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"The War Game" And Bbc Television

Volume 414: debated on Monday 27 October 1980

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the public interest in civil defence, and in view of the fact that numerous copies of the film "The War Game" have been sold by the British Broadcasting Corporation to private organisations, they will advise the Director General of the BBC that it would be in the national interest that the film should be shown on the corporation's television programmes.

My Lords, the broadcasting authorities are responsible for the content of their programmes. It is for them to decide what programmes to broadcast and it would be contrary to long-established practice, endorsed by successive Governments, for Ministers to seek to influence their decisions. It is therefore for the BBC alone to decide whether to show "The War Game" on their television programmes.

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that 12 years ago, when the BBC first suppressed this film, the director wrote to me saying that the impact would be so terrible that if they showed it, fathers would kill their children and mothers would jump out of windows? However, that did not prevent the BBC from selling the film to private societies for exhibition. Is the noble Lord aware that it has now been seen by perhaps half a million people, and no fathers have killed their children or mothers jumped out of windows? Is he further aware that it has been sold to the German education authorities who have made a German soundtrack, and every school now sees this film every year in Germany? Is it not the right of British citizens to see what a nuclear war would be like, if it is possible for German children to see it?

My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord wished this film to be shown and I am also aware that the BBC have not shown it. I have not seen copies of correspondence between the corporation and the noble Lord. There are other ways than seeing this particular film that the people of this country can become acquainted with the possible effects of nuclear war.

My Lords, irrespective of the merits or otherwise of showing this film, do the Government realise that no effective civil defence against nuclear bombardment of this country is possible and that it is gravely misleading the public to suggest otherwise?

My Lords, we believe that to be seen to be as much prepared at home as possible, as well as capable of military deterrence and defence, will make war less likely, and that is the policy the Government intend to pursue?

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend to say whether his departmental officials have vetted the film for accuracy about civil defence, bearing in mind the great expertise in his department? Will he bear in mind that the BBC is not always accurate, as it was not on the one o'clock news when it announced that Parliament would reassemble today?

My Lords, I am not aware whether officials of my right honourable friend's department have either seen or vetted this film. I have myself not seen it.

My Lords, following the supplementary question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, may I ask the Minister whether he appreciates the widespread concern about the ineffectiveness of any civil defence against a nuclear attack, as illustrated yesterday by the largest demonstration there has ever been in this country? Is he aware that wherever "The War Game" is shown it is wanted to be seen not merely by crowded audiences but by hundreds who cannot obtain admission? Will the noble Lord at least send to the BBC the Official Report of these discussions so it may be aware of our desire to see that this matter of public interest is shown on the BBC?

My Lords, the noble Lord asks me whether I am aware of a variety of things. I am aware that since 1945 the peace of this country has been kept by the contribution which we have made to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Part of that contribution means being prepared, so far as we can be, both at home and abroad. In answer to the second part of the noble Lord's supplementary question, of course I reply, yes; I shall indeed draw the attention of the BBC to the exchanges in your Lordships' House on this issue.

My Lords, if a new information film were to be made on the same lines as "The War Game", in colour and brought up-to-date with the most recent knowledge on the effects of a nuclear bombardment, would the Minister give an undertaking not to interfere with the making of such a film or the showing of it on television?

My Lords, the whole basis of all the answers I have given in the last few minutes is that the Government do not interfere with what is actually broadcast.

My Lords, in view of the Minister's reference to NATO, may I ask him to assure us that it is the Government's policy to continue to fulfil the pledge about the increase of our defences that was made to that organisation?