Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £50,634,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1940, for the salaries and expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones. —"[Note. — £ 29,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Postmaster General (Major Tryon)
I understand that it is the wish of the Opposition that the Debate to-day should deal with the subject of wire broadcasting. "Wire broadcasting" is itself a very unfamiliar phrase, and it includes the work of the relay companies with which Members are acquainted. The relay companies exist in order to receive broadcast stations and, in the words of the Ullswater Committee, to distribute them over a local wire network to subscribers; but the phrase "wire broadcasting" includes every method of conveying broadcast programmes by wires to listeners, and it obviously includes the proposed telephone broadcasting system which the Government are submitting to the judgment of the Committee. Three years ago the House approved of the Government's: decision that the relay companies should be given three years' extension of their licences, and those three years expire at the end of December this year. The House also approved of the Government's plan that the Post Office should utilise that interval in making technical and practical research into the methods of wire broadcasting, including, of course, the question of its effect upon the telephone as used for conveying messages.
In those three years the position has changed very considerably. In the first place, the researches of the Post Office 1692 have definitely established the fact that there is a possibility, indeed, a certainty, I think, of providing broadcasting services of high quality over our telephone wires without interfering with their normal use for telephone purposes. But there has been another important change since we last debated the relay companies, and that is in the international situation. On this occasion, obviously, we cannot discuss it, but there can be no doubt there has been a change. The announcement which I made as long ago as 30th March about the relay companies and our plan has only to-day been brought up for discussion, and in the interval, as the Committee are well aware, we have been very busy on urgent matters of public De-fence. The importance of public De-fence is now realised throughout the country in a way that was not evident two or three years ago, and we have had all the work of air-raid precautions, the setting up of the new Militia and the work of the Lord Privy Seal. I quote this only to show how important is De-fence and how everywhere its importance is realised. It is interesting to note that the Ullswater Committee, when they reported in 1935 about wire broadcasting, made no mention whatever of its importance for the point of view of national Defence, but there are ad-vantages in it for the point of view of Defence. The Government have come to the conclusion that they should bring all available resources to the aid of Defence, and do what they can to develop for the purposes of Defence both the resources of the relay companies and the telephone system of the Post Office, in connection with broadcasts. Although it is the intention that wireless broadcasting should go on in time of war, the wireless broadcasting system will be liable to deterioration or, occasionally, to interruption as a result of interference from various sources, from which a wire service would be immune. Therefore, we desire to develop wire broadcasting to the maximum extent for Defence purposes.
Last time we debated this matter the Committee discussed whether the relay companies should be taken over by the Government or should be allowed to continue. Now the discussion is on the wider basis of De-fence, and we are proposing to call in both the resources of the relay companies and of the Post Office to help in developing wire broadcasting. We have in the relay companies a certain 1693 amount of existing plant and skill, and their resources can make a contribution, and I am sure the Committee will agree that the Post Office, with its enormous range of telephone network with its highly skilled telephone staff, can also make a most important contribution to the safety of the country by developing wire broadcasting over its telephone system. The work of the Post Office is very heavy at the present moment. There is a tremendous development of our telephone service going on, to which the Department and its staff are entitled, I think, to take credit. That development comes from the great reductions we have made in telephone charges. I am not going into that matter, because we are keeping to the one point, but, to show how great is the demand on the Post Office, whereas a few years ago we used to take on 80,000 new telephone subscribers a year, we are now taking on over 200,000 and sometimes a good many more.
On the top of that the Post Office are busy on a great development of telephone work in the interest of helping the De-fence Services and I do not think I am revealing any secret when I say that we did our share and were not found wanting last September when the De-fence Services called upon us to supply the necessary communications for the safety of the country. In addition to that, the Post Office will also be very busy in developing its telephone broadcast service, so that it is no discredit to the Post Office to say that with the immense amount of work we have in hand, which I am sure we are doing efficiently, the country will get more wire broadcasting if we call in the aid of the relay companies. Now we come to a delicate point. In a great many towns and cities the local authorities have refused to give the necessary way leaves for the wiring by the relay companies. It is a matter which is in their power and not within the power of the Government, but in view of the importance of this matter, from the point of view of De-fence, I express the hope that these local authorities will bear the question of De-fence in mind when they get applications from relay companies. I would add that I hope they will also satisfy themselves first that the applicants are suitably qualified, both technically and financially to supply the service. If they have satisfied themselves on that 1694 point I trust they will then give favourable consideration to applications.
I am sure the Committee would wish that I should go a little more into detail about the Government's proposals. I will begin with our proposals for the relay companies. The Committee will see that we are laying down very strict regulations on certain points and that we are more particularly insisting that the relay companies should give licensees a proper share, although not an exclusive share, of the programme of the British Broadcasting Corporation. I am sometimes asked why. In the first place, a very important argument is that there are items in the programmes of the B.B.C—to use the familiar expression—which may not have any very high entertainment value, but which are of practical value to some sections of the community. People, like fishermen, want to know about the weather, and there are farmers who want to know what the fat stock prices are, although this is a matter which has been subject to ridicule by public entertainers. There are other people who want such programmes. One day I listened to a. lecture on the welfare of pigs.
Such things may not mean a great deal to some people, but we feel that people should be able to get the items that concern them and not have them shut off. We want to make sure that a good proportion of the B.B.C. programmes are. given by the relay companies and the figures which I will read may seem satisfactory to the Committee. The proportion which we are insisting that the relay companies should give to listeners from the programme of the B.B.C. is only that proportion which the relay companies are giving at the present moment. The figure proposed will make it quite sure that some change of policy in a new direction will not upset the arrangements which are working at the present time.
I hope the Committee will agree with me that the function of these relay companies is to transmit programmes, and not to originate them. Their business is to distribute the programmes from recognised broadcasting authorities and not to originate programmes. Perhaps I might turn aside to amplify that point. Perhaps we all remember the Debates that took place on the subject of the British Broadcasting Corporation Charter, the enormous interest taken by hon. Members in the 1695 subject and their desire to see that this great service was conducted properly in the national interest and with a sense of responsibilty. If you are going to allow relay companies without proper authority to begin to issue messages all over the country, there will not be one B.B.C. which we shall have to criticise—although everybody gets criticised in this country —but a dozen B.B.Cs. all over the country without the kind of control which is now available to the Governors.
§ Major Tryon
If the hon. Member means that the Government should control all people listen to, I certainly do not agree.
§ Mr. Maxton
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman was talking about 10 private companies or so all giving out messages and I said "private enterprise" because he was treating that as being something culpable, and I thought he was dissenting from what I said.
§ Major Tryon
I am not dissenting from what the hon. Member said, which is very unusual. The relay companies' licences will be extended for a further period of 10 years from 1st January next subject— this has already been announced in the House—to certain modifications in regard to the programmes supplied to subscribers and the control of exchanges in time of emergency. Licences granted to new companies will also be terminable on the same date, 31st December, 1949, and will be subject to similar conditions. The new licences will require that all existing services which give at present more than one programme, and all services opened in future, will have to offer a choice between at least two programmes. Furthermore, as I have just mentioned, a definite percentage of B.B.C. programmes will have to be given.
Existing one-programme services will have to provide a B.B.C. programme for at least 90 per cent. of the total time during which such a programme is available. Two-programme services will have to provide a B.B.C. transmission on one programme at all times when it is available, and, in addition, a second B.B.C. transmission for at least 75 per cent. of the total weekly time when two B.B.C. programmes are available Services 1696 giving more than two programmes will have to provide two B.B.C. programmes when they are available, or one B.B.C. programme when only one is available. Outside these limits, the companies will be free to give what programmes, including advertising programmes, they like, subject to the continuance of certain safeguards contained in the present licences. For example, the distribution of programmes containing religious, social or political propaganda in English from abroad is, and will continue to be, prohibited. The new licences will contain a provision enabling the Postmaster-General to require a relay company to lease wires at a suitable rental for the purpose of obtaining programmes from B.B.C. studios entirely by wire.
The point of this is that at present the relay companies as a rule—I think I might say invariably—pick up their programmes from the ether, and then take them by wire to the subscribers. The intention is that we should get these relay companies connected by wire with the B.B.C. so that in time of emergency it will be possible to communicate with the centres of broadcasting in this country and to connect them direct to subscribers through the relay companies without the messages going through the air at all. That is, obviously, a matter of great importance from the point of view of de-fence. So far as control in time of emergency is concerned, the new licences will provide that the Postmaster General may require the working of the exchange to be continued under his direction or subject to his instructions as regards the matter to be relayed. Provision will also be made enabling the Postmaster-General to require the relay exchanges in time of emergency to transmit any special announcements ordered by the local A.R.P., the National Services or the police authorities. This was done during the crisis last September.
In this connection I should like to say that I have received a certain number of applications from local authorities and others to use these relay companies for local purposes such as for certain National Service and A.R.P purposes, and so on. I have said that the relay exchanges are transmitting stations, and not stations for sending messages, and, therefore, it would only be on Government authority in time of emergency that the would be used for originating 1697 messages. It has, therefore, been the practice to refuse all requests for permission to distribute local announcements through the local relay exchanges in normal times. When, some time ago, I received a certain number of applications of this kind I thought it my duty to refer to, and take advantage of, information in the Lord Privy Seal's Department and that of the Ministry of Labour to know whether we ought to start some of the local appeals through local relay exchanges. The conclusion was reached that the advantages were not sufficient to justify a departure from the rule in the prevailing circumstances but in time of great emergency it is realised, of course, that that would be of considerable value.
Now I come to a portion of the programme which, I think, will meet with more approval opposite than that with which I have been dealing.
§ Major Tryon
There will not be a licence fee for the relay companies though, of course, a licence fee is paid by the people to whom the reception is given—just as no payment is made for radio sets, either to the British Broadcasting Corporation or to the Government. I should like to verify what requests have come in from municipal authorities before I answer the hon. Member's question on that point. These relay centres, wherever they maybe, are not places from which messages originate, but transmit messages from broadcasting stations throughout the country —
§ Mr. Viant
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has quite appreciated my point. The relay system at present is worked by private companies, and I asked, first, whether any requests have come in from municipal authorities as to their establishing a municipal relay system and, secondly whether any charge is to be made for the licence that is being granted to the relay companies?
§ Major Tryon
I am sorry, but I am afraid the hon. Member did not understand my answer. I said that I would inquire as to what requests may have 1698 come in from local authorities, as I could not say without notice. I am now in formed that no such applications have been received, but I did not wish to give that answer without being quite certain. As to the second point, there will not be a payment for the licence to the relay companies, any more than there is a payment to the State by manufacturers of radio sets.
I come now to the Post Office telephone broadcasting system. Under this system a subscriber will be able to receive broadcast programmes over his telephone wires, and the telephone can also be used without interference. There will be two considerable advantages from this. In the first place, the reception will be very good, because undoubtedly the reception that comes straight into the home by wire is better; and, in the second place, this reception will be free from interference, which is very bad in certain districts. Moreover, the subscriber will be able to use his ordinary receiving set, which can be adjusted and attached to his telephone. In fact, he will have in a way the best of both worlds, because he will be able to get a good service over the telephone wire, and, if he is so disposed, will also be free to turn the knob round and get in touch with any station to which he may desire to listen. I understand that the radio trade is prepared to supply and maintain receiving sets of special design which will enable the best use to be made of the telephone broadcasting service.
On the assumption that these arrangements will prove satisfactory, I propose to start the service on the basis that all sets used by subscribers will be supplied and maintained through the usual trade channels, and it follows, therefore, that the Post Office telephone broadcasting service will not compete with the radio trade. It is proposed at the outset to offer the Post Office service to telephone subscribers only. It would be technically possible to extend it to non-subscribers, and we are going into this question later on. As regards programmes, it is proposed, on the telephone broadcasting service, to give a choice of three or four programmes, including the B.B.C. National and local Regional programmes at all times when they are available.
The Committee may like to know that I have myself tested an experimental instrument of this kind, and have found 1699 the reception to be very good. On pressing a button, one hears first the exact time from the Post Office. The pressing of the button again brings on the National service of the B.B.C. You press the button again, and get the Regional service; and, on pressing it yet again, you get the Empire service of the B.B.C, which is coming in almost night and day from the Empire, but of which, I think, very few people in the country are aware, because it is not always possible to get it.
§ Major Tryon
Yes, it will be, but special sets will also be available later enabling subscribers to make the best use of the telephone service. I am not suggesting that we shall always be confined to the B.B.C. programmes; we shall be giving a selection of foreign programmes as well.
§ Major Tryon
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for asking that question. We shall, of course, let telephone subscribers know, for the very good reason that we are anxious that they should take up the service as it develops and reaches different parts of the country. We shall be in consultation with the B.B.C. with a view to the selection of foreign programmes, of which we hope to give three or four alternatives in addition to those of the B.B.C.
§ Mr. Mathers
Could the right hon, Gentleman indicate what will be the cost of this service to the subscriber?
§ Major Tryon
I am obliged to the hon. Member for putting that question. It will I hope be under 1s. a week, and the more it is under Is. the better we shall be pleased. Of course, it is not exactly comparable with the charges made by the relay companies, because it will be necessary to have a set, whereas in the case of the relay companies it is only necessary for the subscriber to have a loud speaker. I understand that the Relay Companies' normal charge is 1s. 6d. per week, but I believe that some single-line companies charge Is.
§ Sir Reginald Clarry
Will the charge of 10s. per annum for a broadcasting licence be included in the estimated figure of Is. a week?
§ Major Tryon
No; they will all have to take out a licence.
I am now able to tell the Committee that we hope to make a start at about the end of the year with the Post Office telephone broadcasting service, covering the central London area and practically the whole of Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester. I have already been asked about the charge for the service, but I may as well repeat that, while it has not yet been fixed, we hope it will not exceed is. a week. This charge of is. will not include the machine which is necessary.
I do not expect that the Opposition will welcome anything which does not contain a provision that the State shall run the service; but I would say this. The sending out of broadcasts is the duty of the B.B.C, and not of the relay companies or anybody else. Secondly, there is an arrangement, approved by this House, for the regulation and management of those broadcasts. In the reception of those broadcasts we shall have three competing methods: the Post Office telephone service, whose merits have been admitted to be admirable by the other side—and I hope they will do all they can to get their supporters to make use of the telephone service; the relays, which are a great convenience in certain of our crowded towns; and the radio trade, which, by selling these sets, makes it possible for people to have absolute freedom on a receiving set as to what they listen to. The man with a receiving set can listen to anything he likes. I remember once waking up in the middle of the night and turning on a very short wave length, and having the advantage of listening to a dissertation in favour of Socialism coming from Moscow.
With these sets you can get absolute freedom for the subscriber to listen to anything. With the relays, while there are disadvantages because of the limitation of programmes, it would be a great advantage, that in time of war the central organisation should be able to communicate to our people warnings, encouragements, and news. [Interruption.'] The hon. Member may recall that allegations of British disasters have often 1701 been circulated by other people, and it is important that the Government should be able to contradict them. It is an advantage that we in this country in time of war, should wireless be temporarily suspended—
§ Major Tryon
If I gave the answer which occurs to me, I should be involving myself in subjects which are not in Order. But if we are to have all this co-operation between the nations in Defence, we should take all the necessary measures for the de-fence of our own country; and this is one of them.
§ Major Tryon
I quite appreciate my hon. Friend's suggestion. We shall certainly bear that in mind, but we are beginning in the centre and working outwards.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
The Postmaster-General has explained that we have asked for this vote to be put down for one specific purpose only—that we wish to discuss today the decision of the Government to hand over for the next 10 years the greater part of this new developing system of broadcast relays to private individuals and companies, instead of developing it as a Post Office service. I understand that the Postmaster-General is himself going to reply on this Debate, but I would like, nevertheless, to take the opportunity to extend our good wishes to the Assistant Postmaster General on his first appearance in that capacity—and especially may I congratulate him on making that first appearance in a Department in which it is found that those who serve it always carry away an abiding affection?
I wish to make the issue clear, because I think the only reason that a proposal of this kind could be carried through is, partly that we are overwhelmed by the international situation and our minds cannot deal with these details, and partly because the public really do not under stand how much of their property is being given away. I believe there are still a good many members of the public who think that the only method of obtaining a programme is that of having a set of 1702 one's own and tuning in for oneself. But for some years there has been in the country an alternative method, which I believe, has a great future if properly developed. The system is that in each locality there shall be some place of business—it may be a Post Office—which will have a receiving set with good reception, and, from that, run connections to various houses, so that the occupant of one of those houses, with nothing but a loud speaker, can get his programmes from that receiving set. This is a system which, by the very nature of it, can give you better reception than you can get with anything but a very expensive set of your own. The Postmaster General has explained that. But if a householder is to have his programme this way, there are two methods of doing so. One is by this special system of wires wandering over the town to each house from this central receiving set. The other system is that which the Postmaster-General has described at considerable length—to have it on your telephone line, in such a way that it does not interfere with the telephone service.
The Post Office has developed this service far enough to enable it to be given over telephone lines; and, so far as telephone subscribers are concerned, it is inevitable that that service should be offered to them. But the vast majority of the people in this country are not on the telephone; and the great issue which the Post Office has had before it for some years has been the issue as to whether, if you are going to give this system of relay broadcasts to those who are off the telephone service, that should be done by private individuals or companies, or taken over by the Post Office itself. The Post Office deliberately left itself open until today to make that decision at any moment without any difficulties in its way on the technical merits, because it is always understood that, if a licence is given to an individual or a company, that licence should last for only one year. At the end of the year, if the Post Office wished, it could refuse the licence, or take over the licence without paying anything except the cost of the installation and without any compensation for good will.
§ Mr. Wakefield
The right hon. Gentleman stated that it was only a one-year licence, but the licences were given for five years in 1927, at the time the right 1703 hon. Gentleman was at the Post Office, and in 1932 they were given for a further five years.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
Certainly, and they would have been brought to an end if the Labour Government had remained in office.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The Government have now taken this decision. It is now decided that the licences are to be extended for ten years, and that during that period, which really is an indefinite period, the Post Office is, in practice, to be debarred from developing this service in this new and expanding field wherever it serves the field outside the telephone system. That is what the Postmaster-General has said. These are to be handed over and to be extended to ten years. The private company or individuals have been invited to do the work, and he especially appeals to-day to the local authorities to facilitate that task.
The Postmaster-General cannot adduce any technical advice or the authority of any technical experts in favour of the decision which he has announced. It is not a decision to which the researches of the Post Office have led up, and it is contrary to any examination of this subject which has hitherto been made. The Postmaster-General is reversing the very carefully considered decision which was laid before this House, and I was very surprised that, in reversing that decision, he did not use any argument or even a single sentence to explain whether the recommendations in this matter were incorrect. This subject was examined and reported upon by the Ullswater Committee on Broadcasting in 1935. That was a committee, which, I think, it will be agreed was without any political predilection. It had on it one member of the Labour party—the present Leader of the Opposition—and there were six other members who belonged to the other two important parties of the State, and that committee made its recommendations to the Council. The recommendation was that all these licences that were given to 1704 these individuals and companies should be brought to an end right away in 1935, three years ago, and that the whole of the system should be carried on through the Post Office and the B.B.C. as a unified national service. I will remind the Committee of the recommendation of the Ullswater Report on relays. Here are the actual words.We recommend that the ownership and operation of Relay Exchanges should be undertaken by the Post Office and the control of their programmes by the Corporation. The considerations on which we base these conclusions are in brief those which have led to the establishment of the postal, telegraph, and telephone services, and indeed the broadcasting service itself, as unified national undertakings in public ownership and control.The technical argument—I will deal with the financial argument in a moment—in favour of conducting the whole of this system as a unified service is overwhelming. You have in each locality a system of receiving these programmes, and from each centre, by a system of wires, you distribute them to the various houses. But the Post Office is the great authority for wires in this country already. It has 8,000 telephone exchanges, it deals with a mass of wires all over the country, and, for the purpose of these telephone exchanges, it has, in each area, linesmen, inspectors, foremen, technicians, and staff. It has all these overhead expenses, and, therefore, at comparatively small extra expense, it would be able to provide the few extra wires for the mile or half mile to the neighbouring houses. In addition, it has the advantage of buying all the necessary equipment wholesale through the Stores Department of the Post Office, which my experience has shown is the most economical buyer of any commercial organisation in the land.
That is the main reason why the Broadcasting Committee made this recommendation. I will refer further to this decision of three years ago. There was one reservation on this subject. The Committee was unanimous, but there was a reservation, which the Postmaster-General quoted in his previous statement, by the late Lord Selsdon. He recommended that the decision should be postponed for three years. He said in effect," If you will wait for three years and allow the Post Office to conduct its researches during that time, I believe you will find that at the end of that time there will be an astonishing development of sending messages 1705 along a wire by the system of carrier waves, and when that is developed you will be able to use all the great trunk telephone lines in order to send these broadcast programmes along these lines in addition to ordinary messages." There searches have taken place. The Postmaster-General referred to them. There has been a piece of technical invention on the part of the Post Office engineers in the last three years which has not been surpassed by any parallel invention anywhere in the world. These engineers, by their researches, have shown us how, along an ordinary trunk telephone line, you can send your telephone message— I do not know how it is done—and, at the same time, have 350 other messages without interference coming along or around it at the same moment. The effect of this upon the subject we are discussing is, exactly as the late Lord Selsdon had said, the great advantage which the Post Office now has over any of these companies. It has two methods of getting the programme from London or wherever it may be to the centre from which it is to be transferred. The method upon which the relay company must depend is, as the Postmaster-General said, most unreliable.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
And not so reliable as wires. That is one method. That is all that these companies have. The Post Office has that method open to it, but it has an alternative method. Where it is uneconomical, or subject to interference, or where the population is sparse or far away, it can use telephone lines and send broadcast programmes right along to the receiving station. I will give a crucial case to illustrate this. Take the Shetland Islands. What will happen there? If you leave it to a private company or a private individual they can only depend upon the air.
§ Mr. Boothby
What is to prevent the Government using the trunk telephone wires? The right hon. Gentleman is trying to make out a case that the Government 1706 are debarring themselves from using these inventions.
No. I am saying the exact opposite. I have said that Lord Selsdon predicted what would happen, and it has happened. Take the case of the Shetland Islands. There the Government would have two alternatives. They could have a transmitting station, but that would be very expensive. On the other hand, they could use the trunk telephone wires and send the messages to some little shop in the Shetlands for practically nothing.
§ Sir H. Williams
Why should not the Government allow the relay companies to have a direct telephone wire and then to relay?
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
The reason is clear. If it were included in the licence and they could then have the message over the wireless or over the Post Office line, the case would become unanswerable, that it would be much better that the whole thing should be done by the Post Office. The Postmaster-General has no answer to the technical argument which induced the original Broadcasting Committee to come to its decision. What he has done is to go on a quite different line of argument. He has raised the question of emergency and of national De-fence. With part of what he said I agree. I agree that in time of emergency it will be very convenient to have a relay system in operation, but his argument is what I think in logic is called a non sequitur. There is no reason to suppose that national service would not be better served if the system belonged to the Post Office rather than to private companies and individuals. He has warned those responsible for these companies that they must not send out messages of their own. They must not send out anything except that which is broadcast from the B.B.C. In time of national emergency it would be most serious if any messages were sent out by private companies. Therefore, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's warning. If there is danger from that possibility in time of national 1707 emergency, surely instead of having these little companies and individuals whom it is necessary to warn, it would be much less dangerous to have the whole system in the hands of the Government, which would control these messages directly.
Take another argument the right hon. Gentleman used. He said that in time of emergency it would be very dangerous if the air was interrupted and he insists that each of these companies and individuals should be connected by wire with the broadcasting and Post Office system so that in time of war they could use the Post Office wires. What does this mean? Take Hull, Edinburgh or any other big centre in time of war when the air is interrupted. They would have to receive their messages and their broadcasting programmes along the Post Office wires. That would mean that in time of war that message would go, say, hundreds of miles over the Post Office wire and then an extra half mile or so over a wire belonging to the company, which would take the profits of the whole transaction. If in time of war it is necessary to lay down a system by which nine-tenths of the work must be done by the Post Office, that is an extra reason for letting the whole thing be controlled by the Post Office instead of by these companies, which have to be granted these special conditions. The right hon. Gentleman has made out no case whatever for his proposals from the point of view of national De-fence. I think it is very repellent and disgusting, and that it will profoundly shock the public mind that we should have a proposal by which these companies and individuals are to have hundreds of thousands of pounds handed over to them, and that it is defended on the ground of national Defence.
I now come to the financial aspect of the proposal. There is a great deal of money in this. My hon. Friend the Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant), the late Assistant Postmaster-General, put a very pertinent question. It is this. These licences are conferring monopolies. You are going to give these people a very valuable monopoly. It means that you cannot have more than one licence in each area. You are not going to have a number of companies with their wires in one area. A local authority might allow one company but they would not allow hundreds of wires all over the town. 1708 Therefore, these licences are valuable monopolies, and the Postmaster-General has said that they are to be given away and not one halfpenny to be asked in return from the private companies and individual to whom they are given.
Why are they so valuable? The reason is clear. These companies or individuals will just skim the cream of the demand and neglect the rest of the country. They will set themselves up in those places where there is a fairly compact population, so that they will have to provide only a short distance of wire, which can be provided inexpensively, and they will not give a service to other places. They will not set themselves up in districts where the population is sparse. I do not think you would find them setting themselves up in the Shetland Islands. The Post Office, on the other hand, if they wholly controlled the system would use the profit they made in the more densely crowded areas, as they do in the Post Office service, to give a service on equal terms to every place in the land. That is one of the reasons why the Committee made this recommendation:We recognise a considerable public value in the system provided it is conducted under conditions that will ensure its development in the public interest. Present conditions"—Conditions that are to be continued for 10 years under the Postmaster General's scheme—have a contrary effect. A system of separate privately owned exchanges naturally results in the provision of service only to those centres of population where conditions are most favourable for making a profit, whereas the endeavour of a national service would be to meet public needs with as wide a measure of equality as possible.There is money in this which is being given away. It is not easy to find out exactly who is getting this money, or what the volume of it is, because most of these concerns are private companies or privately-owned. But there is one of these concerns whose shares are quoted on the Stock Exchange, and from the figures of this company we are able to judge the financial results. It is not a large company. It is called Broadcast Relay Services, Ltd. I have obtained the balance sheets and annual reports for the last three years. It has an issued capital of £380,000 in 5s. shares. I have read the speech of the chairman at the last three annual meetings since the Postmaster- 1709 General made his original statement. On each occasion the chairman has complained that the company have been hardly treated by the Government, and that really it was impossible to do justice to his shareholders under the conditions of an annual licence. Nevertheless, I notice that he has always been able to offer a little comfort to the shareholders by declaring a dividend two years ago of 10 per cent. and last year of 12½per cent.
This is the only company whose figures I have been able to get, but I notice that on the Stock Exchange, on 29th March, the day before the Postmaster General made his announcement, the shares stood at 7s. 6d., and on 31st March, the day after the Postmaster-General made his announcement, they had gone up to 10s. Overnight the share holders of this company had received a gift of £125,000 for which they did not pay a single penny. That brings the whole thing to an issue. Why should not the Post Office assume control? We certainly propose to ask the Committee to decide on this subject, because it is clear that there has been no more flagrant case in recent years of taking advantage of the public concentration and the national anxiety to hand over immense national assets to privately-owned companies.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Storey
I do not intend to devote any great length of time to following the right hon. Member in his discussion as to whether wire broadcasts should be in public or in private ownership. The technical difficulties of broadcasts in war time and the consequent necessity that the country should possess alternative methods of distributing news and communicating with the public, requires that we should get on with the job, and the present, when an emergency may arise at any time, is not one in which we should raise the vast administrative and financial issues which would be involved if the Government were to take over relay companies. Rather, it is one in which we should concentrate on their technical development and their practical expansion, so that the country may be provided with these alternative methods. I, therefore, think it more profitable to consider the conditions under which private wire broadcasts should be carried on, and should be continued and extended.
1710 The main conditions for the renewal of the licences seems to me that the systems should be available to the Government for communicating with the public in time of emergency announcements of public importance, and for the distribution of news. It should be a condition of the distribution of news that nothing should be done by relay companies which would defeat the restrictions which are placed upon the British Broadcasting Corporation. After all, the British Broadcasting Corporation have very severe restrictions placed upon them in that they are not allowed in any way to express their own opinion, and they have to safeguard the impartial presentation of news. The relay companies should not be allowed by any abuse of their power of selection, or by relaying only one side of any controversial question, or by relaying propaganda from foreign stations, to destroy the balance of the programmes issued by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
To achieve this either one of two things is necessary. Either we must subject the relay companies to similar control as the British Broadcasting Company is subjected, or we must limit their rediffusion to existing programmes. To impose similar control on the relay companies as upon the British Broadcasting Corporation would, I think, be too complicated. Where there is a number of small companies operating the simplest course is to do as the Postmaster General has suggested, limit the relay companies to the rediffusion of existing programmes and allow them no rights of initiation in news distribution. Nor should the relay companies be allowed to distribute English news from foreign broadcasting stations at times when the British Broadcasting Corporation are restricted in their broadcast of news, particularly if that news is drawn from those stations which operate advertisement programmes such as the British Broadcasting Corporation are not allowed to operate. If the relay companies are subjected to such limitation, and if the Post Office accepts, as I assume it will do, such limitations in its own relay systems, then I think the decision to extend these wireless broadcasting facilities and to secure alternative methods of news distribution and communication to the public in time of emergency is an excellent one, and I hope it will receive the full support of the Committee.
1711 In concentrating upon such development I hope the Post Office will not forget existing facilities which are given for the broadcast and relay of news. The Committee has probably not realised that there is already in existence a wire broadcast system of news distribution which relies upon the written word and which at any time, and particularly in war time, will be more effective than any wire broadcast system which depends on the spoken word. That system is the one operated by the Press Association over wires leased from the Post Office, by which news is despatched from London by high-speed telegraph to centres in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Glasgow, and other cities and towns, and from thence is relayed to every daily and evening newspaper offices in the country. The maintenance of that system in war-time would be of the greatest importance. Whatever we may think of individual newspapers and the interpretation that they place upon news, we must agree that it is essential that newspapers and the public should obtain a reliable supply of news. The spoken word of broadcasting and relay may help to maintain that supply, but it is essential that the spoken word should be reinforced by the written word, and this can best be done by maintaining the news agencies' peace-time methods of distribution in times of emergency. Such maintenance would not be easy, particularly if the London headquarters of the news agencies were damaged by enemy action. It has been the subject of much consideration and discussion with the Post Office.
It is not in any spirit of criticism of the Post Office that I have raised the matter to-day. The Post Office has given the Press Association every possible assistance in endeavouring to make proper provision for any emergency, and steps are being taken which will enable the Press Association to carry on from one of its provincial centres if the London headquarters are incapacitated. The only reason why I have raised the matter is to emphasise that, while setting up new wire broadcasting systems and extending old ones, we should not overlook the Press Association system, by which the written word is broadcast and relayed and by which the Government could communicate in time of emergency with the newspapers and so with the public; and to claim that 1712 if an emergency does arise that system will be given the utmost possible preference in the use of Post Office wires, and every assistance and encouragement. I am confident that that appeal will not fall upon deaf ears because the Post Office has not only an understanding of these matters but has given practical assistance. The country in war-time requires that we should have adequate and alternative means of communication between the Government and the people and in the distribution of news. The proposal outlined by the Postmaster General is a step towards securing such means. I hope that we shall not delay the acquisition of those means by wrangling whether they shall be in public or private ownership, but that we shall build upon the foundation we have already and secure one other step in our National De-fence system.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter
I have listened to the speech of the Postmaster-General with very great interest, because I gave the first lecture in the torpedo school Vernon on wireless telegraphy some 40 years ago. In those early beginnings, in the experiments of the Vernon, we could not get any great distance because we used the coherer, and Marconi was carrying out his experiments at Alum Bay in the Isle of Wight. After that Professor Fleming introduced his thermionic valve and made wireless telegraphy a great success, and also made wireless telephony possible. I have seen the great transmitting stations grow up in this country and all the time I have had a feeling of great anxiety because of the tremendous targets they would be to hostile aircraft. In a-time of emergency, in war-time, if these transmitting stations sent messages by short or long waves into the ether any hostile aircraft fitted with directional finding could soon find these stations, straddle them with bombs and knock them out. There is no question about it. I submit that it is very doubtful whether in war-time you could use these transmitting stations very much, and you might at times have to shut them down altogether. Anyhow the service would be limited. As these stations are so visible at great distances from aircraft, and it is possible to see the masts standing out, even in thick weather the stations could be attacked.
I was informed the other day of what happened to one of our machines 1713 travelling from Paris to Hendon. When she came over our coast she got into very thick weather and the pilot had to go through the clouds when he thought he was near Hendon in order to find his position, and he actually saw the comer of the shed at Hendon in that thick weather. That shows how accurate modern navigation in thick weather is. In such weather even these wireless stations might be knocked out. It is the fashion rather to minimise what aircraft can do. I saw in the Press the other day that a General said, "There is more tripe written about what hostile aircraft can do than about anything else." I wish that General would talk a little less tripe and study what aircraft can do. If he did he would be of greater value to the Army. I hope that my remarks about this General will be read by him one day and that he will study what aircraft can do and what they did in Spain.
I would submit to the Committee the opinion of a very skilled airman who is the Under-Secretary of State for Air in Italy, General Valle. He is one of the most able administrators in Italy at the present time. I knew him when he was a lieutenant in the Navy. I served with him at Taranto in the Great War, under a distinguished Italian naval officer— Admiral Cerri. I had many conferences win General Valle. I know him to be a man of great ability and as one who is not likely to exaggerate. I ask the Committee to listen to this statement by General Valle. When he introduced his Air Estimates in the Senate in Rome on 30th May of this year, he said this:From our experience in Spain we can prove by means of photographs that the effectiveness of air bombardment is beyond all expectations. It reaches a maximum over vital centres. If Valencia, Barcelona and the centre of Madrid are still intact it is only because General Franco wished to spare them. But if we turn to the harbour quarters of Barcelona or Valencia to-day we get a complete impression of how an inhabited area can be reduced to a heap of ruins, where no life of any kind could exist. Air action against ships is proved to be equally effective by the fact that 162 merchant ships were sunk or damaged in the harbours of Eastern Spain. Air attacks on petrol dumps were also impressive. One alone, in which 50 kilogram (100 lb.) bombs were used, set on fire all the dumps of Valencia containing 30,000 tons of petrol. Yet the true conception of an air war without quarter was not carried out.That is a very reasonable statement from General Valle. I submit if, un- 1714 happily, this country were ever involved in war, there might be anything up to 1,000 aeroplanes attacking us at once They would probably come in groups of three squadrons, that is to say, 27 machines, and attack all parts of the country. It is no good—
The Temporary-Chairman (Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward)
The hon. and gallant Member is quite entitled to give as an illustration the effect of bombing in Spain, but he will realise that he is getting rather far away from the Vote which the Committee is discussing at the moment.
§ Sir M. Sueter
Of course, I bow to your Ruling, Sir Lambert, but with all due deference to you, I want to point out the reason I am supporting the Postmaster-General. The wireless stations are very vulnerable, and if 1,500 machines were to attack this country, some of the wireless stations might be wiped out. It is no good saying the guns would prevent the bombers from coming over. On a day such as this, the bombers would get through and our guns would not be able to bring them down. Considering that these stations are so open to attack, I welcome the Postmaster-General's policy of developing wire broad casting. I understand that the relay system is established in many parts of the country, and I want to ask my right hon. and gallant Friend whether this system is efficient.
§ Mr. Silverman
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman leaves the point to which he has been referring, may I ask whether he thinks that the arguments he has made support the Government's proposal not to retain national control over this system, on which he thinks we should have to rely mainly for broadcasting in time of emergency? I understand that the Government's proposal is to leave in private hands what the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks would be almost the only means for broadcasting news in a time of emergency.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I take it that the Post Master General would take care that in a time of emergency the Government would control this and not allow the relay stations to send out their own programmes. The Government would have to control it, 1715 for otherwise there might be sent out false news that would be detrimental to the interests of the country. I support the Postmaster-General in his policy of allowing the relay companies to develop their wire broadcasting. This system, if it is an efficient one, is very simple. It consists in sending low-frequency alternating currents through a wire and having at the other end only a loud-speaker telephone with a switch. The only point I wish to make from a De-fence point of view is that something should be done to ensure that if a bomb fell on one relay station, the whole system would not be put out of action. If this were done, I can conceive that this system, if properly developed, might be of great service to the country. I hope that the municipal authorities will give every facility in the running of these wires. In times of emergency, they would be interested in having the right messages come through, and they ought to welcome this system, particularly in connection with air-raid precautionary services, because in times of war it would be most valuable if these messages could be sent to a large number of subscribers.
The Postmaster General referred to the development of the telephone wire system for wire broadcasting. I think high-frequency alternating currents are being used and also some instrument to which present wireless sets can be adapted. I should like to know whether experiments have been carried out with that adapting instrument, and if so, whether it is quite efficient. It is another complication in wireless, and one would like to know whether it has been thoroughly tried out. The Postmaster-General also said that a special design of wireless set might be developed for this. That would mean scrapping the whole of the wireless instruments, unless there was an efficient adapting device. The only other method of which I know of transmitting by wire is the use of power cables. I should like to know whether any experiments of this sort have been carried out in this country; I understand experiments have been made in America and on the Continent, but I do not think they have been successful so far. I should like to know whether the power cables could be used or not. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) wants to place everything under the Post Office. I have the greatest admiration for the administra- 1716 tion of the Post Office and its high efficiency, but I do not think a little competition is harmful. Hon. Members will remember what happened at Farnborough during the War. There was a State factory there and practically all their machines failed. If we had relied upon them, we should have been in a very bad way during the War; but fortunately, wiser counsels had prevailed and we had kept the air industry going and not put it all under a State factory. I cannot support the right hon. Gentleman in his remarks to the effect that everything should come under the State, for a little competition is not a bad thing.
§ Sir M. Sueter
I will consider that. I have no doubt that when the hon. Member rises to speak, he will develop his argument for placing the Navy under private enterprise. I support the Postmaster-General in regard to wire broadcasting, because I think that in times of emergency it would be a very fine thing for the country to be able to send messages which could not be interfered with and which would reach a large number of people without disturbing the ordinary conditions in the country in war time.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
I rise to support the Amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), and I would like to thank him for having discharged what I consider to be a great Parliamentary duty. He has, not for the first time—for I remember the case of the cable company—drawn attention to a matter of great importance which otherwise might not have had the consideration which it deserves. In the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), we heard the voice of authentic Toryism, although it was hardly authentic in the contemporary sense; we heard the voice of Toryism of a kind which I thought no longer existed. The hon. and gallant Member seem entirely to overlook the major considerations in my right hon. Friend's speech. He said that my right hon. Friend wanted to put everything under the Post Office. The point which my right hon. Friend stressed was not that he wanted to do it but that a very 1717 important departmental committee presided over by Lord Ullswater, a committee on which there was only one member who had any political association with the party on these Benches, after the most careful inquiry, and with only one reservation which served to emphasise the unanimity of their finding, came to the conclusion that the services now provided by private companies should, in future, be provided by the Post Office, They said:We see no good purpose in the independent development of these various methods of broadcasting by wire, but consider that the time has come for unification and coordinated development in the hands of the Post Office. We recommend that the ownership and operation of Relay Exchanges should be undertaken by the Post Office and the control of these programmes by the Corporation.When the hon. and gallant Member suggests that in this matter it would not do the Post Office any harm to have a little competition, he must not mind if others carry his argument a little further and suggest that it might be a good idea to have a variety of postmen, in a variety of uniforms, and a variety of letter-boxes painted in different colours, and to provide some competition within the present Post Office service itself. The hon. and gallant Member knows that, for excellence and efficiency the Post Office provides a service that is almost unrivalled and very nearly beyond criticism, and it does so, in the absence of competition.
I hope not to say anything unpleasant, because to do so is not in accordance with my nature, but I must make this remark. There was a Parliament which became known as the Rump Parliament. If we are not careful, this Parliament will go down to history as the Ramp Parliament. It is not exactly a pleasant thing to say, but we are, nowadays, pro-ceding rapidly under this Government from one ramp to another. Hon. Members will recall the Debate of yesterday. We are shovelling out public money by the ton. We are giving away public property, public rights and public monopolies with no regard to means, no regard to need, no regard to necessity, no regard to public welfare, public benefit or public desirability. We are doing all that for reasons which cannot be justified on any basis of good public policy.
1718 There is one point, in addition, to which I want to draw attention. The relay companies are primarily under consideration here, because of the reduction of the Vote which has been moved by my right hon. Friend, and principally, Broadcast Relay Services, Limited, of which the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) is a director. I hope the hon. Member will explain if he gets a chance of addressing the Committee whether he is doing so in his capacity as Member for Swindon, or in his capacity as a director of Broadcast Relay Services, Limited. My right hon. Friend drew attention to the prosperity of the company with which the hon. Member is associated. I gather from the financial columns of the "Daily Herald," to the accuracy of which I am glad to have this public opportunity of paying a tribute, that the real prosperity of this company is a little disguised by the favourite process of a bonus share distribution. I gather that in October, 1935, there was a capital bonus of 200 per cent, and that profits earned and dividends paid since then, would, on the percentage of the pre-1935 capital, be; three times as large as those now shown, or, in other words, that for the current financial year, instead of a dividend distribution of 12½ per cent. the hon. Member for Swindon and his friends have enjoyed a distribution of 37½per cent.
I do not mind individuals or organisations enjoying the financial reward to which their own personal or collective merits entitle them. But what merits lie in acting purely in the capacity of middlemen, in this process of distribution, I am entirely unable to see. The thing that generally and generically calls itself private enterprise, in fact lacks enterprise, and there would be no broadcasting service to relay by this or any other organisation, but for the enterprise, the scientific genius, the inventive and research capacity and the development for which the British Broadcasting Corporation in the early stages of its career, on the basis of public finance, was responsible.
§ Sir H. Williams
Does the hon. Member suggest that broadcasting was started by a public corporation?
§ Mr. Ridley
I did not say so. I said that it had been very extensively developed by the British Broadcasting Corporation. It has been developed by 1719 that body in a fashion that would not have been possible in the case of private enterprise. Anybody who has had experience of broadcasting arrangements abroad, comes back to this country with a new and enhanced pride in the service provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation under public ownership and public control. The point which I am trying to make is that these privately-owned relay companies are making the handsome profits to which I have drawn attention, on the basis of research and scientific discovery to which they themselves have made no contribution. They are getting in a private fashion, for their own private benefit, a handsome rake-off, which has only been made possible by public-spirited enterprise and development.
I say once more that in regard to the distribution of public money—on civil aviation, on shipping, on agriculture, on all other forms of subsidy—and in regard to the distribution of public rights and public properties, Parliament is now passing through a very unwholesome and a very unpleasant experience. I confess to some surprise that hon. Members occupying the dual positions which some of them do occupy should seek to address the House of Commons on occasions when matters which personally and closely involve their own financial interests are intimately under review, in support of these Votes.
§ Sir H. Williams
Does the hon. Member take the view that in connection with a coal-mining dispute, any hon. Member who happened to be an official of a mining union, should not speak in the House of Commons?
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) seems to be attempting to qualify for the position of prosecuting counsel at the Old Bailey, but I do not regard myself as being in the dock. There is a tremendous difference between coming here in a purely representative capacity, in a case such as that to which he has drawn attention and the position which is constantly occupied by many hon. Members on the other side in regard to shipping, in regard to agriculture— [Interruption]. The hon. Member asked me a question and he might at least do me the courtesy of listening to my reply. I repeat that it is becoming the fashion, the much too constant fashion 1720 for hon. Members opposite, in regard to shipping and in regard to agriculture, to take part in Debates when Votes are under consideration, the determination of which they know, is going to make a difference to their own financial interests.
§ Sir H. Williams
Would the hon. Gentleman answer my question whether a trade union official who is interested in the subject-matter of a Debate, should be debarred from taking part? [HON. MEMBERS: "He has no financial interest."]
§ Mr. Ridley
I have already told the hon. Member that there is a wide difference between the two cases. In the case to which he refers a member is acting in a representative capacity, and it would be impossible for the hon. Member to tell me one case, of one Member on these Benches, who has taken part in one Debate on a Vote, the result of which would make any financial difference to him.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Wakefield
The hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) made reference to a company, Broadcast: Relay Services, Ltd., in which I am interested as a director, and he asked me whether, should I be given the opportunity to intervene—
§ Mr. Shinwell
On a point of Order. I venture to ask for your guidance in this matter, Sir Lambert. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) is about to address the Committee, and I wish to ask whether it is within the Standing Orders of the House that Members pecuniarily interested in the proposition now before the Committee should be entitled to address the Committee.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) is quite entitled to address the Committee. When it comes to a question of voting, an entirely different situation arises.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Did I understand from what you have just said, Sir Lambert, that the hon. Member for Swindon is entitled to address the Committee, but is not entitled to vote?
The Temporary Chairman
I did not say that. I said that another situation would arise; I did not say that he was not entitled to vote.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In such a situation, what means are open to hon. Members of the 1721 Committee to address the Chair in relation to the right of the hon. Member to vote?
Any hon. Member has the right to challenge the right of any other hon. Member.
§ Mr. Marshall
On the point of Order. Are you aware, Sir Lambert, that when a member of a local authority is financially interested in anything, and the local authority is able to come to a decision which involves that business, the member may be allowed to speak, but is certainly not allowed to vote, and that, so far as speaking is concerned, it is thought to be entirely contrary to the canons of good taste to speak?
§ Sir H. Williams
On the point of Order. I well remember the case of the right hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthorpe) in connection with the sugar beet debate in 1925, that this point of Order was raised, with Mr. Speaker in the Chair, and it was ruled that it was not only in Order, but very desirable, that the right hon. and gallant Baronet should speak, because he had knowledge of the subject. The question of whether he should vote or not was the question to what extent his interest personally would be affected by his vote. I would submit that the question now raised is not materially different from the question of a representative of a co-operative society in this House when an Amendment is down on a Finance Bill which affects the interests of the co-operative societies.
§ Mr. Wakefield
As I was saying when the hon. Members intervened, the hon. Member opposite asked me whether I was proposing to speak in this House as a director of Broadcast Relay Services, Ltd., or as the Member for Swindon. I should like to point out that in my constituency there are several thousand homes served by a relay service in which I have neither direct nor an indirect interest, and the decision of the Postmaster-General, and, in fact, any comment made in this House in connection with the future operation of relay services, is of very considerable interest to my constituents. For that reason I am intervening in this Debate. There is, too, the further reason that as one of the pioneers of this industry I believe I am in a position to give what, I hope, will be useful information to this 1722 Committee. Hon. Members have suggested that it is not in Order for any Member to intervene in a Debate in which he is in any way financially interested, but only yesterday there was a debate on agriculture, and no one can suggest that there were not very many Members in this House who were directly interested one way or another in the result of that Debate. — [HON. MEMBERS: "On your side."] — I am merely making that point.
The right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) referred to the profits of Broadcast Relay Services, Ltd., and stated that just prior to the announcement of the Postmaster-General the shares of that company were round about 7s. and that they rose to about 10s. a day or two after the announcement, but he did not tell the Committee that three of four years ago the shares of this company were standing at somewhere about 12s. and that on an announcement being made in this House they dropped to something like 5s. He suggested that out of the announcement made by the Government, shareholders were making 2s. 6d., but previously they had lost something like 5s. or 7s. 6d. This business has been built up by industry and by private enterprise. The hon. Member who has just sat down seemed to suggest that this industry was a sort of parasites or middle-men who would not be in existence if it were not for the British Broadcasting Corporation. But the B.B.C. is there to give transmission. It has been set up to initiate programmes and to provide a broadcasting service to the public, but it is not much use the B.B.C. providing a transmission service to the public unless the public has a means of receiving that service satisfactorily. Those broadcast transmissions which are sent out by the B.B.C. are received, as the Postmaster-General pointed out, in two ways—on the one hand, by means of some form of wired service, and on the other hand by the individual wireless receiving set, and that has been left in the hands of private enterprise, and it is private enterprise that has developed these methods for enabling people to receive, in a first class manner, the transmissions of the B.B.C.
The hon. Member who has just spoken suggested that it was a shame that private enterprise should benefit by the work of the B.B.C, but some 12 years ago the then chief engineer of the B.B.C. sug- 1723 gested that it would be in the interests of the public that the Post Office and the B.B.C. should establish a wired broadcasting service such as we are now discussing. What was the result? It was turned down. It was said that it was an impracticable proposal and would never appeal to the public, and it was left to private enterprise to prove that there was a public demand for this wired broadcasting service, and that it could be provided in a satisfactory manner in those industrial areas where it was required and where interference was bad and reception by the ordinary wireless set not easy. In those areas a wired reception service can be of the utmost value.
§ Mr. Wakefield
It is not for me to make that point. I am merely stating what all people on this side well know, that if anything is to be developed and any initiative is to be shown, we have to leave it to private enterprise to do it and not to the State. I think that is a generally accepted fact. I think the hon. Member for Roth-well (Mr. Lunn) intervened and suggested that a relay service was a monopoly, but surely it is not a monopoly at all; it is merely an alternative method of reception. The public can make their choice as to whether they have this Post Office service or the receiving set, and there is no monopoly there at all. It was also suggested, I think, that relay service provided only a limited service, in that a person at one particular time would get a choice of only two or three programmes, but with a wireless set would obtain a far wider range. But, owing to the very special apparatus that is set up for reception purposes, the subscribers to a relay service can frequently get programmes which would not be able to be obtained upon an ordinary wireless set.
§ Mr. Ridley
I think the hon. Member is stressing the point entirely unnecessarily. No one is questioning the desirability of a re-diffusion service. The question between us is whether that re-diffusion service should be based on the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I appreciate that point, and I am going to deal with it, but many small points have been made and, while they are in my mind, I thought I would deal with them, because there is still a great deal of confusion of thought about this business. The public have not in mind a clear idea of the functions of this service, and I am only trying to clear up some misapprehensions in connection with it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite objected, as far as I could gather, to the handing over, as he said, of the rights for operating relay services as a valuable asset. The licence given by the Post Office and the permission given by the local authority is not a valuable asset at all. It is only made a valuable asset by the enterprise and by the operation of the service. Unless the service is successful and can earn a profit there is no asset there at all. In fact, I know of a case, in one of the places which hon. Members have suggested was the cream of the whole business, where many thousands of pounds were lost. No one can suggest that there was an asset there. The giving of the licence is the giving away of no public property and no asset at all. It is very similar to starting a shop. If it is successful, a certain amount of good will is created. The only reason why a relay service cannot start up in a town is because wires are required to cross streets, and it is for that reason that permission is required, and it is only in that way that the business differs from the distributing of milk or bread.
§ Mr. Wakefield
Surely the man who distributes milk or bread gets his raw materials provided for him, The raw material is supplied by the B.B.C, and they get their money from the people who pay the 10s. licence, and no person is allowed to be connected to a relay service unless he has his 10s. licence. Wireless dealers can sell sets, but there is no such condition attaching to the sale of wireless sets. In that way revenue is ensured to the B.B.C. and the Post Office where a relay service is in existence. The right hon. Gentleman made the point that relay services could get their programmes only from the air, but this is being changed. As the Postmaster General announced, 1725 under the new licence conditions relay services would be required to connect their systems by direct line—in peace time, not in war time—to the B.B.C. studios, and for the most part B.B.C. programmes would be given. The right hon. Gentleman went on to suggest that, because a relay system was on the end of one of these music lines which are made available by the B.B.C, it merely means attaching their system on to these lines. Where it is necessary for Post Office lines to make a co-ordinating system they are paid for at the usual rates, so there is no suggestion at all of getting something for nothing.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was a lot of money in this business and that, for that reason apparently, it was desirable that the State should take it over. He also seemed to leave the suggestion in the minds of hon. Members that very little money was required to develop the business. You put a few pounds into it and strung up a few wires and all was well. That is not the case. A substantial amount of money is required to operate the business properly. I was glad to hear the Postmaster-General state that they were going to have the most stringent technical conditions in the licence and that at least two programmes should be given. I think that is most desirable and very satisfactory. I hope, too, that local authorities will, as he suggested, give good care to ensuring that the people to whom they give permission will have both technical ability and financial standing to enable them to give a complete and proper service, and that permission will not be given to someone who can only give a service in a small part of the area, because that would obviate the main consideration of having a wired service developed sufficiently and satisfactorily throughout the area for De-fence purposes. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to profits, and conveyed the idea that there was a great amount of money able to be obtained by running this business. Evidence was given before the Ullswater Committee to the effect that for the three years prior to 1935 a representative group of relay companies had a yield of only 4 per cent. on the capital employed. The businesses comprised in the group were not specially selected but were taken at random in various parts of the country and, in the view of auditors, the rate of earnings 1726 mentioned represented a fair average for the industry as a whole.
Hon. Members opposite have referred to a company of which I am a director. In the group of companies with which I am connected no one can suggest that there are excessive profits or profiteering, because the paid-up capital and the reserves which have been re-invested in the business show a return of 10 per cent., after taking into account the depreciation, but before payment of taxes. I am sure hon. Members will agree with me when I say that, taking into account that this is a competitive business, with commercial risks, such a return is only a fair and reasonable one.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I think the hon. Member will find that my statement covers completely the point that was raised.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I did not take exception to anything at all. I only wanted to make a statement of fact, and I have made a statement of fact. I will repeat it. I said that the paid-up capital and the reserves, which had been reinvested in the business, show a return of 10 per cent., after taking into account depreciation but before the payment of tax. I do not think that can be considered unreasonable in view of the competitive nature of the business. The Postmaster General, in his very interesting and informative statement, gave reasons for not accepting the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, as was only to be expected, strongly disagreed with those recommendations. I feel that the recommendations of the Ullswater Committee were based on conclusions which were reached, first, on a misunderstanding of the functions of a relay service, and secondly, through a lack of true appreciation of the technical position. This is evident if its report is studied. The right hon. Gentleman has already made reference to paragraph 134, where it is recommended that the ownership and operation of relay exchanges should be undertaken by the Post Office, 1727 with a control of the programmes by the Corporation. They say—The considerations on which we base those conclusions are, in brief, those which have led to the establishment of the postal, telegraph and telephone services, and, indeed, the broadcasting service itself as a unified national undertaking in public ownership and control.There we see the B.B.C., the Post Office and relaying lumped together under one head, but the considerations in the operation of a relay service are different from those affecting a monopoly of postal, telegraph and telephone services. Furthermore, the B.B.C. is not under State control. It is a public corporation, purposely set apart from the State. It is true that the postal, telegraph and telephone services are under State control, but I cannot see why, because entertainment is provided in the homes of the people by means of a wire, that that should be a reason for the State to run it. It would be just as logical to say that the State ought to run cinemas or theatres or, indeed, newspapers themselves.
I think part of the misunderstanding arose from a lack of appreciation of the technical position. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who was a member of that committee, when he spoke in the last debate clearly reflected the views of its members. They said that audio-frequency was doomed to cease and to be replaced by other systems. The minority report by Lord Selsdon said the same thing. They thought that low frequency, or audio frequency, would be replaced by high frequency. It may be convenient if I explain the difference between the two systems. Low frequency, or audio frequency, is the sending of information—news and messages—along a single channel. Each message must be contained within a single channel and have a separate wire. High frequency means that a number of messages can be sent over a wire, but they must be sorted out at the other end, and, therefore, on a high frequency system there must be a wireless set at the other end. With the low frequency system there is no need to have a wireless set, only a loud speaker is required. An hon. Member opposite made a point about 2s. 6d. being charged for service, and so forth. He, perhaps, wondered why there was some difference between the Post Office charge of Is. and the relay services charge of Is. 6d. With 1728 the Post Office service it is necessary to have a wireless set, which must be paid for, but with a relay service there is no need for a wireless set, but only a loud speaker.
It was the expectation of the Ullswater Committee that the low frequency type of service would be discontinued which led them, I think, to make the recommendations they did. What is the position and what developments have taken place in recent years? On the Continent the high frequency system, as advocated by the Postmaster-General, is working very usefully through the post offices, side by side with private enterprise, in providing for those people who have the telephone. We must remember that five per cent. only of the people in this country have the telephone in their own homes—apart from its extensive use in shops, factories and elsewhere. In countries abroad, including Holland and Switzerland, both services are satisfying the public need in the way in which it is proposed to satisfy it in this country.
In addition to the use of the telephone service for high frequency there is, of course, another system which the Ullswater Committee have in mind, and that is the use of the electric power mains for the transmission of programmes. I cannot do better than quote a reference to the possibilities of the use of power mains for broadcasting made by Dr. Walmsley, a Post Office expert on wire broadcasting, in an interesting article from him which appeared recently in the Post Office Electrical Engineers Journal. He said:A considerable amount of experimental work in England has been carried out on a carrier distribution over power networks. One obvious disadvantage of this system is the fact that to provide services in any area the whole of the area feeders must be energised, regardless of the number of listeners taking the service, with a consequent wastage of energy; furthermore, suppression of noise is a formidable task.He went on to say:The carrier system, whether applied to power or telephone lines, requires a receiver on the listener's premises, and from the cost aspect this constitutes a disadvantage.After extensive inquiries which my associates have made, not only in this country but on the Continent and in America, where more than 6,000,000 dollars have been spent in experiments over many years, they agree with Dr. Walmsley, and 1729 do not consider that the use of power networks for carrier systems of distribution of entertainment in this country is either practical or economic. We see, therefore, that the Ullswater Committee's conclusions have been shown by recent experience to be incorrect.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite criticised the action of the Government in giving an extension to relay companies for a further period of 10 years in order that they might develop and extend wired broadcast reception. Is that extension not entirely in line with the general policy of the Government at the present time to give encouragement to private enterprise to provide for the needs of the country? We have seen this in operation in the aircraft industry. Shadow factories have been set up and various State workshops have been operating at full blast, but private enterprise has been called in in all its forms to help the country; not only that but, as hon. Gentlemen opposite have pointed out, subsidies of one kind and another have been given to help private enterprise in this task. There is no suggestion of a subsidy being given to the relay companies, which are able to assist in a national need and to provide for a public demand.
These services fulfil a very real peace-time need, but they can be very valuable in war time. They are similar to our Mercantile Marine, the trawlers of which catch fish in peace time and catch mines in war time. It is essential that our Mercantile Marine should be extended and developed and be kept virile and in a flourishing condition, so that in war time it may catch fish and mines as well. The Postmaster-General has explained that in time of war the ordinary broadcast services might be interrupted, and an hon. Member has pointed out that it is highly improbable that wireless transmissions will be given at all in this country during war time. I support that suggestion, because broadcasting might well act as directional finds for hostile aircraft. Furthermore, you do not want the enemy to hear everything that you are transmitting. If you put your messages along a wire it is clear that the difficulty is obviated. By the development of these audio-frequency systems in towns and cities, an alternative method of communication is made available to 1730 the localities. It may not be realised that, at little extra cost, special power plant can be installed to make these various systems in the localities independent both of the telephone and of the electrical systems, and that they would then be valuable for making local announcements in time of war, under the control of the Government. Such a service can also be used for giving information to the local public on the one hand, and also for A.R.P. officers to communicate with their action posts on another channel.
This is a valuable additional asset to the country which can be operated in peace time without cost to the taxpayer. I notice that there is upon the Order Paper a Motion in the names of a number of hon. Members for Liverpool asking the Government to give assistance for the purpose of effecting a reduction in the rates and reducing the number of persons unemployed andby expediting the air raid precautions and road and bridge building, prepare the city to meet fully its important role in the event of national emergency.The proposals outlined this morning by the Postmaster General carry out the terms of that Motion, with the important addition that there is no cost to the taxpayer. Rates are reduced, because relay companies pay substantial way leave sums to the local authorities, employment is given locally and a National De-fence service is established.
The Ullswater Committee made its recommendation for another reason. There was the suggestion that relay companies could unbalance the programmes of the B.B.C., which would not be in the national interest. The Postmaster-General has described how when more than two programmes are given two will be British Broadcasting Corporation programmes. It is obvious, with the developments that are taking place at the present time, that more than two programmes will be given. There can, therefore, be no unbalancing of those programmes. One of the main considerations and doubts which influenced the Ullswater Committee has been automatically removed by technical development.
§ Mr. Wakefield
The position is that one B.B.C. programme is given in its entirety, and for 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. of the time the other B.B.C. programme is also being given; but, as I have pointed out, technical developments are such that there will be more than two programmes given, and that the difficulty which was foreseen by the Ullswater Committee will no longer arise. The industry is prepared to co-operate to the fullest extent possible with the Post Office. I cannot see why hon. Members opposite should be so bitter against an industry the leading companies of which—I speak from personal experience—employ trade union members, pay good rates of wages and provide good service which the public like. It provides employment and does a number of very useful things. The companies make profits, but out of those profits they pay, let us not forget, National De-fence Contribution and other tax payments. Why should a service which is being run in a satisfactory manner not be allowed to continue? The industry is only too anxious and willing to co-operate to the fullest possible extent with the Postmaster-General in developing this service in accord with the public need, and, in particular, in those industrial areas where it is necessary, for the purposes of National De-fence, that such a service should be developed as rapidly as possible.
Those responsible for developing this service realise that they have their special responsibilities. Special consideration is given to institutions such as hospitals, miners' welfare homes, blind persons, and so on, and to charitable institutions. Those responsible are only too anxious to discharge their responsibilities in the national interest, as well as in the interest of making the profit which hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to consider such a wicked and dangerous thing.
§ Mr. MacLaren
It is reported in the Press this morning that:If we look up the shareholders of the broadcast relay service, we find—as with most important companies nowadays—that they are anonymous nominees, mostly Hoare's Bank nominees in this case.1732 Is that so, and, if it is, why are the shares placed in the names of nominees?
§ Mr. Wakefield
I know that in a number of cases the shares are in the names of bank nominees, but I cannot control that. If individuals wish to buy shares and put them in the names of bank nominees, they are perfectly entitled to do so, since the companies are public companies, as long as the law allows them to do so.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole
After listening to the somewhat long speech of the hon, Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield), I think some of us will feel it incumbent upon us to put down a Motion drawing the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the fact that he is losing the opportunity of considerable additional revenue from those who obtain free advertisement in this House for some particular service in which they are interested. I congratulate the hon, Member on the very wonderful free advertisement he has given the wireless relay services in his long speech. Before I deal with one or two of the points which arise, I cannot resist taking up the challenge of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). We have become accustomed to the hon. Member's little incursions into our debates on Fridays. If it had not been seen advisable to make him a knight, I should think that the next best thing that could have been done would have been to make him a fairy, because we are accustomed to his flitting in and out of the Chamber, never remaining very long, and treating us to some of his very clever wisecracks, after which we miss him for the major part of the debate. To-day he endeavoured to draw some parallel between those who speak in this Chamber because they have a financial interest in a particular industry and those who, because they are trade union secretaries or representatives, speak when an industrial dispute is raised in the House. The obvious difference, of course, is that, no matter how eloquent the trade union representative may be, or however well he may fulfil his task, his financial position is not materially altered by his interest. He is doing a thing for which he would be paid in any case, and he is not speaking in order that he may further his own particular vested interest.
1733 The hon. Member for Swindon took some exception to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley) in which he characterised the relay service companies as middlemen. He also tried to deny the suggestion I made that the relay services obtained their raw materials free of cost, and he drew what, in my opinion, was the very false analogy of milk distribution and bread distribution. Surely the hon. Member docs not suggest that the milkman gets his raw material free of cost. The cost of production there is fairly expensive, and it is borne by the industry itself; and precisely the same thing applies in the case of bread. But in the case of the relay services the whole cost of production and distribution, and of the profits on the distribution, is going to be borne by one person only, namely, the person who has to pay the annual licence fee of 10s. We do not mind, as wireless users, paying 10s. for the enjoyment we receive, but we are entitled to ask whether we ought to be required to pay a licence fee of 10s. per annum in order that companies may make the profits of 37½per cent. revealed by my hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross. I do not think that the vast body of wireless listeners in this country ought to be asked to pay 10s. per annum in order to perpetuate a system whereby one section of the community gets a very excellent rake-off from what, after all, is an enterprise that has been developed as a public service.
§ Mr. Wakefield
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the relay companies should pay a licence for this purpose; and, if so, would he also suggest that wireless manufacturers and people who sell sets, providing a similar service to that provided by the relay companies, should also be licensed and pay a contribution?
§ Mr. Poole
No, Sir; what I am suggesting is exactly what we are endeavouring to advocate in this Debate, that is to say, that the relay services should be in the hands, not of people who exploit them, but of the Post Office. That is exactly our case½that it should not be possible for individuals to exploit these services for personal profit.
The hon. Member for Swindon also made a point with regard to the position in time of war, namely, that it would be undesirable that messages should then be 1734 broadcast because it would be possible to use them for the purposes of direction finding by enemy aircraft. Surely the relay companies at the present time are dependent for their programmes on the programmes they pick up from the broadcasting service. Does the hon. Member desire that there should be a responsibility on the State to feed into the whole relay service by wire the programmes of the British Broadcasting Corporation? If he does, he desires more than I thought he had the audacity to ask for.
The Ullswater Committee said that there was a danger that the balance of the British Broadcasting Corporation's programmes might be upset by the relay companies picking and choosing. The hon. Member said that that was not likely to occur, and that the relay companies had no intention of doing anything of the kind. I have been turning up the hon. Member's remarks on this subject in the debate on 29th April, 1936. That was before the relay companies had arrived at the very nice position in which they now find themselves, of having an assured ten years' licence ahead of them. The hon. Member quoted a letter from a constituent of his, who wrote that:It is with regret that I hear that the Government is considering taking over all relays and running them on the Post Office system. Why should we have programmes which the British Broadcasting Corporation pick for us? At present we have to rely on foreign stations to make wireless worth having.The hon. Member made this comment:If this recommendation of the report is adopted, it means class legislation and differentiation.''I do not quite understand in what connection the hon. Member used the words "class legislation". He went on to say:It means that the wireless exchange, which is a collective receiving set, will not be permitted to give to its subscribers that which the individual person, with his own receiving set, is able to get. I suggest that, before entering upon a dictatorship of the air, we should be very careful. That is the sort of thing that is happening in certain foreign countries."—"[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1936; col. 967; Vol. 311.]Obviously, in 1936 he desired to reserve to the relay companies the right to broadcast programmes wherever they might deem it advisable to pick them up. Today, in view of the fact that he has received this very excellent present from the Postmaster General, he is prepared to agree that only the British Broadcasting 1735 Corporation's programmes should be put on the air.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I think the hon. Member has misunderstood the position. What I said was that the position had changed owing to technical developments, and that in the near future more than two programmes would be given. Two would obviously be from the B.B.C., and any others would be obtained from other sources. That completely answers, I think, the point which the hon. Member is making The position has changed on technical grounds since I made that speech.
§ Mr. Poole
There is not a great deal in the point, but obviously, the hon. Member has changed his mind, and I cannot help thinking that one of the factors which has helped him to do so is the excellent guarantee he has received. I have really intervened in this debate because I was one of those fiddling fools —if I may use the term—who fiddled about with crystals and crystal sets, and graduated through every stage; one of those who in the early stages manufactured two-valve sets, for which we had to manufacture our own parts—and which would occupy half the space occupied by the Table of this House. Having had that technical experience, I thought I might express my opinion on this. We have really a most amazing Government. I have been in this House some 14 months, and the longer I sit here the more I am amazed at the Government. Whenever they have any problem to which to apply themselves, they always set up a committee of the best people they can obtain, who explore every aspect of the problem and take expert evidence. The Government then shelve the Committee's report for one or two years; and then bring before this House proposals which have absolutely no bearing on that report. The Postmaster-General shakes his head. If it is any comfort to him, 1736 his is not the only Department which does this. In fact, it is becoming the practice of every Government Department. I was interested to see that the Postmaster General, dealing with this very subject in a somewhat lengthy speech on 29th April, 1936, said a good deal of things about wireless broadcasting, but nothing about the relay services. It was a completely non-committal speech. I could hardly understand it until I came to the closing sentence, in which he said:I am looking forward to a further Debate, when I hope to be able to speak with greater freedom. —"[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April, 1936; col. 1040, Vol. 311.]I suppose this is the Debate that he was looking forward to, in which he would be able to speak with greater freedom. I suppose that in the intervening period, no matter what the Ullswater Committee had reported, the impression made by the relay services has enabled the Post Master General to say that he is going to give them this 10 years' period, no matter whether it conflicts with the national interests or not. As there are a number of other hon. Members wishing to speak, I will refrain from dealing with the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), except to remind him that if he wishes to be logical he will have to apply his conclusions to all spheres of Government control, and that there will then be no reason why we should not revert to the feudal system and each have our own private army, because competition is so good.
In another speech, the Postmaster-General said that he had never taken part in a Debate in which his position was more difficult than it was in debates connected with the B.B.C., as he had to discuss matters over which he had no control in detail. We appreciate the position of the Minister in that respect; but if his position is so very difficult because he has no control in detail over the B.B.C., why does he make it so much more difficult by throwing away any prospect of having control in future over the relay services? In future, it will be practically impossible for hon. Members to receive any reply to any criticisms which they have to make about the services operated by the relay companies. The right hon. Gentleman will be quite free to plead that he has no control over them so long as they conform to the 1737 terms of their licence. If it be proved that they are not giving the service they ought to be giving, he will be able to plead that he has no control over them in detail. If he did really resent the fact that he has not greater control over the B.B.C., why did he not decide to reserve the control that he has over this part of the broadcasting services? The Ullswater Committee said:We recognise a considerable public value in the system"—that is the relay system"—provided that it is conducted under conditions which will ensure its development in the public interest, good technical equipment, and a programme policy in accordance with B.IS.C standards.It went on to say:Present conditions have a contrary effect. A system of separate privately-owned exchanges naturally results in the provision of service only to those centres of population where conditions are most favourable for making a profit.I suggest that that is one of the greatest criticisms of the Postmaster-General's proposals. There will be left vast rural areas which will never get this service while the service is in the hands of private enterprise. The basic doctrine of capitalism is that it will function only where there is a profit to be made. Many of us are concerned with the drift from the land. I suggest that this House has no right to penalise those people who are compelled to live in the remoter parts of the country, and to deny them a service given to the town dweller, because the interests of the relay services would be at stake. The hon. Member for Swindon said that to give those people that service would be completely uneconomic and would cost £2,000,000 to £3,000,000. I do not think that is an exorbitant price to ask for the provision of such a service in the rural areas. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he is denying to himself one of the best means he could have for the development of the telephone service in the rural areas? I was privileged to spend six years in the County of Westmorland. I have had the experience of having to go four miles to telephone for a doctor. That is not an unusual experience in some areas. If we could couple with the provision of telephone services the provision of good radio services, that would be the greatest incentive for people to adopt the telephone service.
§ Mr. Wakefield
Does the hon. Member suggest that' there should be a gas works on the top of Helvellyn?
§ Mr. Poole
No, I suggest that the best gas supply is provided in this Chamber; and the hon. Member for Swindon has been one of the best contributors to-day. The Postmaster-General said that that is what we are seeking to do, but he is destroying his opportunity because he is handing over to the relay companies the privilege of doing this thing. He is now doing the job in the way in which this Government usually half do these jobs. There are many physical objections, as the Ullswater Committee suggested. My county borough council, of which I am a member, has rejected relay services because we feel that we have reached saturation point with so many posts and lines and wires about our towns. The City of London is no worse than many of our provincial cities. Anyone going along our streets to-day must be appalled at the tremendous number of wires, and telephone and various other poles which are apparent, and which are an eyesore. The Committee finally dealt with this matter when they said:We see no good purpose in the independent development of these various methods of broadcasting by wire, but consider that the time has come for unification and coordinated development in the hands of the Post Office.This was in 1935, and yet in 1939 we have a Postmaster General who comes to this House and says that he proposes to perpetuate the privately-owned radio relay services for the next ten years and to deny to this service the unification and co-ordinated development which his own committee recommended in 1934. The Committee recommended the public ownership and operation of relay services for the reason which had:led to the establishment of the postal, telegraph and telephone services, and indeed of the broadcasting service itself, as unified national undertakings in public ownership and control.The present proposal is the opposite to central management and control. The uneconomic position which develops in many rural areas could be made an economical one by the unification of these two services and their development in the public interest. I wanted this after- 1739 noon to have said a few words on the broader issue of broadcasting, but I feel that it would be better perhaps that we should confine ourselves to this issue. Again, we have seen in this House the complete triumph of vested interests. We have seen in this House, and we see it to-day in this recommendation of the Government, the subordination of the general public good to the individual interests and profits of the small minority. We have seen the power of the interests of hon. Members who sit on the Government back benches. These interests have made themselves felt and have succeeded in destroying the recommendations of the Committee which took evidence from every possible source, and, in an impartial manner, arrived at its conclusion. We have seen—;it is the one thing for which we cannot condemn the Government—the very magnificent way they look after the interests of their friends and supporters in the country.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
I find myself holding different views from those of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Poole), and it is not the first time, because two years ago we had a difference of opinion on a very important matter, namely, who should have the hon our to represent the Borough of Cheltenham in this House, and I must say that, after the views which have been expressed by the hon. Member this afternoon, I hope that the electors of Cheltenham will not regret their decision made two years ago. His speech raised a fundamental issue between hon. Members on this side and hon. Members opposite—the issue as to whether services in this country, whether they are of very great importance or not, shall be owned by the State or by private enterprise.
I believe that the importance of the wire radio service in peace time has been very greatly exaggerated by many of the hon. Members who have addressed the Committee this morning. The borough which I have the hon our to represent has hitherto rejected the opportunity of having this service for its citizens, and it has rejected it for reasons which, up to the present, have been very good. It means, if you have this service, that the amenities of our towns are going to be very considerably interfered with by the wire? which are necessary. It 1740 means that ratepayers in those towns are to be exposed to a new form of competition, and also that the working-class have to pay an excessive amount for a service which they can receive through ordinary broadcasting in a very much cheaper form. For these reasons the Borough of Cheltenham has hitherto refused the right to relay companies to operate in the town.
Now the question has been raised again, and for the reason which has been put forward by the Postmaster General, that in view of the national emergency this form of broadcasting takes on a new and an added importance. The national emergency is like charity. It is made to cover a multitude of sins, and the people of this country apparently have to endure, because of the national emergency, a great many evils which otherwise they would rather not have. I would like to ask the Postmaster General whether he considers that it is so important from the point of view of national de-fence that there should be a wire relay service that he is proposing to take away from local authorities the right which they possess at present to veto the operations of these radio relay companies in local areas? Up to the present it has been entirely within the competence of local authorities to decide on this particular matter, and I would express the hope that that power should not be taken away from local authorities.
I think that, with regard to the other issue which has been raised as to whether this service should be operated by the State or by private companies, there is this to be said for the Government not necessarily accepting to-day the views which were put forward by a Committee which met three years ago. Conditions have changed very much since then, and the Government are perfectly justified in considering the question afresh in the light of existing circumstances. One reason, apparently, is that the Post Office itself has very considerably increased its responsibilities within the last three years, and the Postmaster-General, who is responsible for that service, is of opinion that the Post Office has at present quite as much as it can successfully undertake without taking on this new and added obligation. The other factor is that, in view of the contribution that it can make to national De-fence and the danger of modern means of warfare to existing means of broadcasting, it is important that this service should be developed to 1741 the greatest possible extent so that it might be as effective as possible if the need for it should arise. If the Postmaster-General says that his Department is already busily occupied with other matters, and is unable to give sufficient attention to this particular service and develop it as it ought to be developed, surely the commonsense point of view is that the private companies which have been operating this service and have built up a great deal of experience, knowledge and skill in the matter, and feel themselves competent to carry on, should be allowed to do so.
It has been suggested that this means handing over public funds to private companies. I do not think that is a fair interpretation of what happens. Whatever financial value there may be existing in this matter at the present time has been created by the Companies themselves, because they inaugurated, and up to the present time they have operated, the service. We have been reminded that the Post Office was given the opportunity of operating the service originally, and declined to do so. The retort from the other side of the House was that the Postmaster General who gave that reply was not sufficiently enterprising. We have, however, to take into account what happened, and the facts of the position, and here we have had private enterprise inaugurating and developing a service which the State was not prepared to do. Would it, therefore, be fair to private enterprise, at the end of a period, to say: "You have done something up to the present and done it well "—no criticism has been made as to the way the companies have operated," and now, whether you like it or not, we intend to buy you out on our own terms and you shall not continue any further "? That does not seem to me to be fair or to be justified by the importance of the service in question.
It has been urged against the service given by some of these companies that they make a profit. If it is to be a reason for abolishing private enterprise in this country because it makes profit, then we are entering on a course which would turn the country completely into a Socialist State. Therefore, we are not justified either by the circumstances of the case, the importance of the service or on any ground raised during the Debate to say that these licences should not be granted for another 10 years. The Post 1742 office will still continue their own researches and will provide service for their telephone subscribers. The hon. Member for Lichfield says that the Postmaster General is throwing away a very valuable opportunity for extending the telephone service, but this is not so for he will be able to say to potential telephone subscribers that with the telephone they will be able to get this new additional service. Therefore, from that point of view his action is justified.
I hope the Postmaster General will take adequate steps to see that in time of national emergency, should it arise, there is proper control over these relay services, because that is only in time of emergency that these radio services are of very great importance. I should also like him to consider whether it would be possible to have control over the charges which are to be made for these services. It was suggested that by allowing a company to continue its operations the House would not have an opportunity of criticising the service rendered. I would remind the Committee that there are a good many things in this country that are bought and sold and although the purchasers are not always satisfied with what they have bought their grievance cannot be raised in the House of Commons. The remedy is surely not to buy those things again. In the same way, these relay companies will find that if they do not render efficient public service they will not make profits and will not continue to succeed. Therefore, the public has the remedy in its own hands. There is no obligation on any individual to continue having the service unless he is satisfied that he is getting value for his money. I oppose the Amendment that has been moved, and in view of the circumstances I say that the Government are justified in not taking action at the present time on the lines recommended by the Ullswater Committee. The proposals they are making to extend the service for telephone subscribers is sound and wise and meets all the demands that ought to be met by a State service in existing circumstances.
§ 2.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
I regret that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) is not present—I have no doubt he has left the Chamber for a good reason—because I should have liked to congratulate him on achieving a great victory for his com- 1743 pany. I suppose my constituency contains more subscribers to his company and provides more profits for his company than any other constituency in the British Isles. For the first time, I have underestimated the importance of a Parliamentary Private Secretary and the influence that he may have upon a great Department of State. The hon. Member for Swindon is certainly a good pusher in a scrum. He knows how to get his head down, and he has done it most effectively on this occasion. I listened to his speech, and for the life of me, with all good will and with the best will in the world I could not discover what the connection was between a trailer and a telephone either in time of peace or in time of war
The only conclusion to which I could come when the hon. Member mentioned a period of emergency and when he emphasised the importance of his relay company —I would emphasise the words "his relay company"—was that if a time of emergency did arise, within 24 hours, by a stroke of the pen, his relay company would be taken over by the State and used by the State, if those controlling the State had any apprehension of their duties to the nation. Whatever Government were in office or in power at such a time I cannot imagine that they would behave with such crass ignorance as to allow anything in the nature of the diffusion of news or anything connected with the time of emergency being under the control of even the hon. Member for Swindon, notwithstanding his brilliant powers.
I well remember the debate that we had three years ago. I was then inundated—I have already said that I have in my constituency more subscribers to the hon. Member's relay company than there are in any other constituency—with communications, and other Members of Parliament were inundated too, not with halfpenny postcards but three halfpenny letters. I went to see some of the poor people who sent me letters. The slogan was "We want Luxemburg". The hon. Member for Swindon has very carefully camouflaged his propaganda by asking these people to say "We want Luxemburg". Upon the front bench is the Postmaster General, with a face which certainly diffuses Christian charity, if he will allow me to say so. I do not think 1744 he would hurt his worst enemy. But the Postmaster-General was pictured as an ogre, a tyrant, who refused to allow the great heart of the British public to beat in sympathy with Luxemburg. I want all those people who have said they like to listen in to the call to "Use Nebuchadnezzar's No. 9 Pills", to "avoid night starvation", to "join the little group of tiny tots," in order to boost a certain preparation which might do someone good or might do someone ill.
The hon. Member for Swindon and his Company have very cleverly used the opportunity to camouflage their real purpose. To-day he comes out not naked but certainly in his football pants, in good form, in high fettle, because he has been able to get the ball from the Postmaster-General and is going to pass it to his three-quarters in order to score what they believe to be a brilliant victory. Then the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) comes on the scene. The hon. Member for Cheltenham has many qualities of heart and mind. He has also held the proud position of mayor of the city where they are poor, proud and pretty.
§ Mr. Muff
Where the retired colonels possess the same qualities and the same charm of manner, but with a rich vocabulary which is not in keeping, at any rate, with the manners of some of the population of Cheltenham who go to church on Sundays. But to return. The hon. Member for Cheltenham made a special plea for this broadcasting relay system, and then his obiter dictum was that he would not touch it with a long pole. Frankly, listening with every good intention and trying to divine what he was driving at, I can only describe it in one word which is not used in the correct society of Cheltenham—he was talking "bunk." He said the times had changed, we are moving in a new world. Times certainly have changed. The hon. Member for Cheltenham did an injustice to the Post Office system of this country, to the Post Office Department and to those who control it, when he said that they have got enough on their plate. There was a certain emperor—or was it a king? — I think his name was Alexander, who sat down because there were no more worlds to conquer, and the hon. member for Cheltenham tells this Committee in 1745 sober language that the Post Office have now reached the zenith, the apotheosis of its greatness, and that they can go home and sit tight because they have no more worlds to conquer.
§ Mr. Lipson
The hon. Member has referred to me on several occasions, but I think he must have misunderstood what I said. Perhaps the language I used was too simple, and that he prefers his own style. What I did say was—I was referring to what had been said by the Postmaster General—that there has recently been a great increase in the work of the Post Office, and that in view of that increase they really have as much as they can manage without taking on new responsibilities. I did not say anything about having no more worlds to conquer or anything of that kind.
§ Mr. Muff
I agree that in his heyday the hon. Member was a classical master of some renown, but I prefer to speak in good Yorkshire country English. The hon. Member interrupted me in one of my most effective passages. I was about to say that it was an insult to the Post Office department, to the brains trust of the Post Office, to say that they had no more worlds to conquer. The hon. Member went on to make a special plea for the relay system under private enterprise, as he called it, but he did not go out of his way to pay one mead of praise to the brains department of the Post Office which has made it possible for the great development in this relay system under the Post Office through the telephone to take place. That is where we really part company with the Postmaster General, I say it with sorrow on this occasion. The Post Office have made possible this great leap forward. I know that the hon. Member for Cheltenham is what is called an independent supporter of this standstill Government, but whatever he may call himself, whether the government sits tight or stands still, the Post Office moves. There are more worlds to conquer. Here is an opportunity of allowing the countryside to partake of a double blessing of more telephones in the country-side. Only a few years ago I asked the Postmaster General to give some attention to some of the villages outside Hull. Nothing doing.
§ Mr. Muff
They should have caught the spirit of the hon. Knight. I want to make this point. The research department of the Post Office has made it possible for a great step forward in the interests not only of science but of our great social services, not simply in my own congested constituency but in the countryside 10 or 15 miles away, which is neglected, and even in more remote places still. What is really going to happen? I congratulate the hon. Member for South Croydon(Sir H. Williams) upon the new honour which has been bestowed upon him. He has been referred to in the Debate, during his temporary absence, as a fairy. The Post Master General is acting as fairy god-father or fairy grandmother to this relay system. There was one sinister note in the speech of the hon. Member for Wake-field. He counted it to himself for righteousness that so far his company was making profits. We do not mind his company making profits. He also counted it to himself for righteousness that his company was paying the standard rate of wages, as if there were any special virtue in paying a decent day's wage for a decent day's work. The hon. Member also went on, his breast expanded and he thrilled with pride, as he said that his company was paying something towards the rearmament programme through National De-fence Contribution. Why should not his company pay something for National De-fence Contribution? Why should not I pay? We should all pay according to our means. There is no virtue in it at all. I do not see that he should try to act the part of a Pharisee and look upon other people as sinners, and thank God that he is not as other men are.
The Postmaster General by his decision is retarding the expansion on an economic basis of the telephone system of the country. He has already told the public that owing to developments the Post Office is not so strong financially as it was a year or two ago. Here he has an opportunity to reap something into the national Exchequer instead of into the pocket of a private and prosperous relay company, here he has a chance for real development, and he is giving things away much as gifts are given away with a half-pound of tea. I do not say it with any offence, but surely the Postmaster-General is suffering from a fit of aberration when he 1747 says to the company of the hon. Member for Swindon "Here my friends, I present you with jugs of cream. I am content with the skimmed milk and I will pass on to the British public that skimmed milk, but preserve for you, at any rate for ten years, a position so that you shall indulge in peace and plenty so far as your shareholders are concerned."
§ 2.18 p.m.
§ Sir R. Clarry
I do not propose to follow the last speaker in some of his remarks, but I do want most emphatically to support the Postmaster-General in his very difficult decision, which I think was both wise and courageous in the circumstances. In view of some of the observations that have been made by hon. Members opposite, I think it best to make my position clear at any rate. I am not financially interested in the relay company, but like a number of other Members I was invited three or four years ago to become an honorary president of the Relay Association of Great Britain, on the understanding that all it meant was to preside at an annual luncheon.. That I did. I have not previously taken part in any debate on the subject. During the past year I have interested myself in finding out a little more about this very interesting industry. While I have sympathy in some directions with the Opposition, I think that by trying to force nationalisation on the Floor of this House they are over-working a fetish which will not operate in this particular case.
I am surprised that the Mover of the Amendment did not refer to one of the Minority Reports of the Ullswater Committee, in which the Leader of the Opposition advocated, among other things, that the Post Office should manufacture receiving sets and supply them to the public. If they wish, as they suggested to-day, to take over a smaller industry at its beginning, why do they not follow up the other recommendation of the Minority Report and take over the manufacture of all radio sets in this country and distribute them? If I heard his words correctly the Mover of the Amendment said that public property was being given away. The only evidence he brought to show that that was so was evidence of the appreciation of the shares of a specified company overnight on the Postmaster-General's announcement. I do not think that that is conclusive evidence at all. 1748 It might apply to almost anything. Let me give an instance. Suppose the President of the Board of Trade said that the Government were going to undertake the reconditioning of the dry docks in South Wales, a thing which we are advocating, and that overnight the shares of the Great Western Railway appreciated, would hon. Members say that that was giving public property away? The analogy is complete.
I am glad that a period of ten years has been granted instead of a period of three or four years as hitherto. It is better for the public, because with stability and continuity it is possible to spend money in research and development and to give the public a better service. At the same time no great monopoly is being given away, bcause the Postmaster-General himself has outlined the alternative which it would be possible to provide for telephone subscribers when he said that it was possible technically to connect up with the telephone wires. There is no monopoly granted, and it has to be recollected that the local authorities have to give permission for way leaves, which is a very important matter. Another point stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) was that, as the Postmaster General stated, the Post Office have enough work in hand and are utilising their staff to the utmost, without developing any further undertakings. Quite contrary to the suggestion of the Mover of the Amendment that public property is being given away I suggest that the relay companies are doing a national service in carrying on their work. They are not receiving anything that is public. It is their enterprise in research that has brought this system about.
As far as I am able to speak on behalf of the association which provides for pretty well the whole of the relay operators in this country, apart from one large one, they will find no difficulty in carrying out the wishes of the Postmaster General in regard to transmission, and they are quite agreeable to co-operate to the utmost extent with him, not only with regard to defence in any emergency, but in peace-time matters and developments generally. As to transmissions, they recognise also that the relay station is not to originate messages except in the case of an emergency. Pressure has been put on the Postmaster-General from certain directions for the 1749 utilisation of the relay service in this way, but he felt that, taking a higher and general line, no exception could be made, except in the case of emergency, in regard to originating messages. The members of the association will find no difficulty in carrying out those instructions. I am glad also to notice that the Postmaster-General has given a broad hint to local authorities to co-operate reasonably and substantially, from a technical and financial point of view, with relay companies or relay individuals with regard to the development of this industry which has been of very great service and has brought pleasure and entertainment to the homes of people who otherwise would not have been able to get it in the ordinary way. I heartily support the Postmaster-General's proposal.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
I should like to ask the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry) a question about the association for which he has spoken. Did that association come into being spontaneously, as a result of the wishes of the subscribers, or was it in any way organised by the companies?
§ Sir R. Clarry
I cannot go into the history of the association, but it comprises 70 per cent. of the subscribers, and were it not for the absence of one large undertaking, it would have 95 per cent. of them. It was four years ago when I was first approached by the association. It was got together on trade union principles; they all had the same interests, and they formed an association to look after their interests.
§ Mr. Edwards
Did the companies organise the association, or was it frankly and honestly formed spontaneously by the subscribers, who wanted to get together to improve the facilities?
§ Sir R. Clarry
I do not know the exact history of the association, which was in being before I heard of it. As far as I understand, the operators and the companies operating the relays got together and formed an association in the ordinary way. There is nothing unusual about that.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Marshall
I should like to give the views of the large local authorities on this matter, but before doing so, I should like to refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Newport (Sir R. Clarry). In listening to his speech, I felt that if that was the strongest case that could be made for giving away great public interests, then it was an exceedingly poor case. The hon. Member said that we on this side of the Committee are trying to force through nationalisation. What we are trying to do is to induce the Post Office to travel along the way of nationalisation. The Post Office is a great nationalised service, and this is a natural development of that service. We ask that the Post Office should go forward and complete its great task. The hon. Member said that hon. Members on this side had stated that public property was being given away, and he referred to the possibility of the docks in Wales being reconditioned and as a consequence of that, the shares of the Great Western Railway going up. Having said that, the hon. Gentleman, with great satisfaction, suggested that that was a true analogy. It is nothing of the kind. The hon. Member knows that the rates and conditions of railway activities are controlled by the Government. Therefore, the analogy he gave was not a true one.
§ Mr. Marshall
The rates are controlled by the Government, and I believe the profits are, too. The Railway Rates Tribunal sees to that. The hon. Member went on to argue that the Post office has enough work in hand. of all the weak arguments that I have ever heard, that is the weakest. If the Post office has a great deal of work in hand, and there is before it the development of this vast service, the obvious thing for it to do it to employ more technicians and to give work to thousands of people who could be very useful in this matter and could get a decent wage by doing that work. I think that the Postmaster-General has found himself in a most humiliating position. This matter has been referred to on this side of the Committee as a ramp. It is a ramp. It is a surrender to the clamant voice of private enterprise. We are now to hand over the vast potentialities of the 1751 further development of wireless to absolutely irresponsible companies. Those hon. Members who belong to local authorities have heard of this activity before, and most of the big local authorities have turned it down. To-day, the Postmaster-General finds himself in absolute contradiction to the opinion of the great local authorities, and he has given the companies the sanction of a great Tory majority in the House to go forward and try to induce the local authorities to grant these facilities.
Why have the local authorities turned this down? First of all, they were not going to have little pettifogging companies all over their town wiring this house and that house, taking wires across tramway lines, tramway wires and telephone wires, and making the town nothing less than a network of wires. On that ground the local authorities turned down what were then the diffusion companies. The Committees that have considered this matter —and I can speak with knowledge of one Committee on which I sat—also had to consider the rents which the relay companies charged. The sum of Is. 6d. a week has been talked about very glibly. I maintain that Is. 6d. a week for a loud-speaker in a house where the wiring costs very little is nothing but rooking the public. The radio manufacturers at the present time will let out receiving sets on the instalment system at a lower price than that, and the Postmaster General is doing the radio manufacturers a great disservice by encouraging this ramp.
§ Sir H. Williams
How much does the Post office charge a week for having an instrument in a person's house, in addition to the charge for using that instrument?
§ Mr. Marshall
I listened to the Postmaster-General's speech, and I gathered that, to telephone users the cost will be less than Is.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am asking the hon. Member how much one has to pay merely for the right of having a telephone instrument 'in one's house, apart from the charge each time one uses it?
§ Mr. Marshall
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put that Question to the Post-Master General, who is the proper authority. I do not happen to be Postmaster 1752 General. With the vast expansion of wireless, if there was a relay system attached to the Post office, there is no doubt that the charge could be brought very low. I should not put it at much more than 6d. per week, and I do not think it is worth more. I have said that the local authorities regard the charge of is. 6d. a week as rooking the public. I ask the Committee to consider what it means. It means that a man who has one of these loud speakers installed in his home has, at the end of the year, paid in rent, a sum sufficient to buy a receiving set—I do not say a set of the best kind, but receiving sets are being provided to-day at as low as £2, and very good ones at that. The consequence is that the Postmaster-General, by encouraging this scheme, is doing a great disservice to radio manufacturers and the probabilities are that he will cause hundreds, if not thousands, of men to be unemployed who would be at work if the Post Office itself were to deal with the matter.
We have also heard the argument that the Postmaster General wanted this relay service developed because it would keep him in touch with the public in times of crisis. That is a very weak argument. Does the Postmaster-General believe that the people in the large towns and even in country places, do not get to know what is taking place in times of crisis? There is a wireless set in practically every third house and information is disseminated very quickly. Nor should he forget the fact that his own Department has 2,000,000 telephone subscribers and that there are wires spread about every city and all over the place. It is the easiest thing in the world to disseminate information quickly about any incident or any crisis by using the telephone service and the existing wireless receiving sets. On the whole, I think there is no necessity for this proposal. I believe it is the worst ramp that even this Tory Government has ever tried. If it has to be done, I, personally, am glad that it is being done now, previous to a General Election because it will provide hon. Members on this side with the best election cry that they could have—that the Government are handing over to private enterprise, without any good reason or justification, the immense potentialities of this important and developing service.
1753 What should the Postmaster-General have done? As I say, there are now nearly 2,000,000 telephone subscribers. There are wires going into houses all over the country, and in every street in our large cities. It would have been easy for the Postmaster General to have said "We are going to develop this service; we shall try to give the people a cheap and efficient service and to connect practically every house with the telephone wires." That could have been done without embarking upon this parallel service for which no justification has been offered. Had the right hon. Gentleman taken that course the House of Commons would have been solidly behind him. He has preferred to surrender to the demands of private enterprise. He has surrendered to the demands of hon. Members opposite who are financially interested in these companies, and I believe that he is doing the citizens of this country the greatest disservice that any Postmaster General has ever done them.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Sir H. Williams
I have listened to this Debate with some surprise. When it was announced on Thursday of last week that we were to have a Debate upon wire broadcasting, I thought that to-day we should be discussing those rather difficult technical problems which arise out of this question, and also those constitutional problems which are concerned with censorship. I never thought that we should have to listen to all the strange stuff we have heard to-day which has about as much relation to the facts, as a trade union congress has to reality. I do not understand the cause of all the heat that has been shown. A great many allegations have been made to the effect that all those who have taken part in the Debate on this side have interests in this matter. When a point of Order was raised, before my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) spoke, I intervened to recall a notable case in which it was ruled that if a man had an interest in a question, he was the best qualified person to speak upon it, provided everybody knew he had that interest and that whether he should vote or not, depended on the closeness of the interest.
I honestly think that hon. Members opposite should be more careful about these references to interests. The 1754 majority of them are knowingly elected to this House on behalf of a vested interest. As a rule, it is the trade union interest; in some cases it is the co-operative interest. No one on this side ever protests if an hon. Member who is known to be a representative of the coal miners, speaks in a Debate on coal mines. That is quite fit and proper. No one objects if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) or other co-operative Members intervene in Debates affecting co-operative societies. But it is rather offensive that every time anybody rises on this side who happens to have some connection, direct or indirect, with the question under discussion, that should be regarded by hon. Members opposite as wrong. Why should that be regarded as wrong, if hon. Members opposite are considered to be acting properly in rising to speak on behalf of their vested interests?
§ Mr. Silverman
Does the hon. Member really draw no distinction between the interest which a man has in a representative capacity on behalf of others, and the interest which a man himself has, financially and directly, in some particular matter?
§ Sir H. Williams
Let me take this case. A number of hon. Members in this House are officials of trade unions. I happen to earn part of my income as an official of an organisation, which is fundamentally commercial, associated with the electric supply industry. Therefore, if I happen to take part in a Debate on electricity, I always mention the fact that I have a very indirect interest. What is the difference between my position as an official of that organisation, and the position of an hon. Member who is an official of a trade union? There is none, and we on this side are growing a little tired of these references by hon. Members opposite. I asure them that if we wished to do so, we could make their lives impossible by interruptions every time they got up, as to the interest on behalf of which they were speaking. Life would become intolerable if that were done.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am endeavouring to answer it. I have just been appointed a member of a Select Committee to examine the Solicitors Bill. Who are the 1755 three Members who have been chosen by the Party Whips to act on that Committee? I am the independent Member. Everybody knows that I am not a solicitor. Of the other two, one is a solicitor who has been nominated by the Whips of the hon. Member's party. The other is a solicitor who sits on this side of the House. They have been selected because they are fair-minded men and because, as solicitors, they have a knowledge of the subject.
§ Mr. Silverman
Still they are acting in a representative capacity and without any personal financial interest.
§ Sir H. Williams
No, because the Solicitors Bill will impose certain obligations on the hon. Member and his two colleagues. There is a direct interest, but we know that they will rise above it. Therefore, I say, let us have a little less of this kind of thing. It is quite unnecessary. As far as I have any interest in this matter, it is an interest hostile to the relay system. But why is this vigorous attack being made on the relay services? What public interest is being given to them? They have created the interest. This is not something which the Post Office invented and handed over to them. Every customer whom the relay people get, provides 10s. to the right hon. Gentleman's broadcasting fund. They bring revenue. They have not been given anything by the State. They invented this system, but, as a sequel to the Postmaster General of the day nationalising the telegraphs in 1869, and the State having lost money on them ever since, the Postmaster-General, when the telephones were invented, regarded them as an extension of the telegraphs and claimed a-monopoly of telephone communication. As a result, when broadcasting came along the same principle was applied, and the Postmaster General in his collective capacity gave himself the monopoly of the broadcasting service. The State pinched the lot, to be quite plain.
A number of gentlemen invent a means of distributing programmes to the public more economically than they can get them otherwise, and what is that system? You pay so much a week, and as a result your wires are run from a central station to your house, you are provided with a loud speaker and a switch, and in some 1756 cases the licence is included, although in other cases it is not. You are not compelled to take it. It is plain, unadulterated nonsense that has been talked during most of this Debate, alleging that this is a great transfer from the State to private enterprise.
§ Mr. John Morgan
Will they undertake to supply a village on the top of the Pennines in the same way as a telegraph service is supplied?
§ Sir H. Williams
Will the local authorities supply water to a village on the top of the Pennines? Can you have a telephone at the same price at the top of the Pennines? No, you cannot, unless a number of local people get together and guarantee the cost of the service. Again, if you want to telephone for a long distance, you have to pay half-a-crown instead of a penny. When the hon. Member for the Brightside division (Mr. Marshall) was speaking just now, he said that this Is. 6d. was a ramp, and when I put a question to him, ho evaded the answer to my question. What is the real truth about the telephone system in this country? With all respect to my right hon. Friend on the front bench, it is so dear that no working man in this country has one in his house. There are 3,000,000 telephone subscribers, roughly speaking—within 100,000—and if you deduct those used in business premises of all kinds, the number of homes in which the telephone is kept is in the neighbourhood of 2,000,000, as the last speaker indicated. But there are 9,000,000 homes that have electric lighting supplied to them. The telephone is so dear that the standing charge is £5 a year and in some cases it is at least 2s. a week, with no service, but merely to have it in, and each time you use it you pay your penny extra. I agree that there is a certain number of free calls now, but that is 6d. a week at least more than this broadcasting service costs.
It is not as if the Post Office telephone service really was so marvellous as it is sometimes claimed to be. Let me give an example. I have a cottage down by the sea, where I shall possibly be later this evening, and there I know two people. One of them was building a house, and the other wanted to hire a house for the August holiday last year. The man building the house signed a contract in March for a telephone in July, when the house 1757 would be finished, but when I came, there was no telephone. The other gentleman, a stockbroker, took a house for six weeks and signed a contract in June for a telephone, because the house had not got a telephone in. They accepted his contract, and he had the whole period of his tenancy without a telephone. Towards the end I wrote to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench who has since been promoted to be Minister of Pensions. He was in Belfast at the time my letter reached him, but four days later I saw men with pickaxes digging up the road and laying a cable. That is only a measure of the personal efficiency of my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Sir W. Womersley). But I made some inquiries as to the cause, and what was the reason why those two people could not get their telephones. When that particular estate was laid out the proprietors said to the local telephone management, "You had better lay down a cable with 100 lines in it, because the development here is likely to require it." Ultimately, because of that extraordinary thing known as Treasury control, they were only allowed to lay down a cable with 50 lines in it, and for a period of eight months no solitary human being could be put on the telephone in that district, because they had not developed their lines in anticipation of demand. I say that with great respect to my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench below me. I do not blame any of them. It is that dreadful, remorseless machine, with a quarter of a million people in it, with its routine methods, which will go on and on, whoever is Postmaster-General. To pretend that this is a marvellously efficient instrument of progressive electrical engineering is to talk absolute nonsense.
I listened with profound interest to the right hon. Gentleman who made the principal contribution from the opposite side of the House, and he, like everybody else, with one solitary exception, namely, the hon, and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), did not refer to the system that is likely to operate. There are three or four known methods of broadcast communication. One is the ordinary wireless receiver; another is the relay system which has been so widely discussed to-day and with which my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon, as one of the pioneers, has some honourable connection. Then there is the system, which the Postmaster- 1758 General is developing, of using telephone wires—and let me say that not all the research in this matter has been done at the Post Office. No one should ignore the name of Capt. Eckersley, and those of us who are acquainted with his work know what notable service he has rendered in this connection and that he is largely, though not the only man, responsible for the system to which the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford referred, the system of the transmission of broadcast programmes over the electric light lines right into our houses.
There are 9,000,000 people already wired-up for electric light. The expansion of the electric light supply is so rapid to-day that the addition is 600,000 a year. It is expanding at a rate some five times greater than that at which the telephones have expanded, and in about three or four years from now, with the exception of the gentleman on the top of the Pennine Range, virtually everybody will have electricity in his home. That is roughly the position. Naturally it is a very slow process in scattered districts, because for the first few years it involves a loss, but the expansion is now going on so rapidly that it has expanded 50 per cent. in the last five years, and one can anticipate that in three or four years from now every home in this country, virtually speaking, will have electric light laid on.
§ Sir H. Williams
As a rule in a village 40 miles from London there is some other large centre of population near, and in any case there are not many villages 40 miles from London which have not got a supply. The number of exceptions is rapidly becoming trifling, and four years from now I predict that, virtually speaking, saturation point, so far as the number of subscribers is concerned, will have been reached. If this system can be used, obviously it is the best system, with three times as many immediate customers as the Postmaster-General can offer at the moment, and in four year's time it will be four-times as many. But do not let anyone blind his eyes to the fact that there are grave technical difficulties still to be overcome. Though I was brought up as an electrical engineer, 1759 I degenerated into an electioneer, and as a result my technical knowledge is not as good as it might be. Hon. Members are all familiar with the great grid lines running about the country, some at 133,000 volts, some at 33,000 volts, and some at 60,600 volts. I am advised by those who are really technically expert in this matter that to transmit programmes over those high tension lines with subsequent transformation down to the lines that go into your house, presents very considerable and as yet unsolved technical difficulties, but if the transmission were from the Post Office, with the programme coming from the B.B.C., over the telephone line into the sub-stations of the municipal and company electricity undertakings, so that the programme could go on to the low tension mains into your houses, there would be a convenient combination of this system with that of the Postmaster General, and I think he might equally well on his telephone lines transmit direct to the relay companies.
I am not exclusive. As far as I have an interest, it is that of the distribution of electric supply. I see no reason why my interest should be destructive of that with which my hon. Friend is connected, I am describing a system which will be operated as to two-thirds by the municipalities and only as to one-third by companies, but that does not make me prejudiced. I recognise that there are existing interests which operate electric supply over a large part of the country. Progress might have been more rapid if they had not come in but they are there, and they will stay there. I accept the fact. What is going to be the effect immediately if all this is going to happen tomorrow? I believe the electric supply industry draws between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 a year from users of wireless apparatus in heating the valves up. The industry with which I am associated sells to the public 400,000,000 units for use in wireless sets at a price between£2,000,000 and £3,000,000. If the system of wired broadcast is adopted, the immediate effect on the electric supply will be adverse, because the system uses less current. It will probably cut the revenue in half. Nevertheless, even though the immediate effect will be financially adverse, that is no reason why this increased service which wired houses makes possible should not be placed at the disposal 1760 of the community. I am certain that the greater number of ways in which you can use the wireless will greatly benefit the electric supply industry, though they may suffer a temporary set back.
We have had a Debate which on the commercial and political ground has been rather a wrangle, but behind that wrangle there are some very grave technical problems to be solved, problems of the most abstruse kind, in the realm of electric theory and its application in practice. I should like to urge upon the Postmaster General that he should endeavour to get into conference with technical representatives of all these various interests, the interests of the relay companies, of the Post-Office, of the B.B.C., of the electric supply industry, both on the company and the municipal side, of the manufacturers of apparatus, and of the very large community which distributes the apparatus—every town has a number of wireless shops—a very powerful body. All these technical interests ought to be brought round a table. We have to think of the problem not only whether we ought to have a nationalised service or otherwise, but how we are going to administer the best service from the point of view of the public. I hope all these interests will be brought together so that their technical knowledge can be pooled and they can find out the best way. I think in practice large numbers of people will have independent sets and large numbers will continue to use relay services. If we have this service over the electric mains, very large numbers of people will use that. In many cases you will find people having access to both systems simultaneously. There is plenty of room for all. The technical problems are far more than the political problems that we have been discussing. I urge on the Post Office from that point of view to consider taking the initiative and having a conference of all interested in the problem from a technical point of view.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant
I think the Debate, apart from the opinion of the hon. Member that it has been somewhat of a wrangle, has none the less been exceedingly interesting. I was interested to hear the hon. Member's observations in connection with the Post Office. He gave an illus- 1761 tration, by way of getting a dig at the Post Office, of delay in respect to the installation of a telephone service. I could quote innumerable similar instances where people have been anxious to get an installation of electricity from private companies, and it took far more time to obtain it than to get a telephone installed by the Post Office. [Interruption.] I am speaking now. I am not giving way. The hon. Member speaks about the overbearing hand of the Treasury. We are not responsible for that. The Government can do much to alter that, and if the Postmaster-General is prepared to put up a fight with the Treasury, he can probably get that control considerably modified. [Interruption.] I am not giving way. The hon. Member for Croydon (Sir H. Williams) must learn to sit down and take his medicine, and we are not always going to coat it with a little jam. He is too fond of interrupting, and invariably with the idea of putting a stranger like myself off his guard. I can readily appreciate his electioneering ideas and his interjections with a view to putting one off his subject, but he must become as good a listener as he is a talker. There is no more reason for him to attack the Post Office than to speak so heatedly when we on this side make charges against private enterprise. If this were a proposal to interfere with some electricity undertaking, the hon. Member would become as heated as any Member on this side.
There is a vital principle involved in the proposals of the Post Office in respect of the subject that we are discussing. I think it is excusable if people who hold these principles to be vital exhibit some heat. None the less I think the Debate has been an exceedingly interesting one. The hon. Member for South Croydon himself gave us some very interesting technical information about the electricity industry.
I hope the Committee will pardon me if I am a little reminiscent. At the time when I was at the Post Office the country was confronted with grave commercial and industrial difficulties, in short with an economic slump, and some even called it a blizzard. It was suggested that we should endeavour to mitigate the unemployment problem by speeding-up the telephone service and making it available for more people in the country. We know that in the circumstances then prevailing 1762 that was almost an impossibility. The charge for the telephone put it out of the reach of the majority of would-be subscribers. It occurred to me as a mechanic that if we could use the telephone lines for the broadcast service it would be an undoubted inducement to the public to take the telephone into their homes. I sent for the chief engineer of the Post Office, then Sir Thomas Purvis, to come and have a talk with me, and I put my proposal to him and I asked whether he thought it was a practicable one. The relay service was then in its infancy; it had been tried out only in one or two places. Sir Thomas considered the matter and said, "I will have research made at Dollis Hill Research Station." A few months afterwards he reported that it was quite a practicable proposition, and added, "I will go ahead with the development of the scheme and will get my engineers to think out ways and means of manufacturing quite a modest receiving set to attach to a telephone wire." From his point of view there was not need for an intricate receiving set, because quite a cheap, modest set would serve the purpose. He went ahead with his experiments.
What I had in mind, and it is what I want the Postmaster General to take into consideration, was that if we could give the dual service at a modest charge it would be a great inducement to ordinary people to have the telephone and the broadcast relay service in their homes. We were working upon that idea. But we had nothing in mind like a charge of Is. per week. The Postmaster General suggested to-day that probably this additional service would mean a charge of Is. per week. At that time the charge for the telephone was 2s. 6d. per week, plus call charges of Id. To-day the telephone charge is 2s. with 50 free calls. I should imagine it would have been possible to charge probably 2s. 3d. per week for the two instruments, though I do not know for certain. I am persuaded that if something like that can be offered to the general public it will be taken up whole-heartedly, and that there will be a great boom in the number of telephone subscribers. I hope that the Postmaster General will embark on those lines. I am at a loss to understand why this idea should have been left in the pigeon-holes of the Post Office for nine years till now, when the exceptional circumstances with which we are confronted are said to war- 1763 rant the development of this service. I am at a loss to appreciate the reason. I should have thought that a Postmaster General who was desirous of developing the business of the Post Office would have pushed forward with this idea long before now.
There is another point. Why should we be pleaded with to accept the private enterprise relay services on the ground that they will be helpful in the event of war? We should take rather the other point of view, that it would be in the interests of the community and the general public that the installation of wires should be kept to a minimum and should not be increased, and that this can best be done by allowing the Post Office to be alone responsible for the installation of wiring, wherever it might be. You have a conglomeration of wires now, with all these private relay services, in addition to the wires laid down by the Post Office. The majority of the wires installed by the Post Office are underground, whereas the wires installed by the relay companies are overhead, always a distinct disadvantage. On that ground alone I should have thought it would have been to the interest of the Post Office to terminate these private licences.
If these relay services are to continue I see no reason why they should not be expected to pay for the service which they are receiving from the British Broadcasting Corporation. It has been argued that those who take the service from the relay companies pay the licence of 10s. and that is true, but the private companies should pay something to the British Broadcasting Corporation or to the Post Office as well, more especially if the Post Office is to put lines at the disposal of the relay companies. I ask the Postmaster-General to consider this matter. The Post Office will have to go to the expense of the capital charge involved in putting those lines at the disposal of the private companies and, in the interest of the community, some charge should be made for it. Surely the companies might be expected to pay, if not a direct charge on the line, something for the licence which they are to be granted to build up this freehold goodwill which, in time to come, we may be expected to buy back. It is entirely wrong. I wish we were faced from time to time with a Postmaster-General pre- 1764 pared to take a long and a communal view instead of a view wholly and entirely in keeping with private enterprise.
The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) argued that 12 years ago the chief engineer of the British Broadcasting Corporation suggested that the relay system should be developed throughout the country, and there was a good opportunity for the Postmaster-General of that time to develop the service. Another opportunity was presented nine years ago, and it was not taken. We have every reason to express a grievance at the fact that the Postmaster General of the day did not show the business aptitude that should be expected from a man holding such a responsible position. It was not the present holder of the office, I agree, but the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. No such charge can be substantiated against the Department as such, because my experience of the Post Office officials and engineers is that they can hold their own with any employés of private enterprise, and, at the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, there are some of the most enterprising, far-seeing and energetic engineers that are to be found anywhere in the community
It has been suggested that we are not granting these companies anything, but are we not granting them a monopoly in the form of goodwill which is responsible for the increase in the value of their shares? We are now giving them an extended life of 10 years' goodwill. Everyone knows what happens when you buy a business. You pay for the goods that are there, but the greatest thing that you pay for is invariably the goodwill, and it is this valuable thing, which is intangible but which nevertheless exists, that we are handing over to private companies free, charging them nothing for it even by way of licence. On this ground alone, if the House of Commons were interested in the welfare of the community and were looking after the public interest, it would turn down this proposal by an overwhelming majority. It has been suggested that, it was left to private enterprise to develop this service, but the idea did not originate with private enterprise. It is true that it emanated from the individual engineers who conceived the idea, but the private companies are exploiting it. They have no real claim or justification for saying that they 1765 brought it into being; they have simply laid the installation through which the service is given. It is true that they have invested capital, but the value of the in-tangible goodwill exceeds even the capital that has been invested. That is evidenced by the increase which took place in the price of the shares the day after the announcement was made by the Postmaster General in the House.
I say that, in the interests of the community, this service should have been retained by the Post Office. The specious plea that the international situation with which we are confronted is a reason for handing it over to private enterprise, is to my mind all the more reason why it should have been retained by the Post Office, so that the Postmaster-General, who is the controller of the ether, should be the controller of every avenue through which messages can be sent out to the community. Looking to the national interest, one would have thought he would have been prepared to stand at that Box and fight for the retention of such a very vital principle and such a very vital service. What we have seen is a system of grants to hon. Gentlemen who occupy the benches opposite. They were handed over public property in the shape of the Beam wireless, which was originally developed by the Post Office, not by private enterprise. Then the cables were handed over to private enterprise. Now the Government go a step further, and hand over the goodwill and services of the relay system. What is going to happen to the Post Office service in general? If they see a prospect of making money in any other department of the Post Office, they will hand it over to their friends.
Some information has been given with respect to the finances of the company with which the hon. Member for Swindon is connected. He took exception to some of the figures. It would be interesting to know whether these figures, which I have obtained from a responsible authority, are incorrect. I put a question to him during his speech. I find that Broadcast Relay Service, Ltd., in its last balance sheet, has utilised its general reserve of £40,000 and its reserve for contingencies of £30,000 to provide for a central depreciation reserve, bringing that item up to £200,000, including £30,483 which was transferred from the profits of the year to 1st March, 1939. Profits have risen to the present 1766 level from £14,642 in 1934 on an issue capital of £55,550, and most of the capital increase was provided—this is an important point—by a 200 per cent. bonus in 1936, so that the present current dividend of 12½ per cent. is something like 37½per cent. on the subscribed capital. I read these figures because I put a question and, if it was not denied directly, it was indirectly, or somewhat swept aside.
The only other important relay concern is Radio Central Exchange, which has had a less successful experience. There was, however, a special interim dividend of 10 per cent. in March last. Since then the company has had an offer of 8s. per 5s. share, from a source undisclosed, but presumably Broadcast Relay Service, Ltd. Over 75 per cent. of the present shareholders have accepted the offer. I do not blame them; they are on a good thing. They are perfectly entitled to make all the profit they can, but we take objection to the Postmaster General, who is in charge of public property, handing over to private interests that which should be retained for the welfare of the community.
On these grounds, we shall go into the Division Lobby and oppose the Vote which is before the Committee this afternoon, in the hope that, by the registration of our opposition to such an action, we shall enlighten public opinion as to what is taking place and permit them to see that hon. Members opposite stand for entirely different principles from those for which we stand. They stand for the right of private interests; we stand for the right of communal interests. The Post Office is communal property. It should, in all its departments, be run as a service for the community at the minimum charge, and I hope that the day is not far off when there will be a Post-master General who will safeguard the public interest and see that the best possible service is provided.
§ 3,26 p.m.
§ Major Tryon
I am sure that no one will complain of the fact that the party opposite, who are so definitely in favour of Socialism, should discuss the whole of this question on the basis of Socialism. They say they are going to raise that question in the country, and, personally, I believe that it is their advocacy of 1767 Socialism that keeps them off the Government benches. I would like to deal in turn with the points raised by individual Members before endeavouring to sum up the general arguments. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) was opposed, as I think everybody in the Committee is opposed, to allowing relay companies to initiate broadcasts. They must necessarily be transmitting stations, taking in broadcast messages and relaying them to subscribers, but they must not, except in time of emergency, and under Government authority, initiate messages. I should like to thank him for the very kind references he made to the Post Office, and I wish also to thank the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment for his very kind reference to the Assistant Postmaster General, which we must appreciate. I should also like to say how much I welcome the very-valuable help that I am sure my hon. Friend will give to me, and I would add that all of us who have served in the Post Office have a fellow-feeling of pride in that great Department. [An HON. MEMBER: "A communal feeling."] As the hon. Member has raised the point about the Post Office being a communal institution, I would remind him that the Leader of the Opposition has said that the Post Office is not an example of Socialism but of State capitalism. I would not have made that statement if I had not been interrupted, and I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for giving me the opportunity of explaining to him the views of his own leader, with which I am in cordial agreement.
My hon. and gallant Friend raised the very important point of the possibility of wireless in wartime giving directions to aeroplanes attacking this country. I will not go into that technical question, but I know that the Government have been giving enormous attention to it, and certainly, all that he has said would confirm the importance of developing as rapidly as possible means of communicating with the country by wire broad-casting, should it be necessary at any time to close down broadcasting by wireless. That confirms the point that he was making about war-time. I would like to make one point with reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield). I am not going to discuss 1768 the position as to whether Members who are financially interested in any subject under debate should speak, but when an hon. Member sitting opposite said that it was bad form for my hon. Friend to reply, I would ask him whether an hon. Member who had been vigorously and personally attacked should be denied the opportunity of replying to the attacks made upon him?
§ Mr. Marshall
I was comparing the custom here with the custom observed in local authorities where members financially interested in matters before the council neither speak nor vote.
§ Major Tryon
That is not my point. The hon. Member for Swindon had been attacked vigorously personally, and he should be allowed an opportunity to reply.
§ Mr. Ridley
Surely, the right hon. Gentleman will not say that the only reason why the hon. Member for Swindon addressed the Committee was on that account. He meant to address the Committee in any case.
§ Major Tryon
Hon. Members who had attacked him tried to deny him the opportunity to reply. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Poole) made a point that the Ullswater Committee's Report had been completely ignored and that the Government make a practice of appointing committees and paying no attention whatever to their recommendations. The Ullswater Committee made a very long series of recommendations, and the whole of them, with two exceptions, were adopted. One of the exceptions was where the Committee was not unanimous—that is on the subject we are now discussing— and another was a recommendation that a special Minister should be set up to reply and deal with questions on broadcasting problems. Had that suggestion been adopted it would have deprived me of the pleasure of addressing the Committee at the present time. The hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) made a very important point about the use of electric light wires. We are familiar with that question. There are possibilities of utilising electric light wires for this purpose but my information is that this method was tested in the United States of America some time ago and was not successful. We are however keeping it in mind and are prepared to go on examining it to see whether 1769 these very useful existing wires might not possibly some day be used for this important purpose.
We ought to get back to my main contentions, which have not been shaken. My first contention was the very great importance of wire broadcasting in time of war, and that this system has become much more important lately in view of the international situation and the great importance which is generally attached to problems of de-fence. My next point was that, granted that matter is important, we should call to our aid all the available resources of the country in order to develop wire broadcasting as quickly as possible and to get this method available as soon as we can.
§ Major Tryon
I do not see that commandeering companies is a particularly good method of encouraging trade in the country. It was said that we ought to increase the Post Office staff in order to do this work. I have pointed out the enormous strain there is on the Post Office staff and the very large amount of work which we are successfully carrying on at the present time. I instanced the enormous development of the telephone service and the great additions made to that service for purposes of De-fence, also the fact that we shall be taking on a lot of extra work in connection with the telephone broadcast service. When it is asked why we do not take on more staff at the Post Office I can only say that since I have been at the Post Office the staff has been increased by over 48,000. The engineering staff has been increased from April, 1935, to April, 1939, by over 19,000. Therefore, we cannot be accused of failure to enlist additional workers to develop this great system. We can claim that we are making a great contribution towards employment.
There was one point on which I may not have made myself clear. What we propose is that these relay companies, whose help we are calling in for the purpose of wire broadcasting, can be now, and not merely at the outbreak of war, connected by cable and wire with the B.B.C., provided the necessary lines are available. They can now, in peace time, get these broadcasts, and without any emergency measures having to be taken on the outbreak of war their help 1770 will be available to us for broadcasting if the ordinary wireless is not working.
§ Mr. Boothby
Can the Postmaster General give us an assurance that during the next few weeks his Department will give private enterprise every encouragement to develop as far as possible in order to be able to communicate with the masses of the people?
§ Major Tryon
That is what we are doing. We are developing rapidly the State telephone broadcast service and we are also developing the relay service. It has been said that we are giving away the property of the State. I can only say that broadcasting itself was started by a private company and that it is the relay companies which are now bringing messages into homes which otherwise would not reach them, unless they bought their own sets.
§ Major Tryon
That was not the hon. Member's point. His point was that property of the State was being given away. It has never been the property of the State because these relay companies have developed their own service, and the manufacturers of radio sets made it possible for the people not only to listen to the broadcasting programmes but also to make their own selection of any broadcasts which might be going on within the scope of their own set. Neither the origin of broad casts nor of the relay services were the creation of the State, and, therefore, we are not giving away State property.
§ Major Tryon
If we did not do it, it is clear that it is not State property. I want to repeat as earnestly as I can that the decision is a consequence of the position in which the country finds itself. Hon. Members opposite holding the views they do have attacked the Government for calling in private enterprise to our aid. We are also calling in State enterprise to our aid. It is clear that people in the towns will have three alternatives. There will be the State facilities through the telephone, there will be the relay companies, and there will be the ordinary receiving sets produced by the radio manufacturers. When it is said that the 1771 relay companies would charge excessive prices, a most excellent reply was given by an hon. Member opposite, who pointed out that cheap receiving sets can be got from the radio manufacturers which shows the value of competition and the advantages which come to the State through capital enterprise producing cheap goods for the public.
Some exaggerated language has been used by the right hon. Member who initiated the Debate. The word "ramp" has been constantly applied, and we have heard the suggestion that public property is being given away to private interests. I have been looking up the records of the late Labour Government and I have found that these relay companies were increased in number by the licences granted by the party of hon. Members opposite who call this thing a ramp. I am not very clear how it is a ramp when we do it but a most honourable and noble thing when a Labour Government do it, although it is the very thing which they now describe as robbery of the people.
§ Mr. Viant
Can the Postmaster-General enlighten us as to what charges are to be made for the dual service, telephone and relay? That is most important and I have in mind something in the nature of an inclusive charge of 2s. or 2s. 6d. a week. Is the Postmaster-General aiming at something like that?
§ Major Tryon
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for putting the point, and am always glad to answer any questions that he raises because we are both happily associated by service in the Post Office. We are not able to say yet what the charge will be for the Post Office broadcasting telephone service, but it will be under a shilling, and the more it is under a shilling the gladder we shall be. But it will be necessary for people to have receiving sets in order to use it. In that case it will be necessary only to attach the receiving set to the telephone service for people to enjoy this system. We want to get this telephone system developed, and I hope that hon. Members opposite, who are so keen about nationalisation, will do their best to get the service pushed throughout the country. It has the advantage of very good reception and freedom from interference.
§ Mr. Viant
The matter is most important. I quite under-stand that a large 1772 number of people have receiving sets that can be attached, but what I am concerned about is that if this is to be a success it will be a success only if the Post Office are prepared to manufacture a simple receiving set and so compensate subscribers for the extra charge. When I was discussing the matter at the Post Office we had in view an ordinary, simple set, and ideas about it were already being considered at the Dollis Hill Station. Has anything like that been completed yet? The Committee ought to know. Were I at the Post Office now I should be quite prepared to see Dollis Hill Research Station put the set on the market, but the Government are dealing with private enterprise. Has the idea I have mentioned been developed.
§ Major Tryon
Of course the idea has been developed far beyond the days when the hon. Member was fortunate enough to be associated with the Post Office. We shall put this scheme into operation as rapidly and as quickly as we can. In many cases there will be no need for people to buy sets because existing sets can be used.
§ Mr. Poole
For what are working people to pay this amount of a shilling? They already have to pay 10s. for the wireless licence. What exact service is the Post Office giving for the shilling? Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman not think it would be the greatest possible encouragement to people to take advantage of the telephone service if he gave them this additional service, which would be only a very small charge on his Department?
§ Major Tryon
We shall be asking the House to give us a Supplementary Estimate for this, but it is quite a mistake to suppose that broadcast programmes can be connected up with the whole telephone system of this country without any cost. It will cost a certain amount.
§ Mr. Poole
But are you not going to ask for a fee in perpetuity for this service? You would have an initial capital cost to make the connection, but you are asking subscribers for a fee in perpetuity. Are you not compelled to impose this charge so as not to be too great a menace to the relay service?
§ Major Tryon
No, that suggestion is unfounded and unworthy of the hon. Member. If you want to develop the 1773 Post Office service, you must go on year after year making some charge for maintaining the service.
§ Mr. Edmund Harvey
Will the Postmaster-General be good enough to explain why it is necessary to have this arrangement for 10 years? I think many hon. Members realise the difficulty in which the Government are about the service not being expanded if the arrangement is only for a short period, but would it not be possible to have a period of five years instead of 10 years?
§ Major Tryon
The reason the arrangement is for 10 years is that we want to encourage them to get on with the work. When, some time ago, it was limited to three years, there was hardly any development. The shares went down because it was thought likely that it would come to an end for ever this year. We are making it for 10 years for the purpose of encouraging development.
§ Mr. Edwards
Has not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, in his last statement, admitted the point made by hon. Members on this side? He said that when the companies were to wind-up in three years' time, there was no development and the shares went down. In giving them another 10 years, has he not given them, not a monopoly, but a very valuable service which would otherwise belong to the State? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It could only belong to the State if there were no private companies. Has not the Government given to these companies the goodwill of all that which unquestionably belonged to the Post Office, and is that not why the capital value of the shares has gone up?
§ Major Tryon
I cannot agree with that version of what has happened. The companies would have come to an end at the end of this year if the licence had not been renewed. Naturally, they have always received encouragement when they have had an extension of three years or five years, and every Government in the past has given a long period, sometimes five years, in order to get the companies to get on with the work. If there had been a shorter period, there would never have been any development at all.
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I cannot see that there is any powerful reason why we should hurry to bring this Debate to a conclusion, when the Clock already tells us that we have about a quarter of an hour to go, and a great many complaints and reasons why this service should remain in the hands of the Government still remain to be added to the powerful reasons that have been given already. I think it is most unworthy of a Cabinet Minister to trot out, in almost every Debate in which the principles of Socialism versus private enterprise are involved, the fact that when the Labour Government were in power, they did not put into force the principles of Socialism. Surely, it must be obvious even to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, especially after the long training he has had at the Post Office, that it is impossible to Socialise everything in a year or two. A Socialist Government has been in power—[HON. MEMBERS: "In office"]—for two or three years during the last 20 or 30 years. How could it have been possible for them to carry out measures of Socialism in every one of these Departments? How can it be a valid argument on each occasion when this thing comes up to say that, in this particular sphere, the Socialist Government were compelled as a temporary measure to carry on the principle of private enterprise? "Private enterprise" is indeed a strange phrase to use about this particular form of activity. There is no enterprise in it, and very little skill in it. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) knows very well that the greatest enterprise involved in these propositions is wangling the permission of the local authorities to put up the necessary wires. When that is done, to use a vulgar phrase, it is money for jam. Certainly, within a suitable area, there is 100 per cent. in it if it is properly organised.
§ Mr. Garro-Jones
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the company with which he is connected paid a 200 per cent. share bonus in one year. Is he prepared to deny that? Why shake his head if he is not prepared to deny it? Perhaps he will give us the facts as to the dividends that company has paid?
§ Mr. Wakefield
The hon. Member cannot have been in the Committee during the full statement which I made in connection with this company. If he reads the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will see that this company pays 10 per cent. upon the paid-up share capital and the reserves which have been reinvested in the company. The bonus to which reference was made was money which had not been paid out in dividends — [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—but was retained in the company for the purposes of the business.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I do not think the hon. Member's intervention has scored a bull's eye and I am content to leave my statement as it was, that this kind of undertaking involves no skill and no particular enterprise in the best sense of the term. It really amounts to wangling a licence from the local authority; when that has been done, there is a certain profit in it. Moreover, the Postmaster-General knows that these companies select the cream of the areas. They are not going to give a public service. They are only going to those districts in which they know they can make 50 per cent. on their money, and it is an absolute outrage that the Postmaster-General should at this time of day allow them to go on.
§ Mr. Boothby
On a point of Order: I understand that arrangements were entered into through the usual channels for bringing this Debate to a conclusion before 4 o'clock. I wish to know, Sir Dennis, whether you are are cognisant of that arrangement. Some of us would have intervened in the Debate earlier, had we not understood that there was such an arrangement.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I congratulate the hon. Member on his so-called point of Order, but I do not intend to be interrupted or influenced by what he has said. The Postmaster-General is evidently not clear in his own mind as to the reason why the Government have not themselves undertaken this enterprise. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would give me his attention because the debate has not concluded yet. Will he tell us the real reason why the Post Office will not undertake this service on behalf of the state? Is it because the Post Office 1776 have not got the administrative or technical staff, or is it because the companies have persuaded him that they alone have the staff necessary to undertake this enterprise? Would the Postmaster-General be good enought to clarify that point? If the Postmaster-General raised that matter with a view to confusing the issue then I say he was not being honest with the Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "You were not here."] I have been in the Committee at various times throughout the day, and while I have not heard the whole of the discussion, I know that there has been a great deal of repetition on the other side. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not profess never to be guilty of repetition myself.
It really is a remarkable fact that if there is any enterprise in which public losses are certain, there is no objection to the principle of Socialism at all. You can always get the Government to undertake, and private enterprise, to leave alone, any enterprise, so long as it is clear that there is no large amount of profit in it, but the moment you get. An enterprise of this sort, either the Government have not the time, or it is not fair to private enterprise which has originated it. What nonsense it was to say that this enterprise was originated by private enterprise. All that they did was. to act as a sort of technical middlemen in the matter, and it is nonsense to say they arc entitled to earn 50 and 100 per cent. on such an enterprise. The Government would be able to provide the credit for this and other enterprises, such as Imperial Airways and the London Passenger Transport Board, which has just been compelled to make a tremendous increase in fares to pay an additional two per cent. on one of their stock holdings, but every one of these problems could have been met by the Government providing the credit for them, and there is no reason why the Government should not do so except one: There are large areas of assured profits in this country which the Government are isolating for the express purpose of providing large profits for their friends. This is becoming increasingly evident, and if hon. Members opposite think that it is because of the popularity of the Government that we are not in power, they are blinding themselves to the real issues, because I can assure them that when certain other issues which tend to confuse the public mind are out of the 1777 way, there will be a tremendous swing over of public opinion, and none know it better than hon. Members opposite who are sharing the benefits of this system. [Laughter.] believe that the time is shortly approaching, in spite of the somewhat shallow laughter that one always hears on these occasions from the
§ Members opposite, when we shall strike one more blow for the public good.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £50,633,900, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 108; Noes, 149.1779
|Division No. 177.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Acland, R. T. D.||Griffiths, J. (Lianelly)||Parker, J.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Groves, T. E.||Pearson, A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Guest, Dr. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Pethick-Lawrance, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Pool[...], C. C.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Pritt, D. N.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hayday, A.||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Ridley, G.|
|Batey, J.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Riley, B.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Ritson, J.|
|Ballenger, F. J.||Hicks, E. G.||Shinwell, E.|
|Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Silkin, L.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hopkin, D.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Isaacs, G. A.||Smith, Ban (Rotherhithe)|
|Chater, D.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jonas, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lathan, G.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Collindridge, F.||Lawton, J. J.||Sorenson, R. W.|
|Cove, W. G.||Leach, W.||Stephen, C.|
|Daggar, G.||Lea, F.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.|
|Dalton, H.||Lunn, W.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||McEntee, V. La T.||Thorne, W.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||McGhee, H. G.||Thurtle, E.|
|Day, H.||MacLaren, A.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Marshall, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Ede, J. C.||Maxton, J.||Walkdan, A. G.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Messer, F.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwallty)||Milner, Major J.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Montague, F.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Muff, G.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Naylor, T. E.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:—|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Oliver, G. H.||Mr. Mathers and Mr. Adamson.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Paling, W.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Colfox, Major Sir W. P.||Granville, E. L.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Asshoton, R.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Cox, H. B. Trevor||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Cross, R. H.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Cruddas, Col. B.||Hogg, Hon. Q. McG.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Davison, Sir W. H.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||De la Bère, R.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Denville, Alfred||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Blair, Sir R.||Duggan, H. J.||Hulbert, Squadron-Leader N. J.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Eastwood, J. F.||Hutchinson, G. C.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Eckersley, P. T.||Joel, D. J. B.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)|
|Brass, Sir W.||Ellis, Sir G.||Keeling, E. H.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Elliston, Capt. G. S.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham (Scottish Univ.)|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Erskine-Hill, A. G.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Lindsay, K. M.|
|C[...]rtland. J. R. H.||Fildes, Sir H.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Channon, H.||Furness, S. N.||Little, J.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Liewellin, Colonel J. J.|
|Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Gledhill, G.||Lloyd, G. W.|
|Clarry, Sir Reginald||Goldie, N. B.||Loftus, P. C.|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Rankin, Sir R.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Maitland, Sir Adam||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Robison, J. R. (Blackpool)||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C,|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Russell, Sir Alexander||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Evan|
|Markham, S. F.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Ward, Lieut-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Salmon, Sir 1.||Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Samuel, M. R. A.||Water-home, Captain C.|
|Moreing, A. C.||Sand email, Sir N. S.||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie|
|Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Wayland, Sir W. A|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)||Wi[...]kham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Neven-Spence, Major B. H, H.||Smithers, Sir W.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Nicholson, G. (Farnham)||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Palmer, G E. H.||Southby, Commander Sir A. R t.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Patrick, C. M.||Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.:—|
|Pilkington, R.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)||Lieut-Colonel Herbert and|
|Ponsonby, Col. D. E.||Storey, S.||Captain McEwen|
|Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
Resolution agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Four of the Clock, THE CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.