HC Deb 19 April 1923 vol 162 cc2440-6

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Colonel Leslie Wilson.]


I wish to raise to-night the question of wireless broadcasting. If I had had time I should have liked to have dealt with one or two remarks made under the intoxicating influence of the smell of primroses by the Postmaster-General, but I have not time. However, I must deal with broadcasting licences. There are two forms of licence issued today. One is to the experimenter, and the other to what is called the broadcast licensee. He is a man who it not meant to know anything about wireless, but is one who buys an instrument and turns it on to receive the broadcasting from London. The other man, the experimenter, is given a licence to use whatever apparatus he likes, the chief advantage of which is the employment of what is called reaction. I must speak of reaction in this connection, but I hope the Postmaster-General will not think that I am in any way personal. It may be described as a sort of "boosting" of a very feeble incoming current—rather like the Attorney-General in that respect. It should be understood that if reaction is employed by come one who does not understand his apparatus, the receiving instrument becomes a generating station, and the moment it does so, it upsets everybody else in the locality who is trying to listen in.

The Postmaster-General is faced with this position, that there are many people in the country who can make and who do make their own sets. It is a very easy thing to make. A crystal and a hairpin are about all you require. Owing to the Regulations,. the people who have made these sets have been forced into the position of breaking the law, because, first of all, they are. not allowed to get an experimenter's licence, nor are they doing right in using the receiving set they have themselves made, in that it does not conform to the broadcasting standard. Consequently, the position is that many people who do not want to break the law have been forced to do so. The Postmaster-General and the Broadcasting Company are having a dispute as to what shall be done with these people, and sec in the papers that the Postmaster-General threatens to issue to everybody who makes his own crystal set an experimenter's licence. I hope, before he does so, he will consider what he is doing, because if to-day we are to have 100,000 people with reaction, abusing it as they would—because many of them are inexperienced—I cannot imagine what chaos is going to take place in the ether. I quite agree that neither licence is necessary, but whatever licence he is going to give these people who make their own sets, I hope he will be firm in seeing that reaction is not going to be allowed to everybody and anybody throughout the whole country. If he issues licences and allows reaction to everybody, however inexperienced, the whole of broadcasting will fall to pieces as an education and an amusement to the people of the country. Already it is clumsy enough in the hands of experienced people, but if it is going to be given to all inexperienced people the whole of broadcasting will fall to the ground and fail.

The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)

In a very few minutes I shall try to explain the dispute which has arisen in this matter, and I am obliged to my hon. and gallant Friend for having given me the opportunity. The position is, as he stated, that there are at present two licences, and two only, which the Postmaster-General can issue. That is under the agreement made by my predecessor, Mr. Kellaway, and signed on 18th January, 1923, with the company known as the British Broadcasting Company, that they should have a licence for broadcasting throughout the country. I should here put in a caveat by saying that I am not at all certain that agreement with the company gives them a monopoly licence for broadcasting. I am not at all sure whether it is not open to myself to grant a licence, if I so desire, to somebody else. I mention that as a warning at the moment, but under the agreement which was made by my predecessor, Mr. Kellaway, I can only grant a broadcasting licence, to anybody who wishes it, clogged with the proviso that he must use for receiving broadcasting a particular form of instrument marked "B.B.C." by the British Broadcasting Company. It is open to me, also under certain conditions, to grant an experimental licence in regard to which there is no clogging condition. Both licences are issued at a fee of 10s., of which 5s. is by agreement given to the Broadcasting Company, in order to enable them to keep up their broadcasting concerts, etc.

I am not sure whether the House, if they realised fully what is being done, would consider that it was in accordance with public policy that we should collect what are in effect compulsory taxes for the purpose of giving half of them to broadcasting companies.


It was the Government's suggestion.


It was the result of numerous negotiations between the Broadcasting Company and the then Postmaster-General. The agreement, of course, is binding upon myself; that is clear; and I cannot issue any other licence at all, to enable the home con- structer who is not an experimenter to construct his machine, without the assent of the Broadcasting Company. Negotiations have taken place between them and myself, and at first they offered to allow me to issue a licence to what I may call the home constructor, without. the clog upon it that the instruments used should be British Broadcasting instruments, if I would make the licence fee 20s., and give them 15s. out of that.

That I declined at once. I said that I was willing to grant this licence at a fee of 10s., of which half would go to the company, provided only that the parts to be used by the holder of the licence should be made in this country. There are an enormous number of foreign parts made in Austria and France under the present depreciated currency, and there is undoubtedly the possibility of our market being flooded with them.

Doubtless the whole House may not agree with me in that position, but the point of dispute between us is not a question of protection against foreign manufacturers, but that the particular manufacturers who have formed the Broadcasting Company claim the right to prevent any other manufacturer in Great Britain many factoring broadcasting materials in this country. I have told them quite definitely that I cannot possibly be a party to extending that. Under the agreement as it stands to-day I am bound in regard to all broadcasting sets as a whole. They must be marked by the "B.B.C." mark, and that is final, so far as T am concerned. With regard to receiving licences, I think I ought to give the House some figures. There have already been issued, of broadcasting licences, 87,561.


Is it a fact that any manufacturer, by subscribing £1 in shares, can manufacture and sell his instruments?


That is true. Any manufacturer who chooses to join the British Broadcasting Company, for £1, can get. within the combine, and have his materials marked, but. I am not going to be a party to compelling any British manufacturer to join any particular combine. There have been issued 35,385 experimental licences, and there are to-day awaiting issue 33,000 applicants for experimental licences. Those have been held up, first by the action of my predecessor, since January last, and by myself, because of the opposition—I can quite understand the legitimate opposition—of the British Broadcasting Company. I have, therefore, taken the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown on this matter, and they have advised me to-day that before I can issue an experimental licence I must be satisfied that the object of the experimental licence holder is an experiment with wireless telegraphy, but, if I am so satisfied—in the opinion of the Law Officers T must be the judge—I not only can issue a licence, but I am bound to do so; I have no option in the matter. That being the case, I propose to send these 33,000 applications to some experts on my staff to-morrow morning, and require them to make a thorough investigation and to advise which, in their opinion, are honestly experimental. They will be submitted to me and an experimental licence will be issued.

With regard to the other side of the question, I am exceedingly sorry that there should be this dispute between the Postmaster-General and the Broadcasting Company, but I am prepared to make one further effort at least, because there are, in my view, an enormous number of people—probably early half a million—who are prepared to take licences if they can get the licence they want. The British Broadcasting people tell my staff that there are 200,000 infringers at the present time working with no licence because they cannot get; the licence they want. I want to give them a licence and charge them 10s., and give 5s. to the Broadcasting Company.

I therefore propose at once to institute the strongest Committee I can get in order to consider the whole question of broadcasting—not merely the question of licence, but the desirability of existing contracts and the questions that have arisen on contracts—if I can get members to serve. I propose that there shall be three or four Members of this House and two or three members of my expert staff, and I propose also to ask the Radio Society of Great Britain the great scientific body dealing with wireless, and I think it only fair to ask the British Broadcasting Company themselves, to suggest someone to me to go on that Com- mittee. I hope they will accept that offer. I hope that they will be willing to put the whole of their case before the Committee, which will be as fully representative and as strong as I can make it, and I hope that by that means we shall be able to solve one of the most difficult problems that has ever come before me. I can assure the House I have devoted days, and almost nights, to try to find a solution, fair on the one side, and without inflicting, what I do not want to inflict, a real monopoly against the would-be manufacturers in this country.


The House must. have been somewhat amazed at the statement to which we have just listened, that such a contract should exist, that such commitments should have been made, and that such an absolute deadlock should have been created. I welcome very heartily the statement of the right hon. Gentleman because it does show that the present Postmaster-General is more alive to the situation than the predecessor that effected this agreement. Surely, however, this subject. is one that ought to be far more thoroughly discussed in this House! I agree to the suggestion about the Com- mittee, but that is not enough. This House ought to have the matter brought before it at the very earliest opportunity so that the whole thing may be thoroughly thrashed out.


And I hope the House will suspend its judgment until it has heard the case. of the British Broadcasting Company.


I should just like to put it to the Postmaster-General that this is a case that should conic under Standing Order 72, as a matter which the House ought to discuss, because it clearly involves telegraphic communication overseas. We know quite well that at the present moment the great Atlantic liners can pick up and transmit the concerts, messages, etc., and therefore I think the matter should come under the Standing Order.


I should just like to say—

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER, adjourned the House, without Question. put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'Clock.