HC Deb 18 November 1926 vol 199 cc2042-50
Colonel DAY

I should like, at this stage of the Bill, to raise a few points with regard to the broadcasting system which have not yet been raised in this House. Many of the matters to which I desire to call the attention of the Noble Lord the Assistant Postmaster-General are new; I did not hear them raised in the course of the Debate the other evening. Others I wish further to emphasise, so that, perhaps, some attention may be given to my observations. In the first place, I wonder whether the Noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General has taken note of the very many portable wireless sets that are in use in this country, and whether licences have been paid for on them. I myself know of one instance where a gentleman has a four-valve set and also a portable wireless set, which he takes round the country with him. I asked him the other day if he had taken out a licence for his portable wireless set, which he takes round in his motor car, and takes up the river on Sundays in the summer, and he told me that, as he had one wireless licence, it, was not necessary for him to take out two. I want to point out to the Noble Lord that if a man is in a position—[A laugh.] Perhaps the hon. Member for Berwick (Mrs. Philipson) has two?


I was wondering whether it was your own.

Colonel DAY

As the hon. Lady has made that observation, perhaps, for the information of the House, I might inform them that I have four wireless licences.


Have you any portable sets?

Colonel DAY

One portable, and three others, and I have paid my licence fees. I want to draw the Noble Lord's attention to the possibility that, as there is this instance of which I know, there may be many others, and it may be a great source of revenue to the Post Office. I wonder whether it would not be possible to arrange that the manufacturers, in supplying these sets, should give some notice to the revenue authorities. I would even go so far as to make a bolder suggestion, and say that, while they are supplying these sets, a form should be filled up and sent to the revenue authorities, or even that they should collect the revenue. It may sound somewhat exaggerated to ask the Post Office to do that, but, in the entertainment and amusement world, theatrical and variety theatre proprietors have to collect the Entertainments Duty for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, if it can be done in one business, it can just as well be arranged in another. The Postmaster-General, on the 14th July, said that, of the sum of 10s. paid for the licence, the 2s. 6d. that was retained for the Post Office was used in the payment of expenses and also for the detection of defaulters who had not taken out licences. The number of people who have been prosecuted was given in this House on the 13th July as 300. I wonder whether the Postmaster-General, after further investigations, has brought any further prosecutions. It seems to me, from observations and inquiries I have made, that there are many people in this country who have not taken out broadcasting licences, and yet have all the advantages of the broadcasting system.

I raised the other night the question of the very niggardly and really offensive fees offered to genuine artists for broadcasting. Since then I have been able to get some particulars, and I find that on one occasion 12 artists, most of them star performers, were paid the huge sum of £21 by the Broadcasting Company for an hour's broadcast. That is a disgusting fee, especially in view of the fact that these people had to go to the station on another evening and give an hour's rehearsal to see whether their entertainment was all right before it was broadcast. I would ask the Noble Lord how he can expect to get a first-class entertainment, with first-class artists, when artists are offered fees of that kind, to include their expenses in getting to and from the broadcasting studio. I want to mention to the Noble Lord another instance, in which one of England's premier bands was allowed to go to the studio, take all its instruments, and broadcast, and receive no fee at all for it. When you are expecting to give a first-class entertainment, you cannot expect to get artists with reputations to go and give their wares to the public on the contention that it is an advertisement for them to do so. I am sure the Noble Lord or the Postmaster-General would not expect to go into a piano shop and say to the tradesman, "Let me have that piano; it will be an advertisement if I take it to my house and play on it, and I am not going to pay you for it."

7.0 P.M.

They do not realise that the artistes who are asked to give to the public their stock-in-trade, which is their performance, expect payment for it. I mentioned the other evening that it seemed a, pity to me that the Governors of this Corporation had an entire lack of knowledge of the entertainment industry or the entertainment world. Ninety-five per cent, at least of the people who take our wireless licences or buy sets do so because they want entertainment. Entertainment providing is a showman's job. To provide that entertainment the Governors of the Corporation should at least include somebody who is an expert in providing entertainment for the public. I am going to repeat the suggestion I made to the House some time ago, and which has met with a great deal of success in America. Looking round this House I think it would do our Members a lot of good if they took up radio-physical drill in the morning. It has met with such great success in America that if it were tried here it would greatly improve the health of the nation. I am sure hon. Members cannot say that we are at the present time an A 1 nation in health. If there be any opportunity we can take to improve our health we should take it, if it can be done in such an easy way as over the wireless.

I want to suggest to the Postmaster-General that some of the talks we get over the wireless—I heard one the other evening myself—are more or less squeaks. It was almost impossible to understand what the person giving the lecture was saying. I understand that all lectures that come over the wireless have to be written out first for the approval of the Postmaster-General or the Censor of the Broadcasting Company. I want to suggest to him that the names of those persons could just as well be used over the wireless, and their lectures could be sent through to listeners by somebody experienced in the art of announcing who can articulate properly. That would greatly increase interest in the so-called lectures that one hears over the wireless. It would save many of us, myself included. I am one of those who, when those conversations take place, are only too glad to switch off.

I want also to bring before the Noble Lord the broadcasting of big theatrical successes in the West End of London. I know for a fact, of my own personal knowledge, that, on occasions, big West End shows are asked whether they will allow their shows to be broadcast for a fee that is negligible. You cannot expect producers of theatrical entertainments, who have spent thousands in giving recognised successes, to allow them to be broadcast to two or three million listeners without receiving any substantial payment. As we are entitled to the best as listeners, I suggest that it may be within the province of the new Corporation to make suitable arrangements so that we can get the benefit of the best entertainments in the West End.

I would like to urge upon the Postmaster-General the fact that crystal-set users are certainly entitled to a reduction of their licences as compared with people who have super-sets of four and five valves. People with big, powerful sets can get any portion of the Continent they require, and can receive news or entertainment from any part of England, and they have the opportunity of hearing that for 10s.; whereas the crystal-set user has to pay the same amount. I noticed, while I was in Southwark at the last election canvassing, that the people in the majority of houses I went to had small crystal sets with aerials fitted up to the bedposts. It is an absolute injustice that these people should have to pay the same amount for licences as people with four, five or six valve sets, who can get any station on the Continent. I sincerely trust that the Postmaster-General will give that his very serious consideration, and be able to make some modification in the fees paid by poor people with crystal sets.


The hon. Member for Central Southwark (Colonel Day) has raised a variety of points in his very interesting discourse on broadcasting. I am afraid a great deal of what he said does not concern the Post Office at all. It does not concern the Post Office under the present system or under the system to come into force on 1st January. What the British Broadcasting Company is able to pay its artistes is nut a matter within the control of the Postmaster-General. It is a matter which the company has to arrange with the artistes or the theatre managers in question. The Postmaster-General has no grounds on which he can interfere in that matter at all. The same state of affairs will prevail in January. The Corporation will be free to pay whatever it can afford to the various artistes whose services it desires to obtain. If the hon. Member for Central Southwark desires to make a representation in that direction, then it must be made to the company or to the Corporation when it is established. I am quite certain the course he has now taken of making his remarks in this House will mean that they will reach the ears of the authorities responsible, and I am quite sure they will receive attention. The hon. Member raised one or two questions which come within the sphere of the Postmaster-General. He asked what steps we were taking to see that people were paying their licences. T am very glad to hear that he has taken out four licences, and I hope the example he has set will be followed by all his friends. He hinted that he knew a gentleman who has not taken out a licence bat who should have taken one out.

Colonel DAY

He does not belong to the Labour party.

Viscount WOLMER

If the hon. Member for Central Southwark will furnish me with his name and address, I will see that the matter is carefully inquired into without further delay.


What reward would he be entitled to?

Viscount WOLMER

He would be entitled to the reward of knowing that he had done his duty.


And having given away his friend.

Viscount WOLMER

The hon. Member for Central Southwark and other hon. Members and every patriotic citizen should inform the authorities when they know of cases in which licences are not being paid. I am certain the hon. Member will recognise his obligation in that direction. I can assure him the Post Office is taking very elaborate measures to see that licences are paid. I am not going to state what those methods are, for obvious reasons. He can rest assured that we have a number of experienced and able officials who devote their whole time to this matter, and whose activities have resulted in a very marked increase in the number of licences takes out.

Colonel DAY

Can the Noble Lord say how portable sets are detected?

Viscount WOLMER

I am not going to tell the hon. Member how they are detected, but they are detected. He asked how many prosecutions had been undertaken. Last summer he was told there had been some 300 successful prosecutions. Up-to-date the number is about 430. Very often the licence is taken out just before a prosecution, and that by no means represents the number of cases which we have gone into. There are further prosecutions pending, and the work will be conducted with the utmost vigour. The hon. Member suggests that owners of valve sets should pay a higher licence than owners of crystal sets. I do not know whether he means that the 10s. licence should be reduced in the case of crystal set owners, or that the licence should be increased in the case of valve set owners, or whether you should have a licence based on the number of valves in your instrument—a sort of horse power or valve power tax. I agree that is a very attractive idea, but it does not come within the scope of this Bill. Of course, it would mean a far more elaborate method of collection and would be attended by a great deal of friction. There are severe administrative difficulties. The matter was very carefully considered when broadcasting was first introduced, and for the sake of simplicity, though I quite agree it is hard to defend in theory, an all round licence was adopted. I do not think we could depart from that without very careful consideration of the matter. I do not think the other points the hon. Member raised really come within the scope of the Postmaster-General at all. They are all matters for the consideration of the British Broadcasting Company and of the new Corporation, but although he may not like all the lectures and may think some of the lecturer's voices are squeaky, I am sure he will admit, that he gets money's worth even for his four licences. When one considers the amount of really good stuff that the ordinary man gets for 10s., and the hon. Member gets for £2, I think we must all admit that this service is extraordinarily cheap. Of course, it is susceptible of improvement, and the more licences that are taken out the greater will be the revenue of the Corporation, and as the Corporation is not allowed to make any profit, the whole of those revenues will go to improvement of the programmes after the Government has taken its share in taxation, and I think we can look forward to the programmes steadily improving. The hon. Member spoke as if America was far ahead of this country in regard to broadcasting. My information is that the programme put forward by the British Broadcasting Company taken as a whole from year's end to year's end is better than that of any other single broadcasting body in the whole world, and although we must agree that the thing can be and will be improved, T do not think anyone can say he does not fair money's worth for the licence he buys.


I should like to raise a point in connection with the service given by the wireless programme. I feel that this can become a great direct and not an indirect educational service. If you take the magnificent lectures, say, of Sir Oliver Lodge and others, the defect seems to me to be that while you have the best form of lecture, you have a number of people listening who become immediately interested in the subject. Would it not be possible in connection with such lectures to intimate to the listeners a series of books for those desiring to read further on the subject, especially the elementary stages of the subject? I have always felt that when you get a youth who is listening to a lecture and he becomes interested, if he could be told of the books to read or Given the address of the school where evening classes are held, it would prove a valuable connection between the initial stages of interest in the human mind and the continuity and development of the interest itself. I hope if that can be done it will be done in no mean way, and there will not be any break in the system no matter what the lecture is upon. For instance, take the article on gardening by a lady, one of the very best on the wireless programme as far as I am concerned. I am certain, from her ability as a lecturer, she has in her mind right away the books that ought to be read. If we could get that system adopted it would mean that in a great many districts where the educational authorities complain about not having sufficient numbers to keep up their evening classes, especially on the technical side, there would be a tremendous development. When it comes to the musical side of the programme, when we get some of the best exponents of the piano or violin a word or two could be said at the end as to the pieces that have been played, especially some that are very popular, and the shortest history given of the composer, it would make it of some real tangible value.


The last speaker's remarks suggest to my mind one or two things I should like to put before the noble Lord. There are quite a lot of people who because they have limited brains call everything they do not and never will understand high brow, and there are people who glory in being low brow, or no brow at all, and so we have discussions in the papers as to the quality of the broadcasting entertainments that are given. The suggestion I have to make is that we might recognise the demand for the low brow entertainment, jazz orchestras and the rest of it, and also the demand of those who want the educational lectures and classical music. The Noble Lord has said that because this Socialistic experiment is not allowed to make any profit, any surplus will be re-invested in the industry by providing better entertainment. Would it not be possible to utilise two wave lengths for two broadcasting stations, when you have money enough to do it; one devoted to high brow and the other to low brow entertainments? That would meet the objections that large numbers of people have to the mixed programmes, and it would give more opportunity for those who, like the last speaker, want the educational and the classical rather than the jazz and the common things.

Viscount WOLMER

What the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) suggests is already done in a great many cases, but I will see that his suggestion is brought to the notice of the authorities. I quite agree with him that in the interests of education it is very desirable and most useful that lectures should be followed up in the direction he suggested. The matter referred to by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) has been under very careful consideration for some months, and I think most people will agree that it is the ideal at which one should aim. But there are technical difficulties at present, not only congestion in the ether, which limits tremendously the number of available wave lengths, but also difficulties as to the range of the various stations. These matters are being dealt with, and I think within the next year or two years, something on the lines he suggested will very likely materialise.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-morrow.