§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Sir G. Penny.]
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
This is the last opportunity that we shall have of discussing the charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation before it comes into existence on 1st January. This Corporation whose future we are deciding tonight is in the political sphere an invention as novel and as interesting as wireless itself has been. It is an example of an experiment in public ownership, combined with commercial management, which has, I think, never been attempted anywhere else in the world until we did so here. The fact that this charter will be passed without a Division shows that, so far as the broad principle of the experiment is concerned, it has been justified in the view of the majority of the House. But the experiment raises very unusual questions as to the relationship between the Corporation and Parliament and the Government which I will take this opportunity of defining as they appear to us on this side. It has been laid down, and we have accepted the doctrine, that Parliament should control the general policy of the Corporation, but should leave the day-to-day management of programmes and details to the Corporation itself.
If the House wished, we could, after the charter, control the Corporation in detail, because the Government can control any items that the Corporation sends out, and can forbid it to send out items, and the Government are answerable to the House. But the fact is that the House has accepted a self-denying ordinance by which it has confined its actual power to general policy. That means that the Corporation itself should, on its side, act towards the House in the 2728 spirit in which the charter has been granted. The Corporation must, on matters of general policy, accept the views of Parliament. How are those views to be brought before it? We have no resolution. In the last 10 years there has only been one Resolution dealing with the Corporation. How, then, is it to know what is the general policy that it is to follow? I would lay it down as a proposition that the Corporation must pay the most careful attention to the Debates in this House and, when suggestions are made which are obviously according to the general sense of the House, it is the duty of the Corporation to take them as a guide for its general policy in the future. I lay that down as the only principle on which we can really control this very delicate arrangement between us.
I say that because I do not think experience has shown that the Corporation has been very responsive to the general spirit of our debates. I will take one case. On the very day that the Ullswater Report was in the Vote Office, within an hour or two, almost before we could read it, the Corporation issued an attack on it, which it could only have issued because it was allowed the privilege of having confidential information from the committee. It took it for granted that the Ullswater Committee was appointed to pronounce a verdict on the Corporation as to whether we should renew the charter. The Corporation assumed that it was a body of equal authority with the committee itself. Let me take the case of staff associations. I am not talking of wage earners but of the higher administrative personnel, men who, if they were in the Civil Service, would be principals and assistant principals. The committee recommended that there should be staff associations corresponding with those in the Civil Service for the higher clerical staff. The Corporation attacked that recommendation. There was a debate in the House and the general feeling was that staff associations were appropriate 2729 to this undertaking. The Government accepted the general feeling and recommended staff associations. As a result, in the Debate in July last the Postmaster-General said that the problem of staff associations was under the active examination of the Corporation.
I put a question last week as to how many staff associations had been set up, and the Postmaster-General's reply was that the question was under the active examination of the Corporation. Five months had passed, but they had not lilted a finger to carry out the wishes of the House and the recommendations of the Government. I think it is necessary to make it clear to the Corporation that it cannot in the long run defeat the House; of Commons, and that it is miscalculating if it thinks that we are going to forget the wishes that we have expressed. The engineering side, the carpenters and other wage earners in the Corporation, are already catered for by existing trade unions which have members in the Corporation service. We certainly do not mean that the place of those existing trade unions should be taken by mere house associations and we shall most strongly resent and resist any attempt to supplant them by mere house associations of the old-fashioned type.
I have spoken of the question of staff associations because it leads to the subject on which I wish mainly to direct the attention of the House, the continual complaints that we receive of terrorism, favouritism and intrigue as the means by which the internal administration of the Corporation is carred on. I have had, since I spoke on the subject in the Debate nine or 10 months ago, a most unusual experience? Ever since then, if I talk to any employé of the Corporation, I am made to feel like a conspirator. I have friends in the Corporation whom I have known for years and, if I talk to them, they look round to see whether they are being followed. They warn me that I must not telephone to them, because the telephone will be tapped, and I would not telephone to a friend at the Corporation now. They have told me that, if I write to them there, they are not sure that letters will be delivered. I have never before had this experience in my life. I cannot say any more about it than I have told the House but, if that is how men in high position, who would certainly be of the principal or 2730 assistant secretary grade in the Civil Service, are treated, it indicates that there is something very morbid, unhealthy and overwrought in the atmosphere of the place.
The reason is clear. This system of paternal despotism was suitable, natural perhaps, and understandable when the Corporation was a small band of officials, a family, a few years ago, but now it is a great organisation with a thousand officials scattered throughout the country. It has become an autocracy which has outgrown the original autocrat. It is a despotism in decay, and bears all i the marks of that type of government. Members inside have told me that it is the nearest thing in this country to Nazi government that can be shown. Therefore, what I am going to ask the House to support is a proposal that there should be an inquiry as to whether there should not be introduced among the officials of the Corporation some degree of security of tenure and a regular system of increments and promotion. That is the main suggestion that I am going to make.
This brings me to the Lambert v. Levita case, and the report upon it, which, as a matter of fact, was the reason why we originally asked for this Debate. I will tell the House the main facts which led up to this report. On 7th February last, Major Gladstone Murray was asked to lunch by Sir Cecil Levita, and at that lunch Sir Cecil Levita uttered what was declared in the courts later to be a very grave slander.
§ Sir PATRICK HANNON
On a point of Order. Will it be in order for the right hon. Gentleman to discuss this case in the manner in which we are now proceeding to do, in view of the fact that we understand that an appeal has been lodged in the case of Lambert v. Levita and that therefore we ought not in this House to introduce a matter which may affect the proceedings in the court?
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
In fact, no appeal has been lodged, and cases have been discussed at this stage before.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman would discuss the proceedings of the case in the court but that he would discuss the report of the committee, which does not appear to me to have any relevance.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I am going to state the actual facts which led up to the report. I am going to state the verdict of the court, but I am not going to discuss whether the verdict is right or wrong. This is what I am permitted to do. I say that the facts were that there was this lunch, and what the court described as slander was uttered. Major Gladstone Murray then had to decide what to do, and he decided, for reasons which I shall explain, that the best course was, instead of going to a higher authority officially, to tell Mr. Lambert of this matter personally. Mr. Lambert then wrote asking for an apology. He was put off by letters delaying the final reply, and meanwhile Sir Cecil Levita went to see Mr. Norman, Governor of the Corporation, in the country. Then Mr. Lambert received a letter that the matter would be discussed by the high officials of the Corporation. It was discussed by the Governors, and the next day, on 6th March, Mr. Lambert was handed a memorandum by Sir Stephen Tallents, which is really almost the main subject of the inquiry. It is on page 14. I will read the last few words to the House. Sir Stephen Tallents assured himthat his position with the Corporation was not at present in any way prejudiced or damaged.He also told himthat, if he went on with the course which he had indicated to the Chairman the previous morning, there was a serious danger that he might prejudice his position with the Corporation becauseThis was on 6th March. The next day the writ was issued, and after that no important events connected with the action took place. I mention that because the report makes a great difference between the period before 6th March and the period after 6th March. Yet, as far as the action is concerned, no really substantial issue at all arose after the writ was issued the day after the Memorandum was presented to Mr. Lambert. On that Memorandum, I will tell the House what the verdict of the court was in this case and the words with which the judge concluded his charge to the jury: 2732
- (i) he would make the Corporation doubt his judgment;
- (ii) he would seem to be placing his own interests in priority to those of the Corporation."You may think it is a dreadful thing when a man in a public position, as I suppose all employés of the B.B.C. are, thinks he has been affronted and outraged and brings an action in these courts demanding redress for the wrong that has been done him, that behind his back his employers should be approached and asked to bring pressure upon him to settle the matter. Bear these things in mind when you are considering what damages should be awarded.And the jury awarded damages of £7,500. Of course, this naturally raised the question that if that was the view of the jury of the action of Sir Cecil Levita, what must be the view taken of the attitude of the Corporation—the Governors—in attempting to bring this pressure to bear upon Mr. Lambert to withdraw from the action or not to take action. That is the subject which this report investigates. Before coming to the main conclusion, there is one part of it upon which I should like to say a word, because it is necessary, I think, for the sake of the position of a very high servant—the position of Major Gladstone Murray, who is now, next to Sir John Reith, the most important broadcasting official in the British Empire. The report makes severe strictures upon him, and I must say a word upon that point in justice to him. I may tell the House that this is not a personal matter. I have seen Major Gladstone Murray once in my life, and only once. Major Gladstone Murray is in Canada. He offered to come over and give evidence, which he could have done in six days. It has been months since the Committee was appointed. This was declined. He offered to send evidence. That was not taken up. His solicitor here had his version of his reasons, but that was not asked for. No word of explanation was asked from him by the Committee, They speak in severe terms of his error of judgment and suggest that he was originally responsible for the subsequent events. In justice to him the House should see his position.
The fact is that here again we are confronted with one of the unhealthy features of the administration of the Corporation. In a Government Department, in any big institution, there are reports. In the Army and Navy there are reports on the officers of the Services, but those reports can be seen. The man knows what is in the report, and if he is dismissed the reason is there in writing. The Corporation prefer a series of secret dossiers, 2733 as a result of which the officers do not know what is in the dossier, they do not know why their promotion is hindered or if, as sometimes happens, they are dismissed, they are dismissed without knowing what the reasons are. In these circumstances Major Gladstone Murray had to make up his mind and come to a decision and he apparently thought that if he reported this matter officially to Sir John Reith it would go upon Mr. Lambert's secret dossier and Mr. Lambert would probably not hear of it. It might lead to his dismissal and, incidentally, if he was on that dossier it would probably mean that Mr. Lambert would be withdrawn from the Film Institute, and Sir Cecil Levita would gain his object. It was not unnatural for Major Gladstone Murray to say: "I will tell Mr. Lambert personally, and he will perhaps try to get an apology, and if that apology is forthcoming the whole matter will end without any official action being taken, and the secret dossier being entered upon." In these circumstances, I do not think that the committee are justified in condemning Major Gladstone Murray without having taken the trouble to acquaint themselves with the position which I have outlined to the House.
I am not going to deal with the personal issues in the report, because there is a very important suggestion at the end of it on which I should like to take the opinion and to have the support of the House. The personal issues are summed up on page 22. The report says:We reject entirely Mr. Lambert's theory of persecution.They consider that the Corporation Governors were actuated by honest motives, but they go on to say:It does not follow that because the B.B.C. were honest in what they did they were also wise; and, in fact, we are bound to record our opinion that they were ill-advised in many of the things which were done during the period up to and including 6th March; and when we speak"—I would ask the House to notice this statement—of the B.B.C. in this connection, we refer both to the Governors and to the officials concerned.I ask the House to notice that statement, because it would be most unfair if because Sir Stephen Tallents signed that memorandum he were made the scape- 2734 goat of this affair. If he is to be a scapegoat, the Governors and Sir John Reith must be scapegoats at the same time.
Now I come to what, I think, is for the purposes of the House of Commons the most important section of the report, namely, the last two pages, pages 29–31. I do not think that we shall get much further by discussing the personal issues in this case, but we have to consider the future, and I think it is possible to use this opportunity to make the future of the B.B.C. one which has many more conditions of happiness for those inside than it has at the present time. I have tried in the last few months to learn both sides of this question, and I would not advise any friend of mine to become an employé of the Corporation. Therefore, I come to what I consider the most important part of the document. It appears to me that what is required from the B.B.C. is, first of all, some security of tenure for its high administrative staff. Every one of them is subject to three months' notice. The Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office does work which is just as delicate as that of any official of the Corporation, but we do not take the view which the Corporation does, that he will not do his work well unless he is anxious every moment whether he is going to hold his job. No man can do good work under the continual influence of fear. That is a lesson which the Corporation has not learned.
The next suggestion that I make is that there should be a regularised system of promotion and a regular system of increments under which if officers lose their increment they should, as in the Civil Service, be told the reason why, so that they can improve their work. It is not so at the B.B.C. It is the secret dossier system. I should like the House to note the result of this. See what happened in the case of Mr. Lambert. It is dealt with in the report. Mr. Lambert had received his ordinary increment every year since he took up his position, except for one year when owing to general financial stringency, there were no increments. Last January he was commended on account of his work. In March this trouble arose. In April the whole of his staff received increments, but Mr. Lambert's increment for the first time, except in the one year I have mentioned, was refused. No reason was 2735 given. Can anyone be surprised that he thought the reason might have some connection with his refusal not to exercise his rights as a citizen and take action in the court for slander?
The last page of the report shows that these civil servants are amazed at the staff administration of the B.B.C. They are amazed at the fact that it is so haphazard, so hugger-mugger. They point out that this case is once dealt with by the Governors, then by the Chairman, then by the Vice-Chairman, then by Sir Stephen Tallents and then by Sir John Reith, and meanwhile, apparently, not one of them, until the matter was told in the court, knew what the libel actually was. The B.B.C. would be well advised if it took the advice of institutions whose magnitude is comparable to its own as to how these matters should be dealt with. The Committee suggest that they should take the advice on staff questions of the Civil Service, the Treasury and other great undertakings which work on a large scale.
The suggestion that I definitely wish to make is that the B.B.C. should, with assistance of that kind, inquire into the question of introducing security of tenure, regular promotion and regular increments on the Civil Service plan, and, of course staff organisation, which they have already accepted hut not carried out. These other matters they have not yet accepted. If that be the view of the House and if that were done, and I hope I shall have the support of the House in suggesting that it should be done, then I think that eventually good might arise out of this rather silly and undignified scandal.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Major Tryon)
I am sure no one will complain of the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, in which he expressed the hope that good may come out of evil, and that the result of this particular incident will not be as serious as was expected. It is not wise to begin quoting portions of the report; hon. Members will be far wiser to read the whole of it before coming to a conclusion. Some portions of the report throw a light on other phases of this question, and I suggest, indeed I beg, hon. Members to read the whole of the report and not quote ex- 2736 tracts which may not give the whole picture. I will take up only one remark of the right hon. Gentleman. He said how unfair it was for anyone to attack Sir Stephen Tallents in view of the fact that there was a higher responsibility. I am not disputing that, but it is unfortunate that such a great opponent of dictators as the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was not present, because he made a most violent attack on Sir John Reith without telling the House that the Governors were responsible for the decision and that the Governors authorised Sir Stephen Tallents to take this action. Throughout the Governors are in charge and if the right hon. Gentleman says that we must not throw too much blame on Sir Stephen Tallents, what can we say for the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol who made a most violent personal attack on Sir John Reith, called him a dictator, and had not the courage to acknowledge that the responsibility lies with the Governors, just as in a Government Department the responsibility lies with the Minister and not with the Permanent Secretary or the staff.
I wish, in the first place, to thank the three distinguished people who gave up so much of their time to go fully into this difficult and intricate case. They took an enormous amount of trouble and I am sorry that anybody should be disposed to dispute the justice or impartiality of their verdict. I should also like to thank the right hon. Member for his last observation. If anything can be done to improve the position of the B.B.C. through the lessons which may he learnt from this incident it will be all to the good. I feel myself that the Governors, who are the people in charge, will not fail to take note of the suggestions which have been made by these three eminent persons with regard to the machinery of administration, so that a matter may go through regular channels and not jump from one channel to another. In the second place, any arrangements which can be made to bring to the assistance of the Governors the great experience and advice of the Civil Service will not only be accepted but will do a great deal to remove many of the present difficulties. I do not say that an organisation so varied in its work, with people of such different occupations, those who entertain, 2737 engineers and scientists, can be easily adjusted to the ordinary machinery of staff representation, but I hope, and I am sure, that the Governors will derive benefit from such advice, and I am in favour of their doing all they can, by drawing on the experience and advice of the Civil Service, to remove these difficulties, so that cases of this sort shall never happen again. I agree that if it had been organised more on Civil Service lines—I am speaking for myself —than it is, this comparatively trivial matter would never have come about.
I should like to quote one comment which is so apt that I must disclaim at once that I am the author of it. But in the "Daily Telegraph" it was said that the result of this examination of the Lambert case was that while nobody concerned got full marks, nobody was ploughed. That was a very happy phrase. It is said that there was a general lack of wisdom, that there were, errors. Our concern is to see that this wonderful institution shall go forward helped by the lessons of this incident. As the House will remember we are going, within the next three days, to issue a charter which we have laid before the House as a draft charter, to prolong the British Broadcasting Corporation for 10 years, and a draft licence and agreement regulating their work in the future. Broadcasting in this country for about three years was run by a company, apparently because the manufacturers of radio sets found that it was no good manufacturing sets if there were no programmes to listen to. After three years this Corporation was set up; it is something between nationalisation and individual enterprise. But the fact that there has been no serious change in the charter for 10 years shows that it was well founded and that it has worked in a manner of which we can be proud. Towards the end of the first 10 years my predecessor, looking ahead, set up the Ullswater Committee with very eminent people upon it. I should like respectfully to express my admiration for the way in which the Leader of the Opposition took a prominent part and gave up much of his time to work on this great national committee, and the report which they presented paid a great tribute to the spirit of the Corporation and the way in which they had 2738 discharged their duties. It may be summarised in the words that they conducted it in the national interest.
They made a number of recommendations, and in order that the House may be reminded of what is in the draft charter may I remind hon. Members of some of its provisions? In the first place, the charter is to be renewed for another 10 years. I believe that the British Broadcasting Corporation wanted a longer period. My own view is that with a thing which develops and changes so rapidly and at such a speed, 10 years mean a great deal and it is quite long enough. Moreover it is the period suggested by the Committee. The next suggestion is that there should be seven governors instead of five. I do not think there is much as between five and seven, but as seven were recommended we thought it was as well to do what the Committee proposed. I think we are right, and I shall be able later on to announce two additional governors whose names, I think, will be welcomed by hon. Members. Then the salaries of the governors are to be raised.
Now I come to the question of the functions of the Postmaster-General in relation to the Broadcasting Corporation. I have never taken part in a debate in which one's position is more difficult than in debates connected with the British Broadcasting Corporation. I have to discuss matters for which I am not responsible in detail and over which I have no control in detail. The Debate is a curious and unusual one. From the point of view of the Post Office, I can imagine no greater assistance to our work than that these difficult tasks of dealing with the Broadcasting Corporation should be handed over to the administration of an elder statesman. If the elder statesman has as much work to do as I have had during the last year he will soon be a good deal older. The position is really rather difficult. The suggestion is—as far as the Post Office is concerned it does not meet with any opposition—that this elder statesman, of great age apparently, was to be responsible for the cultural side of the B.B.C. How in the world can anybody be responsible for a thing unless he is in charge of it? If the policy or general culture—I do not like the word—of the Corporation did not meet with favour in the House, what would happen 2739 if it were possible for the elder statesman to have his salary reduced because of what somebody else had done? That would be an absurd position.
I come now to one or two interesting points. I ought to have mentioned before that one of the tests of the success of the British system of broadcasting is that there are now very nearly 8,000,000 wireless licences in the country, and, as I am told that there are about 11,000,000 houses in the country, it seems to me that a, very large portion of the population listens-in to broadcasts and appreciates them. Otherwise so many licences would not be taken out. The income of the Corporation will in future be 75 per cent. of the net licence revenue, and that will amount next year to £2,800,000, which is about £400,000 a year more than they would have received under the old arrangement. The Corporation were asked to develop Empire broadcasting. Those of us who know something of the amount of broadcasting that is being done by foreign countries all over the world—a great deal of it not to the benefit of this country—cannot over-estimate the value of broadcasting for good, loyal and sound purposes throughout the world and the British Empire. It is a most important service, and the Corporation can do a great public work by developing it.
Another subject is television. The charter will be historical in one way, because for the first time there is in it express authority for the B.B.C. to conduct a television service. I think I had better not go into the question of television in view of the shortness of time available to other hon. Members, but it is an extraordinarily intricate subject on which I could say a good deal. I would only say that I very much dislike the method of address which is used in television broadcasts whereby the announcer uses the expression "viewers," which is certainly a rather insufficient way of addressing an audience which, after all, hears as well as sees. I think the word "audience" is quite a good one, or possibly "ladies and gentlemen."
There is another question into the technicalities of which I will not go, but the B.B.C. assist certain concerts, notably in the Queen's Hall; and there is anxiety in the entertainment trade that they might launch out into all sorts of enter- 2740 tainments all over the country, and, if I may be colloquial, cut very heavily into the entertainment trade and the music-hall business—I do not think that is the right word—in other parts of the country. The position is that they cannot do that without getting the authority of the Postmaster-General, and that seems to be a not unreasonable restriction.
I will deal now with the very delicate question of the veto. The British Broadcasting Corporation asked that when they made an announcement at the request of a Government Department, they should be allowed to say that they did it at the request of the Department. That seems to me perfectly reasonable, and we have agreed to it. There has always been in the charter a provision which gives the Government the right of veto, a right which to my knowledge has never been exercised, but it is there, and might he necessary in certain emergencies. The B.B.C. might, on the one hand, be allowed discretion to say whether a veto had been exercised or not, but on the other hand it might be to the Government that discretion should go. The subject is a delicate one, but the Government have decided that there might be circumstances in which it would be necessary for them to stop a broadcast and not to say that it was being stopped.
I will give two illustrations, the one slight and the other very serious. Take the case of what happened at about the time of the General Election, when Naval Reserves were being called up on account of our obligations under the League of Nations. The calling up of Reserves for the Navy is a matter which is necessarily known fairly soon all over this country, but if the announcement that they were being called up were made on the wireless, it would be known in foreign countries immediately, and it might make a difference of, at all events, some hours in the time of its being known in foreign countries. The next illustration is not so serious, but there is something in it. It would not be very easy to announce that something had been stopped. Would it be said what had been stopped? One could not say, for instance, "We are not allowed to say that the Crystal Palace is on fire."
I come now to the question of the Governors. The Ullswater Committee 2741 recommended that the existing Governors should carry on for the remainder of their term of office, the term being for five years, some of them having much and some little time to go. The Government have accepted that recommendation, and I rejoice in being able to announce to-night that in addition two new members have been invited to serve as Governors. The first name is one that will be welcomed in the whole House, and it is that of the hon. and gallant Member for North St. Pancras (Captain Sir Ian Fraser). I have seen a good deal of the hon. and gallant Member on deputations for ex-service men, and all who know him will agree that he brings a very wise judgment to these problems. He is, I am glad to say, still a young man, and that is one of the points which was emphasised in the Ullswater Committee's report. I am sure the whole House would wish me to congratulate him on this appointment, in which I know he will serve so valuably. The other name is also a very good one; it is Mr. James J. Mallon, of Toynbee Hall. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) spoke of the importance of staff associations, trade unions, and so on. Here we shall have a man on the Board of Governors with great experience of these matters, and his experience in forming trade boards and bodies of that sort in trades in which the formation of trade unions is extraordinarily difficult owing to exceptional conditions, will be of great value. He brings a very wide knowledge to the Board, and I think it will be generally agreed that he will be a help to the Corporation in dealing with some of those staff questions to which the House naturally attaches much importance.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether a Governor may be a Member of the House?
§ Major TRYON
It is difficult for me to speak for the hon. and gallant Member, but he is quite willing to resign his seat. I cannot say whether it is allowed, but there has never been a Member of the House as Governor of the B.B.C. However, I understand my hon. and gallant Friend will be resigning his seat.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I would like to be quite clear in this matter. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on his election to the post of Governor, and I would say further that I should regret losing his presence in the House. I cannot see any objection to hon. Members being appointed to serve as Governors, and there would be many advantages, just as there are in the case of Forestry Commissioners who are in the House. I would like to know precisely what the law or the charter says on the subject, whatever the practice may be.
§ Major TRYON
I understand there is no such rule, but in the past it has not been the practice for people actively engaged in politics to be appointed. I would share the pleasure which we should all have if the hon. and gallant Member stayed in the House, but I cannot say more at the moment than that I believe in the past hon. Members have not held such positions.
§ Mr. PARKER
May I point out that one of the provisions of the charter, so far as the appointment of Governors is concerned, is that:If he holds any office or place of profit in which his interests may in the opinion of Our Postmaster-General conflict with the interests of the Corporationhe is disqualified? Presumably it is for the right hon. Gentleman to decide whether the position of Member of Parliament disqualifies the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Major TRYON
I think I had better leave it as it is and defer any further comment on it. I turn to Wales as a broadcasting region and I am reading now a statement which has been agreed to by the B.B.C. A complete Welsh and Welsh-speaking staff has been appointed to the B.B.C. regional office in Wales. The provision of a separate wave-length has been the difficulty. Plans for meeting this difficulty are nearly completed and the date of the programme separation of Wales from the other parts of the country will be announced by the B.B.C. 2743 shortly after Christmas. The next recommendation is that positions to be filled should be advertised. About 80 per cent. of all vacancies have been advertised in the past year. In future, practically all vacancies will be advertised, except possibly on some emergency occasions. The Ullswater Committee recommended that appointments, except those of minor staff, should be made on the recommendation of a Selection Board including one of the Civil Service Commissioners or their representative, and, possibly, an independent additional member.
That is a recommendation to which the Government attach great importance, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that the Corporation, on its own initiative, has agreed to inform the Civil Service Commission of all advertised vacancies, except for minor staff, and to invite the Commission to send a. representative to the appropriate appointment board. This arrangement is already in operation. The B.B.C. will also invite the help of independent assessors in the case of appointments which involve special qualifications. They have in fact done so on numerous past occasions. The Corporation was asked tomake it clear that it will provide all necessary facilities for any representative organisation whether a single staff association or smaller bodies representative of appropriate groups which its employés may wish to set up.The Corporation has agreed to this. I should like at this point to mention that Mr. Mallon with his experience in these matters will be of great help to the B.B.C. in this work, and in addition the Corporation has appointed a new Director of Staff Administration who has had experience of staff associations and Whitley Councils in the service of the Board of Education and the London County Council. He is at present engaged upon an investigation of methods of staff representation in other organisations, and hopes shortly to be in a position to formulate proposals directed to that end, for the consideration of the persons concerned. The Corporation are prepared to give full facilities. There is one point upon which we need not dwell much and that is Sunday programmes. I ventured in a previous Debate to give an opinion of my own, which I think is widely shared, that Sunday programmes should be brighter. I 2744 think the House would agree and many people would agree that they are much brighter.
§ Mr. E. J. WILLIAMS
Before the right hon. Gentleman proceeds with that interesting part of his speech may I ask him whether "minor staff" means "junior staff" and further whether members of the staff may join any legitimate trade union or whether it is to be an internal staff organisation?
§ Major TRYON
I shall have to inquire into that. I have only got this statement as agreed by the B.B.C. but the recommendation of the Ullswater Committee was accepted by the Corporation.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I understand also that it is to be on the recommendation of a Civil Service Commissioner. Does "minor staff" in that connection mean "junior staff?"
§ Major TRYON
I think I would rather refer to the B.B.C. to find out about that point. I was speaking about Sunday programmes. When we hear attacks on the B.B.C., and there are a great many of them from various quarters, those who take the middle course are liable to be shot at on both sides, but it does not follow that they are wrong. In the particular case of Sunday programmes the House may be amused to hear that on the one side the B.B.C. have been violently attacked for not giving a lot of light dance music on Sunday, while, on the other hand, there have been indignant protests from one part of the country against the B.B.C. for having dared to give an account of gardening methods on Sunday.
§ Major TRYON
It was not from Scotland. I would say that this charter has been considered with great care by the Government as a whole, and I should like also to mention the great help which I have had from the staff of the Post 2745 Office, one of the busiest Departments of the State, which has been engaged throughout the year with an enormous amount of work in connection with the B.B.C. I should like to thank the staff, and I should also like to say, in the presence of the Assistant Postmaster-General, that if I have been able to give a great deal of time to this work, it has been because of the help which I have received from him in the work of the Department. This House has in the past criticised the B.B.C., but I do not think there is a Member of the House who, if he were abroad and if he were discussing broadcasting systems, would not say that our system is a great deal better than the broadcasting system of any other country. Therefore, I think we owe a debt of credit and of respect to those who have built up this wonderful British institution which has given such splendid service and sustained on the whole very high ideals.
There are only three things which you can do in this matter. You can have a broadcasting system conducted on purely commercial lines, as is the case in some other countries, where political parties buy so much time on the radio, where people holding the most extraordinary views buy time in which to advocate them, where advertisements are put on the radio and where the broadcasting, generally, is not, I think, on the high level of the B.B.C. programmes in this country. Alternatively, you can have the radio used as it is in some countries—I will not mention them, but we can all think of some of them, though we should probably think of different ones—where the people have to listen to what the Government tell them. Here we have the third method, which is something between the two and which is, I think, the right method. I believe that it is the best system, and I think we ought all to acknowledge the fact.
I believe that one of the causes of any unpopularity which does exist is that people listening to the B.B.C. programmes hear all sorts of opinions which they have never heard before and which they do not like very much. I am sure that we all agree very happily here in this House, although we listen every day to opinions with which we do not agree. We have grown more accustomed than the general public to hearing the other 2746 side of the case. I think a great many of these criticisms cancel each other out, just as they do in the case of music, a subject, I am told, which produces even less harmony among those discussing it than politics or any other subject. I have been, as I say, in a difficult position in that I have not been in charge of the B.B.C. Much might be said in greater detail, which would put the case for the B.B.C. more convincingly to the House, but I think hon. Members will agree that this issue of the Lambert case is small compared with the great issue which is involved. This charter renews the trust given to the Corporation to carry on this great service as well in the future as it has done in the past, and I hope that it will be agreed to, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman opposite has suggested, without a Division in this House.
§ Sir P. HANNON
Can my right hon. and gallant Friend, before he concludes his speech, indicate to the House the circumstances under which in future any matter affecting the B.B.C. in relation to Parliament can be brought before this House?
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
The whole House, I am sure, will regret that circumstances have necessitated that this Debate on the all important matter of the renewal of the charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation should be limited to one evening's discussion. There are many aspects of the matter of broadcasting which are of very great importance and which in themselves might have occupied the House with great advantage for a very much longer time. It results from the curtailment of the time of discussion that we naturally have to concentrate our attention upon certain matters which are prominent in the public mind at the present time, or which are the subject of criticism, and that many of the more positive aspects of the broadcasting work have to be left for consideration on some other occasion. That, I think, is unfortunate.
I would like at once to associate myself with what fell from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Postmaster-General when he paid a tribute to the work of those who have established the broadcasting system in this country. There is no doubt of the wisdom of those who drew up the original constitution, 2747 and if proof of that statement were necessary, I think it would be found in the fact that to-day, at the end of 10 years, there is no considerable body of opinion which would recommend that the Broadcasting Corporation should either be made a completely political institution with direct Government responsibilty on the one hand, or should be handed over to some form of greater liberty and private interest on the other. As for criticism, there is plenty, I think there will always be plenty, and I hope the Corporation will always welcome and always receive constructive criticism. My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that criticism very often cancels itself out, that one critic cancels another out, and that is true in all the fields of criticism which have been directed against the Corporation. In regard to the musical programmes, one lover of serious music will complain that there is not enough Queen's Hall in the programme. On the other hand, a lover of light music will immediately reply with a request that there should be more Henry Hall. Precisely the same is true in regard to other forms of criticisms of a somewhat more weighty character directed against the Corporation.
I think a tribute must be paid to those men who, from very small beginnings, have built up this magnificent institution. They have built up a system of which this nation may well be proud, and they have done it, I think, by honestly trying to avoid all tendentious presentation of information, either political or economic. While that has been their object, I do not know that they have always succeeded, and they have been subjected, and no doubt will be subjected again, to criticism with regard to political broadcasts, which is one of the most difficult things with which they have to deal. It is vital in the working out of the new charter that they should continue to strive at, impartiality and to be free from all political bias, but with regard to criticism of political broadcasting and the presentation on the air of economic facts, there again the criticism seems to cancel itself out. There have been complaints both from the right and from the left, and I think that some of the criticism of the handling of broadcasting during the election of 1931 was perhaps never adequately answered, but these matters will always be the subject of 2748 criticism until that day when political parties are agreed that they are getting everything which they deserve, and that, I think, is likely to be some time away. I would like to associate myself with the welcome which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman gave to the new appointments to the Board. It was one of the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee that the number of Governors should be raised to seven, and, if I remember their phrase aright, it was that there should be no undue homogeneity either of age or of social outlook. I agree with what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that those who have the advantage of knowing both the new members personally are assured that they fulfil, so far as they go, the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee.
I would like to pass to another subject and to say that I find myself in agreement with the observations which were made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) with regard to the question of staff and kindred matters. In particular, I think, that an effort ought to be made to introduce some greater measure of security of tenure in the service of the Broadcasting Corporation. It is, I believe, a mistake to imagine that it is possible to translate Civil Service conditions into the Broadcasting Corporation as things are to-day, and one must bear in mind that those who engage in Broadcasting work in its different aspects are not only employed by the Corporation, but that they have an indirect employer in the public of this country. There may be people—and it is well known that there are—to whom the public may not be willing to listen and whose services the public may not wish to enjoy, and one can easily see, without any very great effort of the imagination, the difficulty that arises. You have to give this matter very great consideration, I think, but an effort ought to be made —and I see no reason why it should not be made—to achieve greater security of tenure with regard to that matter.
I noticed with great interest what the Postmaster-General said about, and the reasons which he gave for, rejecting the recommendation of the Ullswater Committee that the technical and cultural sides of the Corporation's work should be separated. I could not help feeling, however, that during the course of his 2749 own observations one of the reasons why it might have been an advantage to the Corporation and to Parliament if that recommendation had been accepted was brought to light, because several hon. Members rose to ask for information on one point and another, and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman was unable to satisfy them because of the fact that he must of necessity refer to the Corporation. I think it would be an advantage to the Corporation that there should be closer contact between them and Parliament. I do not think that anybody in this House or outside wishes to see any greater political control of the Broadcasting Corporation, but I think it would be possible—and after what the Corporation have already done almost anything might be said to be possible—to achieve some closer contact between the Corporation and Parliament. It is in the interests of the Corporation that there should be someone in this House who would be prepared to defend them against misrepresentation, and it is equally desirable that there should be somebody through whom Parliament should satisfy itself directly as to matters which it may feel of importance in connection with the administration of the Corporation. I have nothing to say with regard to the charter, and the changes in it necessitated by the experience which has been gained during the life of the expiring charter and also those necessitated by the change of business.
l should like to emphasise what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman said about the desirability of strengthening our Empire broadcasting service. It is indeed a matter of very great importance when one remembers the very efficient and effective programmes which are pubblished in English and other languages in foreign countries. The German broadcast system has an admirable programme in which it is difficult to know where entertainment and information shade off into propaganda or political suggestion. The German broadcast beam follows the sun round the British Empire. It is obvious that the Corporation must develop to the full a service which is in no way inferior to that supplied by other countries. That is a matter of great importance, and I am glad that in the charter the conduct of this service is formally authorised.
2750 I want to return for a moment to the question of staff associations and staff matters to which my right hon. Friend above the Gangway referred. I find it exceedingly difficult to form an accurate opinion with regard to the actual position within the Corporation itself. The right hon. Gentleman referred to an atmosphere of terrorism, and I think he used the word "dictatorship." I have heard the same thing. On the other hand, I have had contact with those who say they are unable to understand why these statements are made. I should like to refer to some special features of the criticism which has been made of the Broadcasting Corporation. The development of broadcasting has been so phenomenal and so rapid, and it has been made so easy, that we are accustomed to regard this magnificent service as one of the commonplaces of everyday life. We regard it in the same way as we regard the receipt of a letter, and criticisms are apt to have an undue effect upon our minds.
Every hon. Member is probably aware that there is circulating round Broadcasting House at all times an atmosphere of suspicion and a cloud of gossip, rumour and suggestion. I think it is time, now that we are renewing this charter for ten years, that this process was brought to an end. If it does not cease, it is bound to create within the Corporation itself, whatever may be the conditions in the Corporation, an unhappy state of things. If it goes on it will inevitably promote a desire on the part of Parliament to encroach on the day-to-day business of the Corporation. If it goes on unchecked it will tend in time to stop the flow of suitable recruits into the Broadcasting Corporation because they will feel that it is a place in which people cannot expect to get a fair deal. It is, therefore, proper that Parliament should take what action it can to see that this campaign of criticism and innuendo is brought to an end with the starting of the new charter.
I have from time to time made a note of some of the statements that have reached me of criticisms of the Broadcasting Corporation, and I would like to mention some of them to the House. I do not mention them because I believe them, and still less because I have any personal feeling with regard to anybody at the Corporation—the contrary is the case—but because these criticisms and 2751 suggestions are the currency and coinage of the statements that are made. It may be false coin. If so, I hope we shall be told so that the lies and falsehoods may be nailed to the counter. It is stated, for example, that the employés in the B.B.C. have been discouraged from forming staff associations. It is suggested that they may do so if they wish, but that if they do form them they will lose all sorts of privileges. Joint representation and the like are common now to almost every firm and employing institution, and if it is not suitable in some appropriate form to the Corporation, it is the only institution in the British Isles where it cannot be applied. We welcome what has been done as the result of the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee in this direction. We welcome also the appointment of Mr. St. John Pym as Director of Staff. We feel that, as a result, something will be done in this direction, and I hope that it will be. It is definitely said that Mr. Pym has been side-tracked in the Broadcasting Corporation and has simply been set to investigate a large number of suitable forms of staff representations and associations and that the work will take him six months or more, during which time nothing is likely to be done.
It is further stated that the B.B.C's. system of engaging and dismissing employés is unfair. My right hon. Friend narrated his experience of telephoning to employés at the B.B.C., and said that he was asked not to do it. It is definitely stated that there is in Broadcasting House a check telephone system by which employés' conversations are noted and that their correspondence is opened. These matters are current in this stream of criticism. We are accustomed to hear suggestions with regard to the position of the Director-General. He is by no means immune from his share in these suggestions and criticisms. It is said that the Director-General belittles in the eyes of the staff the functions and position of the Governors of the Corporation. It is said that the staff have been bought out for reasons purely personal to the Director-General; that favouritism is shown in the matter of retiring pensions, salaries and the like; and that favouritism is shown by him among the clerical staff contrary to the standing instructions of the organisation. I have mentioned 2752 these matters for the reasons I have given, in the hope that we shall have an authoritative statement so that this kind of thing may be brought to an end. It is important, at a time when the Corporation is launching itself with a new charter, that it should have a fair field and that this kind of thing, which is damaging to the morale of the institution, should be banished from the public mind.
With regard to the lamentable case of Lambert v. Levita, I accept the report, which I think is an attempt to deal out evenhanded justice. That is probably agreed. I would associate myself with what my right hon. Friend said about the case of Mr. Gladstone Murray. I hope that Members will follow the invitation of the Postmaster-General and read the case. It is an important and instructive document, and the deliberations of the House would be much facilitated, and they would be helped in coming to a right conclusion, if they could have a copy of the notes of the evidence and examinations which took place. There are lessons to be derived from it, and it may in the end prove a valuable experience. It seems to me that the case quoted, in which this important matter was apparently handled haphazard by the Vice-Chairman, the Chairman, the Director-General and Sir Stephen Tallents, indicates within the Corporation a lack of precision in the, division of functions between the executive and the governing body.
We are accustomed to hear criticisms of what is known as "The New Despotism." If there is an encroachment by the executive, it does not matter what kind of a concern it is, the remedy is not to take away the authority from the executive but to have a strong and capable board of management, or governors, with its functions well defined as between the executive and the governing body. I hope that one of the lessons drawn from this will be that these functions must be well defined and precise, and that we shall have always at the British Broadcasting Corporation a capable and responsible Board of Governors to whom the nation may look with confidence.
The only other important lesson of this matter is that this question of staff organisation, to use a historic phrase, "brooks no delay," and I hope that the Governors will set about dealing with it as soon as 2753 they possibly can. I hope that the recommendations in the last part of the report will be acted upon, and that this unfortunate episode will be closed in the only way in which it can be closed satisfactorily. If I had been in the position of Mr. Lambert, and had gone through the sequence of events up to 6th March, I should have felt I was on trial, if not for my life, at all events for my livelihood, and that I should be excused for any lack of mental accuracy that I might have committed in consequence. The tribunal to whom we are indebted for this report have indicated what is the only satisfactory way out. I conclude by hoping, with all Members, that during the next ten years the wonderful progress which has been made during the period of the expiring charter may continue. Nobody knows what developments may take place with the coming of television, and I am glad for that reason that the new charter is for not longer than ten years, and I hope that the nation at the end of the next ten years will have as much cause for gratitude and satisfaction as it has now.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER - CLAY
While I realise the desirability of security of tenure of the staff at the British Broadcasting Corporation, the position is not quite analogous to that of the Civil Service. I cannot help thinking that an influx of new blood periodically would not be a bad thing, and we do not wish that the Corporation should be hemmed in with rules and regulations, and that everything should be governed by the strict rules applicable to the Civil Service. We are entitled to have some answer from the Postmaster-General with regard to the allegations made by the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith). I thought I was listening to a gangster film plot when I heard of the intercepted telephones, opened letters and people followed in the streets. In these days that sort of tale told about a semi-public department requires some explanation. The right hon. Gentleman, in the authoritative position he holds on the Opposition Front Bench has no right to make these statements unless he has some proof that these things are true.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
Persons I know did express apprehensions to me, and asked me not to telephone, and so forth.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
The right hon. Gentleman seems to have persecution mania on the brain. If he has made out his case, the Postmaster-General should answer it. It cannot be left as it is now.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) has also given testimony. He has heard accusations of the same sort, and asked the Postmaster-General to make inquiries.
§ Major TRYON
We are waiting for the end of these charges and will give an answer. Some of the stories are completely unfounded.
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
It is easy to throw stones and get a certain amount of cheap publicity, and these people cannot answer back. 1 do not know any member of the British Broadcasting Corporation staff, I have spoken to Sir John Reith, I think, twice in my life, and I have no personal interest in any of the employés of the Corporation. But I believe that there would not be an increasing number of subscribers to the Corporation unless they were listening to something they wanted to hear. People do not become subscribers to listen to foreign programmes; they are interested in what is provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation. I see here the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) who is chairman of the Listeners' League. Supposing he produced a programme which he thought inspired by heaven, it might still be considered an extremely boring programme by some people.
§ Sir P. HANNON
If the inspiration really came from heaven, would the hon. Gentleman call it boring?
§ Lieut.-Colonel SPENDER-CLAY
It is impossible to please everybody. I cannot myself imagine anything more awful than listening to a dance band, but I dare say somebody is dancing to the music and probably somebody is enjoying it. If it were not being enjoyed by somebody, I suppose it would not be given. I may say that I was very glad to see the demands that have been made by the leaders of dance bands. I hope they will insist on their demands, and I hope that the B.B.C. will remain quite firm.
There are, however, one or two serious points to which I want to allude. The 2755 talks, I think, are admirable. Some people may think them dull, but they are very instructive. The suggestion I want to make in regard to them is that it is not only desirable to get a man who is master of his subject, but also a man who has a good voice over the air. I have listened to quite good talks which have been rather spoilt because the man has been indistinct. The result is that you lose attention and switch off. The debates also are admirable, and I think that controversial subjects should be encouraged. I get letters from my constituents, especially when anything about Russia is mentioned, saying that the B.B.C. is Socialist and is going Bolshevist. I have tried to reassure my constituents by telling them that it is better to hear both sides. No doubt hon. Members on the other side of the House get letters complaining that the B.B.C. is Tory, but as long as the balance is fairly held, I think that the more controversial matter we get on the wireless the better. I am so terrified that the people on the B.B.C. may try to play for safety and avoid controversial subjects because it may mean trouble. To leave out all matters of controversy would only mean that the programmes would be dull and colourless, and that would be perfectly disastrous. It is rather wonderful to know how little offence has been given by the B.B.C.
The B.B.C. touches on many aspects of life, and although one may often disagree with the speakers, I do not think they have given any real offence. I should like to pay testimony to the B.B.C. for the service rendered to people who are ill. I have been ill myself, and had to lie in bed for six weeks, and I do not know what I should have done without the wireless. I listened to talks of all kinds, to children's talks and to very instructive lessons to schools. I am sure that in that way they are doing very valuable work. Of course, as one becomes older one becomes more conscious of one's ignorance. One has only to look at a child's examination paper to realise how little one knows. Just think of what the wireless means to people living in a shepherd's cottage or a crofter's house in Scotland, or in other parts of the country away from town life. It brings them into contact with, and makes them feel part of, the civilisation we all enjoy. 2756 Then there are the Empire Broadcasts. I am glad that the Corporation are going to spend more money on Empire Broadcasts. It is most important from the point of view of Empire that publicity should be given to our country and that news should be broadcast in an attractive form. I know that the hour at which the Broadcasts are given is inconvenient to many people, but I think that every effort ought to be made to secure the best possible talent for these Broadcasts. Let us do away with this pinpricking of the B.B.C., try to work with them to the best of our ability, and continue the charter already given.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
I am very glad to hear that we are to have a full statement in reply to the points which have been raised concerning the staff of the B.B.C., because in previous Debates the Minister has rather dodged that issue. For instance, on 6th July the House heard from him the singularly anodyne statement that "the Governors have assured me of the general loyalty and contentment of the Staff." I think the report of the Lambert. case has blown that idea wide open. However, we could extract nothing more from him at that time. This is merely the autocrat of the B.B.C. brushing complaints aside. Again, the Minister said on 6th July that the "alleged interference with private lives was not borne out," but now we have the evidence in the Lambert case before us on that point. The relations between the staff and the director of the B.B.C. must, of course, involve the personality of the director, Sir John Reith, and in reading through the reports of the two previous Debates I notice that hon. Members, whose moderation of views and language is acknowledged, used such phrases as "unlimited dictatorial autocracy," "paternalism," "impatient of criticism," "has established a system of fear which kills initiative." In view of the reputation of the hon. Members from whose speeches I quote, I think it is fairly clear that Sir John Reith is both dictatorial and autocratic. In fact, I am not sure that to this we might not add the adjective "fanatical" while a charge of megalomania could, I think, also be sustained. 2757 There has been a certain amount of criticism of the broadcast by the Archbishop of Canterbury last Sunday. I have been informed—I do not know if it is true —that Sir John Reith took part in that commination service. If so, I can only say that America has with very great relief seen the end of its turbulent radio priest. If in this country the duties of radio, priest and radio director are to be combined, I think we are in for a very remarkable future. If Sir John Reith is not what he has been stated to be by the hon. Members from whom I have quoted, it is very surprising to find the exact conditions prevailing at Broadcasting House which the qualities attributed to him would entail. They are symptoms I know very well. Some of them are not uncommon among captains and admirals in the Navy. I have been lucky myself, and have never had anything to complain of, but I have heard during my service of the admiral who thinks himself a pocket Napoleon, who will not allow anybody to do anything but himself, drives all intelligent people away, is surrounded by subservient officers, sows suspicion among the staff to divide them so that he may rule by fear, and is distrusted in consequence. All these conditions of service, we are told on authority, exist at Broadcasting House. I agree that the staff at Broadcasting House are probably not a very easy team to handle. No doubt they are temperamental, jealous and, shall I say, peculiar. Sometimes I have thought that a green carnation might be a very proper badge for them.
I listened to last night's broadcast. I must confess that I deserted this House while it was discussing the hand-to-mouth disease in the Highlands and went home and switched on my wireless. I heard a singularly dreary skit or parody of "Hamlet," but there was one thing in it which really was a "gem of purest ray serene." The lady, playing Ophelia, said:Roses are red, violets are blue,But the pansy in only of use to a few.I thought perhaps she was announcing a motto for the Broadcasting House notepaper. If the staff are not an easy team, all the more reason for having a perfectly normal chief to handle them. Features of the administration have been spoken 2758 of to-night and I need not go into them at great length. It is said that the staff have no security of tenure and that there is an arbitrary system of recruiting. We are told that in future recruiting is to be very largely by advertisement; I happen to know from experience that, although an advertisement may be inserted, it does not decide who is selected to fill the post. The advertisement may be only a matter of form.
A point dwelt upon to-night has been that there is no systematised arrangement about promotion, which is by fear or favour at the whim of the Director. That has, of course, increased his autocracy. The political disability endured by the staff has been far greater than that which is in force in the Civil Service, although the staff have not the corresponding advantages enjoyed in the Civil Service of greater security and definite promotion. About the allegations of spying and interference with private life, the hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay) seems to be living in a state of almost virginal innocence if he imagines that in public offices any system of listening-in on telephones and possible interference with correspondence is altogether unknown. If it is not the case, accusations of it have been most definitely made to-night; let us therefore have a clear and proper refutation of them by the Government speaker who is to reply.
One other point upon which I would lay stress is the question of salaries. At present there is no scale. Salaries are fixed by bargaining, and the staff are not allowed to discuss their salaries among themselves. That veto on the discussion of salaries means secrecy, distrust and suspicion, an atmosphere which is the very breath of a dictator's nostrils, and which is all part of the technique of "divide and rule." Where there is secrecy about salaries, there is almost certain to be something wrong in the system of administration. This House should insist upon the same publicity in regard to salaries at the British Broadcasting Corporation as is observed in the Civil Service. Above all, the system of increments should be properly regularised. The question of staff associations has been dwelt upon. The Ullswater Committee recommended them. Thereupon the British Broadcasting Corporation took a plebiscite according 2759 to the very best Goebbels technique and, by an extraordinary coincidence, the verdict came out against staff associations. Without staff associations there is no healthy way of airing grievances, which fester until they become running sores. Why should the British Broadcasting Corporation object to a system which the Civil Service tolerates and the Post Office definitely encourages? The British Broadcasting Corporation is not a happy ship, and the public will never have confidence in it until they are convinced that the staff are properly treated. The public realise that no member of the staff was allowed to give evidence before the Ullswater Committee—
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
That was the impression made upon my mind upon reading the previous debates last night.
§ Mr. CLEMENT DAVIES
I was a member of that committee, and I can assure the hon. Member that that was not so.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
Then I withdraw my remark. I was under that impression. If the complaints are not remedied, we shall be wise in pressing for a commission of inquiry into the whole question of the relations between the staff and the Governors. The Lambert case throws a very vivid light on conditions at Broadcasting House. Major Murray and Sir Stephen Tallents failed to report to Sir John Reith the conversation that had taken place between Major Murray and Sir Cecil Levita. The incident shows a certain fear and a lack of confidence in Sir John Reith. If he was a good chief, possessing the full confidence of the staff, he would have been the first person to whom Mr. Lambert would have wished to go on hearing the facts of that conversation. It is very noticeable from the report that Sir John Reith did not apprehend the nature of Mr. Lambert's grievance, as late as 5th March. The vice-chairman approved the draft sent by Sir Stephen Tallents, which was handed to Mr. Lambert on 6th March, and apparently Sir John Reith did not see a document of this importance, which told Mr. Lambert, in so many 2760 words, that he would be dismissed if he put his private interests before the interests of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
That memorandum, handed to a subordinate, was, in my opinion, a disgrace to the authorities at Broadcasting House. Following upon that, Mr. Lambert's increment was withheld, and a reason was given for withholding it. He was told that it was withheld because of his attitude to Sir Stephen Tallents, but that it was not in the nature of a punishment. Well, that is casuistry, and nothing else. It all shows that the British Broadcasting Corporation chiefs have no idea of how to treat a member of their staff. As regards these endless memoranda of which we read in the report, and the demands for apologies, I can only say that there ought to be an office memorandum at Broadcasting House forbidding the exchange of such personal memoranda between members of the staff. The clear fact which emerges is that a member of the staff had an admitted and substantial grievance, yet neither Sir John Reith, Mr. Norman, the chairman, Mr. Brown, the vice-chairman, nor Sir Stephen Tallents his immediate superior, sufficiently commanded either his respect or his confidence to be able to put the matter right. No wonder that Mr. Lambert maintains that he was being punished for disregarding their wishes that he should put his private interests second, and those of the British Broadcasting Corporation first. In view of that memorandum of 6th March and the withholding of the increment, how can the Board of Inquiry possibly support their statement that they reject entirely Mr. Lambert's theory of persecution? It is very satisfactory to note paragraph 42, which contains a severe censure of the B.B.C. governors and of the officials concerned, and we can only wait and see if resignations will follow upon that severe censure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] I do not think it is an unusual thing that, after people have been severely censured, resignations should perhaps follow. But that memorandum of 6th March, advising a subordinate to put his private interests second to those of. the B.B.C., seems to me to reflect the touchiness of Sir John Reith about everything that has to do with the B.B.C. He seems to say,If any man come to me and hate not his father and his mother, and wife and 2761 children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot serve the B.B.C.Sir Stephen Tallents characteristically says that the memorandum of 6th March was vague, and Mr. Norman says it was a mild form of warning. Mr. Lambert says what any sincere, straightforward man would say—that it threatened dismissal. Compare the attitude of the B.B.C. with that of the law. The law gave heavy damages to Mr. Lambert; the B.B.C. says that he ought to have forgone those damages in the interests of the B.B.C. I am not surprised that Mr. Lambert felt, as is stated in paragraph 46, that he was unable to attribute any but an ill motive to the actions of the B.B.C. and its officers in relation to himself. The B.B.C. ought to withdraw the memorandum of 6th March; and they not only ought to withdraw it as regards Mr. Lambert, but they ought to withdraw it as an expression of policy in regard to the staff.
The Board of Inquiry might very well express surprise at the haphazard method of handling the matter first by one chief and then by another, and Sir John Reith's explanation of that in paragraph 52 is quite unconvincing. The essential fact which comes out is that not one of the chiefs of the B.B.C. inspired confidence in a subordinate, and all of them preferred to shuffle the job of talking to that subordinate on to someone else, or to get a solicitor to write to him, instead of having those man-to-man interviews which would have cleared the matter up had confidence existed between the subordinate and his chiefs. It is typical of the autocrat that he refuses to give an audience to people suffering from a sense of grievance. The sum of it is this, that where dirty linen is concerned the official policy of the B.B.C. chiefs is to wear it in private instead of washing it in public. It is no wonder that the Board of Inquiry concluded their report by saying that a tradition And a technique require establishing. They certainly do.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. C. DAVIES
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.- Commander Fletcher) will realise on reflection that an over-statement of this case, however good that case may be, will not help him. I feel, however, that there is an air of unreality about this 2762 Debate. Here we are, on a Motion for the Adjournment, debating the greatest charter which the Government are issuing in our time, and this is the only opportunity that we have for discussing the terms of it. It does not seem right that the House of Commons should part with a charter of this magnitude, affecting so many lives and affecting such an important matter as broadcasting, in a mere Debate on the Adjournment of the House. I could have hoped that this charter could only have been brought forward by a Bill, on which we could have discussed on the Floor of this House the exact terms contained in the charter. Then we should have had a much more effective Debate.
There is another matter of unreality, and that is that charges are being flung from one side to the other—charges made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), charges made by the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton, charges made by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White)—and there is no one who is really in a position to answer those charges. There is no one responsible in this House for the British Broadcasting Corporation; there is no one in the ordinary position of a Minister answering for his own Department; there is no one here to stand up in defence of it except to answer the charges upon hearsay evidence which are brought. That is one of the reasons why I still regret that the Government have not seen fit to adopt the strong recommendation—the unanimous recommendation—of the Ullswater Committee, that the British Broadcasting Corporation should, for the future, have in this House a representative who would answer to Parliament for its conduct. The Postmaster-General, in one of those very charming speeches with which he always disarms criticism, and always gets his own way by being so charming about it, said, when he was dealing with this matter, "Well, of course, the suggestion is that you should have some senior statesman who will answer for the cultural side of the B.B.C." But that was not what was in our minds, nor was it what we recommended.
I will not trouble the House by reading the recommendation; hon. Members will find it in his Report; but 2763 what we asked was that there should be a responsible Cabinet Minister capable of answering on the Floor of this House for the policy of the B.B.C. and for the conduct of the B.B.C. over such questions as are now being discussed on the Floor of this House with regard to the staff and other matters connected with the B.B.C. For some reason or other the Government have seen fit to disregard the advice that was unanimously given by that committee, and I cannot help feeling that it is a matter of deep regret that they have passed it over. May I, before I pass from the Charter, thank the Postmaster-General, or rather, thank the B.B.C.—because the only way in which I can do it is through the Postmaster-General—for what they have done in regard to my own country? They have followed the recommendation we made that there should be a Welsh-speaking staff and that there should be a separate Welsh division, and it is now being carried out. For that, I and the other Welsh Members, and, of course, all my Welsh-speaking friends, are duly grateful.
I come now to the matters which have been the main subject of this Debate. Of course, one can always hear rumours and tittle-tattle with regard to any of us, and, of course, the more prominent we are, the more the rumours and the more the tittle-tattle. The B.B.C., of course, is always, as someone has said, front-page news, and anything that can be said with regard to it will be promptly given prominence. I am not at all sure that that prominence is thoroughly disinterested—
§ Mr. DAVIES
One has heard these rumours coming up time and again. They came up while the Committee was sitting. There was not a tittle of real evidence for them, and I would much prefer to pay attention to real evidence and real proof than to any quantity of rumour. Charges have been made to-night. If they are true, of course something drastic ought to be done with regard to the Corporation. If messages are tapped, correspondence is opened and people are followed, that would be stopped in any private office, or in any Government office, and it ought to be stopped in the British 2764 Broadcasting Corporation if it is true. But can it be true? Look at the way this great organisation has been built up. Could it have been built up on such a system as that? Charges have been brought against Sir John Reith. I hold no brief for him. I have only seen him once, and that was in the witness box, and I believe I was his most severe cross-examiner, but I cannot help feeling that he took upon his shoulders ten years ago a tremendous task with a very small staff to help him. He gradually built around him a great staff and brought about what we are told on the evidence of other countries is the finest broadcasting service in the world. You cannot build up such a structure as that if there is all the time distrust in the office. If people are all the time, instead of going about their business, quarrelling, getting together and whispering, it is impossible to carry on. Merely on the general principle I find it difficult to believe even the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley or the hon. Member for East Birkenhead.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I had forgotten. The hon. Member carefully said they were not his own statements but only statements that had been made to him. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley said they were within his own knowledge.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I said friends of mine at the Corporation in very high positions had told me not to telephone. I went on to say that I did not know whether it was true or not. My argument was that it showed that there was something in the atmosphere of the place that was unhealthy.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I quite accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. I was drawing a distinction between him and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead. There is a distinction, because the right hon. Gentleman told us that he had had personal communication with members of the staff who had told him so.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I did not understand him so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I thought there was a distinction between 2765 them, but apparently there is not. However, it comes to the same thing. They are both making charges which, if true, would mean that this thing is rotten to the core and ought not to succeed. It has succeeded, and I find it very difficult to believe that those statements even though they are made by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member. This Corporation is beginning on its fresh lease of life for the next 10 years. I hope it will do something to free itself from any suspicion that any of these things are really going on. I hope the Government will assure the House that it will make the fullest inquiry it can and, if it finds that they are true, of course they must be stopped. If they find they are untrue, let us have an end of it and let this great Corporation continue the great work it has done under a man of the calibre of Sir John Reith.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. AMMON
Apparently I am about the only Member in the House who is not alarmed or dismayed at the reports about intimidation and the reign of terrorism that is said to go on at Broadcasting House. I imagine that that is because, unfortunately, I look back long enough and recall that these conditions obtained in the Post Office before the very happy conditions and relationships that now exist owing to staff associations. If the Postmaster-General looks back for 30 years, he will see that these conditions obtained then, that people were actually followed to their homes and note.3 were taken of meetings that they attended. I remember one amusing occasion when a staff meeting was being held and someone had the inspiration to open a cupboard, and two officials were found inside taking notes in order to report to the General Post Office. There was another case which caused a good deal of controversy in the House 20 years ago, in which a postmaster dared to interfere in the case of a man who wanted to marry a particular girl because he did not think he ought to do it. One can only see what is likely to happen in a Department like this unless there is a certain amount of that fresh air of criticism and discussion and the right of approach.
I am not at all alarmed, nor am I surprised to find that this sort of thing goes on. It is an argument for staff associations, for trade union representation, and 2766 for the right of representation and discussion, which had to be brought into force before we got the very happy conditions that now obtain the Post Office. Just as bitterly as the Broadcasting Corporation now fight any suggestion, so in times past former Postmasters-General used to fight suggestions in connection with the Post Office. Now they get up in the light of day and express their satisfaction that they have co-operation between the two sides and that it works for the good of the service. I hope the House will take note that in the Ullswater Committee's Report there was no halfhearted suggestion about this. They were very definite indeed as to the essential need that this should happen. They say in paragraph 37:It has been represented to us that by informal means of consultation, together with the right of appeal to the Director-General or the Governors, the staff can make known their views, higher officers can keep in touch with them and any grievances can be redressed. We cannot accept this contention as necessarily disposing of the need for organised machinery. A similar right of appeal to the Postmaster-General exists in the Post Office, but has not precluded the need for staff representation. The large measure of freedom from direct Parliamentary control which is accorded to the British Broadcasting Corporation seems to us to increase this need. Such representation might take one of two forms, (a) the intervention of external trade unions, or (b) the constitution of one or-more internal associations.That is emphasised in the recent report of the inquiry into the case of Lambert v. Levita. That is a very strong statement. I understand that the Postmaster-General is going to see it implemented. It will not do any good unless the Postmaster,-General exercises his authority and sees that the things that are suggested here are put into operation. Things would not have got to the head that they have reached if the Postmaster-General had been strong enough to put his foot down and had asserted hi[...]authority a little earlier with regard to other matters. The gentleman at the head of the Corporation is a formidable person and probably it would have been difficult, but it ought to have been done. One hopes that, in view of the statement which the Postmaster-General has made, these things will be done, that there will be no hesitation in the matter and that they will be implemented. I wish to say, again emphasising the need for security 2767 of tenure as far as some of the administrative staff of the British Broadcasting Corporation are concerned, that nobody suggests for a moment that it should be those persons more or less directly concerned with putting over the ether the programmes and with the artistic side, but there is a case, surely, for the fixed administrative staff, who should have continuity of knowledge and procedure both as to their staff and the management of the organisation itself.
I would also emphasise the point that has been raised that every Governor should, as far as possible be free from any suspicion of partisanship in the political sphere. Therefore, it is necessary that, if a Member of this House accepts the position of Governor, he should no longer continue as a Member of this House. It is bound to be a matter for suspicion on certain occasions, when it would be hard to convince people that there was not some political partisanship. I do not say that it is not there now, but it certainly would be very much stronger if it were known that a Governor was an active supporter of a particular party and a, Member of this House. I hope that the position will be continued as hitherto, and that the Governors will be free, just as are the rest of the staff, from taking an active part in politics.
There is a point I would put on my own responsibility, and it arises out of the Board of Inquiry. When members of the staff, as was the case with regard to Mr. Lambert, are allowed to go on to other boards, they should not go in any other than a directly representative capacity. If a man goes on a board in the time of the Department, the Department should accept responsibility for him as their representative. Otherwise it would seem that they get the best of both worlds, and can repudiate him when it appears to them to be desirable and back him up when things are otherwise. I ask that that matter should be given consideration, and that we should not have anything like such circumstances in the future. The right hon. and gallant Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay) referred to the possibility of the British Broadcasting Corporation answering back with regard to some of the accusations that are made here. He -could not have listened to the Debate or 2768 he would have heard my right hon. Friend give very strong evidence to the effect that they answered back with regard to the Ullswater Committee's Report so quickly that they got in before the report itself. It is things like that which cause Broadcasting House and the Corporation itself to be talked about as far as the administration is concerned. Having regard to all the circumstances, and to the fact that, in a new and unchartered territory, they have performed wonders when compared with other countries, there can be no doubt that the British Broadcasting Corporation is in front of any other system in the world, but, even so, that seems to have gone on in spite of the administration and the internal disharmony which appears to have prevailed at Broadcasting House. Therefore, I hope that, arising out of this discussion and the statements of the Postmaster-General, steps will be taken to see that it does not. continue.
It is not good enough for the Postmaster-General to say that nothing very serious has happened. If it is not very serious it is symptomatic that there is some disease or some trouble there. There is every indication that things need inquiring into and that a good deal of new machinery requires to be set up. When the Assistant Postmaster-General replies I hope he will be able to give us an assurance on this point, and that he will not accept the view that there has been exaggeration in the statements made as to administration, or conduct, or what has been described as a reign of terror at Broadcasting House. In the Department that he now serves so well and which functions so admirably, in its own past history and at not a very distant time, circumstances arose and continued until the light of greater publicity was admitted, until representations were made on behalf of the staff, until the accessibility of the staff to the highest authority was recognised, and adequate machinery was set up for the purpose. Until these things came about the conditions in the Post Office were quite as bad as those which are said to obtain at the British Broadcasting Corporation. Such conditions will disappear in the same way in B.B.C. administration as and when similar machinery is established there.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Mr. De CHAIR
We are all very grateful to the Postmaster-General for focusing our attention on the real issue of the Debate, which is the continuance or the discontinuance of the charter under which the Broadcasting Corporation has operated for the last 10 years. The discussion at times seems to have been completely side-tracked on to a personal issue about the private life of members of the staff of the B.B.C. Such a cloud of misrepresentation has arisen around this subject that it is well that it should be cleared away before the main issue can be fully appreciated. There has been a lot of criticism recently about the private Eves of those concerned in the administration of the B.B.C., and I listened with astonishment to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) who attacked the principle that the Broadcasting Corporation should take into consideration the private affairs of the members of its staff. As I see it, their position is simply that they are not interested in the private affairs of a member of the staff unless those private affairs affect the efficiency of the member of the staff or bring disrepute on the reputation of the B.B.C. as an institution. It was very surprising, in this connection, to hear the hon. and gallant Member, who presumably a week ago was prepared to take into consideration the private affairs and the private life of the paramount servant of the State, now turn round and say that it should be no business of the B.B.C. to consider the private life of a member of its establishment.
The B.B.C. stands half-way between a private undertaking and a Civil Service Department, and therefore as it has a public responsibility I think it is only fair that so long as it delivers the goods and provides the public service, which it does, to the satisfaction of listeners, its Board of Governors should be allowed to conduct the affairs of the Corporation as they see fit. A great deal has been said about the dictatorial methods of the administration of the Broadcasting Corporation. In this connection it is interesting to notice the terms of reference for the Governors which appear in the charter. Under the ominous heading: "Disqualification of Governors" we find these words: 2770A Governor shall ipso facto cease to be a governor thereofI am sure we shall all welcome the accession of the hon. and gallant Member for St. Pancras, North (Sir Ian Fraser) to the Board, but he will have to watch his step if he is to avoid these bewildering alternatives. Hon. Members have welcomed the suggestion made in several speeches that there should be a representative of the B.B.C. in this House able to answer questions apart from the Postmaster-General, who has himself referred to the enormous responsibility this work adds to the already many burdens of his office. Now that we have a Governor of the Corporation in this House I should like to see him remain here and be able to answer questions on behalf of the B.B.C. I do not see anything in the terms of the charter as to the qualifications of a Governor which would disqualify an hon. Member holding such a position.
- (a) if his governorship be terminated by Us in Council, or,
- (b) if he holds any office or place of profit in which his interests may in the opinion of our Postmaster-General conflict with the interests of the Corporation, or
- (c) if he becomes of unsound mind or bankrupt or compounds with his creditors, or
- (d) if he sends in a written resignation of his governorship to our Postmaster-General, or
- (e) if he shall absent himself from the meetings of the Corporation continuously for three months without the consent of the Corporation."
The main issue is not a question as to the extent to which the Governors of the B.B.C. shall interfere in the private lives of its members, but whether the B.B.C. shall supply efficient programmes to the listener at all times, especially a popular programme. I think it is the general opinion of the House that it fulfils these functions, and I am glad that under the new charter the Corporation is to receive a larger share of the 10s. licence. I have calculated that they receive now approximately 5s. 2d. after all taxes have been deducted, and that in the future they will receive about 6s. after all charges have been deducted. The Postmaster-General has said that this will mean an increase of about —400,000 in their revenue, and no doubt it will be useful to them. It is certainly very necessary for the B.B.C. to have considerable funds at their disposal, because 2771 under the terms of the charter they are not allowed to use their funds for purposes other than those which the charter sets out, and with the arrival of television many expensive experiments must necessarily be carried out.
Most hon. Members saw the demonstration of the Baird and E.M.I. installations in Westminster Hall recently and no doubt felt that television was beginning where the cinema and the B.B.C. left off. With the popularising of television it is obvious that mass production of the necessary equipment must be made possible, and that can be done only by further experiments. Some time ago the Postmaster-General, in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Scarborough (Sir P. Latham) said that up to October, 1936, £110,000 had been spent on television equipment, and most of it was in connection with the installation at Alexandra Palace and did not include the adaptation of the building. Nobody will consider that £110,000 is a large sum when the enormous possibilities of television are considered and also the importance of its future development. Therefore, I hope that part of the £400,000 annually which the B.B.C. receive in addition to that which they have hitherto received will be devoted to further research in television which will make it more receivable by everybody.
Finally, I would like to say, in emphasis of what has already been said about the Empire Broadcasting service, that at a time when we wish to strengthen all Empire links, that service, which sends programmes over our heads—for we cannot receive them in this country—to all parts of the Empire for 18 hours out of 24, is an admirable service about which probably insufficient is known in this country. Those are services which the Broadcasting Corporation are giving to the public. Those are the main issues which we are considering, and it is upon those issues, and not upon petty private affairs, that we have to decide whether or not the charter of the Corporation shall be renewed.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
My hon. Friends and myself take a different view from that taken by the other parties in the House 2772 with regard to the British Broadcasting Corporation. We do not regard it as being a really successful organisation. It is neither good Socialism nor good business. It is neither the one nor the other, but falls between the two. I wish to make a few observations in support of that contention. In the first place, we have the report, which I have twice read very carefully. I believe that the state of affairs there revealed in connection with the employés of the Corporation is a very unsatisfactory one. I do not think that the relationship which exists between the Director-General, the Governors and the various members of the staff is at all satisfactory. The memorandum of Sir Stephen Tallents on 6th March, with the threats which it contained, is itself a condemnation of the whole Corporation. That is all that has come out into the light hitherto, but from all the talk that goes on with regard to the Corporation, it is plain that there are very many similar instances and that the employés of the Corporation are always in fear of victimisation.
There is another point I wish to make in connection with the Corporation. I want the House to realise the tremendous income which the Corporation has. They have an immense sum of hundreds of thousands of pounds to spend, and they get all that money without any trouble. I submit to the House that the results that we obtain in entertainment and instruction from the Corporation are quite inadequate when compared with the amount of money that is at the disposal of the Corporation.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The hon. and gallant Member may say "Nonsense," and he is entitled to his opinion, but I admit that when we take into account the tremendous income of the Corporation, the entertainment and instruction provided are pitiful in the extreme. The statement has been made again and again that the Broadcasting service of, this country is the finest in the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] It is all right for hon. Members to say "Hear, hear," but I think if I went to the house of one of those hon. Members at a time when he was listening in, I would find him twirling the knob on the dial of the 2773 instrument, trying to get a foreign station. In practically every house to which I go, I find the people trying to get foreign stations because of the dissatisfaction felt with the programmes of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
When this matter was before the House previously, I raised the question of Sunday programmes and the Postmaster-General promised that there would be an improvement. I do not see any improvement. My experience is that the Sunday programmes are going from bad to worse. I was speaking to an hon. Member of the party opposite about this matter in the smoke-room and he said, "I do not bother much about the Sunday programmes because I always try to get Radio Luxemburg on a Sunday." That is the experience of many other people. I want hon. Members to realise that they are the trustees of millions of people outside who are entitled to much better Sunday programmes than they are getting at present. As regards the choice of programmes, generally there are only two programmes to choose from—the National and the Regional. All the stations that were opened for broadcasting have been co-ordinated until the choice is now between those two. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Scottish!"] The Scottish is co-ordinated in the system along with the others, fortunately or unfortunately, and so is the Welsh. The Postmaster-General may shake his head, and 1 know that occasionally special items may be broadcast from the Scottish station, but what is Broadcast from Scottish Regional is generally broadcast also from London Regional, and as a, rule there is only the choice between National and Regional, as hon. Members will find if they examine the programmes. There ought to be a far wider choice of programmes with all the stations that are available for Broadcasting.
With regard to the programmes themselves, the thing that is put across from the station as a variety programme is the most miserable effort at a variety programme that one could find anywhere. If what is put on week after week by the Corporation were put on in a music-hall, the people responsible for it would be sure to "get the bird." Unfortunately we have not yet got a means of "giving the bird" to the Corporation, except by hurriedly twirling the knob and getting 2774 another station. The attempt that is being made to provide programmes in this country is a pitiful one, when we take into account the millions of pounds at the disposal of the Corporation. Ever so much of the money is wasted. Finally, I suggest that the price of the "Radio Times" ought to be 1d. It ought to be possible for the Corporation, in view of the number of people who take the "Radio Times" to supply it at 1d., and to include in it a certain number of foreign programmes. If this business were properly managed, if it were not an organisation run by a lot of superior people who are involved in mutual admiration, one of the other, if it were either a, real commercial concern on the one hand or a real Socialist concern on the other, we might get something worth while. My hon. Friends and myself are quite opposed to the renewal of the charter. We would wipe this miserable, rotten British Broadcasting Corporation out of existence and set up a real Socialist organisation in its place.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Walter Womersley)
I am sure we can all agree that this Debate has been a most useful one. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that we do not have too many opportunities for discussing B.B.C. matters, but I would remind him that we shall have more opportunities in the future, because it was stated in the White Paper issued by the Government when the Ullswater Committee report was presented to the House that their recommendation that the Estimates of the B.B.C. should be presented to this House separately from the Post Office Estimates was accepted by the Government, and that means that at any rate we ought to get a full day's Debate on broadcasting matters when we come to the Estimates.
§ Sir P. HANNON
On what occasion will it arise? Do I understand my hon. Friend to tell us that we are to have a day's Debate on the administration of the B.B.C. apart from the Post Office Vote?
§ Sir W. WOMERSLEY
In the ordinary way it would come on a Supply day, and the Estimates will be presented separately from those of the Post Office, so the opportunity will be there, and I 2775 am certain that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will avail themselves of it. This Debate, as I say, has been a very useful one, and in the main I think we can say it has been quite an amicable one. I might remark that the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has evidently read the report of the committee with some bias, but at any rate most of those who have spoken have agreed that that committee has done its work well. Although some people may disagree with its findings, none the less no one can challenge the fact that those who composed the committee were men of integrity and impartiality and that they did indeed try to find out, in regard to this rather unfortunate incident, the real truth of the matter and, I think, presented it to us in that report.
I want now to deal particularly with matters that were raised by several hon. Members, and particularly by the right hon. Member for Keighley. He stated that he hoped the Corporation would act in the spirit of the charter, and that is what we all expect them to do. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) remarked that he hoped the Postmaster-General would insist upon certain things being done by the Corporation; I can assure him that my right hon. and gallant Friend and, I am certain, the Government as a whole are desirous that the recommendations that have been sanctioned by the Cabinet itself shall be carried out by the Corporation, and I think we can say with certainty that they will be dealt with in the spirit as well as in the letter.
I would like to mention the question of the alleged victimisation of the staff, because a good deal of the interest in this Debate has centred around that matter. Although it may appear that the Corporation have not acted as promptly in this matter as we should have liked, in view of the report of the Ullswater Committee, I want to tell the House exactly what has been done; and a good deal has been done. The truth is that no objection, official or indirect, is being brought to bear upon the employés in regard to the question of the setting up of staff associations. It has already been mentioned that Mr. Pym was appointed by the Corporation last April as Director of Staff 2776 Administration. It is to this gentleman that the members of the Corporation look to try to organise staff associations on sound lines. He has been making full inquiries, and I think that hon. Members will agree that it is a wise thing to inquire thoroughly into all the different sections of this great business before deciding what form of staff organisation shall be agreed to. If a form of organisation were thrust upon the staff they would certainly object, and they would have every right to do so. Think of the diverse qualifications in the staff—there are engineers, entertainers, doorkeepers, journalists, and those on the business and administrative sides. Mr. Pym has been making inquiries among all these people as to what is done in other organisations, and as to what organisations exist in municipal and public undertakings and in industry generally. I think that very shortly we shall find that a step will be taken towards forming associations suitable to the people themselves.
§ Miss WILKINSON rose—
§ Sir W. WOMERSLEY
I hope that the hon. Lady will allow me to make my speech in my own way, although I do allow one lady to dictate to me sometimes. These proposals will be put before the staff, who will be able to consider them with complete liberty, and no one among the governing body or the highest officials has the least desire, so we are assured, to prevent the staff forming associations. As soon as they have made up their minds what form the associations shall take, they will be able to go ahead freely. A question has been raised about trade unions. Many of the members of the staff, who were referred to by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Postmaster-General as the minor members, that is, the wage earners, are members of trade unions now. It is not suggested that a trade union shall be set up for that section of the staff, and there has been no pressure brought to bear on them to join or not to join any trade union. It has been a free matter, and there has not been any friction on that score.
We come to the question of victimisation. I readily accept the statement made by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) that he was 2777 only repeating gossip that he had heard. I accept also the statement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley that it has been brought to his notice that certain things have been happening at the B.B.C. that ought not to have happened. I have had my ear to the ground, and I have heard many of these rumours myself. I have, therefore, taken the trouble to find out from the B.B.C. people the real truth of many of the rumours. Some of the answers received refer to questions that have been put by my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for East Birkenhead. I will deal with one or two of them, and hon. Members will be able to see whether there is any truth in the rumours. The first question is whether it is true that employés of the B.B.C. have been prevented from forming staff associations. I have dealt with that, and have said that the answer is definitely "no." Is it true that Mr. Pym has been sidetracked? There is no truth in it. I have stated the activities of this gentleman, and I can assure my hon. Friend that he is pursuing the job set for him without interference from those in authority.
Is it true that the B.B.C. system of engaging and dismissing employés is unfair? That is a matter of opinion. The Ullswater Committee went into the question and approved of the system of engaging staff, by public advertisement where possible, and by an appointments board. My right hon. Friend gave details of what was to happen in future regarding the appointment of staff, and the question of having an official from the Civil Service Commission who would sit with the appointments board and advise and help them in the same way as in appointments made to the Civil Service. Then we come to a specific point: Is it true that a check telephone system is in operation for listening to conversations of members of the staff? My right hon. Friend said that members of the staff had told him not to telephone them because, I take it, someone would overhear. It would depend on who the "someone" was. I know someone who telephoned to someone else and said, "Do not say anything that is private, the operator might hear," and the voice of the operator came back, "Oh, no. I am not listening at all." Can it be that the person they are afraid of is the girl operating the switchboard 2778 at the B.B.C.? I have been assured that the right hon. Gentleman's statement is without foundation. [Interruption.] I make the statement as I received it, and I shall certainly inquire further into it. I have heard this story before.
Another question was: Is it true that staff correspondence is opened? The custom in many large business houses is that letters addressed to members of the staff and marked "Personal" are put aside to be opened by the person to whom they are addressed. It is the custom in many large business houses also that letters not marked "Personal" are opened, because in most cases they refer to business matters. I am informed that the practice at the B.B.C. is not to interfere with any letters marked "Personal," and the bulk of the routine correspondence dealing with artists and so forth is addressed to the staff by name. It is obvious that a central system of sorting and registering the post cannot otherwise be operated, but I am assured that only letters which deal with the business of the Corporation are opened.
The question was also asked whether there is any favouritism in the matters of salary and compensation. I am assured that that is not so. The salary lists each year are passed by the Board in March. There does not seem to be much scope for favouritism, because the Board deals with this, and I do not remember anyone making a charge against the members of the Board of instituting a system of favouritism. The fact that salaries are checked by the Board is sufficient to show that there is no favouritism in that connection. That, I hope, is a fact because if there was anything like favouritism or anything like promotion being given for something other than merit, I personally would deprecate it very much and so I am sure would my right hon. Friend.
Those are the main points in the charges and those are the answers. We shall certainly keep a watchful eye on these matters, because even if there are only rumours we want to dissipate them as quickly as possible, arid we can do it if we get information from the right source. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Lieut.-Colonel Spender-Clay) mentioned the fact that talks for children are very popular. I 2779 can assure the House that they are, particularly the Broadcasts for schools. Investigation has proved that they are more popular with adults than with the children.
The hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) congratulated the B.B.C. on setting up a separate regional station for South Wales. I think that is a step in the right direction. We were told in the early days that there was difficulty about getting a wavelength. That has been overcome. The first telegram of congratulation I received was from a town in the West of England: "Thank goodness we shall have English programmes instead of half English, half Welsh." We seem to have satisfied both sets of people and I am sure it will be agreed that that is an achievement. I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon). I realise that he has had long experience of the Post Office. He commented on the fact that the Post Office was much better now than in the old days. My right hon. Friend has been at the Post Office nearly two years and I have been there 12 months. What a wonderful improvement already. Quite seriously, I agree that we should not like to go back to the old days. I have had a good deal of experience of Whitley Councils and other attempts to bring about better understanding between workers and employers. The staff at the Post Office is loyal; it takes a great pride in the service, and there is complete understanding between those in control, both on the political and permanent side, and the staff representatives. That is the only way we can have peace in this great service. If we could only spread that spirit a little further, we should have peace everywhere.
I should like to say a word about programmes. I sympathise with those hon. Members who have mentioned programmes, because last January it was my misfortune to be in hospital. I could not read—I was not allowed to—I could not move my arms for four weeks, and all I had was a little wireless set to keep me going. The difficulty was that when the nurse turned on the wireless set, I had to listen to it after she had gone out whether I liked it or not, because I could not turn it off. I listened for four weeks 2780 to the B.B.C. programmes and I well remember a wonderful debate between Professor Laski and the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). The hon. Member won easily. I did not like it and if I had had a choice I should have turned it off. At the end of four weeks I asked myself what sort of programme I should arrange if I had to do it every day week after week. Would it be possible to formulate a programme that would satisfy everybody? It is not possible: I gave it up as a bad job. You cannot guarantee 100 per cent. satisfaction in programmes, but what you can do is to give the best possible programme. I believe that the British Broadcasting Corporation is giving a far better programme than any other broadcasting system in the world.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Mr. THURTLE
On a point of Order. May I submit that there is a Motion for the Adjournment before the House? A large number of my hon. Friends and myself wish to record our protest against the short time allowed for the discussion of this important matter, by dividing the House on the question of the withdrawal of that Motion.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That Motion has not been withdrawn. At 11 o'clock, under the Standing Order, whatever Question is before the House lapses. I have merely asked that the Clerk should read the Orders of the Day.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Further to that point of Order. I was aware of the proposal of the hon. Member. It is now only one minute past 11 o'clock. The Assistant Postmaster-General has spoken, you, Sir, have spoken, and I have been on my feet. The Minister must have resumed his seat before 11 o'clock. I therefore ask whether it is not in order to have a Division on the Motion for the Adjournment, since the Debate must have been concluded before 11 o'clock?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have the advantage or disadvantage of sitting 2781 straight in front of the clock, whereas the hon. Gentleman sits to one side and perhaps could not see it properly. The exact hour by the clock is the first stroke of the hour, and that had in fact already struck before I rose to my feet. The Assistant Postmaster-General was still on his feet.