HC Deb 07 July 1964 vol 698 cc204-7
22. Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu

asked the Postmaster-General if he will introduce legislation to provide that, when the Independent Television Authority obtains the withdrawal of a programme to be transmitted by a programme contractor, the Authority should make the programme available to him for his own use and for the use of hon. Members.

24. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Postmaster-General if he will introduce legislation to provide that, when the Independent Television Authority withdraws a programme arranged by a programme contractor, the Authority should make it possible for hon. Members to see it.

27. Mr. Lubbock

asked the Postmaster-General if he will introduce legislation to require the Independent Television Authority to make available in the Library of the House of Commons the text of any broadcast the transmission of which it has vetoed.

41. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Postmaster-General if he will introduce legislation to ensure that the Chairman of the Independent Television Authority must consult him before deciding to withdraw programmes on the ground of political content.

Mr. Bevins

The suggestions in the hon. Members' Questions seem to indicate a desire that I should intervene in programme content and administration. Successive Governments have firmly left this to the broadcasting organisations. Parliament itself sets the rules, as in the Television Acts for the I.T.A., and it is the Authority's responsibility to see that the rules are observed.

I do not consider it would be appropriate to legislate in order to require either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. to give me recordings of programmes.

Mr. Mallalieu

Why should not Parliament find out how the censorship of these programmes is being carried out? Has the Postmaster-General seen the script of the "World in Action" film on the Olympic Games? If he has, will he let us know what he thinks about it; and why should not the House of Commons see it, too?

Mr. Bevins

The position is quite simple. The Television Act, 1954, included three particular requirements within the context of these Questions. The first was impartiality in programmes of political controversy or which related to current public policy. The second was that the Authority should ensure that there were balanced programmes. The third was that editorial opinion should be excluded. When the Television Bill of 1963 was debated, the requirement about impartiality was relaxed so that a series of programmes could be treated as one. I think that that was generally acceptable to the House. I am bound to add that during all our debates on this Bill no hon. Member on either side of the House suggested that these provisions were objectionable. All that the Chairman of the I.T.A. has been doing has been discharging his responsibility to see that the law is not infringed.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that not only did the I.T.A. refuse to make available the text of this broadcast "World in Action" but also forbade it to Granada Television as well? Although he will not introduce legislation along the lines suggested in this Question, will he confirm that there is nothing to prevent the I.T.A. from placing copies of the text in the Library of the House, which would be for the general convenience of hon. Members?

Mr. Bevins

My position is quite clear. I have no power whatever under any legislation to call for programmes of this type or any other. The Government do not propose to seek that power. If I were to call for that particular programme, or indeed for any other programme, for the purpose referred to by the hon. Gentleman, it would certainly constitute an implicit criticism of the behaviour of the Authority, and I do not think that that would be right.

Mr. Pavitt

Even though the Chairman of the Authority may be exercising control with justice, it is difficult to see him doing so when be was previously one of the top ten of the Government party. Would it not be more fair to him if the suggestion in Question No. 41 were followed and the right hon. Gentleman were consulted whenever a programme criticising the Government was withdrawn, so that the responsibility could be seen clearly to rest upon the Government for its withdrawal?

Mr. Bevins

No, certainly not. It was never the intention of Parliament that the House of Commons or Parliament as a whole should enjoy such power. That is the responsibility of the Authority. As regards the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman in his opening gambit, I think that was a most unworthy suggestion. The Chairman of the Independent Authority, in which the Government and, I believe, the country have full confidence, has abandoned all interest in active politics.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in democracy it is very important that political impartiality should be observed both by the I.T.A. and the B.B.C.? Is he further aware that some of us have had rather grave doubts on this subject in recent years, particularly where Granada Television is concerned?

Mr. Bevins

I think that there is something in what my hon. Friend says—[HON. MEMBERS: ''Oh.''] If it is the wish of the House of Commons that in the case of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. their impartiality should go by the board and that those organisations should be free to express their editorial opinions, then Parliament ought to say so, but so far Parliament has not said so.

Mr. Paget

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us why an opportunity for hon. Members to view this in the cinema in Westminster Hall would be considered a reflection or criticism on anybody, and, if not, why should we not sec it?

Mr. Bevins

I have already explained to the House that I have no power in the first place to call for this or any other programme—

Mr. Paget

It could be asked for.

Mr. Bevins

—and if, despite the absence of that power, I were to ask for the programme to be shown here I think that that would be an implicit criticism of the Authority.

Mr. Pavitt

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that I have been accused by the Minister of making an unworthy comment, after specifically having gone out of my way not to question the impartiality of the Chairman, have I any protection from the Chair against that accusation?

Mr. Speaker

I think that what the hon. Gentleman said was—and my attention sometimes flags at Question Time—that it would be desirable for the protection of a particular individual that it should be made clear that he was not involved in some nefarious way. I hope that my recollection will be confirmed by HANSARD, and that ought to be enough to clear the hon. Gentleman from any misfortune resulting from the exchange.