Beveridge Committee

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The Beveridge Committee was... ahead of the expiration of the BBC's Charter at the end of 1951. Bernard Sendall called it "the first truly thorough and critically analytical examination of the problems relating to the organisation of British broadcasting".[1] Its report, which was 120,00 words in length, was presented to the Houses of Parliament on 18 January 1951. However, it was left to the Conservatives, who won the general election of 25 October 1951, to decide what to do.

Appointment of Chairman

The first choice of the Labour Government was Sir Cyril (later Lord) Radcliffe, the distinguished lawyer, who played a key part in the wartime Ministry of Information and, in 1948, was deputy chairman of the BBC's General Advisory Council. Radcliffe's appointment was announced in January 1949, although it was stated publicly that the investigation would not begin for some time. However, Radcliffe's subsequent appointment as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary on 27 May 1949 ruled him out for the broadcasting committee and, within days, Herbert Morrison wrote to Lord William Beveridge offering him the chairmanship instead.[2]

Beveridge, whose appointment was announced in Parliament late in June 1949, was an economist and Liberal Party politician, best-known for his 1942 report on Social Insurance and Allied Services (known commonly as the 'Beveridge Report'), which served as the basis for the post-war welfare state put in place by the Labour government between 1945 and 1949. When appointed to examine broadcasting he was aged 69 and keen to take on a new challenge.

Terms of Reference

The terms of reference were announced to the House of Commons by the Lord President of the Council, Herbert Morrison MP, on 12 May 1949, as follows:

'To consider the constitution, control, finance and other general aspects of the sound and television broadcasting services of the United Kingdom (excluding those aspects of the overseas service for which the BBC are not responsible) and to advise on the conditions under which those services and wire broadcasting should be conducted after 31 December 1951.'[3]

Committee members

All the members had been chosen before Beveridge took over from Radcliffe as chairman.

The members of the Committee were chosen not as specialists in broadcasting, but as persons of 'broad approach' and 'balanced judgement'.[4]

  • Lady Megan Lloyd George: a woman, Welsh citizen, and (then) a Liberal.
  • Brigadier (later Lord) Selwyn Lloyd — Conservative member for Wirral (aged 44);
  • Ernest Davies MP — Labour member for Enfield, author of a book on nationalisation; replaced by Dr Stephen (later Lord) Taylor, Labour MP for Barnet;
  • Joseph Reeves MP — Labour member for Greenwich, Alderman and a Co-operator;
  • J. Crawford — trade unionist;
  • Earl of Elgin — a Scot and a Conservative.
  • A. L. (later Sir Arthur) Binns — Director of Education for Lancashire;
  • W. F. (later Sir Walter) Oakeshott — headmaster of Winchester;
  • Mrs Mary Stocks — principal of Westfield College.

Report of the Broadcasting Committee 1949 (Cmnd 8116).

Chairman: Lord Beveridge Presented to Parliament 18 January 1951. The growing debate about the preservation of the broadcasting monopoly and the possible introduction of commercial television was reviewed by Beveridge (who had been a principal architect of the British welfare state during the war years), who decided in favour of monopoly and against advertising or 'sponsorship'.

A minority report by Conservative MP Selwyn Lloyd (who later became Foreign Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer) disagreed. He proposed a Commission for British Broadcasting to oversee the BBC as a radio broadcaster, a British Television Corporation, one or two other national commercial broadcasters each for radio and television and a potentially large number of local radio stations. Apart from separating television from the BBC, this has proved to be a fairly accurate description of the arrangements that exist 40 years later.

Memoranda submitted to the Committee are published in Cmnd 8117.

Government responses

The Labour government's White Paper, Memorandum on the Report of the Broadcasting Committee 1949(Cmnd 8291), was published on 10 July 1951. All the recommendations, apart from minor matters of detail, were accepted (Selwyn Lloyd's minority opinion was rejected). It noted, in passing, that the Postmaster General actually had power already to authorise additional broadcasting organisations.

However, in the parliamentary debates that followed, Lord Beveridge in the Lords vehemently protested that important proposals for devolution within the BBC, involving the establishment of separate authorities appointed by the Government (not the Corporation) in the three national regions had been set aside.

Memorandum on the Report of the Broadcasting Committee 1949 (Cmnd 8550) Government White Paper, published 15 May 1952. After the change of power in October 1951, the incoming Conservative government published its own plans. For the first time the possibility of ending the BBC monopoly, if only for television, is suggested: 'In the expanding field of television provision should be made to permit some element of competition when the calls on capital resources at present needed for purposes of greater national importance makes this feasible.' New services would 'involve the use of higher frequencies'.

Broadcasting Policy (Cmnd 9005) Government White Paper, published 13 November 1953. The proposal was for a public corporation that would control standards of programmes that would be made by a number of privately financed companies. The companies would be allowed to sell advertising time but sponsorship of programming (in the dreaded American style) would not be permitted. The new public corporation would also own and operate the transmitter network, leasing its use to the programme companies in return for fees that would finance the system.


  1. Bernard Sendall, Independent Television in Britain, Volume 1 (London: Macmillan Press, 1982), 6. "Whereas Sykes saw 32 witnesses, Crawford 22 and Ullswater heard from 28 groups or individuals, Beveridge received and digested 368 memoranda and other papers from a wide variety of interested individuals and groups, to say nothing of the many face-to-face Interviews."
  2. Asa Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume IV (Oxford University Press, 1979), 269–70.
  3. Hansard, vol. 464, col. 1996, 12 May 1949.
  4. Hansard, vol. 465, col. 1050, 24 May 1949.