HC Deb 23 January 1947 vol 432 cc461-84

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

8.25 p.m.

Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)

During the Debate on nth December on the subject of broadcasting, there was a reference to the television service. My hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General prefaced his remarks by paying a tribute to the engineers of the B.B.C. He referred to the statement made by the President of the Radio Corporation of America, who had said: They are as good as any in the world. My hon. Friend went on to say with regard to television that the experiments which had closed down when the war began had been taken up immediately hostilities had ceased. He added: Today there is in London, and nowhere else in the world, a regular, daily television service, available to the public seven days in the week. My hon. Friend then made what I thought was a most important reference to this question of a television service, when he said: The Government, therefore, desire not to do anything which might have the effect of holding up or retarding these developments". —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1946; Vol. 431, c. 1184–5.] Although that may be perfectly true, the Government, as I shall attempt to show tonight, are doing very little to encourage development of what is one of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. We shall have to ask ourselves what the position is today in regard to this service and what must be our estimate of it in the future. The television services have been aptly described by one of our leading newspapers as "the Cinderella of the B.B.C." We know that only a very small number of people, living within a narrow range of Alexandra Palace, have the benefit of looking-in at this service. It is recognised that development would have proceeded much more rapidly had the cessation of the service not been necessary at the beginning of the war, and I am sure that everyone interested in the subject will have the deepest sympathy with the small band of enthusiasts who devoted themselves to the development of this great scientific medium which they were forced to discontinue when the war broke out just when it seemed to be at the point of opportunity.

It is not my object to decry the efforts of the technicians who are operating the service; on the contrary. They show great skill, and they have the enthusiasm which enables them to overcome a multitude of intricate and practical problems with which they are faced day by day. When we ask ourselves what the Government are doing to assist them we find that these technicians are being called upon to employ equipment which I think was manufactured in 1936 and which is now out-of-date or is badly in need of repair. The accommodation at Alexandra Palace may have been suitable for the experimental stage of the service in the old days, but today it is very inadequate. Taking into account the out-of-date equipment and the inadequate accommodation I think very great credit is due to those people who are maintaining the service at the present time.

These technicians are entitled to our wholehearted support. We find that they are facing very severe handicaps today but very much greater opposition than existed before the war. They are trying to keep alive this 20th century child, which is struggling for its life against the opposition of the large vested interests who are running the entertainment of this country. We know, so far as the sporting world is concerned, it is impossible for one of the big sporting promoters to be induced to agree, for example, to a big fight being televised. In the same way, theatrical managers will not allow their artists to appear on the television screen.

In the variety world the same position obtains. Before the war, we could at least see films on the television screen which we cannot do today. That is because the film interests are terrified at what they regard as an entirely new type of monster which threatens to consume them. They have decided that it would be against their interests to permit films to be shown on the television screen. Walt Disney films and Micky Mouse cartoons have been very popular and were exhibited on the television screen after the service was restarted on 7th June.

They came to an end, however, on 31st December because Mr. Disney in America has been prohibited from showing his cartoons on the television screen there and the same prohibition now prevails in respect of this country. Day by day the entertainment facilities of this very important service are becoming more and more acute so as to make the programme virtually unattractive to those who might be inclined to buy a television receiver. As to the films which are shown now, we know they must have no commercial value because otherwise they would not be allowed to be exhibited. They have to be so old or so bad so that they are commercially worthless before they can possibly be put on at Alexandra Palace. The news reels which were available before the war—I think Pathé Gazette and Gaumont-British—are also prohibited from being shown. Those who buy a television receiver today will see that only 10 per cent. of the full length plays which are produced at Alexandra Palace should ever be televised, as the facilities available make it impossible to reach a high standard of production.

Technicians are working under the greatest difficulties attempting to give the public the best possible entertainment of which they are capable and they are prevented from doing so by the fact that the script writer who works for television service gets only one-third of what he does when he writes for the B.B.C When one takes into account the fact that the task is much more intricate and that much more rehearsal is necessary to prepare for the cameras, one must agree that something is seriously wrong with. the administration of this department. It is the responsibility of the B.B.C, and of my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General. It seems to me that the trouble is money. It is said that money is the root of all evil. I think that money is the root of this evil, and that the Government and the B.B.C, have failed to give the necessary finance to this great scientific development. The trouble with the organisation is that although it has the technicians who are capable of doing a good job, they have not the facilities available to give of their best because the very best form of entertainment, equipment and accommodation is not made accessible to them owing to the niggardly attitude of the B.B.C.

We know that the service is financed out of the licence fees, and we also know that one cannot run any industry satisfactorily by having amounts paid into the bank day by day. There must be reserves. The television service has insufficient money to carry on its job satisfactorily. So far as the future is concerned, it is based upon previous expenditure. That is quite reasonable having regard to the fact that there has been a war and that the first period of postwar costing has just passed by on which to base their estimates, but unless the Government are prepared to put millions into television we have little hope that it will develop on a nation-wide scale which will enable people in other parts of the country to see what people in London can enjoy up to a point at the present time The payments to technicians present an even more serious aspect A camera man working from early morning until late at night gets from £6 a week to £430 per annum. I ask the Assistant Postmaster-General why it should be necessary for these people at Alexandra Palace to be paid less than the technicians at the B.B.C. Is it because the B.B.C, regards Alexandra Palace as a branch office? Is it because there is a lack of imagination on the part of the Corporation, or is it because there is something wrong with the administration of the B.B.C? There is no doubt that men who use a measuring tape from the camera to the artist are in some cases paid more than the head cameraman responsible for the production. These men are working under these conditions because they believe in television and they have been prepared to accept even a lower salary knowing full well that they are working on a project which will mean something to the nation in the future.

I have dealt with some of the difficulties which they have to face, and I maintain that the Government must realise that this is an entirely new dynamic medium They must get out of their minds that they can approach it in precisely the same way as they have approached broadcasting in the past. There are so many opportunities in television In this country our problems are far smaller than they are in the United States of America because we have a much smaller area to cover, and we often pride ourselves that, however badly we are off here, the Americans are in an even worse position. But this is not the case. If my hon. Friend will read the recent reports, he will find that in the United States of America they have already televised a football match at Philadelphia which was seen in Washington, and that the coaxial cable linking New York to Hollywood, a distance of 3,000 miles, has already been installed to the extent of 2,000 miles. Therefore we must realise that we are not in a better position than the United States, and that over there they have a more keen appreciation of the necessity of developing this vital service.

What a wonderful opportunity we would have in this country if we were first in developing a nation-wide television. We could have a vivid, intelligent education of the masses, It would enable us to increase the awareness on public affairs of our democratic community, and to have a varied diet of entertainment which at present is not possible. This country has a great tradition of family life to uphold and the television receiver is capable of making people change their ideas about going out at night and induces them to gather, round the fireplace, but half the people at the present time who are inclined to sit round at night now lose interest and, in many cases, switch off the receiver.

When I was young, I used to like going to the Zoo. I had a great admiration for the people who were in charge of it because I thought they did a very courageous job. I think that the head keeper of the Zoo televises very well, and most of us have at some time been fascinated by snakes, but one does not want to see snakes three times a week, and the reason why we have these so-called facilities at the Zoo placed at our disposal so often is because it is cheap and the Government are saving money—

Mr. Cobb (Elland)

And the snakes do not mind.

Mr. Lewis

And the snakes do not mind, as my hon. Friend says. But this is really not good enough for a national service, and I see no reason why people who live in Liverpool should not look at the Derby being run at Epsom, and those living at Epsom should not see the Grand National on their television screens, However, it requires money and I hope my hon. Friend will enable the television service to have sufficient funds in order to develop at a reasonable rate.

I think my hon. Friend is very conversant with the difficulty of getting the best possible entertainment on the television screen. He knows full well that the large promoters of sporting events, theatrical managers, and the owners of variety circuits are not prepared to accept what they deem to be a ridiculously small fee when they compare it with the number of people who, in the normal way, would pass through the turnstiles. It is only possible to get over this difficulty by making the system nation-wide so that they will not be catering for only those people who live in the vicinity of Alexandra Palace, but for a much wider audience throughout the country. If Mr. Rank, who is often mentioned in this House and other' places, is prepared in his circumstances to show television on his cinema screens, I do not see any reason why he should not be allowed to do so, because it would have the effect of popularising what is a new medium.

If he is prepared to go to the extent of technical investigation, development, and research for developing production facilities for television programmes designed for his cinemas different from those designed for the home, he should be given encouragement. But why should a national service of this kind have to look to outside interests to provide money for research and development when it should be the prerogative of the Government? At the present rate of development, it will be 1968 before we have television in my hon. Friend's constituency and in my own. If a plebiscite were taken, asking whether or not the people wished to wait until 1968 for television from the B.B.C, or until 1948 from Mr. Rank, they would say, "Let Mr. Rank get on with the job." This is not good enough. It is for the Government to ensure that this system is made available to as many people as possible throughout the country by providing, sufficient funds for the purpose.

I will make one or two suggestions as to what steps I think should be taken now to expedite the development of television services The first point to which consideration should be given is the provision of adequate finance, by means of a State grant. The Television Service must not be regarded as a country cousin, or a branch office of the B.B.C. We must regard it as an independent organisation, entitled to the finance it requires, not only for its day to day work, but also for research and development. My hon. Friend should bear in mind that the developments in technicolour some years ago were the result of expenditure known at that time as the "Whitney millions." We cannot get scientific development unless we are prepared to pay for it. We should endeavour to secure a much closer cooperation with the film industry. There is absolutely no reason why films should not be shown on the television screen from morning until night. The only reason why they are not shown now is because it is prohibited by those who control their exhibition and look on television as a competitor. I think there should be a much larger allocation to television from the B.B.C, revenue. The Government would have done much better if, instead of developing the Third Programme, they had given that money to the Television Service.

There is another point in connection with cable charges which I should like to raise. I understand that the Post Office supplement their income very heavily by charges for service to the B.B.C, There is no reason why they should do that. Why should the television service have to pay full commercial rates for the use of G.P.O. lines? They could give this service reduced rates, and so increase the amounts available for purchase of new equipment which would be well spent. If we are going to create a great national industry, it is essential to look at it, not so much as a domestic industry, but as one of our most important potential exports. If South Africa wants to buy television receivers or transmitters there will be an alternative market, and she would be able to buy from the United States of America, or from this country. Any industrialist can tell my hon. Friend that in regard to the export market the amount of goods sold in this market have a direct relationship with the amount expended in research in his own laboratories. Unless we are prepared to encourage a wide imaginative approach to this question, to regard it as a valuable export commodity in the future, and to avoid being niggardly with the sums of money to be spent, we shall be very far behind when we come to compete in the world's markets.

I am an ordinary "viewer"—I think that is the correct expression to use—an "observer" or a "looker-in." call it what you will. I had a television set prior to the war, and I have one today. There are tremendous potentialities and wonderful opportunities for developing this great national service, but at the present time, due to the difficulties with which the technicians are faced, due to the opposition of the sporting and entertainment world, it is not worth while purchasing a television receiver because the programmes do not warrant the expenses except on rare occasions. Will my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General indicate what are the Government's intentions in the future in regard to this service? I fee] that the radio industry, which after all is primarily interested, will be grateful to him if he will give them some idea of what cooperation the Government will give them in the future.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Cobb (Elland)

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) has raised an impressive subject. Having had some connection with the industry for a number of years, I would like to discuss one or two other angles to it, because I do not think the problem is quite' so easy of solution as has been suggested. I would like to touch first upon the export point. I believe that one of the greatest reasons for putting British television where it was before the war, that is, ahead of all the rest of the world, is because of the export situation. Broadly speaking, it can be said that television divides into two main techniques—the British technique and the American technique. It is true to say that if a country like South Africa or South America started using the American system of transmission, British receivers made to receive the British system of television would be useless in that country. It is, therefore, very important from an export point of view that we put British television ahead of that of every other country, so that other countries who want to instal a system of television transmission will use the British system and not the American one, because once they have put in the American system of transmission British sets will have to be specially designed for that market.

Those who have had experience of mass production know that one of the things that raises production costs is to have to make one type of product using one type of technique for the home market and another using a different technique for the export market. Is it not right to assume that countries will buy their television transmitters in the country which has the greatest reputation for television? From that point of view I think that when my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General replies, he might perhaps bear in mind that he would be justified in urging the B.B.C, to take greater risks than might otherwise appear to be justified.

When I come to the question of what ought to be done about the spread of television in this country, I think that my hon. Friend and the B.B.C, are quite right 'in being a little hesitant. Let us look at the situation. In America there has been developed, by the Radio Corporation of America and other companies, a system of colour television. At the moment I imagine that my hon. Friend and the B.B.C. are faced with this problem—Should they go ahead and open up television transmitters all over the country at a considerable cost and then find, in three or four years' time, that they are obsolete? I am not sufficiently up to date on this particular problem to know whether a television transmitter of the type installed at Alexandra Palace can be easily and cheaply altered for colour television, when it comes.

I do not know, and I believe it would be very difficult for anybody to say at the moment, whether colour television is just around the corner or whether it will be introduced in two or five years. Certainly, some of my American friends seem to think that it will be here in two or three years.

The B.B.C, and the Minister, have to consider that they are spending public money. I believe that with this problem in front of them even the most virile private enterprise would hesitate to some degree. The Americans certainly are hesitating upon this point at the moment. I am sorry to differ slightly from the hon. Member for Bolton. As I see it, this is the crux of the matter. Are we justified in opening television transmitters in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, and perhaps Aberdeen, if we may find in four years' time that we have to scrap the lot?

Mr. Lewis

If my hon. Friend's argument could be sustained, that would mean that we would always be awaiting a further technical development in any sphere of industrial progress, so much so that we would never get anywhere. I hope my hon. Friend sees my point.

Mr. Cobb

I see the point, but I do not know whether it is right because, after all, there is technical development in hand at the moment, as a result of which it appears very likely that colour television can be installed in the near future. I would ask my hon. Friend whether he would buy a television receiver today at a cost of say, about £80 or £100, if he thought that in two years' time it would be obsolete and he would have to scrap it? I think the B.B.C, the Assistant Postmaster-General and the Postmaster-General, are in a situation in which they are bound to hesitate when considering the amount of capital which they would be called upon to invest. Have they hesitated very much? I understand that the coaxial cable, which is necessary, already exists through Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester up to Newcastle.

Then we have two technical schools of thought on this subject. We have the cable interests, on the one hand, and they say that the best system for the transmission of television is by means of the coaxial cable which, before the war, I understand, cost £1,000 a mile. The radio people, aided by the Radio Corporation of America, on the other hand, say that radio link is the thing. It will be a bold technician who would say at the moment which of the two is definitely right. I still think that the battle remains to be fought out to a decision. The Americans certainly take that view. I hope when my hon. Friend replies he will be able to give us some up to date information upon this.

When we consider the situation in America, it will be seen that we are carrying on a battle with the Americans. I say that in the most friendly way. The Americans complain that their industry is not as far advanced as is ours. I think they are faced with an almost insuperable problem caused because they have a different system of broadcasting. They depend upon expenditure by advertisers. Advertisers there are saying to the broadcasters of television, "Where is the audience? When you can show us an audience, we will do some advertising." The people who have the transmitters say, "We cannot afford to put on programmes until you give us some money." That is the battle going on in America. Luckily, we have a situation in this country where we have national funds at our disposal for this service. We are in a much better position. It should be remembered that expenditure of public money is involved and I do not think that we can blame the Post Office and the B.B.C, if they think twice before they decide what to do about this.

There are some other considerations. When we come to the question of television programmes, I do not know, again, whether it is quite so simple a matter as my hon. Friend made out, because, after all, if we spend £1,000 on preparing a play and televising it, supposing that we have 10 or 11 million people with receivers, it is finished. Nobody wants to see it again. It is true that we could film it first, but that is an expensive matter. What is the position in this country today? I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us that the television industry will have more encouragement, because I understand that the situation is that they are held up at the moment for certain materials. It may be that my hon. Friend will have to tell us that television is, perhaps, a luxury, and that he cannot allocate materials to the television industry because they are required elsewhere. I understand that one of the main bottlenecks at the moment, in the London area, at any rate, is glass for television tubes. My hon. Friend may tell us that there is a shortage of glass for television tubes. I also understand that there is a shortage of glass for lamp manufacture, and that a similar type of glass to that required for television tubes is needed for lamp manufacture.

I think that my hon. Friend is entitled to weigh up, if there is a shortage of glass in this country, whether that glass should be allocated to the manufacurers of television tubes, on the one hand, or whether it should go to the lamp makers, on the other—whether it is more important to the people of the country that they should have lamps or television tubes, if there is not sufficient manufacturing capacity to give them both. Those are the problems facing us today, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us better news about the provision of tubes, and other similar materials, for television.

There is a further point, and this concerns B.B.C, technicians. I have a great admiration for the B.B.C, and I was a junior engineer for the B.B.C, many years ago. I have a great affection for that organisation, but I hope that my hon. Friend will give us some news about these technicians. I would like to think that B.B.C, technicians were going to get better rates of pay than they are getting at the moment. I believe that there is a danger that some of our really good technicians, especially on the development side of the B.B.C, may leave the organisation, and it would be a great pity, and would do considerable harm to our broadcasting activities in this country, especially to the progress of television, if these people were to leave the broadcasting service and go into private industry. I believe that we need these people. It has cost us a lot of money to obtain the experience which they have, and the country is entitled to cash in on their experience, which is unique and which is not easily obtainable elsewhere. If these people should leave us, we shall find that we cannot easily get other technicians to replace them, because they do not grow on trees, but are precious, and we ought to see that we keep them. I hope my hon. Friend will look into these questions, and will see that we retain these very precious technicians of the B.B.C.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. Elwyn Jones (Plaistow)

I apologise for my absence at the beginning of this Debate, because it may be that I shall cover points already dealt with by other speakers, but, as one of the few hon. Members of this House who have been to Alexandra Palace, and one of the very few who has taken part in a performance there—a performance which, I understand, had no disastrous effects on the receiving sets—I have one or two observations to make. I want, first, to testify to the real sense of frustration which is prevailing, not only among the technicians at Alexandra Palace, but also among those responsible for the programmes.

As I understand it, there appear to be three main immediate difficulties which have to be faced. There are the problem of accommodation, the problem of conditions of service, and the problem of out-of-date equipment. With regard to accommodation, it is very difficult to know what Alexandra Palace was ever adequate for. It is certainly not adequate for television. At the moment, for instance, any increase of staff is quite out of the question, due to the gross inadequacy of the accommodation available. So far as the conditions of service are concerned, I apprehend that my colleagues have already dealt with some aspects of this matter, but I should like to underline the fact that the complaints of the staff do seem to be justified.

For instance, camera men, who are highly skilled, receive a salary of between £7 and £10 a week, whereas they can easily treble, or even more than treble, their salaries in the film industry. Those men are quite content to work for such salaries in a developing enterprise, but, in the frustrated condition of their employment at the present time, their hearts are going out of the business. They, like everybody in Alexandra Palace, are tired of being the Cinderellas of the B.B.C. With regard to out-of-date equipment, I understand, for instance, that the cameras being used there are 11 years old. It is really a remarkable achievement that the people functioning at Alexandra Palace have made such a magnificent job of work of it in spite of the inadequacy of the facilities available to them. It seems to me that definite decisions of policy must be made in regard to television, in the very near future. As I understand it, one of the questions to be decided is whether television should continue at Alexandra Palace, or whether it should be developed in another place. As I have indicated, it seems to me that Alexandra Palace has very few merits in its favour as a location for the television service, and such merits as there are, are discounted by the fact that the transport provided for this service is practically nonexistent. Ill-paid performers have to make the long trek to Alexandra Palace by tube and bus, there to find conditions of austerity which would satisfy even the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers). What is important is that decisions as to policy should be made now so that, if television is to continue at Alexandra Palace, the redesigning of the existing buildings can be properly carried out.

It seems to me that if there is not to be any fundamental television expansion, consideration might well be given to cutting out the afternoon programme. The inadequate staff working there is really overtaxed in its energies at the present time, and I suggest that consideration should be given to the prospect of abandoning the afternoon programme, although I readily say that I only suggest that as a last resort. We are still maintaining a world lead in this great service, although experts who have recently been to America, and even to France, say that other countries are rapidly catching up with us in technical equipment and methods.

This is a sphere in which this Government in particular can show that public enterprise can achieve very great things. As has already been indicated, there are wonderful developments lying ahead in this field. There is coloured television and there are the prospects of bigger screen developments. With regard to the future of the bigger screen, it is not without interest that the ubiquitous Mr. Rank appears to have acquired the patents relating to bigger screens, and this is another sphere where I think the Postmaster-General might give an indication of future intentions.

Finally, I would like to make two concrete suggestions with regard to television. The first is that the Television Developments Committee should maintain a much closer personal contact with the conditions which prevail at Alexandra Palace. The second is that a real effort should be made to bring the Members of this House more closely into contact with television. Perhaps the Postmaster-General might be able to arrange for more visits by Members of this House to Alexandra Palace, the people who are working there have a sense of being forgotten and abandoned. I think, also, that it would be most desirable if within the precincts a television set could be installed. There are many Members of this House who have probably never seen or heard a television broadcast. I think the time has come when the television service should cease to be treated like a poor relative of the Third Programme, and when we should develop the great possibilities for instruction and entertainment which lie in this new medium which the technique and scientific skill of the people of this country have enabled us to bring to a very high pitch of efficiency.

9.7 p.m.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Burke)

We are obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. J Lewis) for raising this point tonight. I am bound to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Cobb) has very largely replied to a good deal that he said, and, indeed, has anticipated one or two of the remarks that I intended to make. My hon. Friend the Member for Plaistow (Mr. Elwyn Jones) spoke in a similar strain to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton. To sum up their remarks in a sentence 01 two. I think it would be fair to say that their criticism is that the Government 3rd the B.B.C, regard television as a kind of sideline, that it s something of a Cinderella that what is necessary is more money to be spent on it and they would like to see a nation-wide service. With regard to the last pan of their criticism—the desire for a nation-wide service—I can assure them that I agree with them entirely, and, indeed, so do the Corporation and the Government I do not agree that the television service is regarded as a Cinderella neither do I agree that the Government have been niggardly in their allocation of finance I would like to deal with those points

First, let me deal with the question of accommodation and the staff at Alexandra Palace. I would like to join with my hon. Friends the Members for Elland and Bolton in paying a tribute to the engineers and others of the staff at Alexandra Palace. It is true that they are working in unsatisfactory conditions and that the accommodation there is not good, but that is one of the difficulties which the Corporation itself is up against. It is not through any malice on the part of the Corporation. It is just one of those difficulties of getting another building at the present time, which, unfortunately, is common to a great many other institutions. I share the satisfaction of the hon. Members who have spoken about the enthusiasm and the keenness of the staff there. With regard to their remuneration, there seems to be some discrepancy between the figure used by the hon. Member for Bolton and that used by the hon. Member for Plaistow; the hon. Member for Bolton said £4 and the hon. Member for Plaistow said £7.

Mr. J. Lewis

No: £b a week rising to £430 per annum.

Mr. Burke

In any case, I think it is true that the cameramen are not being treated well enough; and so do the Corporation, because negotiations are going on at the present time. I can say, I think with confidence, that the cameramen will receive very substantial increases in their pay Negotiations have been going on with the electricians for some considerable time, and increases of pay, in the neighbourhood of £50 per year on an average, have been agreed to, and, I think, are being paid to the electricians at the present time It is essential that the' Corporation should see that the services of highly skilled men and women should be adequately rewarded.

Mr. Cobb

What about the more senior, and perhaps rather less articulate, members of the staff, who are very precious?

Mr. Burke

I understand that the position with regard to Alexandra Palace and Broadcasting House is that there are common rates in both cases, but if there is any advantage at all it lies with Alexandra Palace, because there are more of the senior appointments there in proportion to numbers than there are at Broadcasting House.

Mr. Cobb

I was referring to the senior people in the B.B.C, as a whole, on the technical side

Mr. Burke

I cannot say with regard to that, but I am certain that the Corporation are mindful of the need to remunerate adequately that class of people.? With regard to Alexandra Palace, presumably that building was taken because of its position in regard to London as a whole, and because of its suitable elevation. It is not adequate enough, and the Corporation would like to improve upon it. The difficulty is, they cannot; attempts have been made to expand the accommodation, but that is not possible without building. Therefore, the position remains very unsatisfactory, and is one of the things which cannot be altered at the moment because of the building situation at the present time. I do not think I need say more about the payment and treatment of the staff.

With regard to the fees paid to script writers, the hon. Member for Bolton suggested that much lower fees are paid at Alexandra Palace than are paid at Broadcasting House. The position the Government have taken up with regard to the rates of pay for scripts and so on is, that the Corporation must be allowed to keep a very general and large measure of independence. I think that is sound. But I am informed that the artists who provide their own scripts at Alexandra Palace are paid at least equally with those at Broadcasting House, and it is only in the case of those who use published scripts that there is a reduction in the; amount paid I think this can be justified because the audience that receives the television services is, of course, very much smaller than the audience which receives the sound broadcasts. After all is said and done, one cannot completely ignore the fact that there is a very great difference in the sizes of the two audiences.

It seems to me, on the question of finance, that that fact—the difference in the size of the audiences—has been made up to a very large extent in the Government's handling of the finances. It has been said or suggested that the Government have not been generous. What are the facts? Previously, the B.B.C, received 75 per cent. of the net licences. By the last agreement the B.B.C, is to receive 85 per cent. of the net licence revenue, and 85 per cent. of a licence that was doubled because it was recognised that the Corporation had not sufficient finances. As far as the Post Office is concerned, it, also, came along and made its humble contribution to help the finances of the B.B.C. Whereas previously the Post Office used to charge nine per cent., it is now only going to charge six per cent. for the service of collection. As a matter of fact, it is always open to the Corporation, if the 85 per cent. allocation is not sufficient, to make representations, and the Government, I am sure, would look sympathetically at those representations.

Mr. J. Lewis

I am sorry the hon. Gentleman went on to the question of finance, because I was anxious to raise a point about script writers. I am sure he realises that script writing is a highly specialised profession. He is now saying that there is a smaller audience for television. Does he realise that we cannot get a large audience for television unless the script writers are paid to produce first class entertainment?

Mr. Burke

I will come to the question of whether we are likely to get a larger audience or not when I come to the question of the sets. I can show my hon. Friend that, whatever the script writers are being paid just now, the size of the audience is increasing, and that, despite all the difficulties, it is increasing at a very rapid rate. I was on the question of finance. The discussion on the White Paper will recall to mind that the Government have realised that, in a very short time, the expenditure on television will amount to £2,000,000; and they have justified taking £2,000,000 from the ordinary licences to finance and to develop the television services, although the portion of the population benefiting by those services at the present time is very small as compared with the other section of the community.

Mr. Osborne (Louth)

Do we understand that the people living in the North and the Midlands, who cannot get the television service, are subsidising those who do?

Mr. Burke

Yes, because unless the television services receive some more finance it will be impossible to carry out the experiments and the constructional work to enable the North to get those services. The question of the equipment has been touched upon. It is true that the equipment that is in use at Alexandra Palace is the old equipment that was there before the war. The Corporation were faced with this difficulty when it was decided that they should start up television. Nothing could be done during the war in the way of getting new equipment. All that could be done—and it was done, I understand—was to maintain the old equipment and keep it in readiness, and it was maintained at a high standard of efficiency. The problem then arose whether to try to get fresh equipment, or to use the old equipment and carry on immediately, and I think the right decision was taken to carry on with the old 405-line definition, because there were a number of sets available which people had bought and this decision gave them a chance of using those sets.

It was not, however, a case of starting where they left off. Everything was done to improve the service, and I will mention three improvements that were made in the old-fashioned equipment to which I have just referred. The transmission aerial was redesigned, there was an increase in the radio frequency band, giving finer detail in the picture, and the cause of streaking on the picture was discovered and to a very large extent eliminated. The result is that today we have a very much better picture than before the war, and foreign observers, including Americans, have said that there are no better pictures to be seen than those in the B.B.C, service. That was my own experience, too, when I saw the service in America. Six months ago Mr. L. H. Bedford, of Cossor's, returned from the United States and said: "America cannot show pictures equal in merit to those we had in 1939. Television has not made any impression in America, and I have failed to find it in the home." That is perfectly true. It is not in the homes. My hon. Friend the Member for Elland said that there are 13,000 sets in America. I think he is being over generous. There are, I should think, something between 7,000 and 10,000, but they are not in the homes, they have been distributed to people who are interested in television, and television is really making no headway in America as far as getting over to the people is concerned.

Results here after the war are better than they were in prewar days. They show an improvement, and I think it is wrong to condemn the efforts that have been made. It would, in my opinion, have been uneconomic and wasteful to have concentrated on a higher definition and to have gone in for new machinery. As a matter of fact, it would have been impossible to get the new machinery. That, however, does not mean that we are content with the present state of affairs, or that we are content with the present definition. It is untrue also to say that the firms have been held back and are not getting any encouragement from the Corporation or from the Department. The reason why people have to put their names down and wait some considerable time before getting a set is not due to any policy on the part of the Corporation, it is due to some of those inevitable shortages that follow in the aftermath of war. My hon. Friend the Member for Elland has mentioned the chief source of the trouble, namely, the shortage of glass for making cathode ray tubes, and that is largely due to the fact that technical investigation showed that soda-ash glass is not as good as lead glass. Lead glass is now being used, not for six-inch but for nine-inch tubes.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply has been very helpful. Here are a few facts which may interest the House in showing that at the present time trade is being helped. There is to be an increased production of larger tubes, arranged so that it is expected that, instead of the ordinary production of 60,000 per year of the six-inch type, there will be 180,000 of the nine-inch type. It is also proved by looking at the number of sets. When the service started in the month of June, 375 sets were produced. In September the number had doubled, in October it was 1,334, and in November which is the last month for which I have figures, it was 1,725. The same thing is true with regard to the number of licences. These figures speak eloquently for the improvement which is taking place in the industry. With regard to the general television service, much has been said about the desirability of a nation-wide service. We are very anxious that that service should be put into operation at the earliest possible moment. and it has been proposed that the service should be carried as early as possible to Birmingham on its way into the heavier populated areas of the North. The Post Office has done its part, and inquiries have been made for a suitable site in Birmingham, but everyone knows how difficult it is to get a site As soon as you find a site which is good enough to build upon, you come up against difficulties—perhaps you want to mine coal from underneath, and then, when you find a site solid enough, you are told by the Minister for Civil Aviation that you cannot go too high because it would interfere with civil aviation. It is not easy to get a suitable site and it would be wasteful to take over a site where coverage is not available for sufficient people to get advantage. There is also the difficulty of carrying the cable up from London to Birmingham, and even in getting sites for amplifying stations. All these are the practical difficulties which are hampering the service, and it is not the maliciousness of the Government or the B.B.C, and it is not neglect and indifference by the Government. It is not a question of money, because if we had the money we could not buy the things because they are not there, and that is one of the difficulties we are up against at the present time.

Research is being carried on. Arrangements have been made—and this meets the point of my hon. Friend—to run a two-way link between London and Birmingham so that programmes can be sent in either direction, either by cable or radio link. That does away with the necessity of having to look too far ahead and discover which of the two methods will be found the better. We have decided, when the service is taken to Birmingham, that it will not be necessary for people to confine themselves to the 405 definition. We are hoping there will be a definition of 1,000 lines, and we are hoping also to get colour definition. We have gone into the matter and we have provided for both eventualities in a way which justifies the Corporation being entitled to a good deal of credit and praise instead of criticism.

Mr. Osborne

We are told that Birmingham will receive this service when all these difficulties have been overcome, and that it will be "as soon as possible." Can the Assistant Postmaster-General give any idea what he means by "as soon as possible"? Is it two, five or ten years? When will the North get their share?

Mr. Burke

I would not like to state a date. There is the difficulty of the shortage of materials and technical skill besides the difficulty of getting buildings and sites. I am not in a position to say when these difficulties will be overcome, but they are difficulties from which not only this country, but the world is suffering. Once we get over the difficulties to carry us half way the pace will accelerate, and it will be much easier to carry on the good work.

Mr. Cobb

A three-year programme was discussed at one time. They were going to try in three years from a certain date to cover some of the more populated centres which have been mentioned. Does the Assistant Postmaster-General consider that it will be possible to get within plus or minus 20 per cent. of that programme, or has it entirely gone by the board?

Mr. Burke

I think that the possibility of fixing a definite time has gone by the board, not that three years is too short, but because the future is too obscure for us to see clearly the way ahead at present. There is steady improvement all round, but it is impossible to advance the claims of television over other demands on our available resources of skill and materials. The provinces have not been neglected, and provision is being made for them to be serviced as rapidly as possible. I am sorry I cannot say anything about cinema and sports promoters, because negotiations are now going on, and anything I may say may have a bad effect. It is the desire of both the Corporation and the. Government to regard television as part of an integrated broadcasting service which, in future, will not be the perquisite of the few, but will be available for the large proportion of our industrial population

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Nine Minutes to Ten o'Clock.