merits or demerits of how this matter should be administered. Nevertheless, whatever system is introduced must show concern for certain interested parties. First, I should hate to see any system which denied the elderly and old-age pensioners the opportunity to go into libraries and make free use of the works there. Secondly, whatever the system is, I should hate anything to be arranged which deprived genuine students of the opportunity to have total access to works of reference for learning purposes. Thirdly, whatever the system is, I hope very much that proper consideration will be given to the fact that older authors and those who are newly launched are the most vulnerable and the most in need of any royalties which may be available. When we are considering a right, I do not believe that we should make any distinction between fiction and serious writing. On the other hand, when the Government come to decide who should pay and how the payment should be made, it may be arguable that the Government might be required to make such a distinction, assuming always that it is feasible to do so."… concern that the 'free library' should be maintained is a viewpoint worthy of respect. … But if the cost of the libraries requires a fee it will not be because of the Public Lending Right, which is merely a proper expense to be met out of the libraries' budget in exactly the same way as the cost of clearing or repairs to the roof. If a cleaner or a workman repairing the roof were asked to provide services free of charge in order to preserve free lending, it would be interesting to observe the reactions when this proposal was made."
The hon. Gentleman says that we should not make a distinction between fiction and serious writing. Does he not consider fiction to be serious writing? Will he recall Shakespeare and Thackeray and perhaps reconsider what he has just said?
And Maurice Edelman?
The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) will recall that I said that no distinction should be made between fiction and serious writing when it comes to paying a right. On the other hand, when the Government come to consider this, I am not sure that "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" is to be put on the same level as the works of Shakespeare, though it may be that they have certain features in common at some stages of the writing.I concede fully that the problems of definition and the difficulty of drawing a dividing line may rule out the possibility. However, I understand that about 70 per cent. of the usage of books in libraries is what might loosely be described as borrowings of fiction rather than of works of reference or serious books. I concede that there is a problem of distinction, which may mean that we should try to avoid it altogether.
Before my hon. Friend leaves this interesting point, will he consider the technical problems of book production in discussing the reward that an author should receive? The price of a hard-back book is contributed to largely by the cost of production. Since my hon. Friend raises an interesting distinction between serious and non-serious works, does not the non-serious inevitably end up in a soft-back edition? Therefore, should not any assistance be limited to hard-back books?
That is an interesting point, but I shall not follow my hon. Friend down that path. I am not a publishing expert. I believe that this is a serious problem which is being considered by the working party. I should much sooner hear and read what the working party has to say about it.Apart from the interests and views of the Society of Authors and the Publishers Association, there are views coming from the librarians themselves which are important to bear in mind. In fairness to the Library Association, perhaps I might quote its reservations on the subject. Writing to the Librarian of the House of Commons on 25th November, the Library Association referred to the Government's policy to make changes to the Copyright Act, and said:
The association goes on:"… the inevitable effect will be that libraries will be required to pay more for their books, probably because of the imposition of a lending surcharge. The effect will certainly be a reduction in the number of books bought, and a consequent worsening of the services which libraries are required to provide… the simplest and fairest solution is for publishers to make a small increase in the price of all books for the benefit of authors.… The publishers suggest that this solution would be unfair to the private buyer, but there are two answers to this."
I do not agree. I seldom borrow, and, if I borrow, I seldom return. I hate lending, because I never get back what I lend. I am acquisitive by nature concerning books and I buy and hoard them. Where books are concerned, I believe that Shakespeare, to whom reference was made earlier, was absolutely right when he wrote,"First of all, it is incorrect to suggest that readers are divided into two separate segments—borrowers of books and buyers of books. In fact, most people who borrow also buy and most people who buy also borrow. So it is only a question out of which pocket the reader has to pay."
My advice to the librarians would be to promote the idea that everybody should be buyers and keepers. I pass to my final point, which is: when will this public lending right be implemented? The report of the working party is expected early in the new year. I think it perfectly reasonable that the Minister will want to consider representations from different interested parties and have further consultations. Since the working party will have been in existence for nine months, I think it reasonable that the Minister may want nine months as well. After he has had his consultations with the Society of Authors, the Publishers Association, the Library Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Arts Council and all the other interested bodies, I hope that he will feel it possible, at the end of the next year, to give the authors a Christmas present for 1972 which will at least concede their right. I recognise that there are many obstacles, difficulties and problems which have to be solved. They are both financial and legal. No doubt they require a definition of what a library is. Are we talking about public libraries only, or will school libraries and any other kind of library be involved? There are administrative problems to be considered as well. However, I think that after 20 years enough has been said to expect an early decision on the matter. I earnestly hope that when the Under-Secretary intervenes he will feel able, on behalf of the Government, to accept this Motion. Public lending right is a good and just cause. Let it not be bedevilled by arguments, disputes or doubts over finance or how it will be administered."Neither a borrower nor a lender be."
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has given us an opportunity once again of airing this real problem in this Chamber.The wisdom of Lord Goodman has been much invoked, in some quarters at least, during the past week or so. I remind hon. Members, as did the hon. Gentleman, of some of the less publicised but certainly more valuable wisdom of the noble Lord on more domestic matters and of less ambiguous principle than in the case of Southern Rhodesia. These wise words were written by Lord Goodman in an introduction to a book on public lending right which was published earlier this year:
That sophistry, as Lord Goodman termed it, has been going on for years, and it is not difficult to see that if some people have their way it will continue and that this social wrong, as he termed it, will go on being tolerated. There really must be no more excuses and delays. This injustice to the nation's authors has got to be corrected. Lord Eccles must act at once when the working party reports. I am not very happy about the period of gestation of nine months which has been suggested. It may be the natural term, but I think that Lord Eccles should be forced to gestate a little quicker."It seems to me as plain as the nose on my face that it is a social wrong to allow a book still in copyright to be borrowed from a public library either free or on payment without any payment of any kind to the living author. A great deal of sophistry has been wasted in obscuring this simple situation."
He must not have an abortion.
I assume that that is not in the morality of the Member of the Upper House whom we are discussing.The question of public lending right has been debated for more than 20 years both in and out of Parliament. As the hon. Member for Hendon, North said, it was that great author, A.P.H., who helped most of all to push this matter into the limelight. I came across a verse of Sir Alan's the other day, written in the early 1950s, which ended with the line:
That is a good way of summing up the scandal. Because it is a scandal, let us make no mistake about that. During the two decades since it was first widely ventilated, its correction has become even more important for the independence and welfare of our authors and, indeed, for the freedom and vitality of our natural literature. The pattern of publishing has changed at an accelerating pace—from hard-back to paper-back, from home sales to export sales. Public libraries have expanded at an astonishing rate. The old commercial libraries have virtually disappeared. Yet we have to go on reminding ourselves of this unpalatable fact which still exists—"You read a book a hundred times, and pay the writer once."
I am following the hon. Gentleman's remarks with great interest. He refers to the existence of this difficulty. However, it is only in this country notably that it exists. In other more civilised parts of Europe the difficulty has already been dealt with.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman should have made that point. Of the many points which I shall mention in a fairly brief speech, that was not one I had intended to raise. It is true, but I should like to return to my argument.It is an unpalatable fact with which we still live—I do not know that most hon. Members even realise it—that most authors earn from their books less than half of the average national wage. Most authors are exploited, in effect, by the community. Most authors subsidise the public library system, and most people, both in and out of this House, still take that for granted. It is not for lack of effort by a determined minority, especially by the Society of Authors with support from the Publishers Association, that P.L.R. is still not recognised. Certainly there has been a good deal of lobbying and debate in Parliament. You, Mr. Speaker, will remember, I am sure, that there was a Private Member's Bill in 1956 which sought to amend the Public Libraries Act, 1892. Ten years ago—you had the privilege of being in the House then; I did not: I joined you a little later-140 hon. Members on both sides of the House signed a Motion urging the Government to wake up on the question of P.L.R. Attempts were made—unsuccesfully, unfortunately—to do something in 1964 during the passage of the Public Libraries and Museums Bill. In recent years, when Baroness Lee was in the Paymaster-General's Office, with Lord Goodman at the Arts Council, things at last began to move in the Ministries. Four years ago, in October, 1967, the Department of Education and Science accepted a report from an Arts Council working party which advocated the annual payment by the Government of a lending royalty based on the stock of books in copyright held by the libraries. There were delays, there were protests, there were counter protests, deputations, conferences, and so on. In 1969 the Department of Education and Science proposed another scheme because of the opposition to its former one, this time based on library purchases. For every book bought, the library would pay a second public lending rights fee for use; but the money would come, as in the first Arts Council scheme, from the Government, not from the rates, nor from the borrowers themselves. That scheme, too, was stonewalled. The librarians would not wear it, so the Arts Council's working party last year put up yet another scheme leaving out the librarians, who would not join in. This time it proposed a lending royalty of 15 per cent. on all in-copyright books, calculated at the point of sale to libraries. As before, the money would come from a central Government fund—probably about £2 million a year—and not from the rates or from the borrowers. That scheme was produced last October. Meanwhile, the Paymaster-General had taken over from Baroness Lee.
We would not all, I think, echo that sentiment, but the hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion. As I am sure the House will remember, Lord Eccles said about P.L.R. when he took over
That was in the days of governmental action "at a stroke". We have since seen that it is governmental action which causes the nation to have a stroke. It was at his first Press conference that Lord Eccles called P.L.R. a hot potato. Perhaps that is why he dropped it pretty smartly. It was not until seven months later, after the publication of a crusading book on P.L.R. edited by Richard Findlater, that doughty champion, and the notice of a Private Member's Motion on the subject by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. David James), that Lord Eccles actually did something. He invited a delegation to call on him, in a friendly tea-party sort of arrangement, three days before the Motion tabled by the hon. Member for Dorset, North was due to be debated in the House. Over the tiny tinkle of teacups what he told the delegation, which was led by Lord Goodman, was that the Government would not put up any money for a central P.L.R. fund, but what they would do would be to consider the possibility of changing the law, changing, to be precise, the Copyright Act, 1956, by an Amendment adding lending to the public to the acts restricted by copyright—not a great job to carry out in a matter as fundamental as this to the livelihood of authors. So another working party was assembled, and that is the one whose report we are awaiting. The waiting game goes on. If it goes on for long enough, perhaps it will not be Lord Eccles who will be around to do anything about anything. Meanwhile this national scandal continues at the nation's libraries. An author is paid once, and once only, a royalty of a few shillings for a book which up to a hundred or more of his fellow citizens may use before it eventually falls apart and is then rebound for further use. Why is it taking so long to stop this obvious injustice? One main reason is that this injustice, like other injustices, survives because people are used to it. Readers brought up on the public library system cannot imagine what it would be like without books free, on the rates, as a community service. There is a natural assumption that authors are getting a fair whack. In fact, I suspect that in many people's minds, in spite of recent publicity to the contrary, the image of an author lingers on as a member of the leisured classes "coining money from a hobby", somebody who can afford to let people read his books for nothing. Most trade unionists would threaten an immediate strike if they were offered the kind of pay which most professional authors—best sellers apart—get for the amount of work they put into their books. But professional book-writers are only a tiny handful of individualists. They have their own professional association, the Society of Authors, but they cannot take "industrial action". They cannot withdraw their labour collectively, they cannot strike, for if they did it would be a very long strike indeed, probably of years, before the librarians would take much notice. Another reason why this injustice remains is that, as with any other injustice, to remove it demands time and money. The money has to come from the Government, and I hope that the Minister is keeping his ears very perky. The Government have to be interested in the welfare of the nation's authors—I hope that the Minister will remember that—and in the vitality of the nation's literature, and I hope that the Minister will remember that, too. But the Government also have to get a workable scheme going, and here I come to another main reason for the long delay in the implementation of P.L.R. That reason is the attitude of the librarians. We should remember that throughout the last two decades librarians have resisted the whole idea of P.L.R.—not individual librarians, many of whom are firm supporters of the principle, but librarians as a body, collectively. They have set their face, stony hard, against it. They have persistently refused even to discuss it with authors and publishers until recently. The climate has apparently changed, and we are all delighted that it has. Librarians are now on the working party, but when the public debate begins in 1972 it is important that their embattled resistance should be remembered, a resistance on which many librarians look back, I hope, with some regret and shame. Why did the Library Association oppose the idea of P.L.R. for so long? One way of explaining it is that they were scared that any concession to this claim, the slightest nod to the authors, would cut the money available for expansion or rebuilding, developing auxiliary services, improving salaries and working conditions, let alone the buying of books. Nobody disputes that they need more money. One may sympathise with their natural concern to protect the library service, to improve and expand it, but not, surely, any longer at the expense of the authors, the primary producers, the people on whose labour the whole system ultimately depends? Yet it does not need too much expertise with the crystal ball to foresee that one main attack on the P.L.R. proposals in a few weeks, whatever they are, will be based on the suggestion that they are bound to endanger the best library service in the world. That is absurd. The service must not be damaged, and there is no reason why it should be, if the Government have a proper concern for the country's authors and literature, as well as for its libraries. There is no reason why the Government should be allowed to put forward such a possibility as the excuse for doing nothing, for continuing to ignore the elementary right of British authors. The Government should take the necessary action to safeguard the public library service from the consequences of their own ill-advised economic policies. They should make clear to local authorities, at the earliest possible opportunity, that whatever scheme is approved the principle of P.L.R. will be accepted by the Government, but not at the expense of the library service—that cash for authors will be extra. From where is the money to come? How is P.L.R. to be paid for? For a start, we must reaffirm one essential point, that the money is not to come from borrowers. Our public library system is a great system, and one of the greatest things about it is that it is, in effect, free. The borrower may pay fines and reservation fees, but the ratepayer helps to meet the bills. Fundamentally, public library reading is free, and that is the way it must stay. To start charging for admission to our libraries as well as our museums and public galleries would be an act of folly conspicuous even by the standards of this Government. Clearlyx2014;I am sorry to have to say this—it is an act to which Lord Eccles must be sorely tempted. It would fit in with his whole doctrinaire approach, with the doctrinaire approach of the Government, indeed, of making the people pay on principle—not the principle of public lending rights but the principle simply of Tory bloody-mindedness. "Stop free reading, stop free milk, stop pampering them, they are getting away with too much"—we all know that line of thought only too well. It would be a monstrous injustice, because it is the elderly, the housebound, the widowed and the old-age pensioners who probably make most use of our public library service. It is that low income group who would have to pay for the privilege of reading. This applies also to the student, of whatever age. Most of us go on being students for most of our lives, and that is just as well."Give me three months, and we will do something."
I am glad to have that agreement, which I notice came only from this side of the House. Students of all ages would have to pay for their studies.It would not do to be too apprehensive about any such nonsense, because there appeared in recent years to be a bipartisan policy in this matter. The Tories have appeared to agree with us in the past that the principle of the free library service should not be broken and that the borrower should not be charged directly. But, in view of Lord Eccles' battering of our museums and galleries, there is, clearly, a danger that he will try to persuade Parliament that it should treat our public libraries in the same way, that the precedent has been established, that one wrong should compound another. I am sure that the House knows better. Certainly, on this side we are firmly and passionately opposed to any manipulation of this issue to extend still further the wrong-headed, mean-spirited Government policy in those fields. It is not in this way that the justice of the authors' case, undeniable but long denied, can at last be satisfied. The community must give the author a proper reward for the use of his books, a rightful return. This could be done locally and centrally. One obvious way is that the Exchequer should make available for distribution to authors through some lending right authority an annual fund of, say, a couple of million pounds. This was ruled out by Lord Eccles last February, but the fact that he ruled it out then does not mean that he would rule it out now or, of course, that it will be ruled out for ever. Indeed, it must not be ruled out in February next year. Surely we cannot go on pretending, at this stage in our development, that this country cannot afford the cost of a couple of miles of motorway to restore justice to our authors. This central fund seems in our view a simpler and more equitable method than to put the costs on the local rates. That way, I think, invites much greater dangers of bureaucratic complexities—and none of us wants those. It invites inflating costs, municipal cheeseparing—and, my God, with Tory councillors, we can guarantee that that will happen—and ministerial pressures on local freedoms. Public funds must provide for the public service which authors provide; the funds must come from the Government. The Government must meet that extra bill. Our late, great Chancellor of the Exchequer—[Laughter.]—he is still with us, thank God—my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) is on record as having told the Publishers Association that he would have been a willing party to Treasury subvention in this matter in an easier economic climate. Granted that this is a big "if"—that the economy is not once again wrecked by hon. Members opposite—I have no doubt that a future Labour Chancellor will sympathetically appraise his purse, untie the strings and provide the central funding needed. This is not the time and place, and I do not intend to use it as such, to discuss how the money must be distributed. We must await the working party report. Of course there will be difficulties of definition, procedure, collection and administration, but the difficulties are there only to be overcome. They have been canvassed frequently enough in the last 20 years. Others will undoubtedly be discovered, even invented, in the coming weeks. What is essential is that the hypothesis of difficulty, as well as the complexity of the facts, should no longer be the excuse for inaction, apathy and further, yet further, delay. I should like to quote two expert witnesses. First, Lord Goodman said that he was
no one has given it a more careful study—"amply satisfied from a careful study of this matter over the years"—
My other witness is the librarian mentioned by the hon. Member for Hendon, North, Mr. Jack Dove, a Fellow of the Library Association. He said earlier this year that he had"that a scheme can be devised which will involve no unfair burden on librarians, and will restore justice to writers."
I understand that the working party report is expected to land in Lord Eccles' lap very shortly. I hope that, when he has read it, he will not push it under his cushion. I hope that he will treat it as a matter of public concern and considerable urgency. I hope, particularly, that he will not pigeon-hole it for months to come. That is where I am not happy about the mention of nine months. It is important that it should be made available right away to the Society of Authors, the Publishers Association, the Library Association and all the other bodies concerned, for immediate and open discussion—not least, this House. One very important thing should be remembered. We are talking not about subsidies, hand-outs or a dole for authors, but about a right. It is important to remember this when Lord Eccles releases the new report and the discussion begins all over again. What is needed now is recognition that the principle of public lending rights has been accepted. Methods and mechanisms have been carefully debated in the past and will be debated in the future, but there should be no debate any longer about the principle. Lord Eccles, to be fair to him, has done some good by directing the librarians and local authorities to sit down at the same table with the publishers and the authors, but that directive was unfortunately limited to considering an amendment—that is all—to the Copyright Act, 1956. What we on this side would like to see is a clear and unambiguous acknowledgment by the Government of the justice of the authors' cause and an indication that the principle will be put into practice within the coming year."never accepted the argument that any proposal would be too difficult to administer. There is always the procedure to fit any scheme."
The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) for raising a matter which is not only urgent but overdue and, as was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Andrew Faulds), an act of major social justice.The hon. Member asked why we treat this matter differently from other questions of social justice on which both the law and the public are quick to act. It is perhaps because we have a somewhat strange ambivalent attitude in this country towards books. This came out subconsciously in the speech of my hob Friend when he said at one stage that if he borrowed them, he kept them. This is very much the attitude of all of us, that books are not like other chattels and once one has one's hands on them, they stay. In the same way, as what we would all be swift to see as theft if it involved the borrowing of a £1 note or a motorcar does not apply to books, so it appears that for a long time in public we have had a totally different attitude towards what is, in effect, the theft of ideas, the propagating of ideas on which no royalty has been paid to the author save the original royalty. There is an interesting and perhaps illuminating story in the circumstances that used to be told of the late Sir W. S. Gilbert, who was frequently approached by charitable bodies asking whether he would waive the normal copyright fee when they were putting on a charitable performance of one of the Savoy operas. His invariable answer in the circumstances was, "If you tell me that the maker of the costumes, the maker of the scenery and the cast are giving their services free, you can have my words; but if not, I do not see why I should not be paid like all the other tradesmen". It is against that background that the problem has to be faced. How in fact is it to be rectified? I should like to proceed from the point at which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North, stopped by addressing myself to three questions. First, how is the money to be raised? Secondly, how is it to be collected? Thirdly, how is it to be distributed? It is important that we should accept once and for all the principle that this arrangement is not in any way a Prix Goncourt, or a donation to needy authors or anything of that sort. This is simply money to which they are entitled. Equally, we must accept that the money must be distributed right across the board irrespective of the merit or talent of the works involved. Three possibilities as to how the money should be raised have been canvassed and considered so far. Although not accepting the complicated baroque mythology that lies behind so much of his deep labyrinthine relationship towards my noble Friend the Paymaster-General, I fully agree with the hon. Member for Smethwick that it would be a totally wrong approach if charges on the individual were involved. I agree with him both on the moral ground and on what I regard as the secondary ground, that the individuals have already paid for the books in the first place, because it is out of their rates that the books have been bought. It would be totally wrong, as the hon. Member said, for the cost to fall simply on those sectors of the population who could not only not afford to buy books but who are often the elderly and the lonely, who most often need books. However, I do not agree with the hon. Member's preference for it to be done by Government subvention rather than through the rates. Weighing up the pros and cons of those two courses and accepting the figure he quoted—£2 million spread over all authorities, which seems probably a fair figure—I think it would be pointless to dip into the existing amounts of public money available for the arts when, as he and I know, that is difficult when there are other claims by so many needy causes on such sums as are available, thereby reducing the total available for other forms of artistic enterprise. There is a feeling throughout the country that Government subvention as such is not necessarily a good thing in itself and that it is becoming too much of a be-all and end-all answer to all our problems when we do not know how to deal with a situation. The rates seem admirably suited to the purpose for two reasons. First, it is the local authorities who in any case are charged with providing libraries, and it is they who buy the books in the first place. Why should not local authorities not only pay for the books, but pay the extra money to which we believe the author is entitled? Secondly, if the sum of £2 million is spread over the complex of local authorities—I have no doubt that I shall get many letters from Ipswich telling me that anything which puts up the rates in any way is bad—there is practically no effect on the rates and the amount involved would not go nearly as far. Some local authorities now do not use their existing right to spend some of the rates on the arts. The effect on the individual ratepayer would be comparatively small if not unnoticeable. At the same time, if we dip into the Exchequer for £2 million, some other forms of art, with which some of us are deeply concerned, may have to suffer. This leaves the difficulty of how such a sum would be collected. This problem could be approached on a double basis. The first is by a system of capitation on the number of lendings per year. These figures are already available to public libraries throughout the country. It would have to be remembered that a number of reference books are maintained in the appropriate section of a library and I should like there to be a capitation levy, the money being paid into a central fund administered by the Society of Authors or some other body representative of authors as a whole. The second part of the problem is how such sums are to be distributed. We already have a rough and ready but useful type of example in the way in which lists of best-selling books are already prepared for the Press, or the way in which the top 20 pop records are chosen. The system of categorising books which I suggest as a basis would be to have four categories which would automatically carry with them a certain amount of the money raised by the capitation, and that could be done very easily by using a series of libraries as typical examples of how many borrowings occur. They could be periodically changed as bookshops are now changed when choosing best sellers, or gramophone and music shops are changed when preparing lists for the top 20. There is enormous will in the House and in the country as a whole that something should be done about this matter. One turns with interest and regret to the number of debates over the last 20 years, the number of Motions and the number of Questions on the subject. They have met with tremendous good will from both sides of the House. As the two hon. Members who have preceded me have said, it seems that good will is not enough because, with our curious morality on books, books can always be left to end of the queue. Unlike the hon. Member for Smethwick, I believe that the Paymaster-General, who was one of the first people to have done anything about this in recent years in Parliament, will see this through. I hope that when it goes through, a scheme will be evolved which will not only be fair to the authors but will fall on the public in the way that will be most fair to them in honouring their obligations.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money), who has made a constructive speech. I think that this reference to the idea of a capitation fee, which I shall refer to later, and which is very significant in the computer age, is likely to disarm a lot of the hostility from librarians who, originally, were opposed to public lending right to the extent that they themselves might have to implement its administration because of the amount of detailed work involved.I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst)—he is not in his place but I congratulate him in his absence—first of all on having introduced this important subject, a subject with which he dealt with insight and sympathy. He will have the gratitude not only of the House and of the authors themselves, but of a vastly greater number of people. The question of public lending right touches not only a small group of interested authors, among whom I include myself, but a vastly greater number of people—those who read and borrow books. When we consider that last year there were 400 million borrowings from libraries, we can realise how vast is the circumference of those touched by this subject and whose interests are involved. I say, right at the outset, that this is not simply a professional interest that we are debating today but a consumer interest, the interest of the public at large. I have, like my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds), some considerable reservations about Lord Eccles' attitude to the arts, and any proposals which come from him, while being treated with appropriate objectivity, must I feel, be examined with a certain amount of reserve. It was, after all, Lord Eccles who introduced museum charges, and I cannot help feeling that in the case of the Minister for Culture—paradoxically, when he hears the word "culture" he reaches for his turnstile—we must look closely at any ultimate proposal that he will make in order as he has sometimes put it, to assist authors.
In pursuing the onslaught begun by his hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds), the hon. Gentleman has been a little unfair in forgetting what the Paymaster-General has done with regard to the British Museum Library.
I do not want to engage in an outright denunciation of the noble Lord, whom I have known for many years and whose interest in the arts I respect. What I object to is his approach to the public concern with the arts; his approach has always been on the one hand élitist and on the other mercenary. It is because of these two conflicting attitudes that I feel that anything that he is concerned with in this matter must be viewed with a certain reserve.My hon. Friend, at the opening of the debate, very properly said that we are today concerned with justice for the author. We want to secure not charity, not what the Foreign Secretary once called a donation, but that those who work in the craft of letters are entitled to have the benefit of the use of their intellectual property. This is neither more nor less than the author seeks. I am glad that in the course of this debate the idea has been exploded that somehow or other the fact that the author has the distinction of having his work published in itself should be his reward and he should not seek further and remoter rewards, or that if he does he is somehow greedy. My hon. Friend referred properly to the fact that the average earnings of those who live by writing books—and I am not here referring to journalism—are about half the average national wage. There are very few people who write books who earn in any given year much more than £500. The glamorous idea of an author as being a person with a yacht in the south of France and a villa in Bermuda, or somewhere else, is a completely false, heightened picture of the rewards of authorship. Publishers are very hardheaded men. They are not benefactors, they are not patrons; they are businessmen, concerned with what the author will earn for them, and rightly so. Authorship is a craft but publishing is a trade. It may be, as it has sometimes been described in the past, a trade for gentlemen, but the gentlemen in the publishing trade are concerned with earning profits for their company, if it be a public company, and there is no sentiment involved; they want to get the maximum they can out of the author. The author faces another barrier to his prosperity—his agent. The agent claims his 10 per cent. or, if there is a foreign sale, sometimes 20 per cent., and gradually the rewards of writing are whittled away. There are those who have honourably championed the cause of P.L.R.—the Publishers Association, the Society of Authors, and various individuals like John Brophy, in particular, are authors who have not been mentioned, but he was one of the first to put forward the idea of P.L.R. in the form of Brophy's Penny. These are the people who are championing the cause of authors who, being individualists, have in the past been unable adequately to concert their action to claim the right which they have to the use of that which they have created. I mentioned that last year there were 400 million borrowings. I thought that the hon. Member for Hendon, North somewhat underestimated in his excellent speech the average number of borrowings per book of an individual author. Here I give one example, which I took not at random but as representative of the average moderately selling author whose book is taken into the public library. I am obliged to the librarian of the Marylebone public library for giving me this information. I asked him for details of the borrowings last year of the author I have mentioned. He said that at present 107 books of this author were held by the Marylebone public library. On 30th November, a few days ago, 69 were on loan and the remaining 38 had been on loan 433 times in the last 12 months; that is, about once a month each. All the 107 copies of this author are, therefore, on loan about 1,250 times each year. It is a remarkable fact that, despite that extremely large figure—there are about 11,000 public libraries in the country; I am not, of course, saying that it should be multiplied 11,000 times, though it should certainly be multiplied many times in terms of borrowings—the author receives absolutely no benefit whatever from his intellectual effort. Moreover, after having, perhaps, exhausted himself on producing such a constellation of books, he may not be able to repeat the effort, since authors, like everyone else, tend to have less dynamism in production as they grow older. Here are people who, having given up or, rather, had taken from them their copyright in a way which has been denounced today, are left without any pension, without any rights in their property for the future, for it may well be that a book will never be reprinted, and without any reserves from all the intellectual effort which they put into their work of writing books which continue to be borrowed and read, perhaps, tens of thousands of times. I believe that that is a typical example of those about whom we are concerned today. Above all, in our general attitude to the problem we should concern ourselves with the young author and the older author. A young author comes on the scene and writes a book, but he, like any other, may not repeat his initial success. Although that book is borrowed countless times, he has no benefit from it. This is a question, therefore, of elementary justice for the author, and the public lending right principle should be applied in one way or the other.
Perhaps it will both interest and fascinate the hon. Gentleman to know that only the day before yesterday in the House of Commons Library I could not help seeing one of his own hon. Friends reading a book, which he was halfway through, on the front cover of which the name of the author appeared—Maurice Edelman.
I am delighted to think that somebody reads my books—
They should buy them.
—but it was not my purpose to advertise them today. I wish merely to illustrate the general problem, though I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) kindly suggest that people should buy them. In parenthesis, perhaps I may say that for me personally one great merit of today's debate is that perhaps for the first time in the House for a very long time, both in the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, North and in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick, not so much the merit of the author but the merit of the book as such has been put in proper perspective and accorded proper respect. Anyone who walks through the streets of London nowadays knows that if he sees a sign "Books" it means dirty books and if he sees a shop which is blazing with light and professing to sell the works of authors it is probably an insalubrious place and certainly nothing to the credit of either literature or publishing.I welcome, therefore, the way in which this debate has elevated the merit and status of the book as such. I regard this as something which must be considered as going hand-in-hand with the status of the author. I am glad that it has been emphasised time and again that authors are not asking for charity. They are asking for a right. This right has hitherto been frustrated, partly on administrative grounds. Very properly protecting their own interests, librarians have said, "We will not have this extra work foisted on us. If the author has his rights, it should not be at the expense of the rights of librarians." That argument was advanced at the opening of this general discussion—not today but 20 years or so ago—by the librarians in a context, as I said before, in which all the information would have to be collated by the librarians, by library clerks and so on. Now, however, with the computer it should be possible to run a capitation system such as the hon. Member for Ipswich suggested. I believe that a capitation system relating payment to the author to the number of borrowings which he has would be much better than any sort of system which put patronage in the hands of the Government. One of my reasons for resisting the idea of the Government having responsibility for an Exchequer donation to a fund from which authors would be paid is that it would smack excessively of Government discrimination. There has in the past been criticism, sometimes unfair, of the Arts Council for the way in which it has exerted its patronage. I would not want to see any system by which the Government of the day, whichever Government it might be, had the power of discrimination, power to withhold supplies from authors whom, through the fund, they would be able in some measure to dominate and control.
Would that not be almost as bad as a subsidy from the Government to newspapers?
Indeed, it would. It is of the same order, and I am glad to agree with the hon. Gentleman. One of the reasons why I have in the past been openly opposed to the idea of a Government subsidy to newspapers is that it would give the Government of the day the opportunity to manipulate news and information. Equally, I do not want to see any kind of State system or State control of authors such as one sees in the totalitarian countries. As we all know, the most powerful means of controlling anyone engaged in any kind of public service is to hold power over the purse. Therefore, I should much prefer a system by which authors receive the benefits to which they are entitled through the rating system, where a form of local democracy is in operation, rather than through an Exchequer grant.True, there are local authorities in which the philistines dominate and in which spending on reading or on the plastic arts is always right at the bottom of the list of priorities in expenditure. Nevertheless, I feel that the general sense of the local library, so to speak, the sense of the local public who use the library, for whom it is an affectionately regarded focal point, should be enough to stimulate local authorities and encourage them to provide adequate resources from which the author can obtain by capitation related to the number of borrowings the fee to which he is entitled. I have touched on the question of patronage. I want to say something now about the timing of what we hope to receive from the Government. Nine months ahead is far too long. In this connection, perhaps I may quote from what Dr. Johnson wrote to Lord Chesterfield on the subject of patronage. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State knows it well. Lord Eccles is today's great patron of the arts, as Lord Chesterfield was in his own day. Doctor Johnson wrote to Lord Chesterfield:
I am sure that what Dr. Johnson said to Lord Chesterfield many thousands of silent authors would like to say to Lord Eccles. Young and old, they would say that they are asking for the rights for which they have been clamouring over many years. But the time factor is of the greatest importance. There are today many authors who are destitute, many authors who were—and, indeed, to some extent are—household names but are dependent on grants from literary funds. These men could be saved not only from poverty but from the humiliation of the position in which they find themselves today if only their properties and the rights in those properties were attributed to them as they should be. I hope that it is in that sense, in the sense that authors are asking for their rights and not for philanthropy, that the Minister will give a sympathetic reply today."Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern at a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it till I am known, and do not want it."
I am particularly glad to follow the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) in debate because his novels have given me more pleasure than I can easily say. Before I became a Member of the House, my entire knowledge of this place was gleaned—I do not know how accurately—from what he wrote. Without embarrassing him, perhaps I can say that almost every day I sit in this Chamber I think of one of his novels in which one of the characters points out that the words used in the House at about half-past three—"The Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day"—can be sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body".I should like, with diffidence, to declare a certain interest in this matter, because I have knocked together one or two books and, if the Motion is accepted by the Government, it will possibly help me to earn a few more honest pennies. However, that is not my reason for intervening in the debate. Also I was in the publishing business for a few years before becoming a Member. I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) on moving his Motion which, I think we all agree, advocates something which is long overdue. Perhaps the only point of difference between my hon. Friend and myself is this. He talked about the distinction between "fiction and serious writing". For myself I think that "Anna Karenina" is worth every volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I do not wish to go into the methods of imbursement of authors. Many excellent ways have been suggested. Cornputerisation raises possibilities of showing just what can be done, but I do not wish to go into them now. However, it might be helpful if I were to give one or two figures relating to an ordinary, run-of-the-mill author of a novel—not an author like the hon. Member for Coventry, North but someone who adds to the gaiety of nations and perhaps does not get a lot of money from it. If 700 copies of a novel were sold to public libraries, I think that the publisher would be reasonably gratified. Let us suppose that the novel is priced at £2, for the sake of mathematical simplicity, giving a gross figure of £1,400 generated by the sale of the book to the public libraries. The usual method of paying an author on a royalty basis is to give him about 10 per cent. of the published price. Of course it varies from deal to deal, but basically 10 per cent. on a hard-back book is normal. Therefore, the author would get £140 from the sale of 700 copies of his book to the libraries. If he gets another £140 from sales to the general public, he is in my opinion pretty lucky. Therefore, if he grosses £250 from the sale of his novel he should not be altogether disappointed. Let us compare that £140 with what I might call the potential sum of which an author is deprived because of the sales of his book to public libraries. The 700 library copies might, in each case, be read by 20 people in a year. Some interesting figures have been mentioned today showing the number of people who borrow books from public libraries which vary between fiction and works of reference. But if in the first year of publication a book is taken out once a fortnight from public libraries the author might be gratified, if not by the reward, by the interest in his work. Of those 20 readers in 700 public libraries, 25 per cent. would perhaps say that if they had to buy the book themselves they would not have put down £2 for it. We might equally say that another 25 per cent. of those readers would say, "I will wait for it to come out in paper-back form." This is one reason why I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science will not accept the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) who spoke about paper-backs. Paper-back rights are one of the bonuses for an author of which he must not be deprived if legislation on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend is passed. On the basis therefore that a further 25 per cent. of the people would not have bought the book because they would wait for it to come out in paper-back form, 700 books at £2 in public libraries read by 10 people comes to £14,000, and 10 per cent. of this is £1,400. The difference between £1,400 and £140 is the difference between total penury and the ability to earn a reasonable living. Of course there would be further royalties, but they would diminish year after year. This illustrates very well the gap between what happens now and what could happen.
My hon. Friend has not referred to the amount of time that the author will have spent on writing his work divided into the amount of money he receives, which means that his occupation must be among the most lowly paid, look where one will.
That is a fair point, although I read last week about an author who reckoned to churn out a book a week. Tolstoy took five years to write "War and Peace". On that basis, my hon. Friend has perhaps made a fair point.Another point, although not large, should not be forgotten. The price of books in Great Britain is very much lower than the price in almost any other country. I should not be surprised to find that the price of an American edition of a hard-back book was 75 per cent. higher than the price in this country. As an author gets his royalty on the published price, he is getting a percentage of a very much lower price in this country. We must also remember that in America there is a much vaster market. For a number of reasons outwith their control, authors in this country tend to get a slightly worse deal than authors in other countries. The hon. Member for Coventry, North said that publishers, who are hardheaded businessmen, must get a reasonable return. I agree. It must also be remembered, however, that of the published price of a book some 40 per cent., and sometimes 50 per cent. in the case of paper-backs, goes to the bookseller. Therefore, the publisher must make his profit, if profit there be, from only half the price that the public pays. The vast amounts of money which publishers spend on parties supposedly promoting a book but, very often, in order to give themselves and their friends a good time raise a serious point. The sort of parties that we read about in the gossip columns probably cost about £200 or £300. When I was the sort of hungry author to whom reference has been made today, I could have done with a large percentage of that £300 instead of seeing my publisher "knocking it back" at parties. I agree with what has been said on both sides about the need to keep the public library system as free as possible. When I was a boy living in a village on the Scottish Border I used to pay 2d. for a card and I could take out a book per card and as many as I wanted. Since I was getting only 3d. a week in pocket money, this was a great boon. Indeed, I am able to make this speech because completely arbitrarily I plucked a book from a shelf in a public library about a great Conservative politician. It was reading that book which set me on the path to becoming a Member of Parliament. I therefore owe public libraries a great deal. Whatever system is devised to put into effect the admirable sentiments which have been expressed, I hope that our public library system will remain free so that young people in particular may go in whenever they wish and glean the wisdom of the golden ages of literature.
Following the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) of what a Tory politician in 1850 said about public libraries. "Public libraries", he said, "will keep the poor from the alehouse and Socialism." It did not work—at least, in the second thing—because there is no doubt at all that the early Socialists gained their knowledge and their education very largely from the public libraries, and I think of many of the very distinguished people who have sat in this House on the Labour side who owed their education entirely to being able to borrow books from public libraries, which is why I very much support those speakers who in the debate have stated that nothing should be done to inhibit people from borrowing books, and certainly that charges should not be imposed at the point of use.I very much support what the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) has said and I want later to deal more with some of the points he made, but I should like to return to a point which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South made, and that was about how much an author gets for a book. The hon. Gentleman cited the case of a writer who would, out of a single novel which sold between 1,400 and 1,500 copies, get something like £240. It is a ridiculous reward. That is true. I wonder, then, what the hon. Gentleman would think of a man like Maynard Keynes who did not write one novel or two in one year but devoted his life—not just a year, but his life—in writing things like "A Treatise on Money", which was only the prelude to his major work on the general theory of employment, interest and money. I wonder how much he got for that. I wonder how many students, not only in this country but throughout the world, have benefited from that book. When one thinks how that book not only gave pleasure to the reader but gave instruction, particularly to Governments, one feels that that is a book which has dominated the thinking of the Western world for a generation. I wonder how much Maynard Keynes made out of it. When one thinks of all the mistakes which he prevented Governments from making through his wisdom, he was never paid even a tithe of the value of that book. It is particularly bearing this sort of contrast in mind that I want to raise some questions. Everyone in this House who has spoken in this debate, and, I am sure, other hon. Members who will read it, will agree with the hon. Gentleman's proposition that authors should receive something in this way, that there is an injustice to authors in that people read their books and no contribution is made for the copyright which is, as it were, exploited in this way. Who will benefit, however? I can see so many snags about this. Will only hungry authors benefit? I think, perhaps, of people like Jacquelline Susann who wrote "The Valley of the Dolls", which is absolute tripe but sells hundreds of thousands of copies. If we are simply to think in terms of helping struggling authors, do we think of her as one? She does not need any help. I think of James Hadley Chase and" No Orchids for Miss Blandish "I do not know how many thousands of copies that has sold. I think of "Ten Chinks and a Woman". Those of us who are ex-members of the Royal Navy or the Royal Marines may remember that it was in very many ships' libraries during the war. Books like that must have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Is the purpose of this debate concerned with helping that author? He used to be a bank clerk, I am told. He has found his way into the vaults. He does not need our help in that. Or one thinks of Dennis Wheatley, who writes the most awful tripe—at least, that is my opinion; I think he writes absolute drivel. Yet his books sell in thousands, and one finds rows of them on the shelves in our public libraries. I think of Ian Fleming, an ex-Royal Marine, who, again, managed to exploit a rich vein of gold dust by a certain type of novel. Yet the simple application of the mechanics suggested in this debate would give those people great benefits. I do not think that Maynard Keynes would have gained as much benefit, because his books are perhaps not borrowed quite as often as those of other authors. The books of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North are borrowed frequently from my local library but I cannot say that the works of Maynard Keynes or Roy Harrod's "The Life of John Maynard Keynes", are borrowed very often from my local library. I think of some lesser novelists—Edward Hyams, a man of great talent; Marguerite Duras, a French author; Samuel Beckett. These are not authors whose books sell in millions. Their books are not borrowed twice a week or every week. Some of these other authors need money. I wonder, in thinking how to apply the mechanics of this proposition, where we shall find the authors who need most help. I think of lesser novelists like Robert Gaines, known to most of us here as Rowland Summerscales, a distinguished Daily Telegraph Lobby correspondent, whose books are not often sold, and most of them are out of print. These are authors I particularly have in mind in supporting the hon. Gentleman's Motion. These are the hungry authors, or, at least, are not very well off. Or I think even more of the poets, because poets do not sell awfully well. I know that Penguin has done an immense service to poets with the new poets series and all that. Penguin has done an immense service to poets, but one will find volumes of poetry on the shelves of public libraries, university libraries, school libraries, and there they sit. There is a group of writers who certainly need help in the way which the hon. Gentleman has described. How are we to do it? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North, I am very suspicious of patronage, and very suspicious even of the patronage of the Arts Council, and I hope at some stage in the future to return to that particular topic in another debate and to talk of the misdeeds of the Arts Council in another regard. I have mentioned certain authors and I have spoken of the difficulties of authors, and my hon. Friend has talked about patronage. I was talking to somebody yesterday who is connected with publishing. I understand that Routledge and Kegan Paul would like to publish a collected edition of the works of Havelock Ellis, that most distinguished scholar, most of whose books are now out of print, although they may be available in university libraries. I was brought up on them in my university. A trust fund of £25,000 is needed to publish the collected works, and the publishers are thinking of approaching an American university to find the money. I do not know how many people borrow the works of Havelock Ellis from the library these days, but scholars use them. An important question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) was how this was to be done. How are we to deal with the people with no money who borrow books? Most of us here have our own personal libraries. Middle class people tend to have personal libraries. We may borrow a book but if we wish to read it again we buy a copy so as to have it at our disposal. Those with personal libraries, having bought a book 35 or 40 years ago, will continue to re-read the book, but the author gets nothing out of that. Many years ago I bought a copy of Max Beer's "History of British Socialism". As a teacher I have used it in my classes for many years, and I have re-read it many times. The author gets nothing for that.
The hon. Gentleman has a remedy in his own hands. A piggy bank at the side of the book would solve all those problems.
Max Beer is dead, unfortunately, and in the place to which he has gone I do not think coins of the realm are used any more, even decimal currency.I think of my local library in Plum-stead which is regularly used by about 50 students. It has a reading room, and many sixth form students from local comprehensive schools and others from the Thames Polytechnic regularly use the library and borrow books. That is the purpose of a public library. If we are thinking of the mechanics of giving the authors benefit from the copyright which is being infringed, are we to get it from these students? The students do not borrow the novels we have been talking about; they borrow scientific books—that is what the Thames Polytechnic is famous for—literary works, history books and so on. One thinks of the University of the Air, which surely presages an enormous extension of the borrowing of books from public libraries. One thinks of university extra-mural classes and Workers' Educational Association classes, some of which I taught before coming here. Students of these classes borrow books from the public libraries. They are probably the most eclectic and inveterate borrowers of books. How would this provision for copyright extend to the specialised libraries sometimes set up by these classes? One thinks of the library in Malet Street from which many of us here have borrowed books for our classes. How are we to deal with copyright in university libraries? Some books published now are bought almost exclusively by universities. American universities are omniferous purchasers of academic textbooks in this country, not only new ones but secondhand ones. Any secondhand standard textbooks on sale in this country are snapped up by American university libraries. How are university libraries and school libraries to be involved in this operation? I am coming to the conclusion that we must not think in terms of extracting a payment at the time of use. We must not think in terms of how much per book. My hon. Friend talked about John Brophy's Penny. Is a penny for "No Orchids for Miss Blandish" to be compared with a penny for Lipsey's textbooks on economics? There is no comparison. There can be on relationship between a penny paid for some of the rubbishy books that are regularly borrowed and a penny paid for more scholarly works. It has been asked whether the ratepayers should pay. The trouble about that is that there are so many obscurantist local authorities. I think of Wandsworth Borough Council, which, when it was run by the Tories, closed down a local library in an underprivileged area because the council said it was not much used for the borrowing of books. It was extensively used by the local, largely immigrant, population for reading and studying, but this obscurantist borough council said, "It is not used; close it." That is what I fear if this is left to some local councils. Certainly all of us here today are against the borrower having to pay, and we come back to the suggestion which has been made of a central fund administered by the Government. This is by far the best way of doing it. I have in mind the reference sections of university and public libraries where the books are never borrowed. They are available and are extensively used. Those books are sometives very expensive to produce, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South would know from his business experience. They sometimes take a great deal of time to produce. Yet these books are not borrowed. So how can this provision for copyright operate there? I am worried about what my hon. Friend referred to as the thin end of the wedge. To impose a charge on the borrower would introduce the thin end of the wedge of library charges, and we should become involved in the most bureaucratic nonsense we have ever known. There is enough bureaucratic nonsense already involved in the museum charges. I speak as a trustee of the National Maritime Museum, which is faced with the most idiotic bureaucracy, to the extent of having to put railings round the museum because it abuts on a public park. How daft can we get? I am frightened that similar bureaucratic nonsense will result if we lightly rush into charging for the borrowing of books from libraries. I support what the hon. Member for Hendon, North has said. I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to tell the House that the Government will take to heart some of the points which have been made in the debate. I hope the Government will take a liberal and humane approach to this complicated question—and it is complicated, as the debate has brought out—on which this side of the House is against individual charges and in favour of a central fund.
I hope the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) will forgive me if I do not follow his fascinating peregrination from Keynes to Havelock Ellis via the "Valley of the Dolls". He obviously is a voracious reader of catholic taste, and he brought a great deal of interest to the debate. I hope the House will forgive me if I have to leave shortly after I have spoken since I have a constituency appointment later this afternoon. I mean no discourtesy to the House.I have tabled a number of Questions on this matter over the last year or so. Indeed, within a few weeks of arriving in the House I put down such a Question, because this subject interests me greatly. I speak not as an author but as somebody who feels that authors suffer from a short-sighted and somewhat chaotic system and I have a fellow feeling as somebody who frequents public libraries and who has derived enormous pleasure and benefit from the books I have borrowed there. I was very much encouraged earlier in the year to see a splendid editorial in The Guardian on 19th February with the wonderful heading,
A lot of us hoped at that time that the cake was in the oven and was shortly to be produced. It has certainly been long a-baking. The phrase "Grub Street" is interesting. Perhaps it is not altogether appropriate in this connection that my best quotation was pinched from me by the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) because I had come armed with Doctor Johnson and Lord Chesterfield. The very name Grub Street tends to symbolise the way in which authors have been looked on, not for generations but for centuries. The author often appears as a person who is an inferior member of society. He is looked upon as a hack to whom those who derive enormous pleasure and benefit from his works often pay scant regard. This is not new. It was not new in Johnson's day. In wondering what I should say that would perhaps be different, I went to the House of Commons Library and found there a quotation from the will of a famous Elizabethan author which was as follows:"Eccles Cake in Grub Street".
And there one has it. The decline of private patronage, the advent of the mass circulation library, brought a new dimension to this problem and it is that context in which we are having this debate. Ruskin was quoted in The Guardian editorial to which I referred as saying:"Three legacies I bequeath: patience to my creditors, melancholy without measure to my friends, and beggary without shame to my family".
I would not endorse all those sentiments but it is regrettable that some of the men and women who have enriched the fabric of our civilisation have died in penury, and even in this enlightened or so-called enlightened age some are still living a hand-to-mouth existence. I disagree to some extent with what was said by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, who claimed that nobody in the House would support the idea of the borrower paying. I am not suggesting we should charge for books from public libraries, but one idea that has often occurred to me is this. If we go to a library and take out a book which we particularly enjoy, we often keep it beyond its allotted span and when we take it back we have to pay a fine. Would it not be appropriate for the proceeds of such fines to find their way to the authors? This might be something my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would like to consider and which might also be pondered by his noble Friend. I am not suggesting this would be a complete answer but it might provide some of the finances necessary in the sort of scheme we would all like to see implemented."We call ourselves a rich nation and we are foolish enough to thumb through each other's books out of circulating libraries."
Would my hon. Friend consider that it would be an extraordinary irony that those who deny the library the opportunity of making more flagrant use of an author's unpaid-for right—well, I leave the rest to him?
One could argue these matters from a variety of standpoints. One could say in reply to that interesting intervention that the person who has the book and who has enjoyed it so much that he keeps it beyond the proper time should pay a little forfeit which should go to the author who has detained that reader and given him pleasure. However, I do not think we should follow that happy and interesting avenue this afternoon.It has always seemed to me to be regrettable that the artist, be he painter, musician or author, should be almost despised by society. We all know this is true. It has been true for centuries and it is still to some extent true today. I hope that the present Government will to some extent redeem themselves because I feel that they are in need of some redemption in this context, and that they will really try to produce the cake which we are told is in the oven. There are many things we might consider. We all know—and Members of Parliament know this more than anybody—that at present we are in danger of becoming submerged in a sea of paper. It is very likely that the day of the book that sells even 10,000 copies—and not many books sell that number—is possibly coming to an end. I like to buy books, but I do not think I shall be able to buy many more books since I now have so many of the bound volumes of HANSARD sent to me every month that my library is full to overflowing. So I have to go to the Library of the House and to other libraries to borrow books to enliven the few leisure moments I might be able to enjoy. Because of the existence of this great mass of paper, it might not be a bad thing if authors sold fewer copies of their books, but it would be dastardly if, because of this situation, they were not to receive adequate recompense or reward. Another matter that often springs to mind is the fact that students, who are probably the most regular borrowers of books, borrow them because they cannot afford to buy them. We all know that the scholarly work is now at a price which is beyond the reach of most people, and even though the firms which produce paper books perform an enormous service to scholarship and literature there are some books which cannot adequately be presented in paper-back form. They are beyond the price of the student and are thumbed through from year to year by generations of students numbering hundreds, yet the poor author has sold one copy. Perhaps if it is an important work, he might have sold half a dozen to a university library. Hundreds of students will be derived benefit from his wisdom and experience. Is there not a moral here somewhere? I appeal to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is a man of great learning and wide reading, to have immediate consultation with his noble Friend the Paymaster-General. Nobody can call in question his credentials in this matter. Let them have this consultation and let them produce something very soon. Do not let us say that the Eccles cake was like Alfred's when it came out of the oven. We are all extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) for initiating this debate. May it act as the necessary spur to action.
The whole House agrees at least on one point. It is that this debate clearly has been of enormous value. It has shown what a very wide range of opinions there are about the execution, at least, of the problems in which we are interested this morning. The House is very much indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) for initiating the debate. If anyone ever had any doubts about the value of what generally we call private Members' Fridays, those doubts are frequently dispelled by the opportunity that the House has for a reflective discussion on a matter which cannot find a place in the crowded programme of our everyday proceedings. I join with those who have congratulated my hon. Friend both upon his choice of subject and on the manner in which he has introduced it.My hon. Friend the Member for Can-nock (Mr. Cormack) explained courteously that he would not be able to stay for very long. I do not share my hon. Friend's view about the derogatory way in which he feels that society looks upon authors and artists. Whenever I go to gatherings of people, I find that it is Members of Parliament who are regarded as the lowest of the low. When I am in any kind of artistic or other circle, I always try to live up to those by whom I am surrounded. I think that this House shows a much greater appreciation of those who delight in the visual, written or other arts—
Perhaps I overstressed it. However, the distinguished company with whom my hon. Friend mixes is not composed of those who look with disdain upon authors. But it is true even today that the footballer is held up as an ideal among the general public. The author is not looked upon with the high regard that we have tried to display this morning.
My hon. Friend has a false view of the company I generally keep. However, perhaps I should not go into that too far.
I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that nothing that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) has just said means that footballers should not be held in the very proper esteem in which they are held at the moment.
No, and I am sure that that applies especially to footballers in Ipswich.To come to the Motion, let me make it clear first that the Government hope that the House will accept it. We welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter, and I shall take a moment or two to deal with some of the points which have been raised in the debate. I am not altogether sure that I am the right person to do this. I know that we all have different ideas about what we should like to do if ever we became immensely rich. Of all the things that I should like to do if I had limitless money at my disposal, one would be never again to borrow a book but always to buy it and preferably to have it bound exquisitely. I get immense pleasure out of beautifully bound books. It is one of my sadnesses that because of increasing costs, they are not very often to be found. I do not feel that they will be passed on to generations ahead, as some of us have been fortunate enough to have them passed on from generations behind us. In that sense, I am the wrong person. But, like so many other hon. Members who have spoken, I get immense, continuing and, I hope, endless pleasure from reading. I get enormous pleasure from reading the books of the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). As I have said, I hope that the House will accept the Motion. It urges the Government to bring "to an early conclusion" their examination of public lending rights. Hon. Members on both sides, with greater knowledge of the subject than have talked about the campaign for a public lending right for authors. With a wealth of experience, they have shown its long history. We have heard examples of the many schemes that exist for enabling authors to receive remuneration many of which have been propounded for a number of years. I do not pretend to have the detailed knowledge of this long history that other hon. Members have but I have been interested to note that in a number of the speeches to which we have listened and in a considerable amount of the controversy and discussion outside, the approach to this matter once again is, as it was 10 years or so ago, in copyright terms and in terms of securing a change in the law of copyright. I am aware that public lending right schemes founded on different approaches have been put forward from time to time. But I think that the copyright emphasis is the correct one. Certainly that is the view of the Government. What essentially is taking place when the works of an author are lent is that use is being made of an article containing material in which he has the copyright, and the copyright is the right of property. Therefore, if a scheme for authors' lending rights were to be constructed and implemented, in the Government's view it should rest in an amendment of the copyright law to add public lending to the acts already restricted by that law. It is partially for that reason that I do not propose to comment at length on the arguments for and against a public lending right. They have been stated many times and they have been stated very eloquently today. The Government's position was made clear in February of this year by my noble Friend the Paymaster-General. He said that the Government thought that there was some justice in the authors' claim that their rights were not sufficiently secured in law. He said that the Government were prepared to consider amending the law of copyright in the sense that I have just mentioned. He added that there were a number of very awkward problems to be considered in the practical implementation of this kind of amendment and, therefore, that the first step was to have them studied carefully. Perhaps I might make a few remarks about some of the matters which arise when one starts an examination of what would be involved in establishing and operating a scheme for a public lending right. However, before coming to that perhaps I might respond to the request of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) by making it clear that there has never been any Government suggestion that legislation to amend the Copyright Act to create a public lending right need be linked with or need include charges for admission to libraries. We are discussing a quite separate matter. I will explore, in the spirit of the debate as it has developed, some of the problems we have to overcome. First, who should benefit under a scheme? The debate has brought out clearly that the proponents of a public lending right have been the authors of books, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North refers in his Motion. But the House will be aware obvious a point—that works are lent in many forms—for example, sheet music, gramophone records, maps and paintings—and not only by libraries in the accepted sense of the word. I shall return to this point. I am sure that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) will agree that large numbers of people get immense pleasure from borrowing reproductions of works of art. There are increasing numbers of people who borrow gramophone records with great profit and joy to themselves. I am advised that the lending of maps is increasing. This development is partially a reflection of the increased interest in travel and foreign languages. The House will know that one of the strains on the public library system is the increased borrowing of books dealing with foreign language in the vernacular. Therefore, there is the problem of works which are lent in forms other than books. Within the sphere of books and printed matter there are also different forms—periodicals, compilations which are the work of several different authors, and translations. If a public lending right is given to further the copyright interests of authors, does its scope stop there or should the interests of, for example, composers and artists be similarly protected? If not, if we are to exclude the artist and the composer, on what grounds of principle or with an eye to what practical consideration should a distinction be made? I make these various points not to stonewall, but to illustrate the problems which we have to resolve. A debate of this kind is the ideal occasion for discussing these problems.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that musicians and painters are in the same boat as authors here.
I am not prejudging the matter this afternoon, partially for the reason that there is this inquiry into the matter. I shall say something on that point later. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that this is a matter which the House must resolve. I am not sure that all authors would necessarily accept what he has just said.What definition of the word "libraries" should we adopt? Obviously any list of libraries which is reasonably complete is likely to contain many different categories, and clearly there will be great variations between the size of individual libraries within the various categories. Unless the House were to take a very narrow view of the term "library"—I do the number involved is many thousands. Public libraries provided by the county not think that it would wish to do so—and municipal authorities, commercial lending libraries, the parliamentary libraries and the great national libraries obviously spring immediately to mind. But libraries, or at least collections of books, are also to be found in individual firms and other enterprises, in hospitals and in prisons, to take a few examples. Lending is not confined to libraries in the usual meaning of the word. There are, for example, clubs which lend gramophone records. It seems, therefore, that we should be quite clear what is meant by the term and that if some libraries or other bodies which lend copyright material are to be exempted—this is the reason why I raise the matter—we should be able to define clearly the grounds for exempting them. I have not mentioned, for example, the libraries of universities, colleges and other educational institutions, including schools. However, they have been mentioned in the debate. Here again, it will obviously be necessary to have a very careful examination and arrive at a clear decision about their inclusion in, or exclusion from, a scheme for authors' lending rights. Again, I do not make the point to stonewall; I make it to show that the problem must be resolved. We must be clear what is meant by the term "lending" in speaking of a lending right. Is this to be confined to the lending of books and, perhaps, other copyright material which the borrower takes away from a library, or is it also to include the use which is made of the material when the reader simply takes the book down from the library shelf and consults it on the premises of the library? Obviously many books are written with one or other of these purposes wholly or mainly in mind, while others may be used in both ways. Some of the material which may be used for reference in one library is likely to be used by another library for lending out. Is it right, therefore, or practicable to try to make a distinction and adopt a narrow definition—that would be one course—or should lending be defined in the wider sense to cover use of material in libraries as well as material borrowed and taken away? This point was specially made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North and clearly we have to resolve it. I plead a personal interest. I have a fascination—I dare say that other hon. Members share it—for books of reference. I often enjoy browsing for a quarter of an hour in some abstruse book of reference of one form or another. It is often time spent very profitably.
On this special point about reference libraries, the one where I studied for many years, the Liverpool Reference Library, consisted of many thousands of books which were not normal reference works. They were ordinary books which students were allowed to borrow and return. They were rather different from what we normally think of as reference books.
Indeed. My personal point was directed purely to what we would all understand by the term "reference book". It was precisely that kind of library which I had in mind when talking about a book which would be designed for lending in one kind of library but for reference in another. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that point. It makes clear the infinite variety with which we have to deal.At some time the House will have to resolve whether the right should be an absolute right or merely one to claim remuneration when a copy of a work is lent. Should the creator of the work have the power to forbid the lending of copies altogether if he does not like the terms offered? This question is of the greatest interest and concern to both authors and lenders and it is obviously one which will have to be carefully considered. There are other problems of a more practical kind. It is clear that if a scheme for lending rights were established on a widespread scale, the method of recognising the right in money terms would need to be one which was able to deal with a large number of separate transactions for collecting payments from the lending institutions and transmitting them to the owners of the copyright works. I understand that some previous schemes for a public lending right have run into practical difficulties because of labour and cost of basing the mechanics on any system involving the recording of individual loans by libraries and using these to arrive at the payments to be made. Obviously the consideration of this problem must include an examination of whether some more practical methods can be found. It was in referring to the practical problems of implementation that my noble Friend the Paymaster-General said that he would call together a group including authors, publishers, local authorities and the Government Departments concerned and ask them to examine the problems. I must make it clear that any copyright legislation arising from that would be the concern of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. My noble Friend set up a working party on these lines in March under the chairmanship of an official from the Department and, as the House was informed in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock, who rightly said that he had a great interest in this matter, its report is expected shortly. The working party has not been required to make recommendations, but I know that it has been working very hard to analyse the intricate questions of what would be involved, in practical terms, if a decision were taken to amend the Copyright Act. I had hoped that it might be of some assistance to indicate what some of the practical considerations were. I end, as I began, by referring to the terms of the Motion. I am clearly not in a position this afternoon—and I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House understand this—to make an announcement about what action will be taken to follow a report which has still to be completed and forwarded to my noble Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North will, I think, agree that this Government is the first to have announced an intention to give serious consideration to the possibility of establishing a scheme for authors' lending rights through an amendment to the Copyright Act. The fact that I have been able to go into the matter in some detail will, perhaps, give my hon. Friend an earnest of the importance which the Government attach to the matter. I assure my hon. Friend that particularly if the House agrees to his Motion, the Government will press forward with the examination of what the next steps should be after the working party's report is received. Meanwhile, the comments from both sides of the House will contribute very materially to that work.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to bring their examination of public lending rights to an early conclusion.
I beg to move,
One of the difficulties about a broadcasting council is that a broadcasting council itself means different things to different people. Sometimes it not only means a vagueness in the case for such a council, but also gives opponents of a council a valuable advantage. They are able to choose the ground upon which they fight. They are able to choose the least likely parts of a number of proposals and portray them as being the case in favour of such a council. They are able to portray the supporters of a council in the most lurid colours available and pretend that the case for a council involves Government or political control over the broadcast content, and is an attack upon the freedom of broadcasting. They try to establish that because one or two people who support the idea of a council hold reactionary views therefore, by the doctrine of guilt by association, the supporters of a broadcasting council are by definition reactionary. The first thing that I should do is to make absolutely clear what the Motion does not call for. It does not call for censorship. Nor is it in any way a backdoor method of ensuring political control over programmes or broadcasters. As a journalist, I regard the freedom of the Press as absolutely basic in this country, and in the same way I believe that the broadcasting organisations should in no sense be the instruments of propaganda. The Motion does not seek to join in the currently popular game of B.B.C. bashing. The fact that the B.B.C. makes mistakes does not mean that that criticism of it should be elevated to a general condemnation of the B.B.C. as a whole. Lastly, the Motion does not seek to form some kind of society for the protection of politicians. Politicians should be experienced enough to look after themselves, but that does not absolve the broadcasting organisations from the normal demands of being scrupulous in their dealings with them. The aim of the Motion is not to control or to suppress. Its aim can best be summed up in one word, "fairness". The council envisaged in the Motion would check that the broadcasting organisations were fair in all their dealings with the public. It would check that they were fair in their dealings with individuals, who are often unaccustomed to the ways of broadcasting. It would check that the programmes were fair to all the parties concerned. If that basis is accepted, I suggest that a further consideration is that it should be seen to be fair in that checking process. Far from limiting the freedom of broadcasting, I believe that this kind of council would do something to help preserve it. Its formation would recognise the freedom of broadcasting and of the broadcasting organisations. But it would also recognise that freedom in itself brings with it responsibilities, and the council's interest would be the responsibility which the broadcasting organisations owed to the public. With newspapers, that kind of responsibility has already been recognised in the formation of the Press Council, and part of the case which I shall make is that what applies to newspapers applies with even more force to the broadcasting organisations, and in particular to television. Television is a particularly powerful medium. It is powerful because the public are asked to believe the evidence of their eyes. With newspapers, a reader can at least believe that the reporter is exaggerating. With television, the picture is there before the viewer's eyes. The camera cannot lie. It is tolerably true that the camera does not lie, but by concentrating on one incident the producer can give an inaccurate impression of the whole. For instance, a demonstration may go off 99 per cent. of the time with no incident, and concentration on the one incident could give a totally false impression. Television is often just another way of saying good pictures. Thus, there is a particular difficulty in preserving the balance in the medium. That is made even more difficult by the demands of time. Whereas I, in a newspaper article, might have 800 or 1,000 words in which to produce a balanced report of an incident or a demonstration, the television programme might have to try to compress that incident into 30 or 45 seconds. That again produces difficult problems. So it is part of my case that television provides special demands which make the presence of a check very important, but broadcasting has one other important characteristic; that is, that it operates in a monopoly, or at any rate a duopoly situation. The viewer has a choice of programmes basically made by two alternative organisations. This has, historically, led to the requirement for balance and objectivity. I would maintain that it remains the duty of the broadcasting organisations and of television and radio to inform rather than to persuade or reflect a particular view of society. I would not, for example, accept the Stuart Hood theory that this simply plays into the hands of the Establishment. I cannot see that, given the present structures of broadcasting, there is any alternative but the course which we adopt at the moment—the concept of balance, of fairness. Nor do I believe that balanced reporting is necessarily dull reporting—indeed, exactly the opposite. If there is one thing that I have learned from my years as a journalist, it is that opinions are pretty easy to acquire and dispense but that the acquisition of facts is rather more difficult. Yet balanced reporting is far more valuable than opinion-mongering. I would add to the case for a broadcasting council that such a council would help to preserve this rôle for the organisations, help to preserve the balance. We then have to decide what kind of broadcasting council we want. The Bow Group has recently put out a pamphlet making the case for a very wide council. This idea of a council would deal with alternative patterns of television and the deployment of resources. One could extend it further, I suppose, since it would be possible to consider the staffing situation within the organisations, for example. The example which is sometimes given is the apparent male preponderance at the B.B.C., aptly described in The Guardian headline, "Why is Auntie run by Uncles?" But I do not see how the council which I have in mind could go as wide as the Bow Group or some other supporters of a council would want it to go. I believe that the essential rôle of the council would be to operate when the public believe that their rights or interests have been infringed. It would be essential to deal with complaints coming from the public. I would not attempt to make an entirely comprehensive list of the areas in which I think the council should operate, but I would suggest that there are at least five principal areas where it could make a real contribution to the standards of broadcasting. Most of these areas I have chosen because it has been shown by the Press Council's reports that it is in these areas that an independent body can judge. I recognise, of course, that there are great differences between broadcasting and newspapers, but at any rate the operation of the Press Council shows that it can operate and judge in most of the fields which I will mention. First, a member of the public should be able to complain to the council if he believes that the activities or methods of the broadcasting organisation have caused him harm in cases where there may have been intrusion, misrepresentation or, indeed, sharp practice—such as persuading people to appear on a programme to do one thing and then revealing on the actual programme that they are to do something substantially different. But, apart from the direct harm to individuals, the council should be able to hear complaints about the programmes themselves. Therefore, second, the public should be able to complain if programmes contain errors of fact, if they are misleading or if there are omissions. Omissions are particularly important, perhaps because the cutting of a particular sentence from an interview may give an entirely misleading impression of the whole answer given in the interview. I would suggest that the redress for a successful complaint should be the public correction of the mistake. Third, a member of the public should be able to complain when programmes show bias. This could amount to a portrayal of a situation over a period. Much more likely, however, it will amount to the occasional programme or interview. It could be a broadcaster's total misuse of a programme to put out a thoroughly mischievous view.That this House believes in preserving the freedom of the broadcasting organisations but also believes that the public should have the freedom to complain to a fully indepndent body covering both the British Broadcasting Corporation and the independent television companies in cases where they believe they have suffered damage or distress by the activities of broadcasting organisations or where they believe programmes have contained errors of fact, or have been misleading, or have shown bias, or have shown errors of taste; and urges Her Majesty's Government to examine immediately ways in which such a council can be constituted.
What would the hon. Member say to the proposition that my bias is his balance and his balance is my bias?
I will not try to follow that point, except to say that this can be, and has been, decided by the Press Council. I was going on to give an example, which might show the hon. Member my intention. Of course I accept that it will be difficult to draw the line, but that does not necessarily mean that we should not make the attempt.The example I had in mind—I shall be pleased to give it in detail if necessary—is a broadcaster totally misusing a programme to put out a thoroughly mischievous view, as in a religious programme earlier this year on the Immigration Bill, when the Bill was attacked not as a difference of opinion, although that was implied as well, but on patently false and scaremongering grounds. That would be something on which the broadcasting council could intervene. It could also intervene when an interviewer had become too involved in the situation which he was reporting and had, to use the words of a B.B.C. executive in the last few days "gone over the top" in putting his own views. It should be made clear that the function of an interviewer, like that of a reporter, is to elicit the views of the person being interviewed. It is certainly to test those views. But what is not his function is to put forward his own views of a certain situation. If the interviewer wants to give us the benefit of those views, he is best able to do so as a newspaper writer or as a politician.
There is and must be in current affairs reporting an interrogative function for the television journalist which involves putting a contrary view but not necessarily and certainly not conspicuously the point of view of the reporter himself.
I entirely accept that, especially from the hon. Gentleman who has so much experience as a producer of television programmes. But it is a question of where the line is drawn. The interrogative function of a reporter is, clearly, important, as long as it does not go to the point where he intrudes his own views. That is where the line must be drawn.
Would my hon. Friend also consider whether there is a case for what might be called columns of the air; in other words, certain moments on television, clearly defined, as programmes rather like the columns in The Guardian, or any other newspaper? There would, clearly, have to be a balance between such columns, but it would seem a perfectly feasible and legitimate activity for journalists on television or for television reporters, so long as it was properly controlled.
That would have to be carefully considered, but it is something with which I should have sympathy. It would be like an objective newspaper that aims to have its news reported as objectively as possible, as it must, but puts its opinions in the leader columns or inside articles by columnists who are employed for that purpose. What I do not want, and what is objectionable in the broadcasting context, is the intrusion of views into the presentation of news and current affairs programmes as such.The fourth area in which the broadcasting council should be able to operate is the difficult area where there are alleged errors of taste. I concede at once that this may be the most difficult of all in which to operate. It is most difficult because the difficulty of definition is most striking. That does not prevent the opponents of a broadcasting council from putting their definitions of taste, such as the letter to The Times by Hugh Carleton Greene, who considered that his era at the B.B.C. was an era which was liberal and adventurous. That is a fairly good value judgment, but it should at the least be open to challenge. Those who say that taste has no part in it should at least study the Press Council report of last year. A section of the Press Council's annual report is devoted to matters of taste and matters when the Press Council has found itself able to adjudicate. If there is one specific example, it would be that of violence on the screen. This is the proper concern of all of us, and there can be little doubt that that kind of portrayal does, or may, have a general effect on some viewers. The fifth thing that a broadcasting council would be able to do is to make an occasional declaration of principle. This, too, is something borrowed from the Press Council itself. The Press Council, for example, has made declarations of principle about the payment of criminals for articles in newspapers. It may be—I throw this out as a suggestion—that the present Ulster situation could have formed the subject of one of these declarations of principle. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would accept that there are undoubted problems about reporting that exceptionally difficult situation. A declaration of principle might have provided both reassurance to the public and guidance to broadcasters, which would have been more effective for coming from an independent body. That is the kind of broadcasting council which I should like to see. Against it are deployed two main arguments. The first is that it is already being done and the second is that it cannot be done in any event. The already-beingdone school used to point to the B.B.C. programme "Talkback" as the kind of thing it had in mind. Although I think "Talkback" is a perfectly adequate and entertaining programme, I do not think anyone would regard it as carrying out the kind of functions which I have set out. The school now points with rather more force to the new B.B.C. programmes complaints commission. This has a number of disadvantages. It is limited; it does not consider questions of general standards; it is not possible to complain directly to it, but only after the B.B.C. has rejected the complaint; it does not apply to independent television, which has a different procedure and which may develop different criteria.
My hon. Friend has mentioned Northern Ireland. One of the difficulties about the complaints commission is that while anyone who has a complaint against the Press may complain to the Press Council, according to the terms of reference of the B.B.C. programmes complaints commission only the individual who has been offended or injured, or an organisation which has been treated unjustly or unfairly, may make the complaint, and then only after having complained to the B.B.C. That is surely a grave defect.
That, too, supports what I am saying. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to develop that later.I was explaining the defects of the B.B.C. programmes complaints commission. The major defect is in what it seems to the public to be, why it seems to have been set up. Almost universally in the Press it has been regarded as a pre-emptive strike by the B.B.C. to prevent a broadcasting council, and I think it will be so regarded by the public. It may not be regarded by the public as a sham, but it will certainly be regarded as an unsatisfactory substitute for the real thing. It may be a sop in the right direction, but nevertheless a sop. The alternative school says that nothing can be done in any event. It is said that the checks of the governors are sufficient. There is added to this argument an argument that I have always considered slightly curious, that if there is an independent adjudicating body, it will undermine the whole management structure and control of the B.B.C. or other independent organisations. I do not think that the argument is sustained, nor do I believe that the Government think it sustained. Otherwise I cannot understand why yesterday in this House my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should have announced new procedure for checks in complaints against the police. My right hon. Friend was not saying, when he introduced these new checks, that he did not have confidence in the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police or in the police force generally. What he was saying was that here is a system which does justice to both sides more adequately. So, as I say, I regard that argument as not sustainable. An additional argument is that it is only broadcasters who can understand broadcasting; yet the Press Council is chaired by a non-journalist; non-journalists are members of the Press Council. Of course, we recognise that the broadcasters have fears about a new independent body being set up. It was also true that when the Press Council was set up journalists and newspaper editors had fears. But I would refer these broadcasters and producers and editors, fearful of an independent council, to the article in the Evening Standard by Charles Wintour, a very respected—one of the most respected—figures ill Fleet Street, the editor of the Evening Standard, who pointed out that these fears had existed when the Press Council was set up. He summed up by saying that everyone now in the industry knows that those fears bear no relation to reality. The Press Council has spoken up for Press freedom on a number of occasions. That would happen also with the broadcasting council. There are those in broadcasting who do not believe that the public have an interest in any event. They take the view that the public interest is somehow superfluous. I call in aid Leve Stuart Hood who in an article in The Listener referred to the new members of the B.B.C.'s own commission as men whose only obvious constituency is a local and parliamentary establishment of this country. The arrogance of that kind of attitude in itself almost makes out a case for a broadcasting council. I have tried to outline the duties and scope of a broadcasting council. The form of its constitution could be settled reasonably quickly by a committee of inquiry. Whatever its constitution, the requisites are clear. It should be independent and be seen to be independent. Its basic powers should be the powers of publication and the public correction of mistakes and errors made. I do not believe that such a council would place an intolerable burden on broadcasters any more than the Press Council has placed an intolerable burden on journalists. I believe, however, that it would have a good persuasive effect on standards of broadcasting and contribute to maintaining the accuracy and fairness of broadcasting organisations. Above all, it is something that the public want, and it is something which they have the right to demand.
I would like to begin by offering my congratulations to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) both on raising this subject and on the exhaustive and moderate way he has done so. I would, however, ask him to accept that on this side of the House there is a certain attitude of hostility to the notion of a broadcasting council because of the great concern which many hon. Members feel, which I tried to express in exchanges with the Home Secretary yesterday over calls for the limitation or, some of us might think, political censorship on reporting specifically in Northern Ireland but also in other exacerbated political situations.There is also a certain sadness on this side that the Annan Committee, which should have examined the need, if there was one, for a complaints council just as it should have examined the whole rôle of broadcasting, was so peremptorily despatched. It was clear from a letter by Lord Annan in The Listener, in reply to an article by Mr. Robert Kee, that his Committee had he been allowed to go ahead, would have examined the whole area of redress of grievances and would probably at the end of the day have come up with improved mechanism for meeting the complaint to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. For a long time there has been pressure of one sort or another far this kind of complaints council. The classic answer was provided by the Pilkington Committee some years ago. After a number of people had come forward to give evidence, saying that there should be some form of consumers council which would have some degree of regulatory power over broadcasting authorities, it replied:
This is a serious argument against the setting up of an independent complaints council, whatever its functions and whatever its responsibility should be, entirely divorced from those who preside over the creative function in broadcasting. Although I go a little way along the road with the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, all of us should bear in mind this reservation expressed by the Pilkington Committee. I do not believe that we can set up a body to arbitrate over taste, over political balance, over alleged bias, and so on, which is separate from those who have creative responsibility. I hope briefly to show why. There is another argument advanced against the setting up of any new body whatever. That is the fact that, whereas the Press Council presides over the affairs of an independent Press which is, theoretically at least, open to new recruits from time to time, and is privately owned, the broadcasting organisations are themselves watched over, in the public interest, by public authorities. The governing bodies of both B.B.C. and I.T.A. are equally public authorities. Therefore, the suggestion is that these organisations, because they are different in kind from those which exercise editorial or regulatory functions within the Press, should indeed be supported with advisory councils but not be superseded by any new body. If we consider for a moment the sort of people appointed by the present Minister and all his predecessors from both parties to membership of the Authority or of the Board of Governors of the B.B.C., it is clear that they adequately represent what one might call mainstream opinion in this country. They represent most of the strands of the political consensus. They are retired politicians, civil servants, trade unionists—people who represent the balance at the broad centre of opinion. I do not believe that they are in any way deficient at representing that mainstream opinion to the programme producers, whether in I.T.V. or the B.B.C. As an instance, I take an example from some years ago when there was an intervention, so hon. Members opposite might think, in the interests of the Labour Party. In 1950, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe, then Chairman of the Governors of the B.B.C., took off a play called "Party Manners" because, he said,"If authority to provide a service, and responsibility for what is provided, do not rest in the same hands, then those who have the effective power will not be answerable; and those who are answerable will not have effective power. New organisations, whether intended to regulate, or to admonish and encourage, or to censor, involve the separation, in greater or lesser degree, of responsibility for standards from the creative function in broadcasting; that is, the function of planning the service and producing the programmes."
Individuals of weight and judgment, to use Lord Simon's portentous phrase, have never, I submit, been lacking in power to influence the course of British broadcasting. Individuals of weight and judgment always have redress of a sort. There are many ways open to them of expressing a point of view and of achieving, in time, a change in direction or style within the broadcasting organisations. There is a third, if somewhat negative, argument against the setting up of a complaints council which is founded on the nature of those who propose such a council. Many people—this is true of most of my former colleagues in broadcasting, as it is certainly true of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), whom I am glad to see here hoping to take part in the debate—believe that the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) in the pamphlet to which his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South referred and, more particularly, by Mrs. Mary Whitehouse and her organisation are profoundly disturbing. Such people call for the tone and style—lifestyle, so to speak—of broadcasting to be altered, and altered in a way which more particularly fits their view of the world. This, to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and to most professional broadcasters, seems a profoundly dangerous trend. It has already been said that the difference between what I regard as firm principle well accepted and what hon. Members opposite might regard as bias or propaganda is purely in the mind of the beholder, purely in the mind of the viewer. When the hon. Member for Aldershot calls in his pamphlet for disciplinary action against the "Guevarists" who are running television and talks about propaganda masquerading as entertainment, he worries and alarms almost everyone who works in broadcasting, and, I believe, he alienates all responsible broadcasters from his point of view. I remind hon. Members that the polician, or, indeed, anyone in public life, is not in a good position to feel hypersensitive about the nature of comment. For many years the politician has been hypersensitive to comments made about him, about alleged omissions and alleged slants in the Press, since long before television was invented. I have looked up the report of a debate in the House exactly 200 years ago, when Colonel Onslow, a member of a distinguished family still represented here, complained about the treatment which hon. Members were then receiving from the Press. He said:"It was represented to me by individuals of weight and judgment that it held British statesmen up to contempt in a way which was improper and undesirable".
It is at least possible that that member of the Onslow family was sometimes a villain, sometimes an idiot and sometimes both, but he would have been the last person to see it. Edmund Burke, replying immediately afterwards said:"Sometimes I am held up as a villain, sometimes as an idiot, and sometimes as both. Today they call me Little Cocking George. They will find I am a cock they will not easily beat."
I suggest that we should fix our hands on the particular libel. We should realise that liberty cannot be retained within the media—and certainly not in broadcasting—without the possibility of licence always being there. We cannot legislate it away. We cannot control it away. We cannot set up some new statutory body so to regulate broadcasting that it will be eliminated, because one can eliminate it only by eliminating the free communication system at the same time."It is impossible the liberty of the Press can exist without the probability of its falling Into licentiousness; but there is a corrective. Do not make war against all publication of our proceedings; fix your hand on the particular libel. By doing so you leave the liberty unrestrained".
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. He has suggested that politicians are peculiarly sensitive to criticism. I remind him of the recent experience of Private Eye, a highly critical journal. According to an analysis which it put out recently, those who are most sensitive to criticism are its fellow journalists. Almost all the libel actions taken against Private Eye have been taken by other journalists, not by politicians.
I think that that is true, yes, but I had not thought that journalists were calling for the sort of body now proposed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, and I am addressing myself to him and those who support him.
The hon. Gentleman makes that point, but it is a significant fact that there is virtual unanimity among the newspapers in supporting the idea of a broadcasting council.
In the editorial columns, yes. I concede that. The hon. Gentleman has quoted, for example, Mr. Charles Wintor. However, if one looks back to the columns of the Press at the time when the Press Council was instituted, one finds that there was far less unanimity about the need for discipline, regulation and so on.In moving his Motion, the hon. Gentleman said that he wished to have a council to investigate complaints that rights or interests had been infringed. I go a certain way with this new "Fowler's Usage of Complaint", because I think that his first category—activities which cause an individual harm, misrepresentation or serious error of fact which can be shown to have taken place in programmes—needs a degree of redress, though I hope to show in a moment that such redress is not satisfactorily secured from the broadcasting organisations at the moment. The hon. Gentleman then went on to speak about bias over a period or in the occasional programme, about reporters "going over the top", quoting Mr. Huw Wheldon's description of the Alan Hart interview with Mr. Faulkner. I honestly believe that is is impossible to move into this area of bias and alleged bias without serious difficulty which will lead, whatever the hon. Gentleman may say by way of disclaimer, to a form of political censorship, a muting of the free debate which is one of the glories of our communications system. I do not often quote Lord Hill, and still less do I agree with him, but Lord Hill said not long ago that if a man's politics got into his programmes he would not last very long, not because of his politics but because of his programmes. I believe that to be true. The viewers and the broadcasting organisations know propaganda when they see it. If a producer or reporter obtrudes into his television programmes his own opinions over a period of time in a way which is overtly propagandist, he will not survive for long. I can say that with some authority, having worked for 10 years in current affairs television, first with the B.B.C. and then with I.T.V. One experience I had during that time was that whenever one did a programme on any outstanding political subject, whether home affairs or foreign affairs, the complaints coming in afterwards would almost balance fifty-fifty. If one did a programme about the Middle East, for example, there would be a body of complaint saying that it had been pro-Israeli, and there would be another body of complaint saying that it had been pro-Arab. Over a period, the letters almost balanced one another out. It is very difficult to have any kind of organisation set up to attempt to look at these allegations of balance and to assess complaints on a serious issue of misrepresentation on a purely political issue, since the outrage of a particular viewer may just be that his viewpoint has not been given proper prominence. Still less, I believe, is it possible to assess questions of taste. Mrs. Mary Whitehouse is our chief self-appointed arbiter of taste. I remind the House of what Mrs. Whitehouse has said over the course of time about programmes which have been put out, especially in drama. In her book Cleaning up T.V." a few years ago, one sees reference to the sort of programmes to which she has objected, and they go all the way through to what are now regarded by almost everyone as serious television classics. The drama "Culloden", which was put on some years ago and made the name of Mr. Peter Watkins, was attacked in the most savage terms by Mrs. Whitehouse as a programme which should not be shown, which contained undue violence and which was an unnecessary intrusion into the viewer's living room. It is very difficult for a new organisation to set itself up as an arbiter of taste. If there is to be any form of complaints council, it should have a very limited function. It should devote itself entirely to the first point which the hon. Member raised, namely, activities by the broadcasting organisations which have caused an individual serious harm through misrepresentation. I accept that this happens; it is within my professional memory. Many such incidents are reported, and people appeal to us to intervene on their behalf against the broadcasting organisations. It is no longer true to say, I fear, that the B.B.C. Governors fulfil the rôle for which they were set up because, under Lord Hill, they have taken unto themselves an executive rôle as well as the rôle of regulation. I do not think that "Yesterday's Men" should be used as an example of unfair misrepresentation, bias and lack of balance providing a reason for saying that there should be a broadcasting council, because most of the people who were misled in that programme were statesmen who had other means of redress. But Lord Hill and the B.B.C. Governors intervened in the programme "Yesterday's Men". They saw it and had it edited before it was transmitted. Afterwards there was an inquiry. Protests were made by hon. Members, on both sides of the House, about the way in which the programme had been made, and the same governors and the same chairman set themselves up as a court of inquiry to look into a programme part of the history of which was their direct responsibility since they had intervened at a late stage in the making, scheduling and showing of the programme and had made decisions about it as to what should and should not be shown. It is this dual function exercised by the B.B.C. Governors which causes me some concern. The I.T.A. is to put proposals to the Minister in the next few days for a fourth channel—a second channel within the I.T.V. system. If it were to propose, as it might and as I think it should, that that channel should be run by a body analogous to Independent Television News directly responsible to the I.T.A. and not to the programme companies, and if this proposal were accepted, it would have a programme-making rôle as well as a regulatory rôle. The B.B.C. is 10 times larger than it was pre-war when roughly the present mechanism for answering complaints through the agency of the governors was set up. It is now too large to carry out this function properly. I do not believe that the programme complaints commission which has been set up by the B.B.C. is any more than a political gesture. It can neither be seen to be independent, since its staff is to be provided within the B.B.C., and its initial three members nominated by the B.B.C., nor will it cover the whole of television since it will be responsible only for complaints against the B.B.C. and can deal with them only after they have gone through the normal processes of the corporation. I agree that there should be a complaints commission set up independent of the present broadcasting organisations to do one thing only, and that is to investigate complaints of individual misrepresentation. I am not concerned about senior politicians who have other means of redress. I am concerned about people like the five workers in the power industry who were called, out of the blue, to appear on "The Frost Programme" in December last year and were subjected to a kind of kangaroo court by the producers of that programme after there had been serious misrepresentation of what the nature of the programme was to be, and with very little opportunity of redress after the cause which they had been brought in to represent had been muddied and misrepresented throughout the programme, and one of them had been physically assaulted. It is from programmes like that much more than from programmes like "Yesterday's Men" that the need has emerged for redress for individuals who have been misrepresented and trampled upon by the broadcasting organisations. I do not think that such individuals are getting redress from the I.T.A. or from the B.B.C. Governors as at present constituted. I should like to say a few words about what I think the nature of the complaints council should be. It should not be a nominated body like all the other nominated bodies we have in this country. We are far too frightened of the elective principle. I suggest that there should be a commission of 12 members with, in addition, an independent chairman of judicial experience, as with the Press Council. I suggest that there should be six members drawn from the broadcasting profession and six members drawn from the public. Four of them on each side should be elected and two nominated. The four elected should come from among the members of the broadcasting profession through their professional associations and trade unions, and four should be elected from the public, either by people who hold television licences or, as this is a regressive system and does not cover many people who watch television but do not hold a licence, by people such as students, old people and those who are not householders and responsible for the payment of the licence by other means. In Holland people are deemed to be members of one of the broadcasting associations if they are subscribers to the programme journal of that association. We could merge the Radio Times and TV Times into a single programme journal for the whole of broadcasting and make the people who elect the public members for the complaints council the readership of that journal. That would be likely to give a pretty fair cross-section of the public represented. People like Mrs. Whitehouse could offer themselves for election precisely like anyone else and might well be elected. I prefer the elective principle to the nominative principle.
As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is proposing a complaints council with exactly the same terms of reference as the programme complaints commission of the B.B.C. but composed, as to half of it, of employees of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. Does he think that that would be regarded as a fairer tribunal of appeal than, say, the three people whom the B.B.C. has appointed?
Yes, I do. It would be a fairer tribunal of appeal for two reasons. First, it would not simply be a group of nominated, establishment, elder statesmen. Secondly, it would be able to call upon people who were genuinely representative of the public and of all shades of opinion in broadcasting. It is not true to say that all professional broadcasters are employees of the B.B.C. and I.T.V. companies. Thanks partly to the policies of the Government, a great many of them are unemployed. They are not employees of anyone, but they maintain their membership of their trade unions and, therefore, are still members of the broadcasting profession.Given the nature of misrepresentation by television, and given what television editing can sometimes do, it is necessary to have television professionals on the commission to assess how well or how badly programmes have been put together and edited and what omissions have been made. Television professionals should be on it because I would expect—and this is one way only in which I would slightly extend the functions beyond those expected by the B.B.C. of its new commission—there to be complaints against the broadcasting organisations by broadcasters themselves. Journalists serve on the Press Council; it is entirely proper, therefore, that there should be broadcasters on the complaints council. Finally, I would like the complaints council to be capable, therefore, of giving this second opinion, of providing a means of redress, by publishing within the broadcasting journals which we have in this country and also having the right to have its verdicts carried on the offending broadcasting channel. I feel that it would, over a time, build up a body of case law and that it would build up a code of practice for broadcasters, a code which, I regret, all too many broadcasters at present do not have. It would not be dangerous to the broadcasting profession. It would in some ways be an advantage to the broadcasters themselves to see themselves in this critical light, and it would certainly be of advantage to people who at present feel they are not getting adequate redress.
I should like to begin by joining with the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) on having the foresight to put down this Motion on the Order Paper—and also on being astute enough to be here to move it when the earlier discussion dried up. So often one can be taken by surprise when an interesting discussion ends unexpectedly soon, and if my own contribution to this debate is not as polished as it ought to be I hope that hon. Members will understand that I was not aware that we were actually going to reach this Motion today. I would naturally have liked further opportunity to contemplate what I would say before I had to say it.I should now like to examine in some detail what is contained in my hon. Friend's Motion. He says, quite properly, and certainly with my full support, that we believe
Heaven forbid that we ever try to put them under the direct, day-to-day control of Parliament. I am certain that that would be a terrible calamity, and the rapidity with which broadcasting would deteriorate in its several forms makes the imagination boggle. Therefore, the principal philosophy of this Motion is one which I would certainly myself warmly support; but then we come to that word "but". This is where "but" comes—as it is down in the Motion—because we are now getting into the field of reservations. Let me say at once that one of the things which I myself applauded in my mind when my hon. Friend was speaking was the emphasis which, from the very beginning until the end, he put on fairness—fairness to those who are aggrieved. I am sure that this is something which we want to ensure so far as is possible, provided that we do not upset the preservation of the freedom of the broadcasting organisations. My hon. Friend then goes on in the Motion to some of the things which might possibly be grounds for complaint, and on which we have to ensure that there is fairness in enabling the complaints to be ventilated and dealt with. He goes on to speak of people who."in preserving the freedom of the broadcasting organisations".
Although I would go along with him to a certain extent. I have a certain qualification about the last part of that quotation because, strangely enough, there can be absolutely genuine differences as to what is fact. I would hesitate to be quite as sweeping as my hon. Friend has been. In saying that if anybody believes that as a result of wrongful presentation of fact he has suffered damage or distress by the activities of the broadcasting organisations we say there is prima facie, automatically a case that such complaint ought to be ventilated, provided that we can arrive at the right machinery for doing so, but when it comes to challenging whether fact is a fact or is not a fact we get on to very dangerous ground indeed in setting up an organisation deliberately to look into that sort of matter. I would only say that if a libel is committed there is a remedy. Moreover, sometimes facts can be so arranged as to worsen the libel more than if the libel were only the result of gross misrepresentation. I am not a lawyer, but I know that the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) on the Opposition Front Bench is. However, I would say that it is not always inevitable that a libel is not based on fact. A libel sometimes is. I would say that the cleverer and more imaginative the arrangement of facts, the grosser is the libel which may be committed. Therefore, we must be very careful not to set up something which will replace what is ordinarily the process of the courts and within the procedure of the courts. I do not think we want to do that, and if we were to do so we should come on to a very dangerous area indeed in considering, as my hon. Friend suggests, errors of fact which"believe they have suffered damage or distress by the activities of broadcasting organisations or … believe programmes have contained errors of fact".
as his Motion says. I really cannot go along with this. I am absolutely convinced that if the Governors and the Director-General and the main producing staff of the B.B.C. or Independent Television are the men they ought to be we have got to leave it to them if we are to preserve the freedom of broadcasting. By all means let us express our opinions, but do let us be very careful before we start setting up a separate organisation to deal with matters of this kind. The B.B.C. has published a bulletin, of which I have a copy, entitled B.B.C. Record, No. 76, published in October this year. The B.B.C. sets out clearly what it has in mind in setting up the complaints commission. I thought the hon. Member for Derby, North a little uncomplimentary about these distinguished men who have been selected to serve on this commission—Lord Parker, a former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Maybray-King, a former Speaker of the House of Commons, and Sir Edmund Compton, the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—the Ombudsman to most people. I think the hon. Member was a little unfair to them. I would have said that anyone who has sat on the bench for years, as Lord Parker must have done, has a pretty good idea of what life is about. I would have said that Lord Maybray-King, having been Speaker of this House, knows well the varieties of things which can stir the emotions of men and women frequently. Who could know better? As for Sir Edmund Compton, there could hardly be a better expert in dealing with complaints about administration by the Establishment. I would say that these are very distinguished figures, and I am quite certain that they will be capable of carrying out the rôle which has been given to them. We have to be very clear what the B.B.C. has in mind in the terms of reference of its commission. Paragraph 4 of the terms of reference is the one which interests me particularly:"have shown bias, or have shown errors of taste"
That seems to me a very substantial point, which is made in my hon. Friend's Motion. It is accepted by the B.B.C., and I do not see why the Independent Television Authority could not contrive an organisation similar to that. I think, however, we have to make one very clear distinction between the Press and the B.B.C. There is no governing body of the Press, whereas there is a Board of Governors of the B.B.C. This inevitably greatly undermines the argument which says that because there is a Press Council we must have a comparable body to look at the B.B.C. which is independent of the B.B.C. I happen to believe that the Press Council has been a dead loss. I do not think it has made very much difference. It may have helped to restrain somewhat the invasion of privacy which had taken place before the Council was set up, but not much If all that we are aiming at is a body comparable to the Press Council to look after the B.B.C., heaven help us. That is not what is required at all. If we have a board of governors it is as well, if a complaint arises, first to go to those who are supposed to be in charge, and commissioned to be in charge as a result of legislation. I draw a very clear distinction between the B.B.C. and the Press. Therefore, the case has yet to be made for producing machinery to enable people to go straight to that machinery before even going to the people who have the statutory responsibility for seeing that the B.B.C. behaves honourably My experience of broadcasting is a little limited and out of date. I first started producing radio programmes after I was incapacitated in the Greek campaign in 1941 and had six months' recuperation thereafter in Cairo. I wrote and produced a series of programmes, ten in all, and four scrapbook programmes dealing with years 1926, 1927, 1928 and 1929. I also participated in their presentation. We were then operating under a pretty strict censorship—perhaps I am the only hon. Member present who has produced a programme when full censorship was in force. Luckily, our type of programme was not one which would very often run that gauntlet, but there were occasions when historical representations could have done damage to the morale of our own people or encouraged enemy morale, so we had to keep that in mind. Nevertheless, it is not very nice to feel someone breathing down one's neck all the time. As I said in the debate on the Compton Report on Northern Ireland, I detest the word "censorship" probably more than any other word in the English language and I do not want to see any form of it brought into broadcasting. But we must ensure that channels of communication between listeners and viewers on the one hand and the B.B.C. or I.T.A. on the other hand is as good as we can make it without infringing that vital principle of the freedom of the broadcasting corporations which my hon. Friend puts in the very forefront of his Motion. It would be well worth the while of hon. Members to study the very excellent speech by Mr. Charles Curran, Director-General of the B.B.C., delivered at the Edinburgh Broadcasting Conference on 23rd March of this year. The hon. Member for Derby, North quoted Edmund Burke, and Mr. Curran also had a very appropriate quotation from Edmund Burke, who said:"The complaints which the Commission will consider and review are complaints from individuals or organisations claiming themselves to have been treated unjustly or unfairly in connection with a programme or a related series of programmes as broadcast. Unjust or unfair treatment shall include unwarranted invasion of privacy and misrepresentation."
I cannot think of a quotation that is more appropriate in the context of our debate. I should like to use some of Mr. Curran's own words as well, which set out with extraordinary clarity the B.B.C.'s position in matters of this kind. In page 10 of his published speech he says:"The degree of restraint it is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise public council to find out, by cautious experiments and rational, cool endeavours, with how little—not how much—of this restraint the community can subsist. For liberty is a good to be improved and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but a vital spring and energy of a state itself which has just so much life and vigour as there is liberty in it."
"That B.B.C.'s position is one of quasi-judicial impartiality. Just as most public law reflects the general will of the public, and just as some law reflects not simply that minimum standard which the public wishes to protect, but also what it would like to see as an ideal, so the B.B.C.'s programme philosophy seeks to display what the world is like, and to present what might be. Our judicial rôle is perhaps more like that of the Supreme Court in the United States than that of courts in this country. Judge-made law here tends towards conversation of what is written within the statute. Judge-made law in the Supreme Court, especially under a Chief Justice like Marshall, tends to expand the philosophy which led to the writing of the Constitution. In that respect, I suggest, the parallel with the B.B.C. is to be found more in the philosophical attitude of the Supreme Court.
Those are profoundly wise observations, and we may make inroads by Parliament or by setting up other institutions independent of the B.B.C. at our peril. It is worth recording that the ideal which my hon. Friend has mooted here was considered in some detail in the original Pilkington Report. Paragraph 426 says that the task of such a council would be part of what the governors and members were appointed to undertake but with the difference that:But both concepts call for an educated citizenry. Just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for committing crime, so the B.B.C. must argue that public ignorance of its programme intentions constitutes no basis for taking offence at what they contain. And that places on the B.B.C. a formidable responsibility for proclaiming its intentions to the audience in the clearest possible terms."
Again, we read in paragraph 432:"… the Council could not expect to acquire the same intimate knowledge of the organisations, or to enjoy the same confidence of the executive."
We have yet to disprove those words. They still obtain very forcibly today, and I do not think, with respect to my hon. Friend—and I fully appreciate that he condemns censorship just as much as I do—that his case for the investigation he seeks is yet made. I therefore ask him not to press his Motion. He has done the House a great service in raising the matter, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications will take note of what is said this afternoon, as, I am sure, the B.B.C. will also take note. I also hope that it will be noted by the I.T.A., because that body is just as much involved."The proposals for the creation of an external censorship throw into relief a crucial defect in all the suggestions for the creation of new organisations, whether intended to regulate, or to admonish and encourage, or to censor. All these suggestions involve the separation, in greater or less degree, of responsibility for standards from the creative function in broadcasting: that is, the function of planning the service and producing the programmes. Yet it is through the exercise of this function that standards are made. Only, therefore, when the two aspects—responsibility for, and creation of, standards—are contained in an organic whole can there be a complete and perceptive understanding of the nature of the responsibility."
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) had no need to apologise for lack of preparedness in his speech. What he has said has been very much to the point, and I confess myself perhaps slightly astonished at the degree of agreement which exists between him and me on the subject. He has recently been the subject of a very rude attack in a weekly journal, and I think that after his speech today it would become that journalist, who has hitherto been regarded as responsible, to apologise to him.
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member referred to the Pilkington Report. I am not prepared with that Report, but I recall that the paragraph preceding that with which the hon. Member concluded his quotation referred to the confusion which existed in the minds of people who wanted such a body of control. There were those who wanted a censor, those who wanted to regulate, those who wanted to plan and those who simply wanted to criticise and complain. Those differences, which were detected by the Pilkington Committee in 1962 and which caused the Committee to throw out the proposal, still exist today.I do not differ from those who have congratulated the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) for introducing this subject because it needs to be ventilated. There is a superficial attraction about it. One has a natural reaction that something should be done, but the question then arises, what? The more one looks into it the more doubtful one becomes. After the "Yesterday's Men" programme, the National Committee of the Labour Party thought that something should be done and gave provisional approval to the notion of a broadcasting council. I hope that on consideration it may be thought that more harm than good would be done by this step. I hope also that the Minister will not weaken in the view that he has hitherto expressed that this is something which no Government should or could support. The problem basically stems from broadcasting not being as various as other media of communication. Goodness knows, there is not enough variety in our Press, but at least there are weekly journals to save this side of the House from total extinction. We sometimes feel that we do not get a square deal from the daily papers. In the television and broadcasting media the balance which is struck is not in our favour. It is, perhaps, a balance of the middle of the House, but more a balance on the Government side.
We have the same idea about the Opposition side of the House.
We have the feeling that there is such a thing as the Establishment.The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely saw nothing wrong with the commission which the B.B.C. proposes to establish, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) could see a great deal wrong with the three-man commission. The difference between the two is that those three estimable gentlemen are establishment figures.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. It is, perhaps, an indication of the fair balance that is held that hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House feel that the media are biased against them, and hon. Members on the Government side of the House frequently feel that the bias is the other way.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong.
The hon. and learned Gentleman says that I am wrong, but that is certainly the feeling. If that is so, it indicates that a fairly level line is taken.
However that may be, the fact that these feelings are held indicates the difference between the nature of the broadcasting media and the newspapers. When one picks up a newspaper one knows what to expect. When one picks up The Times, The Guardian, the Morning Star or the Sun one knows that one will get a particular line of comment. Television and radio are expected to be all things to all men, and in that they must inevitably fail. Within their general programmes they try to give a fair balance of opinion, but since they must have a persona and character of their own, they cannot entirely succeed in that object. The programmes become B.B.C. fare or I.T.V. fare.We can get over this only by creating in the other media the variety which exists in the Press. Incidentally, we are in danger of losing the degree of variety we want in the Press. It would be a grave situation if the Press became more and more a single voice. We think in terms of broadcasting being a duopoly, in which there has never been a complete separation of responsibility between the corporation and the authority. No one can suggest that anybody, even the Press Council, is responsible for what appears in the newspapers. Separation is what we want to achieve. The Minister is taking a Bill through the House—or attempting to do so—to extend sound radio broadcasting. One might think that this would give us the additional authority we need, but no, it is to be under the control of the I.T.A. which is to be called the Independent Broadcasting Authority. So the point of responsibility, which is what counts, will still be the same for the local broadcasting stations. This is why I took the view that B.B.C. local radio should not be under the control of the B.B.C. but that more variety should be possible. I am not in favour of the B.B.C. monopoly, although I differ from some of my hon. Friends in that. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South said that we must do something about bad taste. I am horrified by that suggestion. Today's bad taste is tomorrow's orthodoxy. If the hon. Gentleman succeeded in eliminating bad taste, he would eliminate much of the flavour which necessarily goes into controversial programmes. What is bad taste to one person is not bad taste to another, and I agree with what has been said on the other side of the House on that.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about bad taste, but it is more difficult than that. Racial observations could be made which are the height of bad taste. There are other matters which could be clearly offensive to many people. Does the hon. Gentleman think there should be no attempt at restraint?
No, Sir, and the hon. Member brings me on to my final point. Having criticised what is now being said, I am about to say what should be done. I believe that what has gone wrong is that we have allowed the authorities to create their own advisory bodies. The B.B.C. Advisory Council is appointed by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. Advisory Council is appointed by the I.T.A. This means that they are advised by their own creatures.The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications is proposing in his Bill to create a series of advisory councils at all levels, which is probably a good thing in principle. Each local radio station is to have its own little advisory council and if an Amendment which has been tabled to the Bill is agreed to, I hope there will be a general advisory council; but such a general advisory council should be appointed not by the Independent Broadcasting Authority but by the Minister. If it is to have an independent voice and is to be answerable to anybody, it should make an annual report to the Minister which could be published and debated by this House. If this were done, we should get away from the danger of the creation of an all-over blanket body which may succeed in damping down what we do not want damped down. By all means let advisory bodies exist, but let them be independent and let them publish an annual report which can be debated in the House. This would appear to be the lines on which we should move and it would give some assurance to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have felt the need for assurance, without falling into the dangers which some hon. Members have discerned in the present proposals. I should be sorry to see the creation of what we thought would be a guard dog only to find that what we had acquired was a ravening wolf with a tendency to devour our liberties.
I have listened to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) with considerable interest, and I hope to cover some of the ground covered in the hon. Gentleman's concluding remarks. I wish to apologise to the House since, owing to a prior engagement, I shall have to leave the debate at 3.30.Whenever I listen to people talking about such outrages as the programme "Yesterday's Men", I find myself in the same sort of situation as my wife does when she attends a cricket match—I never actually see it. Just as she never sees the batsman hit a six, I never get to see the programme that arouses all the controversy. I have a sneaking feeling that a great many of us do not see many of these programmes which are criticised. I am not sure how we can since we are closeted in this place for many long hours; and, although there are television sets lurking somewhere in the building, I gather the attendance is not all that great. It reminds me of what happened during the General Election campaign. One was always being asked what one thought about a particular party political broadcast, but since one had been working hard in the constituency one had not the faintest idea. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) put forward an interesting case, although not a case with which in the last analysis I find myself in agreement. He said he believed in the need for a council to which people could complain and which would cover errors, omissions, bias and lapses of taste. He also thought that such a council should from time to time put forward declarations of principle which should govern the nature of broadcasting. I hope to deal with this matter a little later in my speech. We all know that abuses in broadcasting occur from time to time, as they do in any organisation. I have the feeling that a number of these abuses occur in the more obscure programmes rather than in those which attract high viewing audiences about which a large number of people will complain when something goes wrong. I was struck the other day by what happened in a programme in which I was taking part. The programme went out at a non-peak viewing time and, I assume, to a limited audience. I was invited to appear in the programme as a spokesman for the Government. Since the topic touched one of the more emotional problems of the moment, there was a spokesman on the other side of the case. The programme itself was not too bad, but I was a little taken aback when the interviewer said to a lady who was leading a delegation in protest about this particular aspect of Government policy: "Good luck to you. I hope you are successful with your campaign." There was a rather interesting sequel. A few days later I was telephoned by the people who put out the programme and invited to appear again. They said that the programme had produced an overwhelming response in letters from viewers. I went along prepared to be savaged and hammered but, to my amazement, when I got there the letters were all on my side. This was encouraging. But the form that the programme took was roughly as follows. First of all, quotes from a number of letters were read in what I can only describe as a very silly voice, no doubt designed to show that the people who had put forward their points of view were silly, blimpish and reactionary. Then one of the writers, a lady, was invited into the studio. I am not completely sure, but I took the view that she had never appeared on television before. She was subjected to a very tough grilling. I should not have minded if it had been me, obviously, since I am a politician and a communicator, but I felt that it was a little hard on her. There followed an interview with a Labour councillor, who was served up with a few of the easiest half-volleys that I have every experienced. I felt that this was a bit much, and I made it clear that I did. Happily, the person invited to appear with me as my opponent shared my views and said that he thought that it was outrageous. I suppose it will be said that I should have complained. I am afraid that I was too idle, though certainly I complained to the people on the spot. My experience suggests that perhaps these abuses exist in the more obscure corners of television and radio rather than in the more publicised ones. Having said that, I do not believe that a council is the right answer. Abuses exist, I have no doubt. But I suppose that somewhere in me there is a glimmering of my predecessor as the hon. Member for Aylesbury many years ago, John Wilkes, and the feeling that we have to uphold liberty in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) described so eloquently. I doubt whether a council would do that. I also have doubts about the "declaration of principle" point, but I shall come to that in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South said, I think correctly, that the Press Council has proved successful. I am a member of the Press, and I believe that already the Press Council has raised the standards of journalism and has performed a public service. But the situation that we are discussing is a different one. Happily the Press is made up still of a range of reasonably dispersed owners. We have not yet reached the state of monopoly or duopoly. In television programmes there is a different situation. Each of the two major providers of television programmes has a governing body. I suggest that there is an interesting difference between the Independent Television Authority and the B.B.C. which may explain partly why it appears that the B.B.C. incurs more complaints than Independent Television. This has to do with the nature of the management of the programme companies. In the Independent Television Authority there is a governing body which is separate from the managing bodies. There is the I.T.A. and the programme companies, and they have separate managements. What is wrong about the B.B.C. is that the two have become fused, and this has become especially true in the last few years. In the past, the B.B.C.'s governing body stood further apart from the programme makers than it does today. I suspect that the present Chairman, Lord Hill, has become rather too much of a manager and that this has had a little to do with the B.B.C.'s present problems.
The hon. Gentleman is reinforcing the point that I tried to make. It is that, since Lord Hill has an executive function, an appeal to him for the redress of a grievance cannot be made with the confidence that existed 10 years ago, when the Chairman of the B.B.C. had a different and regulatory function.
I accept that. I think that the answer is for the Chairman to revert to his original rôle. Of course, that cannot happen overnight. I think that the way to run the Corporation in future is to have a greater separation of powers than exists at the moment.The B.B.C. needs to go even further—it has made some progress in this—in defining who is responsible within the hierarchy for any programme. Anyone who has entered a television studio must have been struck by the extraordinary chain of command which exists. I cannot remember their titles. They are all bureaucratic fantasies. There is a string of them going up and down the scale, and it has been difficult to know who is responsible for a particular programme. The answer is emerging slowly but belatedly. We are moving towards a clearer definition of somebody who is the editor of a programme. We are moving towards the stage where one man is the boss of a programme just as one man is the boss of a newspaper. I believe that that system, which means that there is intervention about programme content at different levels, is harmful. It is up to the Corporation to develop further the idea of having somebody in charge of a programme. The B.B.C. ought to acknowledge the duty to provide transcripts of programmes to people who complain. This is not a new point; it has been raised frequently. However, I am sure that if that principle could be established we would have a better situation. I hope that these points help to support the case against having a broadcasting council, though I should not argue that it is not well worth discussion.
As I implied when I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler), it was to point out that under the terms of reference of the Press Council anyone—he does not need to be the person specifically aggrieved—can refer a complaint to the council for investigation. This is not so under the constitution of the complaints commission set up by the B.B.C. A Member of Parliament cannot, as a watchdog—he has a duty to perform in this sense—refer complaints. The notion of having a broadcasting council would allow persons, not necessarily those aggrieved, to take up complaints.I conveyed in a letter a number of complaints to Lord Hill some time ago. Correspondence is still going on. His reply to that particular letter displayed the truculent and arrogant attitude which ordinary viewers receive when they make complaints to the B.B.C. When a complaint is made we have a display of outraged innocence on the part of the B.B.C., and ordinary people have no one to whom they can complain and have their complaint dealt with properly. I shall restrict my remarks to the B.B.C. Although I.T.V. occasionally makes mistakes—we all do—it has none the less been consistently responsible in its coverage of the situation in Northern Ireland. The B.B.C. must take greater care in reporting the situation in Ulster. We do not want to censor the B.B.C. Broadcasting House is largely responsible for the publicity which the bogey about censorship has received. Nor do we want the B.B.C. not to report the facts fairly. It is its duty to report the facts. My complaint, and that of many people in Northern Ireland, is that the B.B.C. treats allegations as facts and broadcasts those allegations without checking them. This is causing grave danger in a sensitive situation. We all know that television is a powerful medium. Television interviewers are household figures. I understand that in many homes television reporters are regarded almost as members of the family. People watching television in their homes comment on changes in their clothes, their hair styles and whether they are gaining or losing weight. Everything said by a particular B.B.C. reporter is accepted as gospel truth. If he puts a slant on the reporting of a particular incident or shows himself to be critical of the person he is interviewing, people watching that programme immediately accept the stance taken by him. The impression which I have gained over a long period is that the B.B.C. tends to go for people who knock the Ulster Government and the Army operating in Northern Ireland. It also tends to present as fact statements which are really propaganda. We know from an interview given to a reporter on The Times by the Irish Republican Army in July of this year that the I.R.A. are
This is a danger which I believe the B.B.C. has not fully realised, even after three years of trouble in Northern Ireland. There was to my knowledge, and I have complained specifically of it to Lord Hill, the reporting of the riot at Long Kesh internment camp, when a Mrs. Stewart gave an interview. She was described as the secretary of the Civil Rights Association, but what the B.B.C. failed to tell viewers was that she was also a prominent member of the Communist Party of Ireland. One would have thought that viewers should have been given that information if they were to be able to test her credibility. Despite the fact that the Northern Ireland Government had given the B.B.C.'s office in Belfast earlier that afternoon a statement of the events at the camp, the B.B.C. did not broadcast the facts set out in that release. Instead, Mrs. Stewart was allowed to state that about 300 troops had brutally treated the internees and that 65 of them had been taken to hospital, the inference being that they had been severely injured. In fact, instead of 300 troops being deployed, only about 80 soldiers were used to deal with an extremely dangerous situation—the internees had armed themselves with staves and were holding four warders as hostages--and only five internees received superficial injuries, and they were all released from hospital within a matter of seven days. There was also the incident, of which I gave Lord Hill notice, of the interview after the shooting of two sisters in the Falls Road area of Belfast, when the Army major in charge was crossexamined—I do not think that to use the word "cross-examined" is to put it too strongly—by a B.B.C. reporter. When the alleged driver of the car in which the two sisters had been travelling was interviewed, he was allowed to give his statement of innocence without any challenge whatsoever. That is the sort of reporting which I strongly resent."Almost indecently eager for publicity, they admit frankly that 'propaganda is two-thirds of our battle'."
I saw the televised report of that interview, and that incident perhaps illustrates more than anything else the great difficulty of what we have been debating this afternoon. My impression was utterly contrary to that gained by the hon. Gentleman. The major who was asked questions came over on television as an honest, forthright and very clear individual, and at the end of his interview he was, I thought, very convincing, whereas in my opinion the driver of the other car was extremely unconvincing.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for that comment. None the less—and I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman can challenge this—the B.B.C. reporter accepted what the alleged driver of the car was saying—
—without treating him in the same hostile way—perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would regard "hostile" as too strong a word, but it is the one I choose to use—as he treated the Army major when he was giving his version of what took place.Let us consider another example. Only yesterday on the B.B.C. Radio 4 programme "The World Tonight" Mr. Hume, the Republican Member of Parliament at Stormont, was interviewed about proposals coming up at his sham Parliament at Dungiven. He was given freedom to say whatever he liked and no one else was present to challenge his views. This is a situation which all hon. Members would resent. If a member of one party appeared on any programme in this country, the opposing party would demand representation. But that did not happen in this case or in many other cases. Over the past three years the B.B.C. has given the Stormont Republican Members of Parliament, such as Messrs. Hume, Cooper and Currie, so much time on radio and television, particularly over the Northern Ireland media, that it has built them up into national figures. The same applies to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin). She has only to say something outrageous and, at a stroke—perhaps that is not a phrase I should use on this side—she is invited to appear on television. Sometimes a member of my party, the Unionist Party, is asked to give proper balance to the programme, but as often as not either the Republican Members of Parliament are allowed to give their views and make wild and often vicious allegations or else the B.B.C. invites someone who is not a Government representative or spokesman and who lacks the skill to counter the nonsense uttered by the Republicans. Sometimes the Republican Members of Parliament are matched against private individuals whose views are extremist, or else they are tricked into sounding extremist. Then, of course, that is supposed to represent the views of the majority in Northern Ireland. I remember one programme broadcast nationally half of which was devoted to a deferential interview with Mr. Hume, with scenes of his activity in Londonderry. He was portrayed as a moderate. The remainder of the programme was filled with an interview with former members of the B Specials, who were placed in a row and plied with loaded questions. I still do not understand why a member of the Unionist Party was not inivited to counter what Mr. Hume said. Certainly, that situation would never be accepted in England, Scotland or Wales. There is another incident on which I should like to comment, which took place today. On the Northern Ireland news media, a report was given that the Home Secretary had said in the House yesterday that the sooner responsibility for security is transferred to Westminster, the better. This was a mistake not of the B.B.C. but of the Press Association, but the release would have been received by the B.B.C. in Belfast yesterday afternoon. Was any attempt made to check with the Home Office or the Northern Ireland Government? None whatever. I should have thought that such an important alleged statement should have been checked so that the views of a Government representative could be put out over the radio. As it was, it was a false report which aroused deep anger in Northern Ireland. That just shows the danger which the irresponsibility of the B.B.C. creates in Northern Ireland. It is no use saying that the B.B.C. tries to be fair. I do not believe that it is fair on every occasion. I remember one occasion when a B.B.C. reporter went from London to Belfast to interview Brian Faulkner. He went merely because there were stories that the backbench Unionist Members at Stormont were in revolt against Brian Faulkner. When the revolt did not take place and Brian Faulkner told the reporter, the reporter said, "I am not interested in having an interview with you now" and he left. He was interested only in something which was what I would term bad news or controversial news. It is a very sad situation that that should exist. May I end on a personal note? I have often complained about not being invited to appear on the B.B.C. I said this to a B.B.C. reporter in Belfast, a senior man. He said, "If you say something outlandish, you will appear on television". Two months after that I said something which, as it turned out, was outlandish and I immediately appeared on "Talk-back". There must be a moral in that story.
I did not intend to take part in the debate when I entered the Chamber, but it has proved so interesting that I wish not only to take part, but to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) on moving the Motion.I feel impelled to speak to tell the House of a personal experience extremely relevant to the debate. In my constituency, as some hon. Members know, we have a number of slag heaps. In the area of Dinnington there was a high slag heap and the local community secured my help in making efforts to get a reduction in its height. I exchanged letters with the county planning officer on the subject. A local newspaper reporter asked me for a quote and I said, perhaps in a mood of excessive lightheartedness, that I wanted to see all slag heaps cleared, that I wanted them grassed, afforested or contoured in order to improve the environment. I said that we should get it done quickly, with urgency and with energy and that if anyone wanted to argue about it, we could leave one slag heap in Britain standing, just one, but that if one was to be left standing, it should not be in my constituency. Then in a partisan way I suggested that it should be left in any coalfield constituency which was silly enough to have returned a Tory Member. I suggested that it might be best of all situated in Bournemouth, where there is the constituency of the Minister who is responsible for the mining industry. Shortly after that I attended the Labour Party conference. On my return I found that the B.B.C. television in Yorkshire had put out a programme—it later refused me a transcript—in which it was said that the Labour Member of Parliament for Rother Valley had demanded that slag heaps be kept as historic monuments. The B.B.C. even sent a radio van around South Yorkshire to interview people for their comments—and the comments may be imagined. In view of the army of B.B.C. employees who appear at party conferences, it would have been relatively simple to check with me but no one attempted to do so. I found my agent and a number of my active workers a little perturbed by the comments which I had apparently made. I rang up the B.B.C. and asked for a transcript, but I was refused and I was told that it was a balanced programme, the balance being apparently provided by a lady who informed the interviewer—I understand that the slag heap was close to her home—that it kept the wind from her back yard. I expressed great anger about this incident and I was finally told on the telephone that the B.B.C. realised that something should be done to correct the impression which had been created, that it recognised my deep interest in improving the environment and that it proposed to put the matter right by inviting me to take an important part in a programme which it was to prepare on the environment. That was last November or December, and I have heard nothing since. Very few Members from South Yorkshire ever get the chance to appear on B.B.C. television or radio, except the interesting local radio at Sheffield. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said, politicians should not be too sensitive, and I have learnt one lesson—that one should not be excessively flippant and lighthearted, although that is evidence of a dull future for British politics. I was therefore not terribly worried myself, but I am worried that individuals who do not particularly relish publicity, who are not particularly at ease in the media, can be put into a position where they risk that sort of distortion. For that reason, I regard this debate as important, and I hope that the Motion will not fall on deaf ears.
No matter how persuasive my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) may have been in putting forward this Motion, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not take very much notice of it and will not pursue it any further.The whole subject was summed up by the exchanges between the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) and my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) when there was complete disagreement on the interpretation of an interview on television news with regard to something that had happened in Northern Ireland. To put it in a nutshell, the fact is that most of the disagreements which could occur are likely to arise during news reporting. But to have any impact at all news reporting must be immediate and of a situation which arises quickly, in which there is little time for the interviewers or those being interviewed to be aligned on party lines or on their different representations. The whole essence of this Motion, as I understand it, would be to control and inhibit the most vital thing in television and news broadcasting—the immediate impact and the quick interview. How would it be possible, in those circumstances, before the interview takes place to ascertain whether there had been errors of fact in regard to the interviewer, who is, after all, a highly individualistic person just as is often the case with the person being interviewed? How would it be possible to ascertain beforehand whether what was going to be said was likely to be misleading or biased?
I regret that I cannot give way. I have very little time, only a couple of minutes, and the Minister will be replying.How will it be possible to ascertain beforehand, and, indeed, if it were ascertained afterwards, what good would it do? It would inhibit such interviews in the future. It would make newscasting almost impossible.
It is no good my hon. Friend losing his temper and saying "Rubbish". Of course it would. These interviews are highly personal and they are taken on at a few moments' notice; they must be topical and quick. It would be impossible to edit them beforehand.Now the question of "errors of taste". Many people have widely differing views. What an extraordinarily difficult thing the council would be faced with. It would have an impossible task. Above all, news broadcasting would be relegated to a quite impossible and ridiculous position. I hope that my right hon. Friend, on that basis, will turn the Motion down and leave matters as they are.
I am conscious that the whole of this debate now has only some 27 minutes to run. So I shall be brief, and I shall not have the opportunity, perhaps, of answering all the points raised.It has been a somewhat unusual debate for one main reason. One would have expected on seeing this Motion on the Order Paper that there would have been a large number of speeches critical of broadcasting and television media. One would have expected, for example, that the hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Evelyn King), who has been very active in these matters, would have given us his view of the errors of taste which the Corporation makes continuously, so he said. On the contrary, the only person who has made what one could call an openly partisan, critical speech has been the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). I would say only one thing to him: the function of the B.B.C. is not to be an official medium of propaganda for the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.
I never said that.
That is what it virtually came to, with respect, because what we had from the hon. Gentleman was a series of complaints that if only the B.B.C. had presented a certain set of facts in a different way it might have looked different on the screen. Of course, it would have looked different on the screen, but, with respect, that is not the function of the British Broadcasting Corporation in reporting what happens in Ulster.
I am not suggesting that. I emphasised that I was not arguing that the B.B.C. ought to act as a propaganda medium for the Unionist Party or for the Army. All I am suggesting is that it should not present allegations as facts.
With respect, I understand the burden of the hon. Gentleman's point about the interviews which Mr. Hulme is supposed to have given on television—
They should be balanced.
Of course, they should not be, and could not be, balanced. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other Ministers and Members go on television daily in this country, but no one suggests that if the Prime Minister goes on television my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition must go on with him. That must be nonsense, and, with respect, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows it.I turn now to the serious part of the debate. In recent months, there has been great public concern about the way in which the broadcasting media have been behaving. It is undisputed, I think, that there has been more public expression of disquiet within the last 12 months than, perhaps, for many years before that. This Motion, I suppose, is in one way an expression of that public concern and disquiet. I realise that to a certain extent that concern and disquiet has been expressed, somewhat vigorously perhaps, from this side of the House. Undoubtedly, the programme "Yesterday's Men" aroused extremely strong feeling and emotions among Labour Members. Unlike some hon. Members opposite, I had an opportunity to see the programme. The B.B.C. kindly put it on so that I could go and see it. I confess that immediately after I had seen it I left in a state of mind, of temper and of temperature such that if this Motion had been on the Order Paper for debate that day not only should I have spoken for it but I should have voted for it and done my best to persuade my party to go along with it as well. Fortunately, the Motion was not on the Order Paper that day. Perhaps more sober counsels and wiser thoughts have prevailed, at least in my mind, since then. My first observation in response to the Motion and the speech of the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) in moving it is that there is an enormous distinction between an error of fact or a misrepresentation which can or cannot be established, on the one hand, and a judgment which is necessarily subjective about matters of taste, bias or balance, on the other. To return for a moment to the hon. Member for Down, North, I know not how one can establish the balance of a programme other than in most general terms save by a subjective judgment, which in itself must be based upon the view of the individual who is looking at the programme. As the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) said a few moment ago, we had a good example in the case which the hon. Member for Down, North brought up. The hon. Member for Down, North saw that programme. I saw it. He saw it critically, and he thought that it was slanted, biased and unbalanced in the wrong direction. I came to a conclusion utterly contrary to his. In my view, the Army came out of it much the clearer, much the more convincing, much the more cogent of the two sides, and, from my point of view, much the more accepta ble.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman started out with considerable sympathy towards the Army.
The hon. Gentleman may well be right. Perhaps I did start with considerable sympathy towards the Army, and, therefore, perhaps, my view of the programme was biased on that account. But the point which emerges from that example and many others which one could give is that it is utterly impossible to lay down, save in the most general terms, objective standards of balance. It is even more difficult, I suggest, to lay down objective standards of what is or what is not bias. If one goes on to try to decide what are or are not errors of taste, the job is utterly impossible.I do not know what an error of taste is. Someone said that today's errors of taste or extremes of taste are perhaps tomorrow's orthodoxy. If one reads an illuminating book called "The Third Floor Front" which Sir Hugh Carleton Greene wrote after he ceased to be Chairman of the B.B.C., one sees clearly emerging from it that he did not consider that it was possible to lay down objective standards of taste by which a corporation like the B.B.C. could be run or should be judged. Who is to judge what is good taste against which one can decide whether an error has been made? The thought of substituting Mrs. Whitehouse's view of what is or is not good taste for that of Mr. Charles Curran or Mr. Huw Wheldon is not a prospect which I view with a great deal of equanimity, and I should not have thought many other people would either. Mrs. Whitehouse wrote a book published recently which hon. Members may have seen which, in this context, had a very apt title—"Who does she think she is?" I can only echo that title when it comes to matters of taste. Why should I trust her opinion, or anybody else's opinion, more than the opinion of the Director-General of the B.B.C. or the chief of television?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is developing slightly the guilt-by-association kind of argument. Matters of taste are considered by the Press Council. Does he not agree that programmes which show, for example, violence in perhaps an extreme way or racial prejudice would come within this area, which is a much more important area than the hon. and learned Gentleman suggests?
I am not even sure about that. The fact that I would find certain things said on racial matters not only extremely offensive but in thoroughly bad taste does not entitle me to say that the B.B.C. or I.T.V. should not broadcast them or that a newspaper should not print them. If one believes in the freedom of the medium, as I do passionately, one must accept that occasionally freedom can be abused. What is much more important is whether we can devise, within the existing structure of the communications media, a way of ensuring that they do not get so obviously out of line as the hon. Gentleman has suggested.The programme complaints commission of the B.B.C. is subject to a number of obvious defects, the main one being that it is confined to the B.B.C. However, the idea of having such a commission to which members of the public who feel themselves aggrieved by a decision of the governors can go is desirable rather than undesirable. If it is considered by the governors and the governors say, "We think the complaint is justified", there is no point in having a complaints commission. It is like postulating that a successful litigant in the court of first instance should appeal against a judgment given in his favour to a higher court of appeal. The commission is likely to be desired or used only if the governors were to turn down the complaint made by the member of the public. Provided that the complaints commission—which should be extended to the I.T.A. as well as to the B.B.C.—is confined to considering questions of fact which are capable of being weighed and established and is debarred from considering such questions as balance, taste and bias, then I am in principle in favour of it. I wish to make two comments about the existing commission. I am slightly unhappy about its size. It seems to me too small. I am slightly unhappy about its composition. There is some substance in the criticism that, on the face of it, it consists of three elderly, establishment statesmen. Clearly, they are highly respected and estimable individuals, but whether they are the sort of individuals who are likely to increase public confidence in the communications media is another matter. I should like to see a larger commission and I should like to see a younger commission and certainly I should like to see a woman on the commission. It seems to me a little strange to have three elderly males considering some of these questions. [An HON. MEMBER: "Mrs. Whitehouse?"] No. Not Mrs. Whitehouse. I am bound to say that I think I would not place her on any such commission. Therefore, I conclude on this Motion that I also should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, South upon raising it. It is a subject which has had a good airing this afternoon in what has been a very interesting debate, but the great problem about the way in which it is framed in the Motion and the way in which the hon. Member presented his case is, that it is almost impossible to try to develop a body of case law on the lines he would wish, and to which his Motion would inevitably lead, about matters which are really essentially subjective. We shall, I think, get into as great a mess in this field if we try to do that as, frankly, the courts have been getting into recently in trying to define what is or what is not obscene. There is little doubt to my mind that one is almost inevitably in the realm of subjectivity in relation to that as one is in judging matters of taste. I do not want the media in this country to be regulated by a sort of non-intellectual Soma, a body which would not annoy anyone but on the whole would keep the people happy. I believe they should be stimulating and exciting, and they can be neither of those without being provocative at some time.
I think that everybody who has sat through this debate will agree that it has been an extremely interesting one. There have been from both sides of the House very thoughtful contributions to a discussion which has been going on a long time. I should like to join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) upon giving us the opportunity to debate the broadcasting council today.I think it has been a surprising debate in that there has been so much opposition voiced to the notion of a broadcasting council. My hon. Friend must have been surprised about that. Perhaps he can console himself with the thought that perhaps the views expressed in this debate have not been wholly representative of the views of the House as a whole, and that, perhaps, had this not been a thin Friday he might have had more supporters. It has always seemed to me one of the disadvantages of the idea of a broadcasting council that it is argued for from so many different points of view. I have always been struck by the fact that some who want those working in the medium to have less control argue for a broadcasting council while others who want those working in the medium to have more control have equally supported the Motion. It has always seemed to me that there has been a great deal of confusion about what exactly the broadcasting council was meant to mean, and perhaps my hon. Friend may equally console himself with the realisation that in this debate there have been opponents of his scheme arguing on conflicting grounds. I must confess that I would not go along entirely with the line of argument which was deployed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and, to a certain extent, by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard). I do believe that someone has to make decisions about taste and about balance. I do not take the view that it is just too difficult ever to decide what is good taste and what is balance. It seems to me that we have got to lay a clear obligation in broadcasting upon somebody to have the ultimate responsibility in these matters. I do not think it would be reasonable to say that those who happen to be broadcasters, who happen to have at any one time the use of these scarce frequencies, should themselves have the right to decide what is good taste, what is balance. I believe our present system is a reasonable one. Under this system we place an obligation squarely upon the Members of the I.T.A. and the Governors of the B.B.C. They have to make decisions in these very difficult areas. It is essential that one should be able openly and respectively to criticise them. My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) both made some tough criticisms of the B.B.C., and that is perfectly right. It is essential that one should be able to make such criticism without necessarily being charged with the desire for censorship. Our system works only if the Governors of the B.B.C. and the Members of the I.T.A. are firmly told from every quarter just what is and what is not appreciated, but under our present system it must be for them to sift and weigh the criticisms that come in their direction. The case for a broadcasting council has been argued from many quarters, and was in part argued today by my hon. Friend, on an analogy with the Press Council. I have always thought this to be somewhat misleading, because there are some essential differences between the position of the broadcasting authorities and that of the Press. The Press is a collection of privately run companies responsible to their shareholders alone. They are not, as the two broadcasting organisations are, controlled by bodies which are already publicly appointed. They have no obligation to be impartial or to present balanced material. Most of them have conscious and identifiable editorial interests and policies. The Press Council, which is a self-constituted body consisting of representatives of newspaper trade organisations and unions under an independent chairman, has as its main function to deal with complains of unfair treatment of the individual by the Press. The Press Council does not, and I think would probably feel itself not fitted to, pass judgments on matters of editorial content. My hon. Friend suggested that he would want the broadcasting council he has in mind to deal with questions of balance of editorial judgment, and the rest, but there is a fundamental difference between the position of the Press Council and the position of the broadcasting council he would appear to be suggesting. If someone were to complain to the Press Council that the Daily Express had not been fair in its treatment of the Common Market issue, or if someone were to complain to it that the Morning Star had been less than fair to the Conservative Party, the Press Council would be bound to say: "This is a matter of editorial judgment. We do not intervene." These newspapers are not pretending necessarily to present all sides of a case. They have an editorial opinion. It would be something fundamentally different that one would be asking of a broadcasting council. Secondly, I do not believe that we could possibly model any broadcasting council's composition on the composition of the Press Council. If the analogy with the Press Council were followed, the broadcasting council would, for the main part, represent the broadcasting organisations, the programme companies and the trade union members who work in broadcasting. These would be the very people who were responsible for making the programmes. Their examination would, in general, be in one of two categories. They would be examining either the programmes of their own organisation, made by themselves or their colleagues—and who would expect them to be objective or even very critical of those?—or the programmes of their one competitor, the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. as the case might be. Either way, it would undoubtedly not be a very good basis for objective judgment. They would either be judge and jury or jury and prosecutor in their own case. So, whatever the merits of establishing a broadcasting council, I do not believe that the Press Council constitutes any very suitable model. There has been in the debate a fair measure of agreement about the need for some special consideration of the aggrieved individual. Although there have been criticisms of the steps which the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. have taken to try to ensure that such complaints from individuals are judged, and are seen to be judged fairly, on the whole during the debate there has been a welcome for these measures. I have always thought that there was a case here for some special machinery. The B.B.C. has attempted to meet the difficulty by setting up the programme complaints commission, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. It is argued that it is a disadvantage of that commission that members of the public will not be able to complain directly to it. On further reflection, hon. Members may well feel that it is only sensible that the first complaint should be made to the B.B.C. so that an attempt can be made by the Corporation to meet it, and that complaints should then be referred to the commission only if the complainant has not received satisfaction in the first instance. On that much I think there is agreement, a feeling that there is a need for some outside body to be seen to look at the complaints of individuals. It is when my hon. Friend goes beyond that that potential danger arises. He has suggested that a body over and above the Governors of the B.B.C. and the Members of the I.T.A. should be able to deal with complaints about general bias and errors of taste; in effect, about overall broadcasting policy. If such a council as he suggests were charged with such a wide remit, surely that council and not the Members of the I.T.A. or the Governors of the B.B.C. will ultimately be responsible and be seen to be responsible. Almost inevitably, the governing bodies, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., will be seen as second line management beneath the council, because on all major matters the public will be appealing to this body over the heads of the Governors of the B.B.C. and the Members of the I.T.A. Even if that body does not have power legally to enforce its decisions, it is almost unthinkable that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. could ignore its views. I feel there is a danger of confusion of responsibility in the proposal advanced. Of course, we must continue to look at the machinery which governs broadcasting. In 1976 the Charter of the B.B.C and the licence of the I.T.A run out. Prior to that, there will need to be legislation and discussion on this and other issues. My hon. Friend has performed a signal service in giving the House this afternoon the opportunity of discussing an important aspect of the machinery by which our broadcasting is governed. I regard the present arrangements, which give clearer lines of responsibility, as having very considerable attractions. Just these two authorities are responsible, and none of the developments thought of or planned in broadcasting is in the immediate future to alter that. As the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) said, it is envisaged that commercial radio will come under the I.T.A., to be renamed the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Similarly, the I.T.A. is submitting proposals to me for a second I.T.V. service. I am not examining this proposal with any prior commitment to grant a second I.T.V. service by 1976. I have always made it clear to the public and to the Authority that there are real difficulties in the way. But the Government have not ruled out the use of the second channel in the years immediately ahead, and will examine the I.T.A. proposals with care. None of these developments alters the situation where two public bodies are responsible to this House for the programme content of television and radio programmes. I believe this is a system which has considerable attractions and which—
It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Gray.]
Rother Valley (Unemployment)
My contribution in the preceding debate, brief as it was, was relatively lighthearted. The speech I must make now cannot be anything but excessively sombre and serious because the economic position in my constituency is now worse than at any time since the 1930s and is deteriorating to a serious and alarming extent. The Minister will therefore appreciate that I cannot apologise to him with any sincerity for detaining him in the House on a thin December Friday.I am pleased to have this opportunity of raising in the House this serious constituency position. The Minister will be aware that the Rother Valley is Yorkshire's most southerly constituency which contains two urban districts and 27 parishes in two large rural districts and has a population of 130,000, the bulk of which is contained in the Rotherham, Dinnington and Maltby employment exchange areas. Small parts of the constituency are included in neighbouring areas, but in every part of the district the unemployment rate is above average, and in every one the position is worsening. More and more people are becoming unemployed and fewer jobs are available. In Maltby area the latest figure of male unemployment was 8·8 per cent. and the rate in Rotherham was 8·2 per cent. The position in Dinnington is horrifying since the male unemployment rate is 10·5 per cent. The scale of the problem not only brings to light problems of worklessness but illustrates the appalling waste of human resources involved. It seems to us in South Yorkshire that little note is being taken of our plight. It is a plight which is as bad as, if not worse than, that in the development areas of Great Britain. Indeed, I was told in answer to a Parliamentary Question on 11th November that the rate in Dinnington was worse than in all but eight of 374 employment exchange areas in England and Wales. The sad thing is that in early-1970 the position gave us great cause for hope. We had achieved intermediate area status and it was beginning to have an effect. Those of us who were at that time involved as members of local councils were gratified because this showed that our efforts were bearing some fruit in securing an improvement in our status. That fruit seems now to have withered. It is right to refer to those earlier efforts because like latter-day Gradegrinds, the present Government appear to believe in self-help. South Yorkshire has helped itself and we still have tremendous need for help. We exerted great pressure in 1968 and 1969 and it is right to pay tribute to the local newspapers, the Sheffield Star, the South Yorkshire Times and the Rotherham Advertiser, which have supported those charged with both national and local representation in our efforts to press the cause of our area. But the inexorable tide of events has made self-help almost irrelevant. The lame-duck philosophy dominates and so the problems and injuries proliferate. It is clear that since 27th October, 1970, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his statement about public expenditure, our hope for development was reduced. This dashed our hopes and was echoed by the Investment and Building Grants Act this year which ensured that there would be a savage reduction in expenditure on regional aid. Since October the level of inquiry and the amount of develoment have fallen off drastically. As these have slackened, contractions and redundancies have increased. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to be unaware of the effects and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry so misread the situation or his brief that a little earlier this year, when he told us that the number of inquiries being made about industrial development had greatly increased, they had in fact been considerably reduced. Whenever the problem is raised, we seem to get a Pavlovian response from the Government, who tell us that it is all due to high wages, The position in South Yorkshire is not largely the result of that state of affairs. That excuse, to us, is as hackneyed as it is superficial. In my Parliamentary Question, I suggested that the unemployment was largely due to history and to changes in technology. There seemed to be a glimmer of hope that this idea was appreciated when the Under-Secretary gave a relatively sensitive reply. However, those hopes were dashed shortly afterwards when the Secretary of State returned to the same theme. It is quite wrong for the Government to repeat this excuse so tediously. I do not blame the Under-Secretary for all these dreadful developments. The responsibility must lie at the door of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They have failed. They have failed our area by not perceiving both the needs and the potential of South Yorkshire. Those needs and that potential are great. Our local authorities and many of our local organisations have shown energy and initiative. They have achieved only frustration. I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to one illustration in regard to the Hellaby industrial development site, for which we pressed vigorously in 1969 and 1970. An application was submitted in 1970. I was told that a planning inquiry would not be held. I heard that the Department had decided to hold a planning inquiry two days in advance. I asked the Minister to hold it without delay. It was held in December, 1970. I was told that a decision would come very shortly after Easter. It reached our area in the middle of the Summer Recess. Months were wasted. Of itself, Hellaby cannot provide more than a part solution to the problem, and only a minor part. We are facing increasing difficulties. The Minister will be aware of the redundancies being created in the steel industry. Only a few days ago 200 men were declared redundant at Parkgate in the special steels division of the corporation. Short-term working is widespread, and more redundancies are feared. Coal is important. I have 10 pits in my constituency which are doing well. They should have a secure future. But I should like to see the morale of my area improved by the Government offering some real guarantees that the long-term prosperity of these vital parts of our local economy is assured. If one of those pits were to close, the additional burden of anguish on the Rother Valley would be considerable. Coal employs fewer men. The industry is producing much more coal with half the labour force. It is becoming a capital-intensive industry, and that is right. But we have not got the diversification that we need to compensate for it. In the private sector at the moment unremitting redundancies add to the difficulties. The Government have no answer except perhaps to tell our local authorities to get deeper into debt by going ahead with certain schemes. Some of those schemes are capital-intensive. It seems odd that we should pay £10,000 or £20,000 for the creation of every new job when perhaps, it would be better and cheaper to treble unemployment benefit. The Government feel that they have made tax concessions, but it will be months if not years before any effect is felt in South Yorkshire as a result of those changes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is regularly optimistic and, just as regularly, his optimism is proved to be ill-founded. The recent N.E.D.C. report is more realistic. It is more gloomy. But surely it is better to face facts than to indulge in optimism. There is too little investment. There is too little growth. At the same time, we have an increase in productivity which means that the lack of investment cannot cope with the redundancies that are created. We in South Yorkshire feel that there must be answers. They have to be found quickly. I hope that the Under-Secretary can give some of them. However, I propose to suggest some answers which occur to us in South Yorkshire as relevant, wise and timely. First, it is essential that the British Steel Corporation's expansion programme should be approved without delay. This is necessary on economic and industrial grounds in order that we have new development to replace that which is now contracting. Secondly, there must be a greater emphasis of public pronouncement that the coal industry will have a strong and viable future. Views recently expressed by one of the leaders of our oil industry are relevant. I hope that at a very early date the Minister will consider not merely giving guarantees of employment, but ending the present arrangements for importing coal. The need for an uplift of morale in the coal industry makes this essential. Thirdly, and perhaps most important, my area needs to be uplifted to development status. It needs development status not merely as it is now with the levels of inducement which are currently provided, but with even more capacity to attract new industry. We need a change in national attitudes. We need a greater sense of purpose. We ought not to have had the disgraceful decision which was recently taken about the Millspaugh works in Rotherham. I accompanied a deputation led by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) to see a Minister in the Department of Employment. We tried to convince the Minister that there should be a minor adjustment of the employment exchange areas in our district. This would have provided new work involving over 1,000 jobs. But the Minister refused to make that minor adjustment. The result is that those jobs may not now come not only to the Rotherham area but to Britain. Other countries may benefit from the virtual profligacy which the Government displayed over that incident. I suggest that the Minister should look carefully at other minor matters. He could perhaps extend, or approve the extension of, the scheme under which unemployed young people receive financial reward or remuneration during training provided by local education authorities. The pilot scheme is under way not far from my constituency. That scheme could be extended. I hope that the Minister will consider providing encouragement, if not making the arrangements himself, for the development of direct-labour and labour-intensive schemes to provide employment for unemployed younger people in activities devoted to promoting environmental improvement. I suggest further extension of retraining; but this by itself seems relatively pointless because, unless there are guarantees of employment, people will not be keen to take retraining. These measures—I do not over-stress their importance—may provide useful and temporary help. Certainly help must be given rapidly in my area for younger people. This week there are 271 young people unemployed in the Rother Valley youth employment exchange area. The situation, as the area officer told me this week, remains grave. This is particularly sad because we have splendid schools, very good employment advisory services and many other advantages, but not enough jobs. Those who are seriously interested and concerned about our society locally are becoming extremely anxious about this aspect of the situation. They are anxious not merely about young people who are jobless, but about the many young people who are taking the first job which comes along which often offers them no opportunity for satisfaction and fulfilment. Able young people are taking jobs which offer them only the activities of unskilled work. This is distressing. It also means that the less able youngster is not getting a job at all. This could be a recipe for social disadvantage in the long term. It could mean that our society will be distressed by current events long after those events have changed. Work is needed, and it must be of meaningful quality. Many people who do not know South Yorkshire may feel that we suffer from historic legacies which have bred harsh attitudes. But if the Minister speaks to any local industrialist or manager he will inevitably meet the comment that the area provides first-class workers. They will not respond very happily to those who demand feudal attitudes. Our workers are not prone to fawning but they are prepared to co-operate with decent managers and management. This exists frequently and then we see the industrial result of good attitudes in industry. We have a great deal to offer. The fact that we have had industrial problems in recent months may seem disadvantageous, but if the Minister looks at the response of the workers in the River Don steelworks issue he will see that it was not merely a response of aggression and opposition. It was a response which contained a great deal of thoughtful and constructive consideration. The workers themselves came out with suggestions which, I believe, are entirely worthy of consideration. That says a great deal for the co-operative attitude of the workers in my area. Unfortunately there are far too few workers and, increasingly, far too many unemployed. This year has seen not only dark clouds—and they are still dark and are getting darker—but bitter blows, and more appear to be imminent. Without national help, without Government concern, we cannot avoid receiving serious wounds. These will hurt deeply the very fabric of our South Yorkshire society. It is in the interests of that society that I have spoken this afternoon. I trust that the Minister will have taken note of my remarks and that when he replies he will offer us a little more than platitudes.
I am glad to have an opportunity today to discuss the unemployment problems in the constituency of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy). I know how anxious he and other hon. Members are about the position in and around the Rother Valley. I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's views, and I congratulate him on the forceful presentation of his case.At the outset, I should like to assure him that the Government are fully alive to the problem. We are today discussing a situation which, on the face of it, is depressing. We must all regret intensely the recent rise in levels of unemployment in the three employment exchange areas which comprise the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I recognise that the current rates are above those for the region as a whole, and well above those for Great Britain. The Rother Valley forms part of the Yorkshire coalfield, and its problems are those of the coalfield as a whole. It is precisely because of these problems that the area was designated an intermediate area in March, 1970. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Rother Valley has traditionally depended on two basic industries—coal and steel—for much of its employment. Unfortunately, both these industries have contracted in employment terms over the years. However, I am glad to see that more recently there has been much greater stability in the coal industry, both nationally and in the Rother Valley, and this is reflected in the fact that the current employment figures do not include any substantial numbers of coalminers. It is encouraging to know that none of the colliers in the vicinity of the hon. Gentleman's constituency is in jeopardy. The situation in the steel industry, however, is, I know, one of some difficulty at the present time, and the figures reflect a certain amount of short-time working in various sectors. Also the Sheffield area, like other steel-making areas, is feeling the effects of rationalisation of the steel industry. It had long been recognised by many authorities that steel rationalisation was essential. The Benson Report of 1966, for example, suggested a reduction of 100,000 in the industry's work force by 1975, and the British Steel Corporation's own assessment in January, 1969, foresaw a reduction of 50,000 by 1975, 40,000 because of rationalisation and 20,000 by greater productivity offset by 12,000 new jobs arising out of expansion of capacity. This is a painful but necessary process that we must go through if British Steel is to compete on equal terms with strong international rivals. The hon. Gentleman and the House will recall that when the bulk of the steel industry was nationalised in 1967 one of the reasons put forward in its support, anticipating the B.S.C.'s assessment to which I have referred, was that it would permit badly needed rationalisation to take place. The 1965 White Paper referred specifically to rationalization—
One accepts that the existing activities of the B.S.C. will have to be rationalised and that this will cause redundancy, but in the absence of guarantees for the expansion programme of the corporation, the necessary new methods will not be introduced, which means that there will be no fresh jobs created unless the Government take a much more urgent view of the situation.
Perhaps I can come to the investment programme in a moment.The hon. Member mentioned specifically the B.S.C.—Firth Brown proposal. It has long been recognised that there is a need for rectification of anomalies in the public—private sector boundary created, especially in Sheffield area, by steel nationalisation. The previous Government accepted this need as do this Government. For example, in 1967 the then Minister of Power, I think Mr. Richard Marsh, approved an agreement under which the B.S.C. transferred half the equity in the Round Oak steel works to Tube Investments in recognition of the technical difficulties arising out of nationalisation of these works. Another example of this kind was the Sheffield Rolling Mills project in Sheffield in which the B.S.C. became a partner with private interests. The B.S.C.—Firth Brown proposals arose out of a very long series of negotiations between the two parties concerned: there was no question of their being imposed by this Government. The settlement and implementation of the proposals is for these two parties, and the future of individual works, such as River Don, is a matter for the B.S.C. This interpretation of the statutory position has long been accepted by successive Governments. But, as regards River Don, the hon. Member may know that the deputy chairman of the B.S.C. has indicated that, as a result of discussions still continuing, he is hopeful that parts of the works may have a longterm future. Negotiations are still continuing, and the B.S.C. has said that the unions will be fully consulted before any final decisions are taken. The hon. Member asked when decisions could be expected on further steel projects, especially those in his constituency and the Sheffield area generally. As he well knows, individual investments are, in the first instance, a matter for the B.S.C., but the B.S.C.'s future development programme generally is being considered by the corporation and the Government jointly. This is a very complex exercise which aims to chart the strategies open to the corporation in the long term; thus, it is bound to take some little time and is a task which it would be wrong to hurry. The Secretary of State will make a statement as soon as possible. I would, however, like to make it quite clear that the Government are not holding back B.S.C. investment; in the current year the approved figure is the historically high one of £225 million. The hon. Member referred particularly to the problem of unemployment among young people. It is, of course, distressing when young people—I have especially in mind here school leavers—cannot find a first job. The problem in Rother Valley has shown a deterioration over the last year, taken as a whole. Nevertheless, I was glad to see that there was a fall of 65 from 581 in the number of unemployed young people between October and November and that the majority of school leavers have now found work. The Department of Employment is ready to do everything it can to help unemployed young people. At present, it is paying half the costs of various courses run by certain industrial training boards for suitable young people who have been unable to get apprenticeships; taking Rotherham and Rother Valley together, 19 are now on such courses. Turning for a moment to the national situation, the hon. Member and others have pressed for Government action to stimulate the economy generally and to bring more employment to the assisted areas. The hon. Member implied that the Government were failing to act and were altogether too complacent. There is a good deal of lose talk on these lines which I am convinced can only come by a failure, or a refusal, to look at facts. The relevant fact here is that the Government have taken a whole series of measures, which, taken together, are unprecedented in their scale, to secure faster growth in the economy and consequently to increase employment generally. These include tax cuts equivalent to an annual rate of £1,400 million; abolition of hire-purchase restrictions; cheaper and easier credit; and, since July, increased expenditure equal to some £450 million on public works and other items directed towards reducing unemployment in the short run especially in the assisted areas. These efforts to stimulate the economy illustrate the Government's determination to find a solution to the problem of unemployment. Directly and indirectly the Rother Valley should benefit from them. I have already recognised that the Rother Valley is still very dependent on two basic industries, and that more diversification would be valuable. But we should recognise the changes that have taken place in recent years in diversifying the pattern of employment. In the three employment exchange areas concerned, while employment in coal mining and the metal trades fell by nearly 6,000 in the period 1960 to 1969, employment in other industries and the services increased by over 7,000. I realise that one would wish that alternative employment had been introduced on a still greater scale. As part of the Yorkshire coalfield intermediate area, Rother Valley is now able to offer substantial incentives to new industries which, I am hopeful, will enable it to do even more than it has in the past. I think we should remind ourselves what these incentives are: building grants of 25 per cent., and in some cases 35 per cent; Department of trade and industry factories for rent or for sale; Department of Employment assistance for training and for the transfer of key workers in the setting up of a new project; favourable tax allowances for new industrial buildings. The hon. Member made out a powerful and eloquent case that Rother Valley should be given development area status. I do not think that this is a topic that can really be treated separately from the question of the right level of assistance for the Yorkshire coalfield as a whole. As I have already said, the area is an integral part of the coalfield and its industrial and environmental problems are those of the coalfield as a whole. The hon. Member will know that we have looked very carefully at this question. We examined in detail the case for a change as part of the comprehensive review of assisted area coverage carried out earlier this year. We decided then that, bearing in mind the long-term and deep-seated problems of areas such as Clyde-side and the North-East, we could not justify any higher level of assistance to an area which has substantial locational attractions. We must recognise that increasing the number of assisted areas or enhancing the status of areas which are already assisted does not create new industry, it merely spreads more thinly the limited and inadequate supply of projects. We keep a continuing watch on the circumstances of all areas to ensure that the pattern and degree of assistance continue to reflect need. But I assure the hon. Member that I.D.C.s are freely available in the area of his constituency. The hon. Member referred to planning permission for the Hellaby site. As he will appreciate, this is a matter not for me, but for my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment, and no doubt he will pursue it with him. I am certain that when the economy generally is growing—and the hon. Member knows what steps we are taking—no doubt industrialists will come forward with new projects. The assisted areas, with all the inducements that they can offer, and especially those like Rother Valley with locational advantages, should then be well placed, of course, provided that industrial relations are right, to obtain a good share of the increased facilities and employment that they will bring.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock.