HC Deb 03 July 1933 vol 280 cc97-139

Read a Second time, and committed.

7.30 p.m.


I beg to move, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Part VII."

We offer no apology for intervening in this Debate, although it may be, on its title, a matter peculiar to the borough of Middlesbrough, because we believe that there are here involved matters of fundamental principle that far transcend the ordinary local aspect of the matter. We believe the questions involved are of such paramount importance that they could only properly be discussed by this House. I would refer hon. Members to what is sought by Part VII of the Bill, which is a Bill of great volume and, no doubt, of some merit. In Part VII there are some Clauses which make a tremendous inroad into all corporation legislation. By Clause 148, the second Clause in Part VII of the Bill, the corporation seeks legislative authority to establish maintain and carry on a wireless telegraph station or stations for the reception of broadcast matter and they seek power to amplify any broadcast matter so received and allow the same to be received by consumers by means of any electric line for the time being belonging to the Corporation. They also want authority to publish and advertise programmes of the broadcast matter which it is intended to allow consumers to receive. They seek power by Clause 149 to acquire by agreement or take on lease or with the consent of the Minister to appropriate any lands or buildings and to maintain buildings, plant and machinery, and they seek power to allow consumers to receive broadcast matter upon such terms and subject to such conditions as may be agreed upon between the Corporation and such consumer. Finally they seek power to provide sell let for hire convert repair maintain and remove … loud speakers selectors and other apparatus in connection with the reception of broadcast matter. In short, by Part VII of the Bill, the Middlesbrough Corporation seek power from this House to establish and maintain a wireless exchange. It is said that this is one of the various systems of diffusion which exist all over the country and that the Corporation of Middlesbrough should have power in their corporate capacity to run such an exchange operating for the transmission and reception of broadcast matter. It is well known that there are in existence certain wireless exchanges which have as a business proposition loaned to various people in their area machinery to enable them to receive such broadcast matter as a re-diffusion service may collect and transmit to those to whom they have a contractual duty. When an establishment is allowed to enter into business for the purpose of rediffusing, to those with whom they may have contracts, certain broadcast matter, it is subject to certain limitations which the Postmaster-General in his discretion is authorised to impose as part and parcel of the licence for re-diffusion which he gives. It lies in the hands of the re-diffusion exchange that is then established to alter, to unbalance, to adapt, or to select such matter as that authority thinks fit to be broadcast

I appreciate that it would always be open to the Postmaster-General for the time being, if in his opinion the selection or the adoption of such matter by any re-diffusion service was so deliberately arranged as to become unbalanced, to revoke or withdraw the licence, but, I submit, it is putting the Minister in a difficult position if he is asked to be the judge of whether matter be unbalanced by the process of selection which has been made by the establishment broadcasting the matter which it rediffuses to its subscribers. One could have foreseen that, if a local authority were given power to rediffuse to certain listeners, over the line which the local authority had for electricity, such matter as it selected, it might very well be, according to the fancy or colour of the corporation then in existence, a real inroad upon the deliberately balanced programme of the British Broadcasting Corporation. It was with very good cause, no doubt, that the British Broadcasting Corporation was authorised by this House to exist as a public utility company outside any influence of political colour from whatever source it might emanate, and it seems that any such authority as is sought in this Bill will undermine the very principles which were so well established when the British Broadcasting Corporation was brought into being.

I would like to make another observation upon what might be the result of any such authority seeking to exploit the position of monopoly which they obtain as a local authority. The policy of the British Broadcasting Corporation, as approved by successive Postmaster Generals, has been not to allow any advertising matter or sale of time from the British broadcasting stations. One knows that it is not difficult to obtain, from a foreign station which is readily receivable in this country, certain time to be used for any purposes that the buyer of that time thinks fit, and in these days, when certain French stations are so easily received in this country, it is very easy for time that has been bought on a French station to be used for the transmission to English hearers of, I will not say offensive matter, but matter which is not permitted over a British broadcasting station. Power would come into the hands of a local authority to obtain from such sources time to be employed in a manner which the local authority thought best, to be used exclusively for those hearers connected through the re-diffusion service.

I would mention some of the matters which could easily operate through an extension of this principle of re-diffusion. There are times when you are dealing with schools or institutions or certain blocks of dwellings when re-diffusion may, from its very nature, be a very useful and practical extension of the principle of wireless. It may be that from its cost it gives better opportunities, to those who have to consider every copper that is spent, to get programmes which otherwise they would be denied through lack of having a machine capable of receiving a Continental station, but I think the proposition is as yet so novel that each instance has to be considered with very great care, and the possibilities of transmitting must be considered from every angle before any extension is given of the nature indicated in this Bill. The British Broadcasting Corporation has always provided entertainment, recreational and educational, and amusement of a very carefully balanced nature, well planned and thought out, so that no particular line is embarked upon exclusively, and a balance is obtained which is transmitted night after night to those who are receiving the ordinary British broadcasting matter. The danger that might arise from re-diffusion is one that I venture to think ought to be considered and so far as possible guarded against.

I desire, having made those observations about re-diffusion generally, to say a word or two as to our opposition to this particular type of re-diffusion. This is an example of municipal trading carried to the very furthest point, and I desire to say to those who agree with my objection, as well as to those who do not see eye to eye with me, that some kind of municipal trading may be for the public good. It may be necessary that there should be municipal trading in and control of certain public utilities, such as gas, electricity, water, transport, and in certain circumstances coal. A strong case may be made out in every one of those instances for municipal trading, and the mere fact that a public service is carried on by municipal trading does not make it stand condemned; but there is no logic, there is no expediency, there is no case of any sort or kind that may be made out to justify the venture by the county borough of Middlesbrough into the realm of broadcasting.

In the course of two or three days, it might be well for the House to remember, we shall hear again from Middlesbrough, as a depressed area seeking for relief and assistance from other areas that may perhaps be able all the better to manage their own affairs, yet they are asking tonight to be allowed to venture into a realm about which they know nothing at all. It is easy to conceive that as soon as this Bill is given statutory effect there will at once be appointed a Director of Broadcasting, with a complete staff to assist him in that work, and a Broadcasting House for the county borough of Middlesbrough, all of which has to be subsidised, paid for, and maintained by the ratepayers of Middlesbrough, to whom the Middlesbrough Corporation now seek to go into opposition. My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith) tells me that the Bill provides that nothing will be done in one year that cannot be paid for in the next year. That is an experiment which it is beyond the wit of man to put into effect. Money is going to be spent at once, and it will be spent in the hope that next year there may be such a return of profit that they will be reimbursed for what has been spent in the present year, as far as it can be balanced. It would be idle for any local authority, however well-managed, efficient and alert it may be, to enter into this difficult avenue of broadcasting and the expenses thereby involved without realising that they are competing with their own ratepayers and that they will suffer what invariably happens when local authorities embark on enterprises for which they are not properly fitted. It is very hard to think of these ratepayers saddled with a heavy liability to meet the demands that will be made upon them by a local authority which will have to face anxious moments of trade, which is not perhaps managed as well as it should be, and to find that very local authority which is governing this depressed area is trying to compete with them in their own businesses, upon the success of which the rates depend.

It may be said that a towns meeting has decided in favour of this proposal. From a telegram I have just received I understand that when there was a public meeting the voting was 65 in favour of the Bill and 62 against it; and that that figure of 65 was obtained because of the votes that were gathered in from certain corporation officials. I do not want to say a word in disparagement of those officials. They are as much entitled to full citizenship as anybody else. When, however, the local authority is seeking to extend its province, to create new jobs and a new department, and to pay more wages out of the ratepayers' pockets, there is a great inducement for corporation employés to vote in favour of the corporation, knowing that they may be among the number selected for the new jobs.

This proposal is condemned by a number of people who are engaged in the manufacture, distribution, supply and hiring of radio parts. In the depression which has existed in this country for some time one of the bright spots has been the radio industry, a new industry which is serving a great demand and has put into employment many people who, but for the radio trade, would have been unemployed. They oppose this proposal because they know that private enterprise has put radio on a great foundation in this country and that private enterprise has made radio proficient in all ways. Nobody lacks anything in the radio programmes that are distributed to this country, and there is no reason for municipal broadcasting in order to put private enterprise out of business. There has been no attempt before by any local authority to enter into competition with radio makers and broadcasting by the erection or maintenance of their own exchange. This is the first time that a matter of this nature has come before the House, and I venture to ask hon. Members whether they think that Middlesbrough is a local authority which is so much to be admired and which is carrying out its work so efficiently and offering such satisfaction to the harassed ratepayers that it should be allowed to he the basis of this precedent and start this competition with its own local entertainments, cinemas and theatres, which are dependent on private enterprise. These industries are united against such an attempt at municipal trading.


Can the hon. and learned Member give the name of anybody among either the wireless manufacturers or the entertainment people who have made any opposition to this Bill in the other House?


I am glad that the hon. Member has raised that point. This was not a matter for petition. It is not a matter dealing with a little local industry; it is a matter of fundamental national importance, and anybody who has any interests at all is entitled to leave it to this House, knowing that the House will not shirk its responsibility. The theatrical associations and the manufacturers of radio have said definitely to every body who has considered this matter that they are opposed root and branch to the extension into broadcasting which is now proposed by the Corporation of Middlesbrough.

I think that municipal corporations are entitled to say in some cases and in respect of some commodities that municipal trading is essential and that it has benefited certain branches of the community. But is this the time to take municipal trading to the furthest point, to give to a depressed area the right to enter into this new walk of life, to speculate with the ratepayers' money, and perhaps to squander it on matters with which they are wholly unfitted to deal? I venture to think that no hon. Member knows of a single case where the individual will be better served than he is now by private enterprise in this matter. It is private enterprise that keeps in employment as many people as are employed in Middlesbrough. The expenses of this service will go as a subsidy to those who are by no means able to manage a new industry, and it will come partly from the best ratepayers in the entertainment industry. I ask the House to vote in favour of the Instruction to delete from the Bill this Part of the Measure which gives to Middlesbrough a right which no other local authority enjoys.

7.55 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion. Although I may mention Middlesbrough and the Socialist party in my speech, it is not because I intend to cast any aspersions, but because I want to give Middlesbrough and the Socialist party by way of illustration. This provision would create a political monopoly control of broadcasting within a prescribed area. Clause 143 provides that the corporation may publish and advertise programmes of the broadcast matter which it is intended to allow consumers to receive from time to time. I emphasise the word "allow." It is perfectly plain that the customer will have no selection of his own, that the corporation will have the selection of the programmes, and that the customer will receive only that which he is allowed to receive. The corporation could include or eliminate what it pleased. It could, for instance, permit a broadcast on a political question which was in accord with the views of the party in power in the corporation, and it could ban a broadcast reply. By skilful selection it could give a definite bias to lectures, speeches and addresses. Whether this power would be so employed or not, the very possession of it is contrary to the principles which govern the British Broadcasting Corporation, which is a nonpolitical and non-elected body, and it would be contrary to the best interests of broadcasting.

Partisan political interest, direct or indirect, should be rigorously excluded from broadcasting unless it is included as a matter of general interest with the presentation of both sides, as is the case with the occasional political broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation. There is no guarantee that this balance would not be destroyed by skilful selection if the broadcast were controlled by the political party in power, as it would be controlled in Middlesbrough if this proposal were accepted. This is a very grave objection to Part VII of this Bill, and even an express provision that broadcasts should be transmitted as received would only partially meet the objection. There would still be nothing to prevent the party in power transmitting, say, a broadcast for Soviet Russia, or a defence of political dictatorship for Germany, such as the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has foreshadowed as the policy of the Socialist party when it gets a majority in Parliament. I mention this, not because I am concerned to prevent a possible Socialist misuse of broadcasting in Middlesbrough, but because I want to stop any political misuse of the enormous power that the political control of broadcasting must confer. I consider that this objection alone is sufficient to justify the rejection of Part VII.

By this part the Middlesbrough Corporation obtains a virtual monopoly in the sale, hire and maintenance of wireless fittings, such as loud speakers, selectors, etc., to the detriment of many private traders in this great and important industry. Clause 150 provides that the Corporation may allow consumers to receive broadcast matter upon such terms and subject to such conditions as may be agreed upon between the Corporation and such consumers. There is nothing to prevent the corporation dictating that every consumer must buy his fittings from, and have them maintained by, the corporation. Moreover, the corporation need not make any profit. Clause 155 shows that it is only required to see that the business, taking one year with another, is carried out without loss. The unfortunate private trader has to make a profit in order to live. This is a peculiarly objectionable form of municipal trading because it would use, or at least give the power to use, the financial resources and credit of the rate- payers in order to put the private trader out of business. With or without municipal profit on the business, the effect on the private trader would be much the same.

Turning to Clause 151, it may be argued that the corporation are forbidden to manufacture, but they are not forbidden to assemble parts, and to buy how, when and where they want, either at home or abroad. Again, broadcasting is not a necessity like water supply and drainage, which are essential public services. It is really a luxury and there is no case for municipalising it, least of all in the objectionable way provided for in this Bill. As my hon. Friend has said, Middlesbrough is a distressed area. It will be coming to this House, very properly, for a loan. Why should it undertake now, in these circumstances, a considerable expenditure for the erection of a broadcasting station or stations? Even if there were no other objection to the corporation's scheme it is unnecessary and inadvisable in the straitened circumstances of the district. It is bound to involve either a grant or a loan charge, possibly both, and there is no reasonable guarantee that it will be revenue-producing. I sum up my case in two observations: While the financial aspect is important and sufficient in itself to justify the rejection of this part of the Bill the dominant considerations are two. In the first place, there is the unassailable fact that this proposal places great broadcasting powers in political hands, and thus makes such power liable to serious abuse. Secondly, it would create an unfair municipal monopoly in an important industry where such a monopoly is dictated neither by public interest nor public necessity.

8.3 p.m.


Before I come to the main case I would like to take up one point personal to Middlesbrough which was deliberately raised by the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons). He spoke of the Middlesbrough Corporation as one which, perhaps, has not managed as well as it should. The implication in that is undoubted—that it has not done so, and I would like to ask him in what respect he implies that Middlesbrough, under a Conservative and Liberal majority the whole time, has not managed as well as it should. I defy him to find any of the distressed areas which, under the enormous burden put upon them at the present time, have managed as well. To have more than half their insured population out of work and still to have their rates under 14s., so that it may be a little doubtful whether Middlesbrough can even come under the definition of a distressed area, is a record which might have spared the corporation the sneer which the proposer of this Amendment has chosen to level at them.


My reference to Middlesbrough was not intended in a way of a sneer. It was put forward as a fact, but never intended as a sneer.


May I ask what is the statement of facto A suggestion has been made against the Corporation's management which is very important from the point of view of this Bill, because it implies that here is a corporation which is not fit to carry out these tasks. The hon. Member, without a word to support it, without a single suggestion of where Middlesbrough has fallen short, flings an insult at that Corporation which will be listened to with a great deal of interest by the Conservatives of Middlesbrough, many of whom I know very well. I hope that at some time he may attempt to make some justification for a vague general accusation flung out in this way against a body of people trying to do their best in very hard circumstances. As far as I can make out he was speaking entirely at random, and has no facts to support him, and when he asks, "Have Middlesbrough so well deserved?" he cannot suggest a single respect in which they have not deserved any confidence which this House might choose to place in them. I am very sorry to have been diverted from my introduction, because n this Amendment there is a very serious point which I have to meet—I freely grant that it is something I have to meet, and I shall try to do so; but when a challenge like this is thrown out against a district which I have the honour to represent, and which the challenger has not the slightest desire or intention of supporting by any facts, then I, at least, must take up the challenge on their behalf

I had intended to begin by an apology that on a rather warm night this House should be occupied for a considerable time on a small point in connection with the great borough I have to represent, but I need offer no apology now, because according to the proposer and the seconder of the Amendment a great constitutional question is raised here. There is going to he some grave danger of the poisoning of the minds of the people of Middlesbrough, because at some critical moment of our nation's history the Corporation may choose to turn off the Home Secretary or somebody of equal importance and turn on Mr. Flotsam or Mr. Jetsam or Henry Hall s dance band. Really, the suggestion seems to me an entirely frivolous one. This power is one which is already possessed by private companies wherever they have taken power to do this sort of thing, and I am really amazed that in theses times, as a question of public policy—I am not talking about municipal trading now—anybody should deliberately say that he would prefer the selection by a quite casual private company of what the people of Middlesbrough shall or shall not hear as against that of the people of Middlesbrough themselves, through their representatives. I venture to say that the substantial Conservative and Liberal majority on the Corporation of Middlesbrough will be very much surprised to hear that they are engaged in undermining the foundations of the State in this way, and that a time will come when red ruin has overwhelmed this nation and we shall look back for its origin to the fatal day when the Corporation of Middlesbrough were allowed to choose programmes.


My objection is that the power should be put into their hands which will enable them to misuse it if they feel so inclined. I have never suggested they would do anything. I started off by saying that I cast no aspersion on Middlesbrough at all; but what I did say was that I objected to them having possession of this power if they wish to abuse it.


I quite appreciate what the seconder of the Amendment has said. He has not attempted, I say it quite frankly, to cast any aspersion on the governing authority in Middlesbrough. He has left that delicate task to the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester. I have no doubt—in answer to his interruption—that beforehand there was some idea of what parts of this subject were to be dealt with by the proposer and seconder respectively. It may be purely by accident, but in any event I entirely acquit the seconder of any malice against the governing authority of Middlesbrough. But he has still got to face this fact, that if this service develops, as undoubtedly it will in some hands, so that people are enabled merely by switching their loud speaker on to their electric light set, or some other wires, to listen-in to a distant station, the danger he is pointing out will exist in some hands everywhere. The danger is one which comes about with the mechanical development of our civilisation. It may be a danger. What I am asking him to prove, if he can, is that there is a greater danger in this respect in its being done by a municipality rather than being done by some private company. A company might have a particular hate against either Russia or Germany, or the Government of the day, and might choose, by switching over the programme, to eliminate what they did not desire. It is perfectly feasible. The only difference is that if a local authority did it and the people in the district did not like it they would hear about it from the inhabitants. That is a point to be borne in mind.

I must beg leave to consider this particular argument as not really part of the driving apparatus of the proposed Instructions. I think this is merely a kind of mascot which they have put upon the bonnet and which they hope will bring them luck. It is not an essential part of the opposition to Part VII. The proposal of the corporation is one which is intended to give those who subscribe to it a choice of programmes. In the nature of things, and for mechanical reasons, they will begin by giving a choice of the English stations, because those are the easiest to hear. Later on they will be giving a choice up to about five stations. That might include some foreign station, but I should think it is perfectly certain it will not include Moscow, which, from my own private experience, is difficult to get. But the subscribers to this service will have a very wide choice. They will have the power of switching over from one programme to another. It has got to be remembered that no power is sought here by which the Middlesbrough Corporation or anybody who follow their example can originate any matter. They only turn on or turn off a tap. They cannot let anything come into the glass which is not in the cask. The matter they are going to distribute YU got to be radiated through the ether by no motion of their own before they can do anything with it, and I think the argument that there is some subtle plot on the part of the respectable people promoting this Bill may really be left on one side.

I now get to grips with the really important objection which has been raised, that against municipal trading. That is the real point. I venture to say that if it were not for the objection to municipal trading nothing would have been heard of this instruction. I agree with the Mover and Seconder of the instruction that they are perfectly entitled, although they have nothing to do with Middlesbrough, to raise this matter as a question of general principle—so long as they do not deliberately misrepresent Middlesbrough—because unquestionably what is contained in one Bill may become a precedent for another Bill. Therefore, if hon. Members hold very strong views about municipal trading they are quite entitled to raise this point on the very first possible occasion, and if the Bill happens to be one dealing with Middlesbrough, that is neither here nor there. At least I should have thought so if I had not heard the speech of the proposer. I fully agree, therefore, that this is a proper matter to be raised here, because I know that among hon. Members there are various views on the subject of municipal trading.

The hon. Members who have supported the instruction have said that they are not altogether opposed to municipal trading. Well, I am glad to hear that, because one of the hon. Members whose name is on the Paper in support of this instruction—the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams)—when speaking on the Essex Bill recently, said he objected to every new power which a municipality may be seeking at the present time. That is a view which is sometimes held. On the other hand, I do not think I am misrepresenting hon. Members on the Labour Benches. if I say they have a general feeling in favour of municipal trading, and that, other things being equal, if it were a question between municipal trading and private enterprise they would have no hesitation about plumping for municipal trading. My view is not either of those. My view, and I believe if the matter were discussed by a full House it would be the view of the majority, is that municipal trading is something which in itself is neither good nor bad, which may have advantages and which may have dangers Members would be inclined to say that every particular instance must be looked at very carefully to see what the merits of that individual 'question were. I ask hon. Members, in discussing this particular Bill, which happens to concern my own constituency—though I would say the same of any other Bill—to apply their minds to the particular proposals before them, not. saying "Up with them" because they are not municipal trading, or "Down with them" because they are municipal trading, but to ask "Is this a particular kind of enterprise which a municipality can properly undertake?" If I could have the whole matter debated upon those lines I should be quite satisfied. I want this matter dealt with on its merits.

This proposal came about in response to a local demand. It was not a sudden brainwave. People suggested it to the municipality. They were people who subscribed to the electrical undertaking of the borough, the corporation of which supply electricity as well as gas in their district. The people wanted to know whether they could have this service, and, therefore, the suggestion came from the people themselves. I have heard all this talk about the grave objections from the interests concerned, whether theatrical or suppliers of wireless goods, but if all these people are to be competed with and to be unfairly treated, they would have a locus standi and could become objectors in due form against the Bill. It is a very extraordinary thing that we have not had any objection of that kind or from any ratepayer. I have a fairly voluminous postbag. It is not only a matter of putting one's proposal in form before a, committee, but, if anything is objected to in regard to Middlesbrough, I generally receive a very large number of letters about it.


Is not the hon. Member aware that objection is rather a. costly process?



If tine hon. Member for South Croydon had listened to the first part of what I said instead of only to the last part, he would realise that I have already agreed with what he is attempting to say. It may be made to cost a lot, but on the other hand it does not cost more than a three-halfpenny stamp to write to the Members for the Middlesbrough Divisions. I generally find that where there is objection I get the full weight of it. People are not at all shy about it, and they let me know. I have not heard the slightest objection to this Bill, either from the ratepayers or from those, who might conceive themselves likely to be adversely affected in their private trade. I think the House understands that in this proposal the municipality would collect and amplify the ordinary programmes that are available to everybody who has a set. When I say "to everybody," I mean that we are to make the programmes rather more available. By amplifying them, we should put them within the reach of people who can only afford a poor quality set and give them a degree of distribution equal to a higher grade set. The corporation would do this upon the payment of a very small sum per week, plus, of course, the cost of the licence and the cost of the service of distribution. After payment of this sum, by plugging into their electric light subscribers would receive, along the electric-light wire, anything that was going. That is the proposal that is going to subvert, not only Middlesbrough but the whole of the State, according to those hon. Members who have spoken before me.


Do I understand the hon. Member to say that the subscribers could receive any one of five programmes of their own selection


At the start it would probably be two or three. We hope to get up to five. The apparatus would include not only a loudspeaker but a selector, and, by the selector, subscribers would be able to choose from among the programmes which the corporation was receiving and amplifying. In justice to those hon. Members who have preceded me, I may say that they are quite right, in a sense, that it would be within the power of the municipality to have a certain amount of choice. The municipality would be the original choosers of the ser- vices which were being broadcast, and would be in a position to turn off the whole broadcast if they chose.


Is it not perfectly plain that the power of the primary selection is with the corporation


Of course. I have just said so.


Therefore, when the hon. Member says that the subscribers have the selection, that selection is only in accordance with the programme that the corporation themselves initiate?


I hope that if the hon. Member for South Croydon interrupts again he will not interrupt by saying exactly what I have been saying. I must presume that his interruptions are only made for the purpose of interruption, and not seriously, if I am to be asked if I mean a thing which I have said in the last three sentences. To the best of my ability I have been endeavouring to do justice to those who have preceded me, but, if I am to be subjected to that kind of interruption, I shall not be encouraged to continue.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)

I think that we are getting too much interruption.


I want to ask, after the explanation that I have given as to what is proposed to be done, to what extent that is municipal trading to which the ordinary arguments against municipal trading ought to apply. It is not as if the municipal corporation of Middlesbrough were branching out into an entirely new kind of activity in something that they have never done before; as if they were to start sealing cheese. They are simply putting forward an ancillary service to a service which is already in their power. They already supply the electric service to the community of Middlesbrough, and this would be a service to be worked along with, and by means of, the electric service that they already supply. To a large extent it does not need a new plant. There will, of course, have to be a plant for actually receiving the broadcast programmes, but the whole of the wiring is already in existence. If any private company started, they would have to do the wiring afresh, unless they were to choose the method of hiring, on our terms, the wires of the municipality. It is more economical, and more in the interests of the people of Middlesbrough, to use a method of distribution which is ready made, than to embark upon a new course, such as has been employed in other places by putting up a large variety of overhead wires. That is a method which we particularly desire to avoid. If some private company started to place underground wires they would find that impossible, and, if they were to put up overhead wires, those overhead wires would be more likely to get out of order than underground wires which already exist. Therefore, on the grounds of common sense, it is much better to use the wires that already exist. That does not preclude the possibility of a private company being allowed, by licence, to use the wires of the corporation. I shall come to that point in a minute, because it is one of the alternatives made possible by the terms of the Bill, and it must not be forgotten.

The objections to municipal trading fall largely under two heads. People either object to the prospect of the ratepayers being involved in loss and, on behalf of economy, do not want any speculative trade; or else they are afraid of unfair competition with private interests. With regard to the risk to the ratepayers, I have already pointed out that no kind of objection upon that ground has reached me. There is a very real safeguard, in that the company cannot maintain their business out of the rates, but have to make a profit. That is actually one of the statutory provisions of the Bill. The method which one expects would be used to start this business would be the raising of some kind of loan for the additional expenditure, and the loan would have to be sanctioned by the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health would have due regard, as is his duty, to the interests of the ratepayers. If the corporation found that they could make a better and a cheaper job by letting out the distribution to some private company using the wires of the corporation, the corporation would not hesitate to do that.

We want the House to give us the alternative, so that we shall have the power behind us, and so that, if we are put in treaty with those who come to tender to us on behalf of private companies, they will know that they cannot by any ring, by any previous agreement among those who are making the tenders, put up the price unduly against the corporation, because the corporation will have in the background the reserve power to do the job themselves. It may be said that by mere competition we should secure a low and equitable price, but I am not so sure about that, and those who are promoting the Bill have every reason to suppose that it might be otherwise. At any rate, they would like to have this reserve power, because they feel that it would greatly assist them in their negotiations, even if they never have to use it as the actual means of conducting those negotiations. I think that that is a reasonable attitude, and that, if the matter could be considered by the House without any sort of imaginary dependence upon formulas about municipal trading, the House would find that this is a perfectly reasonable service to allow to be conducted by the Corporation of Middlesbrough or any other corporation that asks for it—that it does not open the door to any great dangers in the State, but that it is in effect purely ancillary to powers which already exist. If the House grants this power, the people of Middlesbrough will probably, owing to the corporation's possession of the lines, owing to their having the means there already and being able to supply those who are already subscribers, and to link up very easily with subscribers, find that this will be the most economical way.

I ask that in any event the House should consider this aspect of the matter. The House is asked to pass an Instruction to a Committee which presumably would be quite capable of examining this matter for itself. To pass an Instruction is rather a large and stringent step, tying the hands of the Committee, and not trusting those who are going to hear the matter in much further detail than we can hope for in the House to come to a correct decision on a Measure which has already been through another place, has been subjected to such observations as were thought proper there, and has emerged unscathed so far. I suggest that that is a reasonable request. I am the last person to desire to make this a political issue for or against municipal trading. I stand here to support a proposal put forward by the Corporation of the Borough for which I am a Member, and if I have at any time spoken with any heat, I apologise for it. If there are some hon. Members whom I may have annoyed by doing so, it was in response to certain remarks which I may perhaps have misunderstood. At any rate I want to leave the subject by asking most urgently that this matter should be given consideration on its merits, and that, if anybody has any doubts as to this or that detail of the Bill, if it is not a matter of root-and-branch principle, they should at any rate consent to allow it to go to a committee, where all the details and merits will be most carefully considered, without attempting to arrive beforehand at any prejudgment in this House.

8.30 p.m.


I rise to oppose the Motion. At the same time I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith), and also, if I may say so, to thank the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for having stimulated him, because otherwise we might possibly not have had the advantage of his opinion in the vigorous way in which he has presented it. I agree with the hon. Member in resenting the observation of the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) with regard to the management of the Middlesbrough Corporation. I cannot, of course, be expected to take part in a discussion as to whether the Liberal or the Tory members of the Middlesbrough Corporation have done best in conducting its affairs. I would only make one comment in that regard, and that is that the town of Middlesbrough has been well conducted in its public life, and that, if there were any improvement to be made, it could only be by having a Labour majority on the Middlesbrough Corporation. As to the remarks of the hon. Member for East Leicester regarding municipal enterprise, I would say that, if the broadcast relay were not satisfactory to the people of Middlesbrough, the Middlesbrough Corporation would certainly be subject to popular representations on the matter. If a broadcast relay station were erected under municipal control or by municipal sanction in Middlesbrough, and if the programmes submitted were not in accordance with the desires of the people there, I am pretty sure that effective representations would be made to the municipal authority, and the authority would be asked to mend its ways.

I was interested when the hon. Member for East Leicester said that it might be that there were some phases of life in which municipal enterprise might be of value. Certainly, he was not very committal on the matter. I do not know what would have been the views of Joseph Chamberlain upon it, but 50 years ago he was perfectly positive on the matter. The progressive mind of Toryism, 50 years later, has reached the stage when it may be that in some circumstances, under certain conditions, somehow, somewhere, in some branch of municipal enterprise, it may possibly be advantageous. I really thought we had got beyond that stage, and I feel positive that Members on the benches opposite have progressed further than that. I see that the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester has just returned to the Committee. I am sorry I cannot repeat what I was saying in his absence, but it is his fault, and not mine. Municipal enterprise has justified itself in many respects—in connection with milk, coal, gas, electricity, water and a number of other matters. I remember cases where works departments have had to engage in enterprise to defeat exploiting rings which had been formed round certain branches of work; I remember that direct labour has had to be employed to check the rapacity of some contractors and suppliers of materials for the purpose of assisting to house the people. I should have thought that we had passed the stage which appears to have been reached by certain hon. Members.

The hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) has made his position crystal clear. He stands against any form of municipal activity. I am pleased to know that he has the courage to make his position so clear; he is not like the hon. Member for East Leicester, who says that in certain circumstances, sometimes, it may be possible to do something somehow. The hon. Member for South Croydon has stated that, on all occasions on which he has the opportunity, he will stand in this House and resist municipal authorities having any power to engage in trading. I congratulate him upon his energy and activity, and upon his diversified efforts. If I accused him of being progressive, I am sure I should be sinning against the standards of ordinary behaviour in political life. Then we have the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy), who says that this is not merely to allow the people of Middlesbrough to do certain things. What does he want? Does he want to compel them? That is the alternative.

The purpose of the Bill is very clear. The corporation is desirous of enabling its citizens to be supplied with a broadcast relay, cutting out many of the distressing things which they tell me come over the wireless at times—oscillation, popping, squealing and squeaking. We who have to do our work in the House get very little opportunity to listen to the wireless and are not able to speak with the same authority as those who tune in at night and tell us of their difficulties. It would appear that the proposal of the corporation would give the citizens a cheaper service. It seems to me that those who represent other constituencies can speak with a certain amount of complacency as to what should obtain in a district which has only one industry and which has gone through such terrible times as Middlesbrough. I should say that, if the Middlesbrough Corporation is able to supply a cheaper service, we ought to congratulate them on their initiation of such an idea. Middlesbrough is a distressed area, and I should have thought that, with the despair, the poverty and the encompassing gloom that flows from unemployment, it would be one of the delights of constituencies which are not so affected to render some assistance to that city and give its citizens some relief. That would be a very laudable object with some humanity about it. We ought to be willing, as national representatives, to help them to the best of our ability. The Bill makes it permissive for the Ministry of Health to sanction such a service provided that the venture is not run at a loss.

I understand that Holland was one of the first countries to initiate broadcast relays, and there are about 300,000 who are receiving them, as against 200,000 receiving through ordinary sets. I believe that in this country also the system is extending. A number of private companies are already operating, and there are many thousands of subscribers. I have read that there is no set to buy, and there is nothing to go wrong—no replacement of batteries and valves, and no amateurish aerials to erect or to pull down. While we are delighted to know how people avail themselves of the excellent service provided by the Postmaster-General, it is a particularly ugly sight to see, at the backs of nearly every house, poles with wires stretched across all higgledy-piggledy. There is nothing orderly about it at all. If something could be done to reduce this ugly feature at the backs of houses, and sometimes at the front, it ought to be encouraged. The system of broadcast relays is not new. It has been tried out by a number of companies, and I am given to understand that a number of companies have applied to the Middlesbrough Corporation to work this broadcast relay. I wonder what the hon. Member for Elland thinks of that, that a private company should be able to promote a similar service to that which the municipal corporation is asking permission to promote and would be able to decide whether a programme should be turned on or cut out, as against the municipal authorities, which would always be subject to a certain amount of popular pressure.


A private company has no politics, and it is not an elected body.


The Middlesbrough Corporation is to be congratulated, and it will get my support. It appears, judging by the attitude of the hon. Member for South Croydon on this Bill and on the question of sky writing, that the House will have to come to a decision whether it intends definitely to limit municipal trading. There are matters in which public enterprise must take the place of private enterprise where it cannot economically carry out services that are expected of it. I should say that broadcasting, with its tremendous educational implications, is one of them and, just as our educational institutions are under public supervision, I should say that broadcasting also is one of those services that ought to come very definitely under our control.

I do not propose to labour the point, as we shall have an opportunity, I presume, when the Bill comes before the House for Third Reading again to discuss the matter. I am uneasy as to the attitude of a number of the younger Tory and Liberal representatives who come to the House of Commons. I am apprehensive regarding their attitude towards public life generally. Whether their experience is limited or not I do not know, but from our experience of public enterprise and effort, and of the services public enterprise has been able to render with such great efficiency, capacity and economy, there is sufficient evidence to enable us to decide whether or not municipal or public enterprise is a. valuable thing to encourage. We have reached a stage where private interests and the profits arising from those interests bring about efforts against public welfare. If that is the position, it is time the matter was properly and adequately debated on the Floor of the House, and the public generally informed of the attitude and opinions of many Members who appear to think that public enterprise, in whatever branch or direction, should be discouraged to the fullest extent. We of the Labour party associate ourselves with the promoters of the Bill, and hope that the Government will support it. We hope that the House will unceremoniously reject the Instruction which has been moved to delete the Clauses under discussion.

8.47 p.m.


I look at this matter entirely from a neutral standpoint. I have great admiration for the inhabitants of Middlesbrough. Although it is about 30 years since I visited Middlesbrough, I know that the inhabitants of that town are the most pushing and go ahead people possible, as they have shown by returning the distinguished hon. Gentleman opposite to represent them. He has placed the case before the House with the greatest ability, and I appreciate what he has said. At the same time, while admitting that Middlesbrough might make a splendid success of this suggested new venture, and that there would be no possibility of any undesirable broadcasting, I think that on the ground of municipal trading only it should be discouraged. It is not' as if Middlesbrough were an isolated district debarred from receiving the broadcasting which all the rest of the country receives. It is like building an extra theatre when a town is fully equipped or an extension of an industry for which there is no necessity.

I am really concerned about the matter. If this sort of thing is developed, we shall have municipal trading in all kinds of businesses with undeniable injury to the private trader. There is no class of the community at the present time more in danger than the private trader from municipal trading and multiple shops, which is another great menace to their trade. Although this is an object to which I can really see no serious objection when considered by itself, I think it is the thin end of the wedge, the extent of the future development of which no one can foresee. While upon this issue I have no personal objection, I think that, as a general principle, it ought not to be encouraged, and I therefore support the Instruction.

8.50 p.m.


I think that this is far too important a matter to be introduced merely for an hour or two on a hot Monday evening, and when I heard the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith) say that we were debating a small point I was amazed that a Member of the party, who, I think we might say, have always looked after the interests of the private traders in this country, should in this way support so fully and wholeheartedly a willingness to put what has always been up to the present a private enterprise into a municipal trading concern. Though the hon. Gentleman has not had many communications up to the present, I am wondering whether his postbag in a few days may not be very much heavier in view of those who will certainly disagree with his point of view tonight. I well understand that hon. Members on the Official Opposition benches should oppose this Motion. One realises that as a party they fully support a widening of any municipal trading which may be possible. But it is surprising to hear that some of my hon. Friends on this side of the House, and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough, are in full support of that policy.

This is an absolute innovation. There is no pretence that we are taking a philanthropic view, because we cannot say that it will be cheaper for the poor people in Middlesbrough to spend what amounts to 78s. a year—10s. for the Post Office and 68s. for the corporation—and which they will have to pay in perpetuity to maintain a service which will give them no apparatus and nothing more than a few valves, affording them the privilege, in the first instance, of putting on perhaps one or two stations, and ultimately, we are told, five stations, those stations being chosen by the corporation. Apparently the Middlesbrough Corporation are out to make money, but they have no capital on which to make money. They must ask the Ministry of Health for approval to a loan. If a community can get well served by private enterprise who have the capital it certainly is not desirable for a corporation, especially where half the people are unemployed, to have to ask approval for a loan in order to get the service installed as a corporation service. I am not definitely opposed to all forms of municipal trading, but I say most definitely that it is far better that any trading for the community which can be well served by private enterprise should not be taken away from private enterprise and given to a municipal interest. Why should the municipality look forward to obtaining 78s. per head of those installing the apparatus and attempting to make profit at the expense of private enterprise? Is it unlikely that the manufacturers and the distributors of radio apparatus in the country will be up in arms against such a suggestion?

What happens in Middlesbrough to-day may happen all over the country tomorrow. What about the large number of people who have obtained employment in this industry during the last few years in the manufacture and distribution of this apparatus, which people can buy. Certainly they could buy it on the hire purchase system at a cost much less than if they paid 78s. a year for it to the Corporation of Middlesbrough. The objections to the Clause can be summarised. Relay broadcasting is not municipal enterprise and there is no reason why it should become so. Any such scheme means very unfair competition with private enterprise. If subscribers take a relay service of this nature on the electric wires they will never bother themselves about special apparatus. In these circumstances it is natural that everyone in the country who is interested in the industry will condemn us if we agree to this Clause in the Bill.

The entertainment industry objects to this part of the Bill on the ground of unfair competition. It should never be part of the duty of a municipality to supply entertainment. They are prevented by legislation from doing so when it has to do with high-class concerts or theatrical productions, and yet in this Bill the Middlesbrough Corporation seek to collect the most perfect programmes from all over the world and to relay them at about 2½d. per night to their subscribers. What chance has a poor cinema or an old theatre in the various towns of the country to compete successfully against operas and dramatic entertainments if such relays come from all over the world? It is necessary to remind the Committee that a great many English programmes are relaid from abroad—from Radio Paris and other stations.

We are told by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough that there is a very strong local demand for this service, but the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) stated that at a public meeting the proposition was only carried by a majority of three. I should like to know how a very strong demand is shown by that public meeting. This proposal is certainly contrary to the spirit which has established broadcasting in this country. We have been very particular to avoid any Government control of broadcasting. A monopoly was formed which was free from politics, and it was made quite clear that it was perfectly independent. By that means we have obtained well-balanced programmes. In other words, we aim at giving all parties in politics a decent show, and we ensure that a certain cultural element shall appear in the programmes. The management of a municipal relay station will naturally wish to concentrate on entertainments, because they will pay best. The cultural element may not be so attractive and therefore we shall find a tendency to light entertainment.

It may be that on some occasions there will be differences of opinion between a municipality and a Government Department. If a message were sent out on the broadcast by a Government Department the municipality would, under this arrangement, be able to say: "We will not broadcast that, because we are not in sympathy with it." I do not suggest that there will be any difficulty with the Postmaster-General, but there might be an occasion when a municipality would not see eye to eye with a Government Department. I hope hon. Members will not by their votes show that they desire that the constituents of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough should have on their wireless more and more speeches by mayors. It may be true that the British Broadcasting Corporation programmes are criticised, but they make an honest attempt to give all parties a fair show and to hold the scales evenly. I say without hesitation that we are not so certain that they would have a fair and decent show if relay stations in all parts of the country were in municipal hands. The Postmaster-General is supposed to exercise a sort of fatherly oversight over broadcasting messages and programmes, but it is not possible for him to forecast what will come over from abroad and whether it is suitable for broadcasting until he knows what is sent.

This Clause is a most dangerous precedent, and I trust that it will never be agreed to. It is very difficult to see what is really at the back of the minds of the Middlesbrough Corporation in asking for this power, except that they desire merely to make money at the expense of the community. If we are to have relay stations, and relay stations will no doubt come, let us have them provided by private enterprise, and they will pay, but we are not sure that that will be the case under municipal guidance. Middlesbrough poses to-day as a distressed area and we are very sorry to know that so large a proportion of their population are out of work, but they can find money for embarking upon such schemes as these. The Middlesbrough Corporation are either wishful to exploit this trade, which has been so useful in the interest of employment, or they are wishful to have some powers in the future that will allow the municipality to guide the thoughts of the inhabitants. In the interests of this country the House ought to pass the Instruction to the Committee. I hope that the Postmaster-General will not be cajoled by anything that is said from the official Opposition benches to agree to the passing of the Bill in its present form.

9.4 p.m.


It is a pity that this question has been thrown into the political arena and that we cannot discuss it without its being said that we are for or against municipal trading. I do not think that this is a question where municipal trading should be considered. It is a question that we can discuss on the Floor of the House on its merits alone. Statements have been made by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith) that there have been no objections from the entertainment industry to the Middlesbrough Bill.


The hon. Member I am sure does not want to misrepresent me. I did not say that no objection had been made to the Middlesbrough Corporation's proposal, because I do not know what communications they have received, but I said that nobody has heard anything against it, and that I have heard of no opposition at all.


That is not the point. I have in my hand a statement issued by the Entertainments Protection Association and the Society of West End Managers, a copy of which was sent to every hon. Member.


I have not had one.


I expect it met with the usual fate, and went into the waste paper basket. I have no doubt that I am as big a sinner as the hon. Member in that respect, but I can vouch that 600 copies were posted. In this statement they say: After careful consideration of this matter our associations have come to the conclusion that the precedent is undesirable so far as the entertainment industry is concerned, and express the hope that opportunity will be taken during the passage of the Bill through Parliament for striking out these provisions in their entirety. At the present time the programmes broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation contain a certain proportion of light entertainment matter, and, therefore, do not constitute so serious a form of competition with the theatrical industry, but such competition from wireless exchanges concentrated solely on entertainment matter would be serious indeed. That is the objection of the entertainment industry to any town or any body of people being granted a licence for relaying wireless programmes. Mine is a much more valid objection than anything I have heard so far, and it is one which I fancy will make the Socialist party think again as to whether they are going to support the Bill or the Instruction. My objection is on the ground of employment. What is going to happen to the 4,721 shops which are selling radio sets, and all the other appliances? What is going to happen to the many thousands of workers who are now engaged in making radio sets?


It will encourage them.


What is going to happen to the factory which is about to open and which will give employment to 1,500 workers? The hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) for whom I have great respect will realise that I do not make statements like this without having some information. If the relay system comes into force in this country it will mean that instead of a wireless set being in each house there will be only a loud speaker and a switch This will be installed by the corporation and the working man will pay 1s. 6d. per week for the use of it. What is going to happen to the makers of valves and wireless sets and all their component parts? My objection is that it will create a great deal of unemployment. We have not to consider this matter from the municipal point of view but whether it is in the best interests of the country and for the benefit of the workers.

9.12 p.m.


The extraordinary fact to me is that those hon. Members who are opposing the Bill are able to, and probably do, use the most up-to-date machinery they can buy for getting the best programmes the world can provide, and are endeavouring by opposing the Bill to prevent the ordinary working man in a place like Middlesbrough, a necessitous area, getting anything like the advantages which they themselves enjoy. Frankly, I cannot understand the mentality of people who object to the poor ordinary citizen getting any form of amusement which they themselves desire and, in fact, insist on having. Behind this mentality there is a desire to keep the working class down; I do not mean in every respect, but to prevent them getting the ordinary amenities of life which they themselves desire and demand. Why should anyone object to something new, some improvement on an existing system


I hope I did not convey the idea that I object to anything new. I object to anything which conies along which creates unemployment at the present time.


I certainly understood the hon. Member to object to a more simple and cheap system than exists at present; a better system. The ordinary man will be able to get these programmes by running a wire into his house and putting a loud speaker at the end of it. That is an undoubted improvement, and why on earth should any effort be made to prevent those citizens who cannot afford a wireless set under the present system getting a system which is cheap and efficient I cannot understand. Are we to object to these great facilities for amusement and education because they will interfere with the entertainments industry in which the hon. Member is interested? If so we might as well say that we will stop progress in all directions and prevent anything coming along which will interfere with something which exists. I hope the House will not be influenced by that kind of argument.

In regard to the general argument of municipal enterprise, where are you going to stop? This has not been done in Middlesbrough by anybody else. Nobody has so far provided these facilities for the people of Middlesbrough, and the Middlesbrough Corporation now say that they are prepared to provide this service which private enterprise has not attempted to provide. The House is asked to say, "No; we refuse to allow the people of Middlesbrough to have this service. We will wait for ever, or until some day private enterprise wakes up and makes a profit out of it." I hope that the Bill will be carried. I am not very much concerned about the small advance in the realm of a. municipal provision of service for the people. I hope that the municipalities will render more service to the people. It is extraordinary to me that Members should come to this House and oppose anything of the kind. They say, in effect, "Do not provide a good service because it will interfere with private property." That is the only argument against it. No one has said that this service is inefficient or expensive or that it is not badly needed. I hope the House is not going to display a spirit that appears to me to be mean and narrow.

9.16 p.m.

The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Kingsley Wood)

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has much helped the case which he desired to support. He talked about meanness and narrowness. I do not think it is a very good example for the hon. Member to cast aspersions on the motives of his opponents. There is no occasion for him, in a Debate of this kind, to reflect upon the opinions of his colleagues in this House, who no doubt are actuated by just as good motives as he himself is. I propose to treat this Debate upon the merits without making aspersions against the motives of either side on this question.


Is the right hon. Gentleman not making an aspersion on me now?


I am, and a very necessary one. I am prepared to give due credit to either side in this controversy without going into the question of motives. If the hon. Member was desirous of obtaining votes he will realise that he went about the worst way for obtaining them in an assembly of this character. As head of a Department I am concerned with this matter simply from the Post Office point of view. I acknowledge the general feeling of the House, that the institution of these wireless exchanges meets a public need. The exchanges enable persons of small means, who cannot afford an ordinary receiving set, to obtain a good reception of a broadcast programme on payment of a small weekly fee.

Apart from the merits of this question tonight I do not take the view, and never have taken the view in my administration at the Post Office, that there should be any distinction made, as regards people who are recipients of a programme on a, wireless exchange—there should be no differentiation made, so far as prohibition is concerned generally, as to the broadcast programme that they receive. In other words I resent the suggestion that it is undesirable for them to receive a programme, we will say, from a foreign country, which I myself with a fairly powerful receiving set can get at my will. I object most strongly to the suggestion that as Postmaster-General I should lay down the condition which has been suggested in some of the speeches tonight, that because there is advertising from some of the foreign stations I should stipulate in a licence that a par- ticular wireless exchange should not be permitted to broadcast these particular programmes. My own view is—in this I think I am speaking with the full concurrence of the wireless trade and of a variety of interests affected—that if the question of commercial advertising is to be dealt with, as I think it ought to be, from the point of view of broadcast programmes, it ought not to be dealt with by prohibitions of the British Postmaster-General, but ought to be dealt with by general international agreement; and it is on those lines that I am proceeding at the present time.

I want to make it plain that, as far as my administration is concerned, I do not desire to put any unreasonable prohibition upon a number of people who obtain their broadcast programmes in this way. There are now about 100,000 subscribers to these wireless exchanges. They are not a large number; they are about 2 per cent. of the total number of wireless licenceholders in this country. I agree that the number is growing, and it is certainly a matter of importance for this House to watch the progress and the tendencies of a great public force of this character. The matter which the House has to decide tonight is a matter which I desire to leave to them after I have stated the facts. It is whether in the circumstances a corporation should for the first time be given a licence by the Postmaster-General for the time being.

Let me say a few words outside the particular merits of the case in reply to some of the statements that have been made this evening. In the first place, no one must look upon the Middlesbrough Corporation as some "Red" Socialist organisation. It has, in fact, and greatly to its credit, an anti-Socialist majority. This is not a Bill promoted by some secret hand from Russia. An hon. Friend of mine, no doubt under some misapprehension, referred to the record of the Middlesbrough Corporation so far as its public affairs are concerned. I can speak with five years' experience at the Ministry of Health, and I think I speak with the consent of my colleague the present Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, when I say that I not only know nothing to the detriment of the Middlesbrough Corporation, but that, in view of the tremendous difficulties that confront an area of that kind, it should be stated that the Middlesbrough Corporation is meeting those difficulties with a considerable amount of fortitude and courage. Therefore, let us dismiss from our minds the idea that this matter is any kind of "Red" plot on the part of the Middlesbrough Corporation. It so happens that it is an anti-Socialist corporation which is asking for the first time that a licence should be given in order that it may establish a relay station.

Certain observations have been made tonight as to what a corporation might or might not do if it received such a licence from the Postmaster-General. I want the House to understand before the Division, without in any way endeavouring to persuade them how they should vote, what are the conditions which I have already laid down so far as these relay stations are concerned. In the first place, no body, whether a corporation or a private enterprise, is allowed under my licence to originate any broadcast whatever. They are not allowed to do that, and they may only pass on what they have received from other stations. Secondly, so far as programmes generally are concerned, I have the same power which I have in connection with the British Broadcasting Corporation to prohibit any particular relay. I have never had to use that power in connection with the British Broadcasting Corporation so far as I am aware and, as regards the practice and administration of the existing relay stations, I have had no occasion whatever to think of using that power. With regard to the present arrangements and administration of the relay stations now in existence, I have had no complaints from any subscriber as to the nature of the programmes which are relayed, and I speak as one not unmindful, from my postbag, that there are a number of people about who are prepared to make complaints. Thirdly, if the Middlesbrough Corporation were granted this power, they are in no circumstances permitted to receive any payment or consideration for relaying any programme. Therefore, there can be no suggestion that any of these relay stations can receive some sum of money for relaying a continental programme which bears advertising. The position so far as that is concerned is fairly plain.

I made a further condition that no wireless exchange may relay to subscribers any programme containing political, social or religious propaganda received in English from a foreign station. I did that because I thought it would be a very unfair thing that at a get eral election, if, as has always been the case, there were an agreement between the political parties as to the broadcasts which should be given, anyone should obtain an undue advantage by buying time from a foreign station and having it transmitted over here through one of these wireless relay stations. It may he said that this or that corporation may go abroad and purchase time, as some corporations are doing at this moment, and then by some extraordinary method have it transmitted here, and particularly through the corporation concerned. I do not think that is a very likely possibility, but there is a general condition in the licences I have granted that the service must be carried out to my satisfaction, and I should be perfectly prepared, if the matter is not provided for already, to insert an additional condition, for instance so far as political speeches are concerned, to prevent any danger of that kind. I see no danger myself from that particular 'aspect. Finally, the licences are all subject to termination by six months' notice expiring on or after December, 1936, which is the time at which the present British Broadcasting Corporation licence falls to be considered. In any case, I have the option as Postmaster-General on such termination to take over such undertakings on tramway terms.

I have stated the matter tonight from the point of view of the Post Office. The question of municipal trading is a matter for the House itself. It is only right that I should inform the House that attention was called to this particular matter in a Debate of some length in another place. There they decided it was a proper matter to be left to the Committee, and the Committee of the other House considered this matter, and it is in this form that they decided it should reach the House of Commons. It is also perfectly true to say—and I say it without endeavouring to prejudice the matter one way or another—that no person has petitioned against this particular provision. It may be that the persons interested desire to rest upon the judgment of the House of Commons. On the other hand, there is a well-known procedure by which people who are damnified, like the wireless trade in Middlesbrough, might petition against the Bill, but that has not been done.

Therefore, the issue which the House of Commons has got to decide tonight is whether or not it will leave this issue to be decided by its own Committee. It may decide definitely and for some considerable time that, in no circumstances, can a corporation be entrusted with the licence of the Postmaster-General to do this work. The Committee of the House could, of course, examine the precedents. There are a variety of precedents which no doubt the Committee may desire to look at, because it is by no means the first time that the House of Commons has decided that a municipal corporation should provide entertainment, for instance. In the great majority of these cases of relay stations, undoubtedly what is provided for the subscribers is entertainment. From the records that are kept, I do not think that a very large number of these relay stations provide any great extension of lectures by various professors or anything of that kind, nor are they disposed, much as the House of Commons may differ from them, to think that political controversy is of general interest to any large number of wireless subscribers. According to very careful records of these relay stations, the majority of listeners, after a heavy day's work, desire to hear some light entertainment.


Would the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to add to the list of prohibitions one to the effect that this station may distribute nothing but entertainment matter


That would be very difficult to carry out and would put a great onus on those responsible. Some corporations might think that political speeches were entertainment, though I think the great majority would come down heavily on the other side. But as I was saying, the great majority of subscribers on a weekday and, it must be admitted, on a Sunday also, desire to have some method of relaxation and the House of Commons has already entrusted corporations with powers to give entertainments, and those powers have not been confined to seaside municipalities. There are many precedents of that kind which a Committee of this House would desire to examine. If the House decides that this is not an unwise extension of municipal trading my course as Postmaster-General is clear. Once that decision is made I should not pick and choose as to the persons to whom licences are given provided I am satisfied that they are responsible people who will honour and properly carry out the obligations which I have imposed. It is for the House of Commons to decide whether they will prohibit this or whether they will leave it to a Committee of the House to examine all the precedents and decide what is to be done. I have set out the facts and I leave it to the judgment of the House, which is a fair and just tribunal and will take into account the various considerations advanced for and against this proposal.

9.37 p.m.


As one of those whose names are attached to this Instruction I should like the opportunity of speaking, particularly as one hon. Member opposite devoted a substantial part of his speech to me. We have all been interested in the speech of the Postmaster-General; and we are grateful to him for the valuable information which he has supplied. But the right hon. Gentleman is in a difficulty tonight, because, whatever the merits of municipal trading, a municipal corporation may be a new customer for the Post Office or for its offspring the British Broadcasting Corporation and as a good salesman the right hon. Gentleman starts off with a mild bias in favour of the Bill. That there was such a mild bias is reasonably clear. On the other hand he gave us a very fair statement. He said that when the Bill was in another place there was no petition against it and that is not surprising. This is not a local issue. It is essentially a national issue, and the proper organisation to appear before a Committee in another place or here is a national organisation. I have not had experience of these Committees upstairs but as far as I have studied their procedure it would appear that a national organisation would have no locus standi before them. Nobody petitioned because nobody was effectively in a position to do so and any reference to that fact has no relevance to the decision which we have to make. That decision must be taken on broad national grounds, and this House and not a Com- mittee of four Members upstairs is the right place in which to make such a decision on fundamental principles.

Therefore, I hope that we shall not hesitate to make up our minds and to decide definitely one way or the other. The Postmaster-General and at least four other speakers—those who spoke in opposition to the Instruction—seemed to be under the impression that this proposal had something to do with the provision of facilities for poor people. The three gentlemen from the West—the Postmaster-General from West Woolwich, the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Griffith) were all under the impression that this is a cheap method of providing wireless. It is not. For 1s. 6d. a week, after allowing for the 10s. licence of the Post Office, one is in a position, on hire purchase terms, to buy an admirable set which will make the listener the master in his own kingdom instead of being a subsidiary in the Kingdom partly represented by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough.

I much regret that I did not hear the speeches of my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Instruction, but I took the precaution of being elsewhere for some refreshment in order to be prepared for a later part of this evening's proceedings. But I understand that they made very reasoned statements which have not been effectively replied to so far. I am grateful to the Postmaster-General for having taken enormous care in this matter, as he does in everything he undertakes. He has taken great care to ensure that there should be the minimum of abuse. He has told us that the corporation will not be permitted to distribute undesirable stuff. But he cannot deprive them of the power of censorship, of the power of suppression, and that point has not been dealt with by him or by any other speaker. There is nothing to prevent the corporation turning off the tap.


I said that it was one of the conditions of the licence that they must carry out their administration to my satisfaction and that if that clause was not sufficiently explicit I was prepared to insert a new condition that no undue preference in political matters was to be given to one side or the other. My own view is that that condition inserted in any licence would be sufficient. No one would jeopardise a licence by attempting to infringe it. In making that statement I intend no reflection whatever on the Middlesbrough Corporation who, I am sure, have no such intention.


Would not that put the right hon. Gentleman in the position of having to judge as to what he thought was a proper balance in the programmes for listeners I


That is an undesirable position into which I might be forced but my experience and common sense tell me that if that prohibition were put into a licence I should never have to use it. The prohibition itself would be sufficient.


I am delighted to hear that statement, but it only binds the right hon. Gentleman personally, and I look forward to a time when he will, for the benefit of the country, occupy a more exalted position than he does at present. While I welcome cordially the declaration of his intention we have to realise that no declaration of that kind is binding in perpetuity. But this arrangement will remain in perpetuity and the best way to guard against any dangers in connection with it, is to deprive people of the temptation. It is assumed by our opponents that Clause 155 guarantees that this enterprise would be run without loss but that Clause is only a pious declaration. Every company prospectus expresses the hope that the company will make a profit. When we nationalised the telephones it was on the understanding that we should make a profit. In the last year or so we have made a bit but for a long time we made heavy losses.


And a very good service


Opinions may differ with regard to that. This declaration is an amiable aspiration that they will do their best not to Make a loss. My hon. Friend opposite probably assisted the passage through Parliament of the Railways Act of 1921, which brought into being the "Big Four" and which laid it down that they should obtain a standard revenue. They have never obtained that standard revenue. This Clause is not of the slightest value in guaranteeing against loss, but is merely an instruction that you are to fix your charges at that level which you believe will ensure you against loss. It sometimes happens, however, that no charge will ensure you against loss, owing to the mismanagement of your concern. The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) said that I was opposed to all forms of municipal trading. I never made that declaration. My bias is entirely against municipal trading, and I have no desire to see it established except where it is proved that for some reason nobody else will provide the service efficiently. The hon. Member also said that there were a great many cases in which private enterprise had failed lamentably to provide a service, but he was careful not to quote a single example. I do not know of one. He might possibly have mentioned housing, but it is not private enterprise that has failed there. When Parliament passed the Rent Restriction Act you were bound to create a housing shortage, and you must not blame private enterprise. for that.


The failure began before the War.


The failure began in 1909, when a very stupid Budget was introduced. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough told us that when this was installed people would have a choice of programmes, a choice of two, with the hope of five later on, but there is not a person in the world who will promise the hon. Member five either in the present or in the immediate or the remote future, and I doubt whether anyone will guarantee him even two satisfactory choices. There was a time when I understood the principles of multiplex telegraphy and how you could send three messages simultaneously over one line, but I have forgotten all that. Here you are sending it along wires with fluctuating currents because they do not keep all their lights on simultaneously, and therefore the technical difficulties are substantial.


In dealing with a technical matter like this, I can only give what the engineers advising the corporation have told them, and their advice is that there is no difficulty.


At any rate, nobody has got five choices yet. Therefore, we will rule the five out, because it is not a proposal which we are authorising to- night. Is there any public demand in Middlesbrough for this? The hon. Member pointed out the curious experience of the town's meeting at which the Bill was approved. Many of us received a. telegram from a gentleman in Middlesbrough, whom I do not know. He describes himself as Chairman of the Retailers, and I presume he means the retailers of wireless apparatus, and naturally he does not want this because it will destroy a good deal of his trade. Therefore, he is biased, but what he says is not challenged, that 127 people voted when the decision was taken on this part of the Bill. I am authoritatively informed in this telegram that a very substantial proportion of the majority were corporation employés, who turned up as citizens, as they are entitled to do, but voted in a way which they thought, on balance, would suit them best.


The minority could have demanded a poll.


That may have been, but what is the chance on a narrow issue like this of putting the corporation to the great expense of a poll with such a narrow majority, not of the citizens, but rather a biased majority of persons who—I do not blame them—voted for the extension of municipal trading, because every municipal employé thinks it will create more opportunities for promotion. If I were a municipal employé, I should do it myself, but it is art interesting commentary on the value of the public support. My hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough is representing a majority of three in Middlesbrough on this issue, whereas there were tens of thousands who rightly did him the honour of supporting him at the election.


None of them communicated with me.


When the Sunday Cinema Bill was before this House, I received some 600 letters, telegrams, and postcards of protest, but not one in favour, yet my constituency was the first to have a poll on the subject in this country, and by two to one they expressed the exactly opposite view. It is an interesting measure of the value of the communications which we receive from our constituents. In a large public meeting in my constituency I told them, when I was being worried with a lot of sense- less letters, that we had the largest wastepaper baskets in the world here, and that that was where we consigned the bulk of these postcards. Since then I have had very many fewer, and I hand that advice on to any other hon. Member. You must not judge opinions by the number of communications you get.


The hon. Member is judging by the telegram he has in his hand.


The hon. Member has missed the point. He seems to think that because he had no communications there was no feeling. Here was a case where I did not receive a single communication.


You have one in your hand now.


This was merely a communication stating a fact, in entire contrast with the people who communicate expressing opinions. This gentleman

forwards to me, as constituents do forward, a communication containing valuable information, and I am contrasting that with the great mass of communications which are addressed to us, all written alike, for the purpose of influencing our views. My hon. Friend was saying that he had not had any of that kind, and therefore presumed there was no feeling on the subject, but you must not judge the views of your constituents by the number of communications you receive, because very often you are painfully disappointed at election time in that respect. Those of us who do not like an extension of municipal trading in a particularly undesirable direction will, I hope, go into the Lobby for deleting Part VII of this Bill, and I hope we shall have a large number of supporters.

Question put, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Part VII."

The House divided: Ayes, 144; Noes, 48.

Division No. 251.] AYES. 19.54 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Hales Harold K. Penny, Sir George
Albery, Irving James Hammersley, Samuel S. Peto, Geoffrey K. (W'verh'pt'n, Bilston)
Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandernan (B'k'nh'd) Hanbury, Cecil Pickford, Hon. Mary Ada
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Hanley, Dennis A. Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.
Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolle Hartland, George A. Ramadan, Sir Eugene
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenn'gt'n) Rankin, Robert
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Haslam, Sir John (Bolton) Ray, Sir William
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsford) Raid, Capt. A. Cunningham-
Bateman, A. L. Howard, Tom Forrest Reid, David D. (County Down)
Beaumont, Han. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.) Hudson, Capt. A. U. M (Hackney, N.) Raid, William Allan (Darby)
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Hume, Sir George Hopwood Remer, John R.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Ropner, Colonel L.
Braithwaite, Mal. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.) Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)
Broadbent, Colonel John. James, Wing-Com. A. W. H. Runge, Norah Cecil
Brown, Brig.-Gon.H. C. (Berks., Newb'y) Joel, Dudley J. Barnato Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Burnett, John George Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West) Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Campbell, Sir, Edward Taswell (Brmly) Ker, J. Campbell Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Karr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.) Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart
Colman, N. C. O. Leighton, Major S. E. P. Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard
Conant, R. J. E. Lindsay, Noel Kar Scone, Lord
Cook, Thomas A. Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest Selley, Harry R.
Cooks, Douglas Llewellin, Major John J. Shaw, Helen B. (Lenark, Bothwell)'
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainob'ro) Lloyd, Geoffrey Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Lockwood, John C. (Hackney. C.) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Culverwall, Cyril Tom Mebane, William Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Davies, Maj. Geo.F.(Somerset,Yeovil) MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr) Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Davison, Sir William Henry MoCorquadale, M. S. Somervell, Donald Bradley
Dawson, Sir Philip McKle, John Hamilton Somerville, Annesley A (Windsor)
Danville, Alfred McLean, Major Sir Alan Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Dixon, Rt. Hon. Herbert Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Spencer, Captain Richard A.
Doran, Edward Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M Spens, William Patrick
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Margesson, Capt. Rt. Han. H. O. R. Stones, James
Edmondson, Major A. J. Marsden, Commander Arthur Storey, Samuel
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Mayhew, Lioul.-Colonal John Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.
Entwistle, Cyril Fullard Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf' & Chisw'k) Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham) Tate, Mavis Constance
Fraser, Captain Ian Mitchason, G. G. Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles
Ganzoni, Sir John Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Thorp, Linton Theodore
Goff, Sir Park Moreing, Adrian C. Train, John
Goldie, Noel 8. Morrison, William Shepherd Tryon, Rt. Han. George Clement
Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon
Gravel, Marjorle Nunn, William Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Gentian, Captain D. W. O' Donovan, Dr. William James Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Hacking, Rt. Han. Douglas H. Pearson, William G. Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Wells, Sydney Richard Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George Womersley, Walter James
Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay) Wise, Alfred R.
Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.) Withers, Sir John James TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Wills, Wilfrid D. Mr. Levy and Mr. Lyons.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South) Groves, Thomas E. Malialleu, Edward Lancelot
Asks, Sir Robert William Harbord, Arthur Maxton, James
Betsy, Joseph Hicks, Ernest George Milner, Major James
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Hills, Major Rt. Han. John Waller Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Parkinson, John Allen
Cove, William G. Jenkins, Sir William Pownall, Sir Assheton
Cowan. D. M. John, William Price, Gabriel
Dagger, George Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Rea, Walter Russell
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Denman, Hen. R. D. Lansbury. RL Mon. George Stewart, J. H. (Fife, E.)
Edwards, Charles Lawson, John James Thorne, William James
Elmley, Viscount Leckle. J. A. Tinker, John Joseph
Evans, David Owen (Cardigan) Luau, William White, Henry Graham
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Macdonald, Gordon (Inca)
Greenwood, Rt. Mon. Arthur McEntee. Valentine L. TELLERS FOR THENOES.
Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan) Mr. Kingsley Griffith and Lieut.-
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth. Pontypool) Mainwaring, William Henry Commander Bower.
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