§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Mr. Wilfred Paling)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is in essence what might be called a utilitarian or workaday Bill. Its provisions are not concerned with any great departure of national policy, nor do they represent the hobby-horse of one particular party or another. They aim simply at making more effective a very necessary, troublesome and complicated job of work which the Post Office has to carry out to the best of its ability for the benefit of the public. The Post Office has—as, I admit, I myself was surprised to learn when I became Postmaster General—vast fields of necessary activity which, in spite of their importance, are little known to the general public. This Bill governs one of the lesser known services which it is the duty of the Post Office to perform.
I had hoped that it would be possible for the Bill to be discussed by the House on what I might call a quite dispassionate basis. Much, if not most, of it deals with matters of a highly technical nature, and a political or controversial discussion is not the best way of dealing with such technical matters. But I am aware that there has arisen some controversy about some of the provisions of the Bill—based, as I hope to show later, on what I feel is a misunderstanding of our purpose and of its object—and it is possible that we may not have quite the cool, dispassionate discussion that the subject really demands and justifies. With the House's permission, therefore, I propose not to go into equal detail on all the provisions of the Bill. It is in three parts.
The first part of the Bill—Clauses 1 to 8—is little more than an up-to-date restatement of a piece of existing legislation, mainly of an Act which will have become familiar to the oldest Members here from their earliest days in the House. I refer to the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1904, a temporary Act which has appeared every year since 1909 in the Expiring Laws Continuance 1560 Act. Incidentally, I believe that this is a record. It is at least a recognition by Government after Government in this House of how great the need is for legislation of the kind dealt with in Part I of this Bill to become a permanent part of the Statute Book. It also indicates the difficulty of legislating permanently on this subject.
The 1904 Act has done yeoman service, and it is a great tribute to its framers that we have been able to go on for so long under it without running up against some insuperable difficulty. The Government have introduced this Bill because they recognise that it is an anomaly that the Expiring Laws Act should be used year after year in this way and because they feel that the legislation requires bringing up to date.
In point of fact, developments in the wireless field caused the shoe to begin to pinch at a comparatively early date, and in 1925 one of my predecessors did introduce—as many hon. Members will no doubt remember—a Wireless Telegraphy Bill. I think that it is probable that some of the provisions of that Bill were at the time premature, and it was withdrawn. During the years that followed, the shoe began to pinch still more, and the Ullswater Committee on Broadcasting in 1935 made certain recommendations, to which I will return later, which caused another of my predecessors to begin to prepare another Wireless Telegraphy Bill. However, the war came on us before we were ready, and the matter had again to be shelved until the present time. Now, the shoe is beginning not only to pinch, but to hurt. There have been tremendous developments of every kind in wireless technique during the last 10 years—the war of course was a most powerful stimulus—and it has become absolutely essential to bring the law more into line with the present state of affairs.
Part I of the Bill deals with broadly the same problems and covers the same field as the 1904 Act and the minor subsequent Acts of 1925 and 1926. A great many services which are today taken entirely for granted by people generally are performed by the Post Office under powers derived from this Act. One buys a wireless licence as a result of arrangements made by the Postmaster-General under the 1904 Act. Wireless stations on ships and their operation are controlled 1561 by my officers under powers permitted by that Act. The B.B.C.s licence to broadcast derives from the powers given to the Postmaster-General under that Act.
We have undertaken in international telecommunication agreements not only to license wireless telegraphy transmitting apparatus and to exercise other controls, but also to take steps to prevent interference with radio services. Indeed, the need for control of wireless signals is, I believe, widely acknowledged and such an accepted fact that I do not feel that I have to argue its need again here. All I would like to do is to tell the House briefly the main ways in which Part I of the present Bill differs from the Act of 1904. I think the House will find them extraordinarily small.
First, the definition of wireless telegraphy which has to be licensed is extended to include the control of machinery at a distance by wireless—the actual reference is under the interpretation Clause, 18 (1). This is an extension of the definition which I do not feel needs to be explained or defended. An aeroplane recently crossed the Atlantic entirely under remote control by wireless—and this covered both the take off and the landing—and in this Bill we are simply marching with the times. The first part of the Bill provides also for charges for licences to be in general prescribed by regulations, subject to negative Resolution of either House. Members will, of course, be aware that at present such charges are fixed without being laid before Parliament.
This Bill defines more precisely the right of British subjects to be granted licences for the purpose of scientific research, but foreigners will no longer get such a licence as a right. For obvious reasons, too, the Bill also makes it an offence to refuse to surrender a dead transmission licence on demand. The first part of the Bill also makes it an offence to send certain forms of misleading messages or to intercept or disclose certain messages without authority. This also is a provision which, I suggest, needs no explanation or defence here. The matter is put beyond cavil by the close dependence on wireless of life and safety at sea and in the air, and by the justifiable right to privacy of persons properly using wireless as a means of communication.
1562 Finally, I need hardly say that the Bill repeats the essential provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy (Blind Persons Facilities) Act, 1926. I do not propose to say any more this afternoon about Part I of the Bill. There will, of course, be other opportunities to discuss its provisions in detail, but I should like at once to turn to Part II of the Bill, which covers ground that was not covered in the 1904 Act.
I will freely admit that Part II of the Bill, dealing with remedies against wireless interference, is, shall I say, experimental in a sense that Part I is not. In drafting Part I we have not only had behind us the old Act, but we have had the years of experience of working on the lines down in that Act. In Part II of the present Bill we are proposing to place something new on the Statute Book. My own personal view is that we are attempting it in the right way—otherwise, of course, I should not have presented it in this form to the House.
As hon. Members are aware, my proposals have already been the subject of severe unofficial criticisms. These criticisms have not yet had to stand the test of detailed dispassionate examination, such as the provisions of this Bill will receive in this House. When they do, I think it will be found that a great deal of what has been said has been based on misunderstandings. But, however this may be, in a matter so novel as this one my mind is open to any suggestion for an alternative means which will achieve the same end as the provisions criticised, for this end is merely to protect the public, and hon. Members can be assured that I am prepared to consider very carefully all the suggestions put forward at any stage of the Bill.
Before I enter upon a detailed discussion of Part II of the Bill I think it might help if I gave the House a brief picture of the problem and what happens at the present time. The Post Office is at present receiving from members of the public about 40,000 complaints a ye4r about electrical interference with reception of wireless broadcasts. In fact, there is such a volume of complaints that for many years we have had to use a special form which the complainant fills in and hands in at the local post office. Of course, as the Minister responsible for wireless telegraphy in all its 1563 forms, I have a duty to see that the legitimate use of wireless equipment is not subjected to irresponsible nuisances. It is really on this understanding that the whole of my moral responsibility rests in the matter of interference. But I have also the responsibility in the international sphere, which I have already mentioned.
This interference nuisance, by the way, is not new, and nor are our methods of dealing with it. Even before the war it was becoming formidable, and as early as 1935 the Ullswater Committee on Broadcasting said in their report, in connection with electrical interference:We trust that the technical investigations and discussions of this matter, which have extended over two years, will be completed as soon as possible; and if the result is to show that the Postmaster-General (or other appropriate Minister) needs further powers for the purpose of protecting the listener, subject to suitable safeguards, we trust that the requisite powers will be sought.The nuisance caused by electrical interference is growing, and with the increase in the use of electrical apparatus and wireless complaints will continue to grow. How many uncomplaining sufferers from this nuisance there may be I do not know, but I think they are entitled to at least equal consideration. In a recent case, where there were only two complainants, we found out that 250 people were suffering.
At present, when a complaint is sent in it goes to a special section of my Engineering Department, where it is investigated as speedily as we can manage with the limited number of skilled men available for the work. The complainant is visited, and our engineers test his equipment and try out his wireless set to make sure that the root of the disturbance is not in the equipment itself. But in by far the majority of cases the interference comes from outside, and then our engineers have to try to find out where it is coming from. This is a skilled job, but often a difficult and complicated one, but in the end they usually trace the interference to some piece of what is very often quite ordinary electrical equipment—such as a vacuum cleaner or a bed warmer.
I have spoken here of one complainant, but it frequently happens that that complainant will be but one of a group of 1564 people in the same neighbourhood all affected by this one piece of electrical apparatus. Our engineers will then visit the owner of the suspected apparatus, explain what is happening to wireless receivers round about, and ask—if they are not invited, as they mostly are—if they may come in and look at his machine. If what they find confirms what they had already suspected they suggest steps by which the owner could stop the apparatus creating interference. The most usual way in which this can be done is to fit small condensers or inductances into the circuit feeding the appliance. Generally speaking, these devices are not expensive.
In the great majority of cases, where people are approached like this, they readily agree to co-operate by fitting the device and putting an end to the nuisance. But, unfortunately, there is a very small number of people in this world who are never prepared to agree to do anything. In this business, too, we meet them, and at the moment there is nothing whatever we can do about it. We can tell them that their apparatus is interfering with their neighbours' wireless reception, and there the matter has to stop—and he interference goes on. I could tell the House of numbers of cases which I see personally, and of representations which hon. Members make to me on behalf of constituents who are suffering in this way from the selfishness of a few. I have met cases where there was even, apparently, a spiteful motive, but yet where I could do nothing.
Perhaps I might digress here to mention television. I think it has been suggested that the problem of interference is a very small and restricted one because it affects mainly television. This is not so at all. It is true that television is particularly vulnerable to certain kinds interference, but I can assure the House that these complaints of which I have spoken come from all over the country and that as yet a comparatively small proportion of them concerns television—actually only one in about 15 at the present time.
So far I have been talking of interference mainly as though it affected home listening. I should not like to call home listening a luxury, seeing that there are more than 11 million households with wireless receiving sets—something like 1565 five out of every six in the country; but it is—or at least aims at being—a pleasure, and some people might argue that we should not go to any particular lengths to see that people get their pleasure unspoiled. I do not think that that reflects the attitude of this House as a whole. It certainly is not my own attitude. But still, I think it would be wise if I pointed out that far more enters into all this than just the reasonable guarantee of pleasure unalloyed.
Wireless has been used for many years now in connection with safety of life at sea and in the air, but during and since the war it has been enormously more important in this sphere. The development of very high frequency aids to navigation—radar is a simple generic term which will be familiar to everyone—means that the safety of life itself is beginning to be seriously threatened by much the same sources of interference as spoil the pleasure of listening in the home. There is no question that some electrical equipment—industrial and domestic—is liable, if not properly screened or adjusted to a safe wavelength, to put out of action altogether the safety landing devices of a neighbouring airport
. This means that a serious aircraft accident might be caused by unpremeditated interference of the kind which this Bill is designed to check. The use of safety landing devices for aircraft is, of course, developing, and must be protected; and the seriousness of the problem is increased by the fact that at the same time as these developments in wireless telegraphy have been taking place there have been enormous increases in the use made of apparatus employing wireless techniques for therapeutic and industrial purposes, which can cause serious interference with wireless telegraphy.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I rise to ask if this is merely a theoretical consideration, or whether, in fact, there have been such cases?
§ Mr. Paling
There is nothing theoretical about the fact that these interferences can and might interfere with signals and suchlike at an airport.
§ Mr. Paling
If the right hon. and gallant Member means: has there ever been a crash which a subsequent inquiry has stated was due to this cause? —the answer is "No." The Post Office are responsible in this matter for offering all the protection they can, and it is impossible for us to avoid this business; by virtue of the fact that it is developing so fast we shall be bound to do something about it.
The sole aim of Part II of the Bill is to give me powers to take effective action in the case of the very few selfish people who will not play, even when it is made clear to them that their appliances are causing interference with wireless reception. I want to emphasise that this is the sole effect of Part II, because the impression has got abroad that it does very much more than that; that, in the first place, it sets up a whole machinery which at the moment does not exist. That is not correct. As I have explained, the machinery for detecting and dealing with interference already exists, and has been working now for many years. What it needs in order to make it effective is power behind it, and the object of this Bill is to give it that power for use in extreme cases. The picture of a new army of inspectors is simply not true.
It may be argued that if the sole purpose of Part II of the Bill is as I have described it, then it surely is something of a steamhammer to crack a nut. I am, I must admit, here copying a phrase actually used by a newspaper, but it does put what might be a valid objection. But I hope to make it clear to hon. Members that the reason for the admittedly complex nature of this part of the Bill is to safeguard the interests, not of me and my servants, but of the members of the public who might be affected by the powers I am asking Parliament to give me under the Bill. It has also been suggested that when the Bill becomes law, everyone will be guilty of an offence who does not at once fit a device to every bit of his electrical equipment. Of course that is not the position, and I do not think I can do better, to show what is the real state of affairs, than to refer to the actual provisions of this Part of the Bill.
Clause 9 lays down that I should establish an advisory committee and an appeal tribunal; and Clause 10 empowers me, 1567 after consultation with the advisory committee, to make regulations prescribing requirements to be complied with by electrical apparatus of the kinds that are liable to interfere with wireless telegraphy. This Clause also states in terms —in Subsection (4) —that it shall not—I repeat not—be unlawful to use apparatus by reason only that it does not comply with the requirements applicable under any regulation. I want to emphasise that these regulations—that is the interference regulations—will be made by the Postmaster-General after consultation with the advisory committee. The advisory committee will consist of persons who either possess expert knowledge or represent persons whose interests are likely to be affected. These regulations will, of course, like all other regulations in the Bill, also be subject to a negative resolution of either House of Parliament. But even so, the Bill does not make it possible for anyone to be prosecuted for not observing the regulations.
What the Bill does—in Clause 11—is to empower me, when apparatus is used not complying with the regulations applicable to it, and in my opinion liable to interfere with wireless telegraphy, to serve an enforceable notice on the possessor requiring him not to use it, or only to use it on conditions, e.g., at stated hours. But before such notice takes effect, unless safety of life is being endangered by the interference, the possessor of the apparatus, or anyone interested in it, can appeal to the independent tribunal which is to be set up under Clause 9; and if the tribunal considers that the regulation ought to be relaxed in the particular case before it, the tribunal can direct me to revoke the notice, so that it never comes into force at all. But if the notice has come into force, for example in the case of danger to safety of life, or if the possessor has delayed giving me notice of appeal for more than a month, the right of appeal is not lost; and the tribunal can still direct me to revoke the notice after it has considered the case.
These interference regulations which it is proposed I should make with the best possible technical advice, will, in effect, be authoritative directives, enforceable only in emergency or after appeal to an independent tribunal comprising 1568 technical assessors. I hope that the cases in which enforcement will actually prove to be necessary will be few. I am justified in hoping this because of the extent to which the public in general have already shown themselves willing to collaborate with the Post Office in helping to cut down interference. But unless some power of enforcement is given to me, the absence of any way whatever of dealing with the exceptional cases of people obstinately going on using apparatus which interferes with their neighbours' wireless will obviously discourage the reasonable majority from going to any trouble in the matter, and in view of the widespread and growing use of electrical apparatus which is capable of interfering with wireless, we must expect the ordinary listener to suffer more and more. We must also expect sooner or later to have a tragedy, when life is lost through an airport safety service being put out of action by interference at a critical moment. These are risks which I do not think it would be right to take.
Perhaps I might illustrate what would happen, by a homely example—a flatiron fitted with a thermostat. Other electric irons normally do not cause interference. I could prescribe, being so advised by the advisory committee and assuming that neither House of Parliament restrained me, that such an electric iron should fulfil certain requirements. Now the result of this would not be to make it necessary for all such electric irons to be made so to comply with these requirements. Housewives would go on ironing as before. Manufacturers would manufacture irons as before. There need be no rush in the shops to buy gadgets to fit to electric irons.
The sole effect of my prescribing the electric iron is to make it, as it were, "vulnerable." This is made quite clear in Clause 10 (4) which I have already mentioned. It would, indeed, make it possible for me, if matters come in the end to that pitch, to enforce the fitting of a device to any individual electric iron that was confirmed as being the cause of interference, by prohibiting its use so long as it interfered. I say "in the end" because hon. Members will see from Clause 11 that the houeswife who operates the electric iron can, if she wants to, appeal against my notice and wait 1569 for the result before any question of enforcement arises. It may be contended, and I rather sympathise, that this lengthy procedure, which, by the way, we have to abbreviate where the interference threatens safety of life, is too cumbersome. But it is, as I have already said, our attempt to safeguard the private person against the over-zealous bureaucrat.
§ Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)
May I ask one question about procedure? I agree with the outline that has been given, but does the Postmaster-Genera] consider it fair that after a case has been considered by the tribunal, it is open to him, as the proviso in Clause 11 stands, to issue a fresh notice on the same facts?
§ Mr. Paling
Yes, Sir, under certain conditions. I do not say this is an unimportant matter; it is a matter which can be dealt with during the Committee stage.
§ Captain John Crowder (Finchley)
Can the Postmaster-General explain a little more the position in regard to electric irons? Would the interference be liable to take place within five or six miles of an aerodrome or the coast, or what is the distance?
§ Mr. Paling
An electric iron would probably not cause interference. The interference radius is about 100 yards. The danger to an airport would come from bigger types of machinery, such as factory machinery, and particularly diathermic machinery and that sort of thing.
Any person interested can take his case, and here I refer to Clauses 9, Subsections (3) to (5) and 10 Subsections (3) to (6), to an appeal tribunal appointed by the highest representative of justice in the land. This tribunal will include independent experts. And the housewife will become guilty of an offence under the Bill only if she failed to put her electric iron in order and continued to use it after the tribunal had upheld the action of the Postmaster-General.
I have been dealing with housewives and electric irons because I wanted to bring the thing down to simple domestic terms, and, in particular, I have wanted to make it clear that nothing that I could prescribe if the Bill became law would entail that all electric irons had to be fitted with a device; that prescription does not in itself lay anyone under any obligation. It simply makes it possible for me 1570 to insist on effective action being taken where an actual individual, having an appliance in the class prescribed, can he shown to be causing unreasonable interference and refuses to stop doing so.
It is not from the ordinary homes that we get or expect to get all our difficulties. We have every hope that in the large majority of home cases we will continue on the same friendly footing of co-operation between engineers and the families they visit as exists today. But there remains the problem of the very few selfish ones——
I cannot give figures, but I believe that more than 90 per cent. co-operate. I have been trying to get some figures which I could give to the House.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
The right hon. Gentleman stated that there had been over 40,000 complaints a year. In how many of these cases did the Post Office fail to get ultimate satisfaction?
§ Mr. Paling
I cannot give figures, but if I can do so later, I will try to give the House an answer in more definite terms. It is in order that we may be able to ensure that something effective can be done when necessary in the case of the selfish people that the powers proposed in the Bill are being sought.
Another sort of case which might get to the right of entry and enforcement stage is the instance, of which I know, of a cinema proprietor whose apparatus is causing disturbance locally, but who will not spend the pound or two to cure it; or the diathermy operator who as an alternative to providing adequate screening or other suitable modification will not collaborate with neighbours by using his or her appliance only at reasonable times of the day.
Before leaving this Part of the Bill, there are some special topics I should like to mention. I will first turn to the constructive criticism, which has already been offered in the Press, about the obligations of manufacturers. Would it not be better to lay the onus of fitting devices on the manufacturers themselves? It should save people a lot of trouble, and in many cases possibly some money, too. I had already given a good deal of thought 1571 to the part to be played by manufacturers in all this. I should first like to make it clear that it has throughout been our idea that the provisions of this Bill should be supplemented by discussions with manufacturers. These discussions would have the object of securing their co-operation in fitting products with suitable gadgets—to the utmost extent, that is to which this might be found reasonable and practicable having regard to the substantial difficulties of any sort of completely uniform pattern. The question is not I think so much what should be done, as how it should be done—by the rather rigid frame of a statutory provision or by arrangements resulting from discussion of this problem in detail.
It would probably be possible to make regulations as to the maximum permissible intensity of energy to be radiated from electrical apparatus which could be applied to apparatus in the hands of manufacturers, but some difficulty might be expected in the application of such regulations. I would instance a few cases: apparatus that might comply with the requirements of the regulation when connected to one source of electricity, might not comply with the requirements when connected to another supply. Similarly, as regards different areas, it would not be possible to vary the maximum limits prescribed in the regulations to be applied to manufacturers, as is possible under the scheme proposed in the Bill for control at the user's end. It would therefore be necessary to make these regulations strict enough to meet the worst cases. This might mean that in many cases, the interference would be suppressed to a greater degree than was necessary and more manpower and materials would unavoidably have to be used than is really called for by the problem.
Although control at source might serve a useful purpose, a number of practical considerations would also have to be taken into account. I must emphasise that it could not be a substitute for the proposals in the Bill. It might be used to supplement the Bill but not to substitute the provisions already in the Bill, because it is not the manufacturers of electrical appliances who cause interference with wireless reception, but the users of those appliances. Although an 1572 article may leave a workshop in a condition in which it will not cause interference, it does not follow that it will remain in that condition. Frequent use and the passage of time are liable to alter the conditions of all electrical appliances, and control at the manufacturer's end would not unless supported by other measures cure the nuisance of interference with wireless reception. Such a measure would clearly not help us in any way to deal with the cases arising out of appliances already sold and in use.
I would not for one moment go so far as to say that there are no types of apparatus which could not be profitably fitted right at the beginning with a device for cutting out interference. In cases of this sort I am confident from what I already know of the electrical industry —and our relations in the Post Office with that industry are both close and happy—that manufacturers will them-selves co-operate to the greatest reasonable extent. I think that the sparking system of the petrol engine, and I am here mainly referring to motorcars, is probably a case in point. A diverting picture has been drawn of our engineers, with headphones on their heads and complicated electrical devices in their hands, running about after motorcars in an attempt to "convict them for causing interference." I hope I have already made it abundantly clear that when this Bill becomes law, we are not going to create a vast new organisation and plunge into a kind of nation wide witch hunt against all possible sources of interference. The Bill itself and the safeguards in it operated by this very House would not permit of that, even if we wanted it.
We only make inquiries now when and where we receive complaints, and that will be our procedure in the future, too. Sometimes complaints are due to motorcars, and action can only be taken after the vehicle responsible has been traced, for instance, a taxi-cab rank near the source of complaint, or regular visits by a tradesman's van. In other cases the interference caused by any particular car must, from its nature, be intermittent, though intensive when the vehicle responsible is near the receiving apparatus. The car problem is, however, an increasingly serious one. Interference from cars is liable to affect radar, television and other very short wave 1573 services. Probably the only effective long-term method of dealing with cars will be for the manufacturers to build devices into the car at the time of manufacture. I feel confident that I shall receive that co-operation.
I am sure, too, that motorists as a class will become sufficiently public spirited—and I speak as a motorist myself—to fit devices in their motors if they do not already have them. We shall try to secure their co-operation also, and I am sure that if we succeed the voluntary basis will be more economical than compulsion; but, as in other types of interference, we must have the power to deal in the last resort with the few motorists who will not co-operate although they are actually causing serious inconvenience, or even endangering life. In point of fact a number of large scale car users, London Passenger Transport and my own Department included, are already fitting devices in areas where interference from cars is likely to be serious.
§ Mr. George Ward (Worcester)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether in America, where there is a great deal of electrical equipment in use, and more motorcars than there are in this country, legislation of this sort has been found necessary?
§ Mr. Paling
I have no detailed information, but I am informed that in a number of countries compulsory powers have been taken to deal with this matter.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
If interference is found to emanate from buildings in the possession of the Government—and I have a particular case in mind—does this machinery still operate, and has the right hon. Gentleman full powers to enforce his regulations?
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
If interference comes from a printing press, is there any means by which the Minister can suppress that press?
§ Mr. Paling
If interference comes from a printing press, or anything of that kind, we could probably suggest ways and means of dealing with it and preventing it.
§ Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)
The right hon. Gentleman said that other countries had legislation along these lines. Can he say what countries they are, and what is the character of that legislation?
§ Mr. Paling
I think my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General will be able to give more information on this point than I can give at the moment.
Before passing to the last part of the Bill I wish to pay, on the Floor of the House, a most sincere tribute to that very distinguished body, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, which is named in the Bill. As Members will agree, the Institution of Electrical Engineers is a body nationally and internationally recognised as of the highest eminence in wireless and electrical engineering. My engineers in the Post Office have many close associations with the Institution, and they have come to rely a good deal on the outstanding quality of its advice and guidance in many aspects of electrical work. Wireless interference, in particular, is a problem which has been engaging their joint attention for many years now, and I doubt whether there is any body in the world so competent as the Institution to advise in this matter. The part the Institution have agreed to take in the working of this Bill, is of the utmost importance. I am very grateful for their agreement, and I should like to take this opportunity of expressing also my Department's deep appreciation of and gratitude for all the help and advice which they have so willingly given us already.
I come now to Part III of the Bill, which deals with a number of matters which are subsidiary to, and dependent upon, the provisions we have already been considering. It contains provisions which have been criticised in regard to penalties and the enforcement of notices, and the entry and search of premises. I will not attempt today to go into great detail on those points, but I should like to make some reference to them because I know they concern all of us, irrespective of party. Penalties and powers of search will never be lightly passed by this House, and I am as concerned as anyone to ensure that we do not ask for more than fits the case.
There have been suggestions that the penalties are too high for the nature of the offences with which they are 1575 associated. I want first to put the general case. I need hardly emphasise in this House that the penalties in the Bill are, of course, maximum penalties. It is not for me, or for officers of my Department, to say what penalties should be inflicted when a person is convicted of breaking the law. This is a matter for the courts, which, of course, inflict penalties below the maximum in accordance with the gravity of the offence. It may turn out, unfortunately, that we shall have to deal with some very bad or obstinate cases, and the question is whether the liability to suffer the maximum penalties prescribed in cases where the court considers their infliction to be justified would be oppressive in the case of a really bad offender. I have in mind, particularly, such a case as a person who persisted, in continuing to work apparatus in such a way as to endanger the safety of life services of an airport, or who interfered with wireless telegraphy deliberately. These are points which will no doubt be developed in the Debate and which can profitably be considered in the later stages of the Bill.
Part III also contains, in Clause 14, provision for the power of entry. The provision is on the lines of the 1904 Act, and the criticism is directed to the extension of circumstances in which the power may be exercised—that is to its use to search for interference-causing apparatus, and to test it. In justification of that extension I must bring it to the notice of the House that owing to the very nature of the offences it would be useless for my officers to be empowered to serve notices unless they are first able to inspect the apparatus and confirm that it is responsible for the interference. In cases, where co-operation is not forthcoming there can, of course, be no inspection without power of entry. In other words this Bill cannot be made effective if some power of entry is not given as a last resort.
I should, in this connection, like to repeat the view of the Government, to which expression has already been given in this House, that we are anxious to be very broadminded about this, and that we should welcome the assistance of the House in trying to find a solution without any impropriety regarding the privacy of the home. I appreciate, as 1576 do my colleagues, that this matter, and indeed the Bill generally, is one of great interest to all Members, whatever their political views. I do not think that there can be any general quarrel with the aims as such of the Bill, but it is clear that many Members will have different views to put forward about the means by which these ends should be secured.
The Leader of the House has authorised me to say that it is proposed that the Committee stage of the Bill should be taken on the Floor of the House, and I may add that we are entirely open to consider any workable suggestion. I think what I have said is borne out by the wording of Clause 14, which makes it entirely clear that these provisions would be used only in the last extremity. Even then, I assure the House, power of entry will be used as infrequently and sparingly as possible. In by far the largest number of cases of interference now the Department is, as I have already explained, proceeding on a basis of friendly co-operation with all concerned. And that is the basis on which we hope to continue to work. But why should the selfish man get off every time? He is the one that this Clause is really designed for—the man who will not play.
I think that that is all I need say today on the purpose and provisions of this Measure. I have done my best to show that there is nothing very terrifying in the powers for which I am asking in the Bill, and to give every assurance that the last thing I desire is to be oppressive if the House grants me these powers. I hope I have also carried some conviction to the House on the need for facing up to a difficult and growing problem, and that I have shown the very practical and workaday aims of the Bill. I am convinced that the community as a whole needs the protection which the Bill sets out to give. The Post Office has a job to do, and an obligation to the community to do it well and I hope that hon. Members will be prepared to equip us with adequate powers to carry it out and to see that we are left with no excuse for failing in our work.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Grimston (Westbury)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add:this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which contains onerous provisions 1577 that cannot be justified by public need; which enables the Postmaster-General to compel citizens to incur expense as a condition of using apparatus lawfully manufactured and acquired; and which confers on the Government further powers to invade the privacy of the home.I have listened carefully and with interest to what the Postmaster-General has had to say in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, but I must confess that I am not at present persuaded that he has really made out a case for asking the House to give him the very considerable powers of intrusion and interference which he takes in Part II. It is true that he says he will deal with this question with an open mind. So shall we. There is a problem to be solved, but in unfolding my case I hope to persuade the House to agree with me that the approach of the right hon. Gentleman to this problem is not the right one. I was struck by the fact that he made great play with the 40,000 complaints of interference per annum. When one remembers that there are 11 million people listening to wireless programmes on 365 days in the year, I do not think that an annual number of 40,000 complaints can be called anything more than a minute proportion of the total number of listeners.
§ Mr. Grimston
I know all about my radio set which, as a matter of fact, works very well. If the hon. Member prefers it, let us increase the figure, double it or treble it; it still represents a small proportion of the total number of listeners. The other thing which strikes me is that the right hon. Gentleman has said quite categorically that in none of the air accidents which have unhappily occurred has the cause been traced to interference with navigational aids. I propose to develop my case, and it will be a matter for the House to judge as to how far we are justified in the attitude which we take.
First, let me say a word with regard to Part I. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and although I will not say that we shall have nothing to say upon it, we have no quarrel with it. If the 1578 Bill consisted of Part I we might very well say to the Minister that we should be very glad to give it to him. There are some slight modifications, but it seems only sensible, after we have re-enacted the Bill for 42 years, for the House to decide that it should be given more permanent form. I do not propose to say anything more about Part I at the moment.
About Part II we are somewhat naively informed in the Explanatory Memorandum that this is an attempt to solve the problem of interference which, from the manner in which the atmosphere is being thronged with rays at the present moment, is bound to arise and to increase. It is certainly an attempt to solve that problem, but the method which is attempted is to give the Postmaster-General vast powers of interference with the ordinary citizen both going about his lawful occasions and in the privacy of his home, powers which we consider at the present moment are not warranted either by the urgency or by the extent of the problem. I make no pretence of trying to speak upon this subject as a technical expert. I am approaching it from a lay point of view, which I believe is the proper point of view from which we should approach it. It is often very dangerous if people who have had much conversation and much advice from technical experts take on some of the enthusiasm of those experts—which I do not decry—because they are apt to look at the problem rather more from the technical point of view than from the wider aspect which is involved. It is the particular job of this House to look at this problem, being in possession of such technical information as the Minister can give us, from those wider aspects.
Following that up, I would suggest that there are two degrees of interference. There is interference with wireless or with radar signals which may—but apparently has not yet done so—interfere with safety of life at sea or in the air, or possibly for all I know with developments of radar control on the ground, during fog and so on. There is also interference with amenity or amusement, either ordinary wireless or television, as the Minister has said. One of the complaints I make is that the Bill treats those two kinds of interference in the same way. The House and public 1579 opinion would be very ready to concede a great deal more power of interference to the Postmaster-General where safety at sea or in the air, or the defence of the Realm, were involved than they would for the mere enjoyment of wireless or television reception. I want to proceed to show the House how the powers which the Postmaster-General is proposing would apply in a particular case.
For the purpose of developing my case I should like to give an illustration of what can happen under the provisions of Parts II and III of the Bill. First of all, as the right hon. Gentleman has already said, under Clause 10 he will be able to say that no Hoover, hair-drier, thermostatically controlled electric iron, child's toy electric train, or motor car, and so on, can be used unless it is fitted with a suppressor to stop wireless interference. I think that is a reasonable interpretation of the proposal. The right hon. Gentleman can issue a regulation to say that none of those things may be used in the future, unless they have some adaptor fitted to them, and apparently that has to be done at the cost of the possessor.
I take a very simple and homely illustration. Let us suppose that Mrs. H. has a Hoover and that Mrs. T has a television set. The House will perhaps excuse me for taking such a small illustration, but I want to bring out how the proposal made by the Postmaster-General could work. Mrs. T complains that her television set is being interfered with. I suppose she complains to the Post Office or to the B.B.C. Under Clause 11 (1) the Postmaster-General can issue a notice to Mrs. H that she must not continue to use her Hoover unless she has a suppressing apparatus fixed to it, or that she must use it only at certain times. If she fails to comply with that notice she will render herself liable to a maximum fine of £100 or three months' imprisonment, or both.
That is in the Bill, but I think the position is worse than that. If the Postmaster-General wants to find out whether or not to serve a notice on Mrs. H with regard to her Hoover he can get a warrant to search her house, subject only to the fact that she has refused voluntarily to let him do so.
1580 That is going much too far in cases where amusement or amenities merely are concerned. The Postmaster-General will not dispute that I have given a correct interpretation of what can be done under the Bill if it goes through in its present form. The House should realise that the Postmaster-General will have the power to search anybody's house, subject only to the fact that voluntary entrance has been refused, if a complaint has been made. To take these powers in peace time for purposes which have nothing to do with danger to life or with the defence of the Realm is a monstrous infringement of the ordinary decencies appertaining to the liberty of the subject and to the privacy of his home. That is our case against part of the method that the Postmaster-General is introducing in order to deal with this nuisance.
It may be said that my illustration is exaggerated. In fact, the Postmaster-General says that if we give him these powers he is not going to use them. That sort of argument cuts no ice at all. Why take the powers if they are not to be used? The chances are that they will be used. I do not believe that this House should allow such powers to exist in ordinary times. I see the Lord President of the Council sitting on the Government Front Bench. Last Thursday one of his own Back Benchers raised the question of the alarm which is being caused by the power of entry into the homes of the people which the Postmaster-General is now proposing to take. I should like to remind the House of what the Lord President of the Council then said:I will only say that we want to be very broadminded about this, and that we would welcome the assistance of the House in trying to find a solution without any impropriety regarding the privacy of the home. I assure the House that we will only act in that spirit, and that we hope to have the assistance of all sides of the House in this matter." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1948; Vol. 457, c. 1032.]I am sure that that statement by the right hon. Gentleman was welcomed on all sides. Therefore, I want to make a suggestion to him and to the Minister in charge. I must say the reply of the Lord President on Thursday does not indicate that there is any urgent necessity to take these powers in the overriding interest either of defence or of safety, because he laid stress on doing whatever is necessary without any impropriety to 1581 the privacy of the home. Therefore I cannot think, in spite of what he said, that there is tremendous urgency in this case.
I would suggest a different approach by the Postmaster-General. I was not convinced by what he said about the approach he has made so far to the manufacturers, and I believe that is really the way in which this matter should be dealt with. I understand that the major interference is likely to occur in the case of television and it will be many years before——
§ Mr. Wilfred Paling
No. I was careful to say that television might be more susceptible to interference in some cases than radio, but only one out of every 15 complaints is concerned with television.
§ Mr. Grimston
That is a large proportion considering the small number of television sets at present in existence. I think we may take it from that intervention that the problem will become really acute when television sets become universal, which will not be for a long time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It will be some time before television sets are cheap enough to be in the universal use that wireless sets are at present, especially if we have this present Government. As I say, the volume of complaints is small at present, and I reiterate that the problem will become far more acute when the use of television sets approaches the use of ordinary wireless sets today, which it may well do in time.
If the manufacturers of all apparatus likely to interfere are told that in future suppressors of one kind or another must be fitted, two results will follow, the first is that the cost will be slight. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the cost of fitting suppressors at the moment is small, but I am informed that in certain cases the fitting may be quite expensive. If, however, manufacturers in future are to put these suppressors in the apparatus, it will become part of the process of manufacture, it will probably be absorbed in the general cost, and it might result in hardly any rise in the eventual selling price. The other result is that as television sets become more universal, so will these suppressors become universal in the apparatus which is likely to interfere, and the problem will have solved itself 1582 without all this paraphernalia of notices, search warrants, painful penalties and so on. I suggest that the Postmaster-General might remind himself of the saying, "take care of the sense and the sounds will take care of themselves." That would be a much more reasonable way of dealing with this problem, particularly with the aspect of it which deals with amenity.
I go further. I consider that the Postmaster-General will do well to look again at Parts II and III, because considerable amendment will be needed if those parts of the Bill are to meet the objections. It would be far better if he took them away and re-introduced them to the House in a form which will not arouse the obvious objections to the present draft, objections which will be found to exist on all sides of the House. Meantime Part I can be looked after by the Expiring Laws Continuance Act and if, unhapply, an emergency of any kind descends upon us, the Government can take rapid action to deal with any interference with military messages. However, we are not in that position at present.
The technician is bound to look at it only from the point of view of perfecting apparatus, and I do not blame him, because that is what he is there for. Our business is to look at the wider aspects of the matter, and I believe that with a Bill of this kind we are imposing a burden upon the general public out of all proportion to the necessity for dealing with the few selfish people mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. Those are the lines taken by the "Economist" in a paragraph on this subject last week with which I agree. The House will be wise to see that it is not placing far too large burdens on the public to deal with a problem which has not yet assumed large proportions.
By this Bill we are giving the Postmaster-General far too great powers, powers which he himself says be does not intend to use. As I say, unless the Postmaster-General can give us more indication than he has done so far of the distance he is prepared to go to meet these objections, we shall have to take the House to a Division on the Amendment which I have moved.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
I beg to second the Amendment which has been moved so reasonably by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston). I feel that the House will have gone a long way with my hon. Friend in the arguments he deployed in moving the Amendment, and hon. Members will have felt a corresponding disappointment with the arguments put forward by the Postmaster-General this afternoon. We do not like the Bill as it stands, but we were prepared to listen to powerful arguments which might have shown an urgency that could not be denied and might have shown that the objects of the Bill could not be attained in any other way. I must confess, however, that the Postmaster-General came down to this House with a big brief but with little factual information. On all the vital issues where statistics might have been produced to justify what is admittedly a departure from the principle of the liberty of the subject, the right hon. Gentleman had to tell us that he would give us the information at some later date.
Everybody in this House must have in mind the idea that there must be some method of dealing with interference to wireless reception. We are particularly mindful that something ought to be done where public safety is affected. All we are concerned about is that this method is not the right one. o As the right hon. Gentleman said it is not so much what should be done, but how it should be done. We do not quarrel about what has to be done, but we do quarrel with the means by which the object in mind is to be achieved. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would not abuse his powers. I think the House would be ready to accept that assurance because the right hon. Gentleman is well thought of here, but we have to remember that these powers will be, in some sense, delegated to thousands of officials, amongst whom will be some who are rather officious. Therefore, the assurance which the right hon. Gentleman gives us is no assurance that Mrs. Jones in Bermondsey will not be the victim of an over-zealous official armed with these powers.
The right hon. Gentleman was asked how many of the 40,000 complaints which 1584 are laid each year, fail to be resolved ultimately by the Post Office. I was astonished when he said that he did not know. I should have thought that anybody who brought forward this Measure would have done so only after examining all the facts affecting interference, but apparently the right hon. Gentleman has made no attempt to apprise himself of the situation concerning complaints.
A second question put to the right hon Gentleman was how this matter is dealt with in other countries, but he gave a most evasive and indeterminate reply I should have thought that if a Department of the Government intended to bring forward a Bill of this kind, it would have looked closely at all similar legislation in other countries. That should have been a first step in formulating this Measure, but apparently the right hon. Gentleman and, I assume, his Department, have no exact knowledge of what is happening in other countries. The right hon. Gentleman said he was surprised at the feeling which had been roused over this Bill. It is remarkable that he should stand at the Despatch Box and say he is surprised that people, in this country should take affront at individuals having power to come into their houses under the authority of warrants. It shows that right hon. Gentlemen opposite, despite their professed affection for democracy and liberty, have totalitarian trends——
§ Mr. Shepherd
It does not occur to them that an individual regards his house as his castle and does not want persons armed with the power of a warrant to burst into his home to examine apparatus. I am prepared to believe that most people in this country would co-operate, as the right hon. Gentleman said they would, with the Government in aiming to eliminate interference; but they might reasonably say, "Why should we be put to more expense and inconvenience when we are using apparatus which, when we bought it and until the passage of this Act, it was perfectly legal to buy and to operate? Why should we now be forced to incur this expense?" That is a view which they would be entitled to take.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the incredible difference between the approach of the right hon. Gentleman 1585 to Mrs. Jones in Bermondsey—and the hundreds and thousands of Mrs. Joneses elsewhere—and his approach to manufacturers. He says, "We hope the manufacturers will co-operate," and he proposes to do nothing else about it. He hopes that the manufacturers will cooperate, but if Mrs. Jones does not cooperate, she can be sent to prison for three months. That is not a rational attitude for His Majesty's Government to take. If manufacturers are compelled to fit suppressors, they will do so at a cost which is but a small proportion of that in which the user will be involved. It may be that a suppressor which costs Is. 6d. retail, can be made by a manufacturer in his workshop for a few pence. I do not know how much it would cost when fitted by an outside Conractor—it might be 2s., 3s., 5s., or even 10s. —but the cost of its production in the workshop would be Infinitesimal in proportion. In these circumstances, surely, it is rational for compulsion to be applied to the manufacturers because, as my hon. Friend so clearly pointed out, compulsion on the manufacturers will ultimately solve this problem.
The only argument which the right hon. Gentleman deployed against the suggestion that manufacturers should be forced to fit suppressors to appliances is that we may need to have regard to the highest degree of interference and its suppression. That is by no means a powerful argument. He said that time, labour and material would be wasted. That is a very old story. He did not attempt to say what would be the difference in terms of man-hours, labour and material in catering for the maximum, as against the minimum, interference that might be encountered. I suggest that that difference is infinitesimal. The right hon. Gentleman knows that. He knows there is really no justification at all for imposing upon people the possibility of heavy fines and imprisonment while manufacturers are allowed to produce the articles which are, in fact, the cause of the trouble.
This is a very bad Bill indeed, and I am surprised that even this Government has the temerity to bring it forward. This Bill, in another form, has been taken away before, and I suggest that the Government ought to take it away again.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lewis (Bolton)
The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston), when moving the Amendment, made it quite clear to the House that he was speaking as a layman. Many hon. Members will agree that one should not approach a Bill of this kind from a narrow point of view. On the other hand, the House will agree that one can go too far and that it is necessary when dealing with matters of this kind, which are of their very nature technical, that hon. Gentlemen opposite who move Amendments on technical subjects should at least have made it their business to inquire into some of the technical aspects of the case. If they had done so in the matter which is now before us, they would not have made the kind of speeches we have heard this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Westbury referred to the fact that 11 million people in this country have wireless sets but that only 40,000 complaints per annum are being received by the Post Office or by the B.B.C. It should be obvious to anybody that a very large number of those 11 million sets are in rural areas, where the question of interference does not really arise. Therefore, the fact that 40,000 complaints per annum are being made—and I am sure they come mainly from towns—is a clear indication that this matter of interference is something which should, quite rightly, receive the serious consideration of the Government.
The degree of interference is important—whether it interferes with people's amusement, or whether people are not satisfied that their appliances are giving the best possible performance. The putting forward by the hon. Member for Westbury of the case of Mrs. H., who has a set which interferes with her neighbours, and his suggestion that under the Bill it is possible for the Postmaster-General to invade her home, is utterly absurd and nonsensical.
§ Mr. Lewis
It is most certainly not in the Bill. The Post Office must be satisfied that the interference is a common nuisance affecting many people. Quite obviously, no Postmaster-General or anybody acting on his behalf will apply to a court for a warrant to enter a person's 1587 home merely because of one complaint which has been received. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, a notice must be given, and it is quite clear that in any case where any apparatus of any kind is causing interference, any action taken will be based not upon one single complaint from Mrs. H., but upon probably two hundred complaints from different people suffering interference in the same area, before even a notice is issued. Until such a notice is issued and is not complied with, no action of the kind envisaged by hon. Gentlemen opposite would be contemplated.
There are other considerations which should be taken into account when reviewing this Bill. The Government ought to be congratulated on having consolidated the various Acts since 1904. These were very much in need of being brought up to date. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite, who are so anxious to safeguard the rights and freedom of individuals, should be against this Measure, which has as one of its main objects, the prevention of interference with other individuals' enjoyment of wireless and television programmes. I feel that the hon. Member for Westbury is right in saying that there is not sufficient emphasis on television. This matter is of much greater importance now that there are more television sets being installed. Interference with television reception is a very serious matter. I have a set and, as I live near to a main road, there are constant flickers going across the screen entirely due to the fact that suitable suppressing apparatus is not fitted to vehicles which pass by on the road.
There is a more important aspect. At Question Time today my right hon. Friend told me that his Advisory Committee are discussing with the cinema industry and the B.B.C. the question of rediffusion of television programmes in cinemas. Supposing, as I hope, this goes forward and in a few years time thousands of people go to cinemas to see the re-diffusion of television programmes from Alexandra Palace and elsewhere, is it conceivable that the Postmaster-General should not have powers to prevent interference with such programmes by someone nearby working a Hoover or other electrical apparatus and so spoiling the programme for hundreds of people in the 1588 cinema? It seems quite reasonable that the Post Office should have the powers for which they are asking.
When war broke out, doctors were working a short-wave diathermic apparatus. During the war this equipment was taken from them or they were made to screen it. I believe the officer in charge was Major-General St. J. D. Arcedeckne-Butler, as Director-General of signal equipment. He was responsible for dealing with these diathermic apparatuses because they were, in effect, transmitting stations. Anyone who has had a radio set in close proximity to a doctor's surgery knows full well the effect which this type of apparatus has on radio reception and the interference it causes to television.
Let us assume for a moment then that there is a doctor who does not like His Majesty's Government. He may have nothing against the Postmaster-General, but does not like the Minister of Health and decides that he will be awkward about the matter. He refuses to take reasonable steps to ensure that his diathermic short-wave set will not trouble people who have television or radio sets in the immediate vicinity. Does anyone suggest that the Postmaster-General should not have powers to deal with a case of that kind? Obviously if such a doctor refused to act, it would be an exceptional case, but although the Minister may not use the powers, he must have them. That would not be an encroachment on the liberty of the subject as the powers would only be used in specific cases where people refused, and categorically refused, to do something which it is quite reasonable should be done in the interests of their fellow citizens.
The Opposition are so horrified about the provisions of Part II of the Bill, but they seem to have overlooked something in respect of Part I which I feel to be a much greater encroachment on the liberty of the individual and which should -not have escaped their attention. Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1904, if any persons in this country tune in to 190 metres, as do the good people of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, they are breaking the law if they pick up messages from trawlers. In accordance with that Act they are liable to conviction under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts and to a penalty not exceeding £10 and, on indictment, to a fine not exceeding £100, or 1589 imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for a term not exceeding 12 months. That provision has been carried forward into the present Bill with, I believe, one or two amendments to the effect that instead of going to prison for 12 months, with or without hard labour, the term is reduced to three months; and that is for tuning in and listening to trawlers at 190 metres.
I think the Postmaster-General should have reconsidered the matter and should not have carried that provision forward into the new Bill. Obviously the terms of the licence issued to anyone who instals a radio receiver are such that they must abide by the regulations laid down by the Post Office, but it is absurd to suggest that anyone who has a set is not entitled to tune in to anything that comes in on that wavelength, when we recall that during the war people could tune in and listen to stations in Nazi Germany without offence. It was quite in order to listen to "Lord Haw-Haw" broadcasting from Germany, yet if one tuned in today to 190 metres and heard broadcast messages from a trawler, one would be committing an offence and would be liable to go to prison. I hope my right hon. Friend will look carefully into that matter before the Committee stage.
The hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd), who seconded the Amendment, on all occasions uses rather extravagant language. I am sorry he is not in his place, as I thought he should be in these circumstances. But, sometimes even from the mouths of babes and sucklings come words of wisdom. I thought he made a very good suggestion to my right hon. Friend, that whereas my right hon. Friend, in his anxiety to ensure that television and radio reception is improved and not interfered with, whether in the interests of safety or any other factors, seeks powers to force people to adhere to these new regulations, he should at the same time take powers to ensure that manufacturers of electrical equipment are compelled to fit suppressors to the apparatus they manufacture. My right hon. Friend need not necessarily exercise those powers, but he should have them just the same. If he agreed to that suggestion, he would go a long way to meet some of the points raised by the hon. Member opposite.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
I feel in a similar predicament to the Postmaster-General, having been interested before the war and being to some extent interested now in an electrical business. I can quite see the need for introducing such a Bill, but I do not agree with the wording. The main theme of the speech of the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) was the powers of the Minister to deal with this matter. I believe that very much more can be achieved by persuasion, though if we do not get it that way, it may be necessary eventually to follow some such steps as this Bill proposes. I do not believe, however, that it is necessary at the moment. The hon. Gentleman referred to the question of listening in to trawlers broadcasting. I have been out in trawlers myself on occasions, and I do not think the average person would listen a second time, because the language is somewhat strong. We all know that trawlers have their own code, and in it they often pass messages to their wives that they are due in port at a certain time. If this were prevented, we might not have any fish, so we had better leave the matter as it is.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
The hon. and gallant Gentleman missed my point. I was merely pointing out that under the provisions of the old Act, which are incorporated in this Bill, it is an offence punishable by a term of imprisonment in certain circumstances, to listen to these trawlers.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
I cannot conceive that it would ever come to light that someone had tuned in with a receiver on that wavelength.
This Bill started its life in 1939. It was apparent then that some form of legislation would be necessary to deal with this problem. The present Bill as it is worded does not meet present day conditions. Many things have happened in the electrical world through radar and other equipment and the problems have become so involved that they have got to be dealt with step by step instead of by sweeping powers at one go. I quite agree with the Postmaster-General that a radio set is part of the household equipment. It is rather like having a mangle in the house or any other such article. It is an accepted fact that every house, 1591 more or less, has a radio set, or at any rate we all hope that they will all have one in a short space of time.
So far as television is concerned, I would differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston). He thought it would be many years before there were television sets in the country in any great numbers. I do not agree with that. When the cable is extended to the Midlands and then further north we shall have a great many television sets and the more sets that are built, the sooner the price will come down. On Sunday I had the pleasure of looking in a television set and seeing the Lord President of the Council in Whitehall getting wet through. That is the only occasion when I had bad interference on my set although it is near a main road. I would congratulate the Postmaster-General on the television service. It has made tremendous progress in the last year or two. It shows great initiative on the part of his staff, the engineers and others that such clear programmes are sent out.
The Postmaster-General said he was willing to have discussions with the manufacturers in due course. It would have been better had these discussions taken place before the Second Reading of this Bill so that he could have come here and told us how far they would co-operate and to what extent the difficulties are likely to be overcome. We are told now that we have to wait until after today for these discussions. That is not treating the House in the way it should be treated on this point.
The Postmaster-General also referred to detection machinery. I do not know how efficient the detection machinery is, but I was told before the war when the Post Office were trying to get people to buy licences, they used to send vans round the streets with a few gadgets in them which could be seen. When the ladies saw the van they rushed off terrified that they were going to be summoned, and bought licences out of sheer fright. I do not know how efficient the detection apparatus is today, but perhaps the House can be told, for that has a bearing on the particular point, although it may be giving away one or two of the secrets of the Post Office. We have quite enough regulations today without adding to what is already a far too heavy list 1592 of rules and regulations, particularly of this type of entering an individual's house. I thought that last week's Government statement about controls was an indication that their policy now was to lessen the number of controls prior to the General Election without bringing in new ones which gives an official the right to enter a house.
I should like to know how many complaints the Postmaster-General has had regarding the operation of aircraft. I quite agree that it is very serious on a blind approach system to an airfield if there is interference. An aircraft might be taken off its course and crash with loss of life. That has to be taken care of, and I would suggest that equipment should be installed at that airport which would readily show if interference is taking place. There should be some form of detection equipment in the control tower or in close proximity to the airfield. Everything must be done in relation to establishing some system of detection where there is a possible loss of life involved. It must be taken care of.
§ Mr. J. Lewis
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us what he means by "taking care of"? Following up that line of argument, let us assume that in close proximity to this apparatus a doctor started up a short wave apparatus and he refused to take any steps whatsoever to prevent interference, what should my right hon. Friend do in those circumstances?
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
If the hon. Gentleman will wait a moment I will deal with that point when I come to diathermy. I do not believe that radio receivers are the main source of trouble in this matter. They do cause trouble through inefficient aerials, but the real trouble I believe is in hospitals where there is diathermy and in doctors' consulting rooms. In the war the hospitals had to screen their equipment in a metal cage in such a way that it could not send out a single message which enemy aircraft could pick up. I am told that that is not done today, and if this proposal is going to be enforced it is going to cost the Ministry of Health a large sum of money to put the equipment into separate rooms and carry out the screening. I feel entitled to ask how far the Government are going to take care of their 1593 own facilities in this matter. We have not been told anything at all except that there is a right to enter a Government building.
I believe that motor cars are the most damaging both to television receivers and to some extent to radio receivers. I should have thought that the right thing to do would be to have every new car fitted with the correct gadgets and suppressors and when a car's licence comes up for renewal, a certificate would have to be produced by the owner saying that the necessary modifications had been carried out. In a matter of 12 months or so I believe we should overcome most of the difficulties of getting cars correctly screened.
The Post Office I know are most successful in dealing with the complaints they receive. I have here some information extracted from a Post Office memorandum on interference for the month of June, 1948. There is nothing secret about it, for it is given out to the trade. It shows that of all the complaints received in June, 1948, those unknown, not heard by Post Office staff, total 24 per cent.; inefficient aerials, 17.2 per cent.; faulty receivers, 11.8 per cent.; faulty wiring of buildings, 6.6 per cent.; refrigerators, 4 per cent.; electrical motors, 3 per cent.; bedwarmers, 2.1 per cent.; fluorescent tubes, 2 per cent.; sewing machine motors, 1.8 per cent.; mis-operation of receivers, 1.6 per cent.; amateur radio stations, 1.3 per cent.
I do not believe that the real trouble is due to the ordinary household receiver at all. These figures show that the Post Office are tackling the problem, and if they go on in that way they can practically solve the problem by persuasion and not by forcing their way under an order into a house. Likewise, I believe that the manufacturers will co-operate by incorporating new features in the equipment to overcome the difficulties. The penalties proposed are severe, and I do not think that my constituents with whom I discussed the matter want this at all. Many of them may not realise the implications where loss of life is concerned, but I believe that this House would be doing the wrong thing if it gave this Bill a Second Reading in its present form.
The Postmaster-General, who sends very courteous replies to any letters I 1594 ever send to him regarding complaints from my constituents, will find that this Bill as now worded, is not necessary at all if he tackles this problem by persuasion and by working closely with the manufacturers as well as by setting up a committee to deal with the safety side and see how the difficulties in that direction can be overcome.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) spoke, I have no doubt, with great knowledge of the technical and scientific aspects of this subject, and about them I am not qualified to speak. I wish to say a few words about the effect of this Bill upon the power of entry and of search, which are topics of the most vital importance to all Members of this House. We on this side of the House are committed to the view that for certain social and economic purposes the power of the State should be extended, but while we are committed to that point of view, we are no less committed to the view that it is absolutely essential to remain vigilant to ensure that no unnecessary or undesirable infringement occurs of any of our civil liberties or of our privacy.
Having in mind that general principle, which I believe will be generally agreed upon in the House, I have looked anxiously at the provisions in this Bill to see whether there really is any objectionable feature to be found in it. I turn first to the provisions dealing with the power of entry and the power of search. I find that there is no power of entry, as I understand it, and no power of search until there has been sworn information laid before justices. I find further that the swearing of that information before justices is of no effect whatever under the Bill unless, at the time that the information is being given, there is reason to suspect that an offence has been or is being committed.
Before an offence under the Bill can take place, and before an offence can be suspected to take place, there must have been not only objectionable interference, but a notice by the Postmaster-General calling for that objectionable interference to stop. If my understanding of the Bill is correct, these are very important limitations upon the power of search and upon 1595 the power of entry conferred by the Bill. A citizen can only go to justices and set in motion the procedure for the issue of a search warrant if he suspects or alleges two things: first, that objectionable interference is taking place, and, secondly, that the Postmaster-General has already issued a notice calling upon that interference to cease. Looking at this matter dispassionately and objectively, it seems to me that the conditions in which both these circumstances will be present are so unlikely to arise that this provision in the Bill is an item of really negligible importance. Therefore, I cannot agree when it is alleged that this Bill provides for a serious infringement of privacy and a serious extension of the rights of search and entry.
I take this opportunity of saying that, although I think that that criticism in connection with the Bill is unfounded, there are in my view one or two doubtful features in it which it is very important should be considered in Committee. I should like to mention two of them. The first is the one which was mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris) when he intervened in the course of the speech of my right hon. Friend. He referred to the proviso in Subsection (4) of Clause 11 of the Bill. I venture to express the view that that is rather an objectionable proviso as it stands, and I hope that it will be carefully considered in Committee.
As I understand it, what that Clause does is to set up, with a considerable flourish of language, a tribunal, which is given apparently extensive powers. When one looks at this proviso one finds that what it makes possible is for the tribunal to call upon the Postmaster-General to revoke a notice which he has delivered calling for some interference to stop. Although the tribunal may order that that notice shall be revoked by the Postmaster-General, the proviso gives the Postmaster-General complete power to issue a new notice covering the same set of facts and precisely to the same effect as the previous notice. In my view that, as it stands, is an undesirable proviso.
The other provision in the Bill which I look upon with some anxiety is Subsection (7) in Clause 11 which deals with a person who: 1596knowing that a notice of the Postmaster-General under this Section is in force with respect to any apparatus, uses that apparatus, or causes or permits it to be used in contravention of the notice.…That seems to me a somewhat dangerous provision. As I understand it, it has this effect. I may go to the house of a friend and if that friend, in the course of his conversation with me, lets me know—as he is quite likely to do—that he has received a notice from the Postmaster-General calling upon him to stop using a certain apparatus in his house, and then in my presence proceeds to operate that apparatus, if I do not remonstrate with him or intervene to prevent him from operating the apparatus I am liable to a fine not exceeding £100 or to a period of three months' imprisonment, or both. That provision, on the grounds I have attempted to indicate, seems to me to be undesirable. Those are points which can be dealt with in Committee. With the general purpose and effect of this Bill I have no quarrel whatever and I can give it my approval.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Marshall (Bodmin)
It would appear that the argument of the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) is rather a strange one. He has said, "I do not agree with the Opposition in the arguments that they are putting forward that they do not like this Bill." He then proceeded to tell the Government why he did not like the Bill. He used such words as, "doubtful features of this Bill," and, "undesirable provisions of this Bill," and so forth. If he searches his heart I think he will find that he has not obtained very much comfort from this Bill either.
The hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) also appeared to me to be using very strange language about this Bill. He first said that it was desirable to have a certain degree of technical knowledge. I would hasten to add that I have not that technical knowledge. I assume that he may have that knowledge, but it seems a little strange that he then decided that rural areas were not having any difficulty with interference. I represent a rural area and also know a certain amount about the countryside, and I would say that a certain degree of interference is as likely in the rural areas as anywhere else. The hon. Member, and any hon. Member of this
1597 House who thinks that interference really does not trouble the rural countryside should tell that to anyone living in Cornwall. It might then be suggested to them that perhaps his technical knowledge is not as great as the hon. Member made out.
With regard to the Bill itself, it did appear to me that the hon. Member has not given sufficient study to it, because where he appeared to think there was not any real trouble and nothing to worry about was in regard to the very things bout which we are troubled and concerned. I completely agree with the concluding passages of his speech with regard to the question of listening in to trawlers and the rest. How absurd it is that it should be possible to prosecute in such cases. There again, he showed that he did not like the Bill. I thought that he made a very good case to show why the Opposition do not like the Bill either.
When listening to the Postmaster-General, these were the thoughts that went through my mind. It seemed to me that he approached this subject rather like this: "Something must be done. This Bill is something, therefore, let us do it." I feel perfectly satisfied that all of us in this House realise that something must be done, but equally some of us—perhaps a larger number than people may think—think that this is not the way to do it. This is a mischievous little Bill. The Postmaster-General referred to the word, "experimental" in reference to Part II and Part III. Does it not appear that sufficient real study has not been given to this Measure before it was presented? It appears that suddenly, for some reason of which I am not aware, the Bill came out of a pigeon hole at the Post Office. His Majesty's Ministers had not sufficient time to study its implications before it was brought forward, perhaps because it was a fit moment to fill in time during this week. That is my impression.
If my impression is right, it is indeed a very good reason why the Bill is bad. During the period I have been in this House I have noticed that if the Lord President of the Council spends a considerable time on the Government Front Bench when he is not actually conducting a Bill, he is not too happy about it. [An HON. MEMBER: "He is not here now."]
1598 It is true that the Lord President is not present at the moment but he has spent a good deal of time here today. I do not always refer to the fact that hon. Members need occasionally to go to get tea. I have noticed that the right hon. Gentleman has spent a considerable time on the Government Front Bench today rather like a jaunty jay willing to give warning suddenly, because he is listening to the Debate and is worried by it. That, coupled with the words he used in answer to a Question the other day, causes me to believe that he is not too happy about this Bill. Every speech which has been made so far, whether from a supporter of the Government or a Member of the Opposition, has given full vent to the fact that nobody is happy about this Measure.
The Postmaster-General used another argument when he spoke about suppressors and manufacturers. Part of his argument was that he could not direct the manufacturers to fit these gadgets because it may well be that in one part of the United Kingdom they would not work as well as in another. I think that that fairly represents what he said. I am not a technical man, but it appears to me that if indeed that is the case we shall find many difficulties. What about the holiday season when the housewife travelling about the country takes with her an electric iron? Does it mean that at one moment in one part of the country she will be tackled by someone and told that she must have a different suppressor, and then when she moves to another place she must make another change?
What about the electric razor and the myriad little electrical gadgets which are to be found all over the place? There is the car with a radio inside it. What happens when the car moves from one place to another? Perhaps it may go near an aerodrome so that the driver can see an aeroplane come down. He may have to wait for a long time and he may turn on the radio.
§ Mr. Marshall
That is not the point I am making. I am not talking about that very nice luxury which some people manage to afford of a radio attached to one's car. I am speaking of the little 1599 radio which one takes from the house and puts into the car. I have one myself. That may well cause interference. I feel that these matters can be overcome but that they have not yet been sufficiently studied by His Majesty's Government. I suggest that this Bill has been put before us without having been given the necessary study by the Government.
Already a lot has been said about Clause 14 which refers to search warrants and powers of arrest. The argument of one hon. Member opposite was to the effect that he could not imagine all these things happening. He did not really believe that they would ever come to pass. That is always the argument about some form of dictation which is contained in a Bill. People say, "This power will not really be used. It could not really happen." I do not suggest that the Postmaster-General will do this, but we do not know who will be the Postmaster-General tomorrow. Funny things have happened in the last three years.
During the last ten years there has been voluntary co-operation in these matters of interference and, as far as I can see, that system must have worked remarkably well. It is a great day for the Postmaster-General when he stands at the Despatch Box and introduces a Bill. Today he says that 40,000 complaints have been received. An hon. Member says, "Yes, 40,000 complaints, but in how many cases did the people concerned refuse to have anything to do with the Department on a basis of voluntary cooperation?" What does the Postmaster-General say? He replies, "I do not know. I will try to find out." The next question asked of him referred to similar legislation in other countries. He was asked which were the countries and what was the legislation. He replied, "I do not know. I will find out." Is it proper that when the Government propose a Bill such as this, these absolutely vital considerations should not have been completely known by the Assistant Postmaster-General and his right hon. Friend? [Interruption.] If that is a laughing matter for hon. Members opposite, then there is a great division of view between us on that point, and there always will be.
1600 Wireless equipment is a most expensive matter today, especially in the rural districts where there are a large number of very old sets and where there is not much likelihood of the people being able to afford new sets. The cost of the wireless licence for people with small incomes like the old-age pensioner presents a heavy burden. I know of cases where people have had to give up their sets because of the expense. If the Government carry this Measure which forces extra burdens upon such people without any question of repayment, then this is a bad Bill. I trust that His Majesty's Government at the very last moment will take the Bill back, spring-clean it, have another look at it and introduce it again. It is not a satisfactory Bill and, in my humble view, the Government have not given sufficient time to study its implications in a proper manner.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Like some other hon. Members who have already spoken, I am very naive about the technical side of this Bill. I am one of those who actually listen to the radio. Like most people, I listen in order to seek information, and to be abreast of the news. I like to listen to boxing matches, to enjoy the excitement of the brilliant and dramatic programmes which are sometimes given. Occasionally I like to hear "Itma." Perhaps I shall not be misunderstood if I say that that is one of the most brilliant and outstanding programmes in the world. I also like to hear many other "high spots," and on occasion even listen to the Third Programme.
I am sure that everybody in this House will admit that if, as happens particularly in thickly-populated, congested areas, their hearing is to be vitiated and their enjoyment spoiled, some steps should be taken to deal with the difficulty. If interference is caused by fortuitous circumstances which cause hideous noises, crackling, frizzling, blasting, blurting and all the other awful sounds which are associated with bad listening—if that happens, the Postmaster-General, like a good father and protector who looks after this great family of 11 million households who listen to the radio, must do something to help these people who are in distress and difficulty. Many of us do not like pettifogging and puerile complaints which 1601 may be of very short duration. I live in a block of flats, and sometimes pick up the telephone and apply my ear to it. Though this is not strictly relevant to the Bill, it does show that there is much work to be done in the Postmaster-General's Department. I hold the instrument within an inch of my ear, and, having overcome the first nervousness——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)
As the hon. Gentleman has said, this has nothing at all to do with the Bill.
§ Mr. Mack: With
great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I never said it had nothing to do with the Bill; I said it was not strictly relevant.
§ Mr. Mack
Knowing that all good Deputy-Speakers, particularly in the early stages of what I hope will be a long and illustrious career, are anxious that Debates should be conducted with rectitude —[Interruption.]I still have the Floor of the House, I would remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. Knowing that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, are perhaps——
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will now confine himself to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. Mack
Thank you, Sir. I did not intend to mislead, and I am sorry if I have been misunderstood. When one puts the telephone instrument to one's ear, one sometimes has to endure an awful succession of noises, due, I am told, to faulty mechanism. That could also apply to a radio set, and, in the cases where it does apply, it is natural that people should feel aggrieved and send in complaints to the Postmaster-General. Although my right hon. Friend admits having received something like 40,000 complaints a year, I am quite confident that, if all those people who had a legitimate cause to complain had done so, they would be very considerably in excess of that number, and might well be 100,000.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who possesses such human qualities, is very anxious to put matters right and to protect the people from what may be quite unwarrantable interference. That was why he said—and I do not know 1602 whether it was weakness or excessive generosity—that, if hon. Members on either side of the House could make practical suggestions to him, whereby he could attain the objects of this Bill by other methods, he would be very pleased to give such suggestions sympathetic consideration. That gesture on the part of my right hon. Friend proves that he is not here to ride roughshod over people, nor for the purpose of securing a Bill the object of which is to trespass into the sacred precincts of people's homes. I am all for the sanctity of the home, and I believe that no one should, without very good reason, be prepared to go into the homes of the people for the purpose of interfering with the normal lives of the citizens.
Surely, however, where there is no doubt whatever that, whether by selfishness on the part of some people or by the use of faulty apparatus, they are causing concern and depriving others of their legitimate pleasures, and, further, after they have been warned and have disregarded the warning, on the action of the magistrates, there is very good cause, in the very few instances that may arise, for such powers to be granted. In practice, we shall find very few people who will continue to commit this offence, and for that reason I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. After having been so warned, if they continue to cause great discomfort and interference with the legitimate pleasures of other people, there will be few who will deny the right of the Minister to have access to their homes. Such a Measure should have the full backing of hon. Members on all sides. This is not a controversial Bill at all, but a matter of common sense.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he has had some advice on this matter. What do the radio engineers of the B.B.C. say about it? I presume that he has been advised by them, but that they are in some doubt as to what he can do, and I can only conclude, as one without any particular technical knowledge on the subject, that, as the result of consultations which have taken place, it has been decided that the only thing to be done is to provide some measure of enforcement in this Bill that will make people realise that we are going to tackle this matter very seriously. There are misanthropes who 1603 live selfishly and make themselves objectionable, and I can see nothing more in this Bill than a genuine desire to provide for the comfort and happiness of others.
I notice there is a question involved concerning ships at sea and things of that kind, of which I did not know anything until this afternoon; for example, that quite innocent apparatus might affect the operation of electrical devices in ships at sea and might even affect life saving. I did not know, either, that the landing of aircraft might be affected. I am surprised that these aspects of the matter were not put before the House earlier. That being so, I cannot understand how anybody can dispute the matter, and I think that the only thing which the Postmaster-General can do is to tackle it in the way in which he has done so.
This Bill seems to me to be quite innocuous. It certainly is not political. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) opposite is very artful, but I detect behind that smiling countenance a warmth of humanity which lends colour to his speeches. I know that he is a formidable opponent, but his usual practice is to look at legislation which comes before this House and say to himself "I think this is going to be rather easy this afternoon, and so I shall have a go and see if I can put the Minister off his balance." That is all right concerning normal controversial Measures, but here we have an innocuous and perfectly innocent proposal.
I hope this Bill is going to do much good to my right hon. Friend and everyone else as well, because I assume that the Minister himself listens to the radio from time to time and will benefit as much as anybody else. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members opposite will not whip and lash themselves into a fury of resentment against some suspected piece of political artifice which they may imagine is in the Bill, and take the matter to a Division. If they do, of course, we shall be very happy to defeat them in the Lobbies. I hope, however, that they will give this Bill their blessing, because it is something which is intended to protect the pleasures of millions of humble and worthy citizens against interference by crackles, noises 1604 and all those awful things which are sometimes heard on the radio. I, therefore, hope they will support the Bill.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Sir Harold Webbe (Westminster, Abbey)
I intervene for only two or three minutes. Although I endeavoured to trace the course of the argument of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack), I am afraid that I was unable to follow the complexities of it. I disagree with his closing remark that this is an innocuous Bill, but I agree very heartily with the remark which he made earlier, to the effect that we are not to imagine that the Postmaster-General has come here determined to ride roughshod over the liberties of the British people, and so on. We know the right hon. Gentleman far too well to suspect him of any such intention.
In common with every other Member of the House, I believe that the problem of radio interference has to be dealt with, but I join in the plea which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) who moved the Amendment, that the Government should rely for the moment upon the powers they already have and that they should not seek to obtain the very wide, undeniably wide, powers which Parts II and III of the Bill would confer upon the Postmaster-General, without further reflection both upon the problem itself and on the implications of the solution which they are putting forward. I make that plea because, having listened very carefully to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, I could not escape the feeling, which was voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall), that the Bill has been produced without that careful study of all the issues involved, which certainly should have been made before the Minister made himself responsible for detailed legislation.
In the course of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he was good enough to allow me to interrupt him to ask whether he could give us information about legislation passed in other countries to deal with the problem, and what was the character of that legislation. I must say that it was a shock to me to find that the Minister was completely unprepared to deal with what I thought was an 1605 obvious question which every Member of this House should have been ready to ask. I would like to put the House in possession of what I have every reason to think, to the best of my information, the facts are in this matter. Four countries have passed legislation dealing with this problem—Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland. There is no legislation of this kind in operation in America, except in one or two small towns which have local ordinances covering the matter within their own boundaries. In the four countries I have mentioned, the legislation does not deal with the suppression of interference of the type of extremely short wave radio which I know the Minister had in mind, and which he referred to in connection with television and radar. It deals with the suppression of interference with ordinary radio reception by the ordinary set.
That legislation deals with the matter not in the way which the Bill proposes, by placing upon the user of the apparatus a responsibility for suppressing the interference. It deals with the problem by making it obligatory upon the manufacturers who desire to sell apparatus in those countries, to fit that apparatus with some suppressing device. The fitting of suppression devices, I am informed—and I must join other hon. Members in not claiming any scientific and technical knowledge for myself, and in speaking at second-hand—for ordinary radio is a much less difficult and complicated business than the suppression of the interference which the right hon. Gentleman has particularly in mind. Throughout his speech I was struck with the obvious internal evidence that the matter had not received the careful technical consideration which it merits. For example, there was no indication, when the Minister was talking about the possibility of calling on the users of apparatus to fit proper suppressors, that he realised that to fit the existing apparatus with suppressors would cost anything from 10 to 15 times as much as to fit suppression devices to the apparatus in the course of manufacture; but surely that is a very material point.
A second thing which astonished me was that the Minister chose, apparently quite deliberately, to base the examples which he gave about how the Bill would work upon the case of the electric iron.
1606 Does the Minister know, and has he been informed by his technicians that the suppression of interference from the electric iron is a problem which has baffled the scientists all the way through and that it is by far the most difficult problem that the technicians have to face from any domestic apparatus. Does the Minister know that, in spite of many years of research by the British Standards Institute and by the research organisations connected with the electrical industry into the problems of domestic utility articles, the effective suppression of the electric iron involves a suppressor very nearly as big as the iron itself and costs considerably more?
That is the kind of fact which seems to me to be very material in the consideration of the Bill, which would place in the hands of the Postmaster-General powers which he says he does not intend to operate widely but which, for purely technical reasons, he would find it virtually impossible to exercise in the vast majority of cases. There are many makes of domestic appliances. To fit suppressors to many of them would cost sums of money far beyond the reasonable power of the users. Many of those appliances are old and have been in use for some time, and suppressors cannot be fitted to them at all, so far as technical knowledge goes at the present time.
I suggest to the Minister that he should abandon for the moment this whole idea of trying to enforce suppression of interference by regulations governing the user of apparatus, that he should take back Parts II and III of the Bill, and that he should reconsider the whole problem in the let of the experience which other countries already have where they have tackled the problem. Surely the experience of those other countries is worth consideration? He should consider the problem afresh from the technical angle and, as was said earlier in the Debate, not come to the House with a cut-and-dried Bill before he has discussed the matter with the manufacturers who produce the articles. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that those manufacturers have a great deal of most valuable information in their research departments and that it would enable him to look at the problem from a more practical point of view.
1607 The impression one gets is that the Bill has been conceived inside a Government Department where probably all they know about a suction cleaner is how to switch it on and how to empty the bag; that the Bill has not had close consideration by technical experts who, 1 know, are available; and, above all, that it has not been regarded from the realistic point of view of how its provisions are likely to impinge upon the ordinary lives of people who use these pieces of apparatus. I appeal to the Minister to look at the problem again. The House will be ready at any time, I am sure, to give him any reasonable powers which he can show to us are essential for carrying out the duty which is laid upon him to protect not only the television user who wants amusement abut much more vital interests, some at least of which he indicated to us this afternoon.
I do not want to appear hostile in any way to the principle of this Bill, but I beg the Minister, before he seeks these wider powers over the individual liberty and conduct of humble citizens, to look at the problem again, to take realistic advice, not merely from the highly skilled scientists but from the practical technicians and manufacturers, and then come to this House again with a Measure differently conceived. Then I am certain that from all sides of the House he will receive all the support he desires.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. M. F. Titterington (Bradford, South)
I am sure that the Postmaster-General will be in a position to rebut the arguments of the hon. Member who represents the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe), and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will reassure the House that there has been a thorough and competent inquiry made into this matter. The observations of the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) interested me also. Although he made an interesting speech in support of the Amendment, he lacked imagination. This Bill is an imaginative Bill in the sense that it looks forward. In those days when we shall be televising the last of the Tory Party, if some plutocrat nearby with an electric refrigerator puts it on and seriously disturbs the television, the Government will be accused of a new form of cold war. Seriously, however, 1608 one might say that the Bill has regard to the difficulties with which the Postmaster-General has to contend and will have to contend.
When reading the Bill I was struck by the first observation in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum that Part II "breaks new ground." That is not exactly the connotation one would associate with electrical matters, but the approach to the problem intrigued me. The Postmaster-General spoke about the pivotal part of the Bill being Part II. I listened carefully when he outlined his proposals and when he submitted respectfully to the House that there were new grounds for the experimental periods with which we shall have to contend. In that regard he and his Department showed a foresight which is characteristic of the Labour Government in this House. My right hon. Friend also stressed the desirability of passing legislation which will safeguard the national and international exchanges involved in wireless telegraphy. If there is one matter upon which many things hang nowadays, it is the intercommunications of the world, and if we can anticipate difficulties by a Bill of this type, a service will be done not only to England but to humanity as a whole, in avoiding the international complications which interference might arouse.
The Postmaster-General said that he was protecting the listener and was seeking through this legislation to prevent interference from ordinary electrical equipment. In other words, he brought the matter down to earth; he translated it into workshop and everyday domestic practice. One anticipates an enormous development in electrical equipment. If the proposals now before us regarding the organisation of industry and electrical expansion are to materialise in the near o future, there is bound to be a formidable expansion in electrical equipment, appliances and generation, for which one has to legislate in anticipation.
My right hon. Friend said that he was not legislating merely in the interests of pleasure, but in the interests of safety of life. That sounded a note of seriousness, even if there were a disposition to be facetious. It happens that I was interested in the development of civil aviation in connection with my own city, and I know that the expansion of civil aviation on the Yorkshire moorlands was 1609 conditioned by inability to use the correct type of instruments which would safeguard the landing of aircraft in that neighbourhood. Such things as radar should not be interfered with, and I agree with the Minister that no interference can be justified when it is a question of the safety of life.
My right hon. Friend referred to domestic appliances and he disposed of the arguments of hon. Members opposite relating to the dealers and distributors on whom the original responsibility should or could rest. My right hon. Friend concedes that point, that it does not rest upon the distributors of electrical equipment or appliances but upon how the user uses them. He also referred to cinemas diathermy, and so on. In view of the enormous expansion of electrical distribution and utilisation, the Minister is making a sound proposal in his Bill. He finished his observations by saying that the Government are broad-minded and will consider any workable suggestions. Can the Opposition offer any reasonably-grounded criticism of such an assurance? Paragraph (b) of Clause 11 (1) states that if the Minister is satisfiedthat the use of the apparatus is likely to cause undue interference with any wireless telegraphy.…That seems to me to be capable of an elastic interpretation.
In my own mind, I feel that this is a Bill which takes a step in the right direction. It is far-sighted. It has good intentions. It seeks to regulate, in the imponderable world of wireless telegraphy, the wireless waves. Just as we have had to regulate traffic on the ground, the Minister, with almost Wellsian accuracy, is seeking to regulate in the atmosphere the wireless waves, and I congratulate him on the Bill and have the greatest pleasure in supporting it.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
I want to say only a few words about the Bill. The House recognises the tremendous urgency of this matter and the fact that the Postmaster-General is responsible to the House for dealing with it. It is, therefore, obvious that a Bill of some sort is necessary.
I am very much concerned about that part of this subject which deals with safety of life. I think these powers are justified and only justified if they can be proved 1610 to be necessary to safeguard life—that is to say, through navigational aids by sea or in the air. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston), who spoke from the Front Bench on this side of the House, made it perfectly clear that nobody on this side opposes the principle of the necessity for dealing with these matters, which are increasing in complexity every year. The Postmaster-General has one of the ablest engineers in this country or any other country in Mr. Gill. He is a man whose advice and views we all respect, I think, and I have no doubt he has been consulted on this subject, but there is also a great deal to be said to suggest that if this action can be taken in stages, the result will be much more satisfactory.
The Minister of Health is in his place and before he came into the House he was mentioned in connection with hospitals. There is no doubt that electrical apparatus in hospitals is the cause of far more interference than anything else. The curious thing is that most of the big airfields are situated in places where their approach is over one of the new hospitals which are springing up on the outside of cities rather than in the inside of cities. The consequence is that the risk of interference is very great. I would like to ask the Minister of Health what steps he proposes to take to remedy this, because hospitals are undoubtedly the cause of more interference than anything else. I imagine the cost of remedying it would be very great. I feel it is a mistake for any' Government Department to come to this House to ask for powers unless we are sure that the Government Departments themselves—or the institutions associated with them; that is the more correct way of putting it—intend to take the lead.
If we turn to the question of navigational aids at sea, we learn that certain experiments are now being made which, as far as they have gone, are proving highly successful. A great deal of money has been spent on these experiments, voted by this House, so as to enable vessels in narrow waters to keep the channel by radar. If we are to make that an effective service, we must safeguard the banks on either side of the approach to the harbour, and if it is proved that there is any interference with navigational aids, full power should be 1611 given, to ensure that suppressors must be fitted, by compulsion. I think every power should be given to the responsible Minister to see there is no interference.
To that extent, therefore, I agree with the Bill, but I beg the Government to pay attention to what has been said on this side of the House, because I feel there is a great deal more which can be done by consultation with manufacturers. Further, I do not believe any hon. Member in any part of the House wants the Government now to have any more powers of search and entry. I believe the general public and every hon. Member on this side would accept these powers if they dealt only with safety of life. There are certain airfields which it is already a danger to approach in thick weather because of this interference. It is ridiculous to suppose that any hon. Member would be averse from giving the Postmaster-General all the powers necessary for him to deal with that, but surely it is fantastic to suggest that he needs to take a steam hammer to crack a nut as in the case of some poor old lady who has a television set, while another old lady in the same block of flats has an electric iron. That case seems to me to be in quite a different category and, therefore, needs to be dealt with in quite a different way.
If it is true that the electric iron is one of the most disagreeable things, causing a great deal of interference, surely the solution is to consult the manufacturers of irons and try to get something done that way without coming to the House and demanding these wide powers. The Postmaster-General has the good will of this House and his Department has responsibilities placed upon it by this House. If he would consider the question again, therefore, and if the Leader of the House would consider how much more satisfactory it would be to let us all approve something which we want, then I am sure that would be a better way of tackling the subject. We do not like this power of search in cases which are not connected with questions of safety.
The Postmaster-General has placed us in a great dilemma. I understood that the Leader of the House indicated that the point will be considered in Committee, but if he can rise in his place now and tell us that he does not propose to 1612 exercise these powers except in cases of danger to life or danger to navigation, if he would take the Bill back and reconsider Part II, then I am sure he would have everyone with him. There is, of course, a great urgency to get this Bill through. I know that. The whole House thinks that in general it should be passed, but surely we do not want to include in the Bill all these powers; they are not popular and I do not believe they are necessary.
It has been suggested, in connection with motor cars and lorries, that it would be very simple to put a Clause into the Bill that a licence would not be given to any vehicle, as road-worthy, unless it had a suppressor fitted. Surely, that is very simple. These vehicles are the cause of a great deal of interference and I believe if such an action were taken on Committee stage, and if the Postmaster-General said he would accept such an Amendment, he would find a great many of his troubles remedied as far as television is concerned. I certainly hope and believe that television will expand.
I am afraid there is some confusion in the minds of some hon. Members between radio and radar. Radar is one of the things in which I am most interested. These short wave matters are far more difficult to deal with than anything else. If the Postmaster-General wants to make a division of this subject it might be made on those lines.
Speaking generally, as one who is anxious to help, I beg the Government not to put us into this difficulty by attaching these penalties to matters which are of very small importance compared with the vital question of taking full power to protect life and navigation by sea and in the air.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
I wish to take up a point raised by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn). It seems that different hon. Members of this House have different ideas as to what is the main cause of interference within the ambit of the Bill which we are now discussing. The hon. Member for Abingdon has suggested that the Bill might be amended to provide that every motor car or lorry in this country should be compulsorily fitted with some device which would overcome the problem of interference. It has not been made as 1613 clear as it might be that one effect of this Bill will be to impose this obligation upon every motor car user in the country. The word "apparatus" is used in the Bill. "Apparatus" is the kind of word I personally do not like: it is one of those omnibus words which might include anything and everything, and it is not clear from my reading of the Bill whether the word "apparatus," in Clause 11, for example, does in fact include motor cars.
It is being argued by motorcar users that the proper remedy is not that suggested by the hon. Member for Abingdon —to compel motorists to insert a suppressor device—but to fit television sets with some form of protective device which would make them immune from the interference caused by the use of motorcars. After all, motor vehicles were in use long before the radio receiver was introduced. While I speak subject to correction by technical experts, I should have thought it possible for the radio manufacturers to have designed their apparatus so that it would work properly in such conditions as existed when wireless sets were first introduced on the market.
Under this Bill the Minister will have power to formulate regulations, and in connection with the operation of those regulations an advisory committee will be established. It is not clear, as far as I can see, under the terms of Clause 11 or Clause 14, whether or not the regulations under Clause 10 are to apply to motor vehicles or whether the enforcement regulations of Clause 11 will apply to them. That is a point which I hope my right hon. Friend will consider between now and the Committee stage, if he cannot deal with it tonight. It is clear that Clause 14, which gives powers of search, is intended to apply to motorcar users. Subject to these perhaps minor qualifications, I should like to express my cordial agreement with the Bill, which I think in principle is accepted by all parties in this House.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
I came to this House with an open mind on this Bill. There are two matters which I should like to ask the Postmaster-General to make clear. The first is this. I got the impression from both the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and the speech of my hon. Friend the Member 1614 for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) that there really was no urgency about this matter at all; yet my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) said that this Bill had been brought to the House as a matter of urgency. If this Bill is urgent from the point of view of any threat of war, in which obviously wireless interference would be a far more serious matter and of greater importance than it is in time of peace, then obviously we on this side, in my opinion, must not impede it.
However, if there is no urgency about the matter, and if it is not a question of life or death, or of enemy interference, then I agree with the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury, that Part I is entirely agreeable to all, but that Part II must be entirely reconsidered, as dealing with the causes of wireless interference by housewives or by machinery or by motorcars and as having nothing to do with life saving or with interference with aerodromes or with ships. If the hon. Gentleman who is to reply says that this matter is urgent, then I personally would take an entirely different view from that which I hold now.
I have a letter here from a constituent. I want to read one sentence from it, because it will give some pleasure, perhaps, to the Government. It says:Dear Sir, With reference to the Bill, regret to read that the Conservative Party has decided to oppose this Measure. As one who suffers from this nuisance, with thousands of others, it is my opinion that this is one of the few sensible Bills the Socialist Party has brought forward, and I would beg you not to vote against it.It may be one of the few sensible Bills the Socialist Party has brought forward, but it would be a more sensible Bill if Part II were entirely reconsidered, and if the question of suppression were dealt with through the manufacturers, as has been suggested in all quarters of the House, rather than by asking those who have already purchased instruments or machinery or motorcars to install at considerable cost and at retail prices suppressors for those instruments or machinery already made and delivered. The question turns on whether this is a vital matter and an urgent matter or not. If it is not urgent, surely the right way to deal with the matter is through the manufacturers.
1615 The second point I want to make is this. The Postmaster-General was good enough to give way to me, and I asked him whether the apparatus referred to in Clauses 10 and 11 meant such things as printing presses—whether printing presses could be fitted with suppressors? He said he thought that means could be found for doing that with printing presses as with other machinery. I am no technician, but I believe that the nuisance caused by machinery in close proximity to wireless receiving sets is far greater than the nuisance caused by casual motorcars. The machinery functions day after day at the same hour every day and very likely in the evening, when one wants to hear the news or to watch the television, if one has television, which I have not; whereas the nuisance caused by motorcars is a casual one caused as they go by. Has the Postmaster-General considered the question of dealing with these machines which are in every factory and in every town? Can they be made innocuous by the fitting of certain gadgets or instruments, or is that beyond possibility, or beyond the scope of the Bill?
The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) mentioned the rather vague wording, and in particular the word "apparatus"; and I entirely agree that this wording is vague. Reading the Bill the first time, I thought that the word "apparatus" referred to electrical apparatus in nearly every case, but on reading it again more carefully, I found that the word "apparatus" could mean apparatus other than electrical apparatus. In no case does the Bill mention what sort of apparatus is referred to. Will the hon. Gentleman who is to reply give me some information about the definition of "apparatus" in this Bill?
Having mentioned these two matters, I conclude by saying that unless I am satisfied that there is vital urgency for this Measure, and unless there is something that I have not yet heard expounded, then, in the interests of economy alone, and apart from the question of the severity of the penalties that are proposed, or the question of intrusion into a man's home, and the right of search, which I and everyone else in the House dislike intensely, I must vote for the Amendment.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)
do not believe that it is a harsh view of the speech that has just been made by the hon. and gallant Member for Barnstaple (Brigadier Peto) to say that it did not contain anything but wavering allusions, sometimes supporting the Bill and at other times, apparently, doubting the Bill. Indeed, as this Debate has developed, it has become perfectly obvious that the case from the other side has both weakened and wavered. I think that the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) gave what seemed to be a very sound and considered view upon this particular matter. He gave an expert one, too, certainly in regard to one phase of it. He said explicitly—and as I think quite correctly —that this is a matter of tremendous urgency. If that is so, then, of course, the only issue before the House is whether or not the contents of this Bill properly meet that particular issue.
No one who has the most elementary knowledge of this matter can doubt that the element of the safety of life is involved. The mere fact that there have been no accidents due to interference, whilst it is, of course, a merciful matter, is no test at all. The issue is whether the position is one in which the safety of life may be in danger, and if that is so, then not only is it the responsibility, but it is the duty, of the Government to do something in order to meet that particular position.
I think that the hon. Member for Abingdon was also revealing when he said in effect, "There is really no sound objection to the contents of this Bill except one, and that is that I do not like a search warrant; I do not like authority for people to go into private houses, searching and doing the sort of thing this Bill permits." That, of course, is a point of substance, and no Act of Parliament should contain a provision of that kind unless it is abundantly and inevitably in the public interest that it ought to do so. That need, that prerequisite, must be proved in this House, and the onus of proof is on those seeking to impose that provision. It must be proved that that particular provision is necessary in order to meet what is an urgent matter in the public interest.
1617 One thing is very plain and I am quite sure that right hon. and hon. Members on the other side will agree when I say that this will not be the first time that an Act of Parliament has been put upon the Statute Book which contains machinery to enable a search warrant to be issued and executed. That is perfectly clear. I think that if research is made, it will be found that Tory Governments in the past have been the authors of many such Statutes with such a power. For instance, there is such a provision in the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, and no one objects to it because it is in the public interest, and it is necessary to safeguard the public in numerous ways. The fact that a Tory Government happened to be in office at the time did not make that provision any the less valuable or necessary.
Under that Act, there is a right to go into anyone's dwelling house, quite apart from other premises—and it applies to all premises—and search that dwelling house, subject only to one pre-condition, which is that 24 hours' notice has to be given; not as much notice as under this Bill, but a very much shorter notice, and covering a very much wider range of objects. No one objects to that because it is a perfectly proper instrument to use in such a case in pursuance of the public interest. There is also a statutory provision that was passed in connection with bank notes. By an Act of Parliament, if anyone is suspected of having bank notes in his possession or his home which he is not lawfully supposed to have, his house can be searched under a search warrant and ransacked from top to bottom under the law.
It is the same with regard to the Children and Young Persons Act, and in connection with bankruptcy under the Bankruptcy Act. In those cases power to issue a search warrant also exists by Act of Parliament. There is in fact a whole line of Statutes which confer that particular power. The right when it exists is statutory almost all the way through. At Common Law the only right to go into a person's house was in the case of stolen goods. If someone is suspected of having stolen goods, there is the right of search and entry in order to get the goods and to arrest the person suspected to be unlawfully in possession of them. This is not a new or novel provision, and there is no invasion of public right or the normal degree of 1618 freedom about which we have to be apprehensive or on guard.
Of course, all these matters provided for in Part II and Part III of the Bill have to be considered and administered properly. The crucial matter the House has to consider is whether this particular Bill is necessary; that is to say, is there something which, in regard to wireless telegraphy, is such that these provisions are necessary, and, if that is so, are the provisions in the Bill proper and adequate in order to achieve that end? That does not seem to be denied. I have been in the House during the whole of the Debate, except for an interval of some 15 minutes, and 1 have not heard a single argument which rebutted the fact that there is "interference." If that is so, we get the first premise upon which this Bill rests, because the crucial provisions in this Bill, which are in Part II—apart from the right of search in Part III—are designed to meet and to remedy that particular matter.
What does the Bill propose should be done in that direction? The Postmaster-General has told us something that we all know—that there are many complaints with regard to interference. It has been suggested that, because there are 11 million houses and only 40,000 complainants, it is a very small average. We cannot quantify a thing like this. What we have to consider is not the number of complaints—and, of course, they have to be substantial to justify the Bill—but the area which is affected by the subject matter of the complaint. Everyone knows that for one complaint made there are many score more complaints which are not made, but when there is a complaint everyone knows that there is a very large area of electrical action which is covered and affected by that one particular instance. Therefore, I say—and I do not think it can be contradicted —that it is not a matter of the quantification of these complaints; it is not a comparison between 40,000 complaints and 11 million houses; the test is what is the area affected, what is the effect of the interference complained of?
There are two well-known types of interference. No one would be so foolish or imprudent as to deny that if safety of life is involved, we have to concede at once that something must be done to mitigate it. If that is so, then the effect of it is to concede to the Postmaster-General 1619 that the provision in the Bill regarding it is a good provision. What is the next point? The other line is interference with broadcasting. On the question of broadcasting or radio programmes, there are those who say: "Oh, well, what does it matter? Why should you have these provisions merely to eliminate this interference with the pleasure of listening to broadcasting?"
That comes very ill from legislators who have passed Measures to confer on the public, not only the right to have wireless sets, but also the right to pay for licences for them. It seems to me to come with little grace from this House to say: "Why should we do anything about this part of broadcasting when it is only a question of pleasure?" That must be wrong, and for this reason. Everyone knows that in the case of a public nuisance, whatever it is, there is a right to intervene; the courts can be asked for an injunction, which is granted if the public nuisance is proved. If people are conceded the right to have a wireless, it follows logically and obviously that they must be enabled to receive under the best possible conditions and enjoy the entertainment offered by that wireless, otherwise it becomes an irritation and a farce.
All of us who have a wireless set know very well that there are constant and sometimes bad interferences. Very often on a Saturday night, when listening to a very interesting play, one often experiences interference—always, of course, at the crucial moment—and the pleasure one has deliberately sat down to derive from listening to the play has been spoiled. Does anyone suggest that the public will resent proper action being taken to stop that? Does anyone deny that it is proper to take such action?
What is the action that it is proposed to take in the Bill? First of all, there is no question of a search warrant at all. All the Postmaster-General says is: "I know very well that intelligent people will be reasonable, and if complaint is made they will do something about it, so I shall not bother about the majority of people. However, if there is someone who is not amenable to reasonable action, all I desire to do is to send him a notice about it. I do not want to go into his house; I do not want to do anything drastic: I only want, first of all, to send him a notice. I shall not ask him to do 1620 the impossible, and the law cannot make anyone do the impossible. All I am asking him is to do what he reasonably can in order to stop the interference." One would have thought that any decent, intelligent, reasonable person would take a step like that. After all, a person who owns a wireless set must put up with that sort of thing; he must be good neighbourly and prepared to play his part, with other people, in making the reception of wireless entertainment as effective as possible.
The Postmaster-General says: "If there are people so contumacious, so recalcitrant and so unreasonable, that they will not do that, then I want power to take certain steps to make them do what is reasonable." What does the Minister then say? He says: "I am setting up an advisory committee and an appeal tribunal." Those are both prerequisites which give protection to the public to start with, because the Minister gets advice from his advisory committee on technical matters and the appeal tribunal is a safeguard to the public on the issue whether a person ought to be dealt with under the provisions of the Bill. Then what happens? Assuming that there is reasonable ground, the Postmaster-General can go to a justice of the peace. But he cannot merely go to a justice of the peace and say: "I want a search warrant." There are in the Bill most exacting and protective provisions which adumbrate as clearly as possible that certain things must be done first. He has to demonstrate that there are reasonable grounds; and he has to do so before the magistrate. Anyone who looks at the provisions in the Bill as to searching and a search warrant will see that this Measure is hedged round in every reasonable practicable way in order to safeguard the person against whom proceedings are contemplated before the court. What could be more reasonable, more practical and more sensible than that?
It is admitted that this matter is urgent, that the safety of life is involved, and that there is no reason why people should not comfortably enjoy proper radio entertainment. If a person went to the theatre and someone started making a row which interfered with other people's enjoyment of the performance, would he not be put out? Would anybody object to his being put out? Exactly the same argument applies to the recalcitrant person who is interfering with a whole crowd of people 1621 who desire to sit down peacefully in order to enjoy listening to their favourite radio programme.
It is said—and I was surprised to bear it said—that this Bill will lead to thousands of officials. What nonsense. Thousands of officials will not be necessary. The only people who will be affected by this Bill are the relatively few who want to be awkward, unreasonable, and difficult. Nobody else will be involved. No doubt from time to time people will be guided by the Post Office and experiments will be made with gadgets for the improvement of reception, and cutting out interference, and that kind of thing; but the number of people involved under the Bill will be relatively small. I do not think it is necessary to take up very much more time on this particular subject. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] I am very glad to have the assent of hon. Members opposite, because I am certain that the arguments I have put forward are irrefutable. Therefore, I have very great pleasure in supporting this Bill.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels), if I may say se with respect, occupied a considerable amount of the time of the House in proving, with great cogency, that twice two is four. None of us disputes that there is such a thing as interference. None of us disputes that we have here a problem. And when the hon. and learned Member states, as he did, that it is proper to take proper action we can but gravely agree with him. But the question is: What is proper action?
The hon. and learned Member said, very truly, that the onus of proof rested on the Minister. The fact remains that the Minister has not given us his proof. He may be able to give it; he has so far given us a speech, but he has not so far given us his proof. My hon. Friends have asked the Assistant Postmaster-General, in replying, to tell us what number of these 40,000 complaints met with recalcitrance. I hope he will answer that question. I hope he will also answer the question: Of these 40,000 complaints, in what number of cases was the cause of interference traced, and in what number was it found to be remediable? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commo- 1622 dore Harvey) gave the figures for the one month of June, 1948, from which it seemed that about a quarter of these cases were not traced, and the cause must not have been remediable in many other cases.
The whole argument, from the speech of the Postmaster-General at the beginning to that of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester, seems to me entirely to have missed the point of the complaint. The whole argument has been on the assumption that it is a perfectly childish technical problem to settle the cause of interference, and the only problem is these unpleasant recalcitrants who are to be made to toe the line. The fact of the matter is that interference is an extremely queer business, and in many cases we do not know what is the cause of interference. Sometimes it is a very odd cause.
I remember about two years ago turning on the wireless at home and instead of hearing the dulcet voice of Mr. Wilfred Pickles, hearing my neighbour telephoning to his sister. That also happened on a second occasion. I made inquiries about the cause, and I was told that this might happen with an old set but could not happen with a modern one. I believed that until the other day, when I was talking to a friend on the B.B.C. He was given a most modem B.B.C. set to put in his house, and when he turned it on, he heard his wife telephoning from upstairs. It shows that the causes of interference are not clearly known in many cases, certainly not as clearly known as we might be led to believe from this Debate. That is the answer to the mysterious case of Mrs. H., which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston).
The argument of Members opposite is that there is no interference with liberty because this machinery will not be put into motion except where there is widespread interference, when no one will object. What Members opposite have not noticed is the possibility that with the best will in the world, the source of interference may be wrongly located. It may be found that it was not the iron of Mrs. H. which was the cause of the interference but something else. Therefore, it is not a matter of being recalcitrant but of a mistake being made. The 1623 whole argument of Members opposite is based on the assumption that we are objecting to any powers being given to the Government. No one has denied from this side that there is a problem here or has objected to the assumption of powers. What we are extremely hesitant about is the assumption of these very drastic powers of three months imprisonment, and we are very unwilling to allow these powers to be given until we have had a much greater assurance than we have yet received that the problem will be dealt with technically in a competent fashion.
The hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) made a shattering suggestion which would knock the whole case for this Bill and this Debate entirely out of court. He suggested that instead of fitting suppressors to motorcars, electric irons and the other things, a device should be fitted to the radio sets. Who could possibly object to that? If there is something that can be fitted to a radio set which will prevent interference, then we do not want this Bill or this Debate. It is too easy. Why should we put suppressors on machines and motorcars if the difficulty can be got over by putting them on radio sets? If scientists can devise something to put on a wireless set, then the problem is solved.
The hon. and learned Member for Gloucester twitted us because some of us are alleged to have said that this is an urgent problem and others have said that it is not. That is no contradiction at all. The argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury was that it was not a comparatively urgent problem so far as people's pleasure is concerned, whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) believed it was an urgent problem so far as people's safety is concerned. We are willing to join with the hon. Member for Abingdon and give very great powers to the Government if they can show that this is necessary for the safety of life, but at present the situation is we have been told that no accidents have taken place as a result of the absence of these powers, and when we have asked how many cases of recalcitrants there have been, the right hon. Gentleman has not known. That is the astonishing thing about the whole of this Debate.
1624 We are not so dogmatic as to contend that these powers are not necessary, but it is intolerable that we should be asked to give these powers when the right hon. Gentleman has not taken the trouble to find out the number of people who have been recalcitrant, which would show us whether or not these powers are necessary. What is so terrifying about this modern legislation is that Members opposite think they have merely, to show that the Government have to do something and then, without any argument at all, they can slip into their Bills the most drastic penalties. For instance, there is this question of three months' imprisonment, which is not a childish thing.
There is another instance also, to which reference has not so far been made. Under Clause 6 of the Bill, foreign ships that contravene the regulations and have so far got along with a fine of £10, now suddenly find that the figure is changed to £100. The right hon. Gentleman does not even refer to this change, but merely says that this Part of the Bill is not controversial—yet the fine is multiplied by ten without any reason being given to the House. These penalties are piled upon the shoulders of the citizens without any explanation being given. I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester that the onus of proof is on the Minister, but the Postmaster-General, with all his courtesy, has not given us his reasons, and I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will fill in the gaps he has left.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Cobb (Elland)
Perhaps I ought to disclose an interest in the radio industry with which I have been connected for some time. I should like to say this in regard to the accusation which has been made against my right hon. Friend that he has not prepared his case properly: that hon. Members opposite, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), have shown very little evidence of having prepared their case.
For instance, it has been said on several occasions that manufacturers have not been consulted, whereas to my knowledge the radio industry has been agitating about this for at least 20 years and consultations have been going on with the Post Office all the time. Indeed, the manufacturers of apparatus which causes interference and many 1625 manufacturers in the radio industry wish that something had been done in this connection a long time ago. It is only now that the Postmaster-General has seen fit to amend the 1904 Act. Many people think that amendment of that Act is long overdue. It has also been said that only 40,000 cases come to the notice of my right hon. Friend per year, but I would remind the House that it is only the really difficult cases that go to the Postmaster-General. There are tens of thousands of cases which occur up and down the country throughout the year and are dealt with by ordinary radio technicians and service engineers.
We can take it, therefore, that the total number of people whose enjoyment of television and, more widely, of radio is interfered with is much more than 40,000 per year. During the war the Government then in power saw fit to take very drastic action indeed. Medical apparatus which was badly needed was put out of operation for weeks until it was properly screened. Radio diathermic apparatus was causing very serious interference indeed to navigation of aircraft, radar and things of that description. I think that one hon. and gallant Member opposite, who is no longer in his seat, at one time commanded a destroyer. He would not like it at all if when navigating in thick fog in the Thames, his radar was suddenly blacked out by interference, when his only hope would be if he had a Merchant Navy navigator on board to get him out of a difficult mess. Cases of medical apparatus in this country causing interference in America have been known, and vice versa.
There is another aspect of this matter which has not been examined, and that is the question of economics. It has been said that the manufacturers of domestic electrical apparatus which may give rise to this interference ought not to be able to put the cost on to the public, but should put it on the apparatus before it comes out of the factory. There is an argument for that, but we must remember that upwards of a million electric irons are sold each year, together with hundreds of thousands of pieces of other electrical apparatus, and that the annual cost to the consumer of fitting suppressors would run into hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. If my right hon. Friend has his way, only the people who are 1626 found to be causing severe interference will have to go to the expense of having suppressors fitted. The cost to the country on a national basis would be less than the cost of the apparatus when fitted with suppressors. This has been done in Sweden, where they have great regard for the danger to human life through electrical apparatus. There, they have thought of a theoretical human finger. Wherever that theoretical finger can go precautions have to be taken by the manufacturers to make sure that the theoretical human being cannot be killed. It has, however, added to the cost of electrical equipment in Sweden to a considerable extent.
Members opposite cannot come here one day and complain that the Government are not helping the development of the home market so that manufacturers can export, and, another day, expect another industry to be handicapped in its home market expansion. There is no doubt that if this interference is not checked, it will have a very severe reaction on the growth of radio, particularly television. Anyone who has seen television in operation, and the interference caused by motorcars, knows that it is very unpleasant, and that if it continues unchecked the purchaser is likely to hand his set back to the dealer and say, "I do not want it." Members say that in order to export it is necessary to develop a good home market. If we do not do something about interference, the home market for radio and television will be held up, because we shall not be able to compete with other countries, notably America. Already, America is producing 60–70 thousand television sets a month, against our 7 to 8 thousand. Despite the lead we gained in 1936 we have lost ground to them. The radio trade is exporting, at present, £1.2 million worth of equipment per month, which is a very considerable addition to our exports, and if interference is not dealt with our export programme will be endangered. From that point of view the Minister is justified in taking action.
§ Mr. Grimston
As far as the hon. Gentleman's argument about America is concerned, I would remind him that no laws exist there about interference.
§ Mr. Cobb
Yes, but America is 3,000 miles across; there are not so many people there to the square mile as there are here.
1627 Radio interference is more severe here than it is in America.
My final point is on the question of differentiation of punishment of people who interfere with the amusement of others as against the safety of life at sea and in the air. Members who have dealt with this point have made a case. I think there ought to be some differentiation in the action taken against a recalcitrant person who refuses to stop using apparatus that causes danger to life at sea or in the air, as against the person whose use of apparatus interferes with someone else's amusement. I hope the Minister will give some attention to this matter, and will be able to find a way out of this difficulty.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan (Perth and Kinross, Perth)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Cobb) beyond expressing my regret at having had to listen to his unjustifiable sneer at the Royal Navy ——
§ Colonel Gomme-Duncan
That may be so, but I do not think that gibes at the Royal Navy in favour of the Merchant Navy would be appreciated by the Merchant Navy.
Clause 13 (4) says that:No criminal proceedings for an offence under this Act shall be instituted in England, Wales or Northern Ireland except with the consent of the Postmaster-General.I would like to know what the Postmaster-General's position is in relation to offences in Scotland, that is to say, in criminal, and not civil, proceedings? This is an important point. I am not at all sure that there has been careful consideration of the Scottish legal point of view, such as has been given to the English legal point of view, and I would like to know whether the Scottish Law Officers were consulted at every stage in order to make sure that Scottish laws have been observed? If I can have an answer on these points, it would be of great help to us North of the Border.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Captain Crookshank (Gainsborough)
I am very sorry for the Postmaster-General in having been involved in this argument because this Bill was not mentioned in the King's Speech and therefore, despite what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), could not have been considered as being urgent. If I may hazard a guess I suppose that the Government, finding a week in which there was little Business to do, went round to Departments and asked them whether there were any Bills lying around which might be brought forward. It has been done before, and I expect that the technique of the Lord President of the Council is not widely different from that of some of his predecessors. That being so, I imagine that this Bill, which seeks to deal with a problem from a technical point of view, was drafted by a draftsman who had an eye on the predilections of Ministers in this Government to take the maximum powers they could possibly want, and that it was brought forward without having received full consideration from the political angle.
That is the difficulty which faces the Minister today, and which is the cause of our reasoned Amendment against the Bill. Part I of the Bill, with the exception of one or two points which have been raised, is a re-writing of an Act which has been continued under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill for many years. May I say, at this point, that I am not quite sure whether we are in Order in discussing it, or even having it before us, because it is in the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which is now going through Parliament. I have just thought of that one, and I am tempted to ask you, Sir, whether the Bill is in Order at all. Indeed, I will ask it. The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill has just had its Third Reading here, and is now before another place and is, therefore, within the consideration of Parliament. That being so, Sir, you may think it right to rule that the whole of Part I is out of Order.
§ Captain Crookshank
Then we shall proceed, Sir, as your first view is that you 1629 think it is in Order. We will continue to discuss it, but will reserve our right to consider later whether something should be done about this part of the Bill. I admit frankly that I have only just thought of it, and it is for that reason that I was unable to give you notice.
In so far as the Bill covers only what is covered by the existing law, there is not likely to be much argument about it, but we are in a dilemma about the other part of the Bill. If there is a problem, it is the business of Parliament to solve it, but how far the grievances are of such a nature that the enormous apparatus of the law relating to entry and search has to be invoked is quite another problem. That is what is dividing us today. The extent of the problem as given by the Minister is 40,000 complaints. We all know that each complaint must have a wider sphere of interference than the actual complaint itself. The complaint does not relate to one person, because there might be eight to 10 people listening to the wireless at the time. But if that argument is used, we must remember that there are 11 million wireless licences extant, and that probably a great proportion of the 11 million wireless sets are being used every day. So it is not 40,000 versus 11 million; it is 40,000 versus a much larger figure. The right hon. Gentleman says, "You have to divide 40,000 into television and wireless, and the proportion is about one in 15."
§ Captain Crookshank
The hon. Gentleman was not here when his argument was blown sky high. The television proportion, said the Minister, was one in 15. That is a very much larger proportion of interference than with ordinary radio. Assuming there are 40,000 to 50,000 television sets, that would come to one in 200, whereas the complaints are one in 15. That is the field in which the greatest interference is brought to the Minister's notice. Put in those proportions it is a comparatively small grievance, although it is maddening enough when it arises, especially if it happens when people wish to listen to a special programme. It might be that the hon. Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) had been asked to broadcast "The Week in Westminster," and that all the apparatus of his constituents might be subject to interference that day, so 1630 their one day of enjoyment in life would be spoilt. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two million in five years."] The hon. Member says it is two million in five years, but by that kind of calculation over 10 or 20 years we can build up enormous astronomical figures. Doing that will not make the problem any bigger than it is.
In fact, the right hon. Gentleman is trying to deal with a small problem which is, in fact, one of annoyance, because it affects the interest and amusement of the hearers or viewers. That is all, except for that part of the problem which has been mentioned and so much stressed by the hon. Baronet, as to how far this interference may cause risk to life, whether at sea or in the air, or maybe on the road, for all I know about it. The right hon. Gentleman was inconclusive, and I am not blaming him for that. Maybe he has no evidence, maybe it does not exist. He said that no accident had been recorded due to interference. Of course, that would not absolve him and his Department from being far-seeing enough to see that if there is a risk it must be dealt with. But nothing has happened yet, so that Parliament has done no harm by its delay in taking up this problem.
There seems to be a simple answer. Why cannot the Government divide the problem, and ask for all the powers which are necessary, and which this House will always give in a case in which safety is involved? We have done it in Road Traffic Acts and all sorts of Measures. As soon as the Minister can say that the danger of this particular problem is such that the life of even one person is at risk, and that the Government require certain powers to deal with it, the right hon. Gentleman knows that, irrespective of which side Members sit upon in this House, Parliament would grant those powers. That is quite different from asking for these enormous powers when it is just a question of enjoyment and amusement. It is not that we do not want to stop interference or that we do not want people to have the best possible reception from their radio sets or the best possible vision from their television sets; of course, we do. But against that we have to weigh, in spite of the attempt of the hon. and learned Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) to gloss it over, the disadvantages of this tremendous bludgeoning power for which 1631 the Postmaster-General is asking in this Bill.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman, having just as much interest as he has in the matter of trying to tackle this problem aright, that I hope he will take back all that part of this Bill and consider it afresh. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is broadminded. The experience which hon. Members have had of him in another Department makes us think that he is broadminded, but there is no sign of it in the Bill as drafted. That is why I say that I do not believe that it has for one moment had adequate consideration at the political level. We cannot go interfering with people, threatening them with imprisonment, heavy fines and the right of search, just because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) has pointed out, the neighbour has something wrong with her flat iron. But the Government do not mind bringing forward Measures in which these powers are taken.
One reason is that it is so much easier from the drafting point of view, and from the point of view of a Minister who has not had time to consider all the implications of every section of the Bill, to take large, wide powers rather than to go to the mental trouble about the matter of exact definition. That is much easier than to take the narrow aspect and say, "It is only one little field with which we want to deal, and we will not take the powers over the whole field." The Government have taken the whole lot, and it is for that reason that, although we grant that there is a problem and say that if it is a question of life and death the right hon. Gentleman will have adequate powers granted, we also say that the House ought not to accept the Bill as it is now drafted, a Bill which contains onerous provisions which cannot be justified by the public need. It is not the the public need, it is only the public enjoyment about which we are talking.
§ Captain Crookshank
I am told that that is a form of enjoyment. In any case, it does not really affect the remarks which I am trying to make, however unsatisfactory they may be to the hon. Gentleman, Therefore, we say that we should 1632 not give this Bill a Second Reading, because it has onerous provisions which cannot be justified by the public need. They have not been justified yet. If by any extraordinary good fortune the Assistant Postmaster-General is able, in his winding-up speech, to sweep away all our anxieties, then, of course, the situation will be altered, but there is no indication, so far, that that is likely to happen. That is one reason why we do not think the House should give a Second Reading to a Bill which enables the Postmaster-General to force citizens to incur expense and Parliament to invade the privacy of the home.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has not put the cart before the horse. He said in his speech that the Bill would be followed by a discussion with the manufacturers. Surely, that is the wrong way round. Before the Government come to Parliament and ask for drastic powers, they should have exercised all possibilities of discussion with the manufacturers, and should only then, if necessary, have come here and said, "We have tried our best, but nobody will listen to us, or do anything. Will you, the House of Commons, please do something to deal with the problem?" The right hon. Gentleman says that he is going to do it afterwards. I ask him to do it before he proceeds further with the Bill.
On the right hon. Gentleman's own admission, and on the Government's admission, this Measure is not urgent, as otherwise it would have come very early in the King's Speech. It has only come up this week, because the Steel Bill was postponed for seven days, and something had to occupy Parliament on this particular Wednesday. The right hon. Gentleman may think it awkward, but if it is any consolation to him, I remember once having to take back a Bill before the war because the House was not satisfied with it. I survived, and he will survive. In fact, he will come out all the stronger for having bowed to the reasonable arguments put forward today by His Majesty's Opposition.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)
I want, first of all, to hasten to assure the right hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crook-shank) that this Bill has not been brought 1633 forward today merely because of the postponement of the Iron and Steel Bill. It is a Bill which has for long been under consideration by the Post Office —indeed, for many years. I would hasten to say also that, as early as 1925, a Bill of this character was found to be necessary. If it was necessary then, surely, with the development of wireless and radar, it is of paramount importance that we should have a Bill of this character in 1948.
§ Mr. Hobson
Because, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman well knows, every Measure is not mentioned in the King's Speech. With his long experience, he should be well aware of that fact.
I think we can say that we have had an exceedingly interesting discussion this afternoon. Quite frankly, I do not think that the Bill has been very badly received. Certainly, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have not put forward an alternative. I would stress that their criticism, whilst not being hostile, has certainly brought forward nothing of a constructive character. There are one or two misapprehensions in the minds of hon. and right hon. Members opposite. First of all, there is the general opinion that every bit of apparatus, domestic or industrial, of which electricity is the motive power, or is being used in connection with that apparatus, has, by the passing of this Bill, to be suppressed. That is not true. I say that without any equivocation or qualification whatsoever. Why is it not true? Because, first of all, the electrical apparatus has to be scheduled under regulations which must be presented to this House, and which would be the subject of negative resolutions. Even if the particular piece of domestic apparatus was scheduled, complaints must be registered against it. I want to make that perfectly clear at the outset, and before I reply to hon. Members seriatim.
I wish to stress the logic of our case in introducing this Bill. It deals with some of the difficulties which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough presented in the form of intervention and in his winding-up speech. We all know that the control of frequencies is carried out internationally, as, otherwise, there would be 1634 complete chaos on the ether. The bands of frequency are set out for broadcasting, for maritime purposes, and for aeronautical purposes. But the fact remains that as a result of certain industrial and domestic apparatus using electricity, they, by the emission of electrical waves at a certain frequency, interefere —and have been proved to interfere —with radar and wireless telegraphy in general. What is more, they cause a tremendous amount of inconvenience to the public at large who use the wireless for the purpose of entertainment. Therefore, we are in the position of having to bring in legislation of this character, because there is no other way of. preventing interference with safety services and wireless by the emission of electrical magnetic energy.
The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) stated that we had made a wrong approach to the problem, although he was very careful not to tell us which was the correct approach. We are still awaiting from hon. Gentlemen opposite an indication of what they consider is the correct approach. The point he raised was the effect on air navigation. He asked whether there had been any accidents as the result of this interference. Quite frankly, we do not know. But what we do know is that in the future, with the development of wireless apparatus and of wireless aids for navigation, there is a great likelihood that, if something is not done in this direction, accidents will occur.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say that there is no liaison between the Post Office and the Ministry of Civil Aviation, and that he does not know whether there have been any accidents?
§ Mr. Hobson
We asked for such information, but we have no evidence that there have been any such accidents. It may well be that those who could give such evidence were killed in the crash.
§ Air-Commodore Harvey
Does the hon. Gentleman know whether, because of such interference, aircraft have been taken off their course, or navigation interfered with?
§ Mr. Hobson
We cannot say definitely, but for reasons which I have already indicated —the fact that domestic and in dustrial apparatus can emit electricity at 1635 the same frequency as that used for aircraft wireless —there is always the possibility. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must know from his own experience that that is quite likely, and that it would put the aircraft off the beam.
I have been asked by one or two hon. Members to give the number of people who have refused to co-operate. Both the hon. Member for Westbury and the hon. and gallant Member for Gains-borough raised that point. I am informed that throughout the country for the first nine months of this year there were 500 people, out of 16,000 cases investigated, who refused to co-operate.
I now come to the question of complaints raised by the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd). The figures have been given both by my right hon. Friend and by subsequent speakers. They are of the nature of 40,000 a year. We know full well that there is a far greater number who are affected but who do not complain. He then said that no other country had tackled this problem. That is not true. There is legislation in France, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland to deal with this very problem, and, as far as the United States of America are concerned, I do not think I can do better than read the following extract from their Act of 1934. It provides that:No person shall use or operate any apparatus for the transmission of energy or the transmission of signals by radio within any State when any interference is caused.If anyone contravenes any part of the Act legal action will be taken to stop him doing so. I think it is proved beyond a peradventure that there is legislation in the United States to deal with this specific problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton (Mr. J. Lewis) made a very useful contribution and pointed out the effect of this interference on television. It is perfectly true, but we are not only concerned with television. We are concerned also with the fact that the emission of this electrical energy affects not only television but wireless, as many hon. Members know from their own experience. Quite recently an hon. Member came to the Department because of the interference which was being caused in a big block of flats due to the operation of a faulty motor in the lift. We have had similar complaints from 1636 people who get interference from thermal blankets. All this has been proved.
Then the question of trawlers was raised, and it was said that it is an offence to listen in to trawlers. That is just not true, as the hon. Member will discover if he cares to read the Bill. Trawlers are permitted to use wireless on a given frequency, and obviously that frequency is not one which is allocated for ordinary broadcasting, but if perchance the regulation is broken on a trawler and the hon. Member hears on his radio set the spokesmen on the trawler, that does not constitute an offence in any shape or form within the Act.
The hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air-Commodore Harvey) referred to the question of interference to navigational aids. I have already dealt with that point and have explained to him that while it cannot be proved that such interference has already happened, there is the possibility that in the future, for reasons which I have indicated, a very serious misfortune could befall an aircraft because of the similarity of frequencies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) made a very helpful contribution to the Debate. He spoke of the legal position as it affects anybody who commits or who is likely to commit an offence under the Act, and he referred to Clause 11 (4). I hasten to assure him that in Committee we shall have a look at that point again, but in fairness to my right hon. Friend, I must say that if we failed to secure a conviction in certain sets of circumstances, we should obviously not apply to the courts for power of entry should the circumstances not change.
I now come to the speech of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. D. Marshall). Quite plainly, I fail to understand what he was getting at —and I listened to him very carefully. The only tangible point that he seemed to make was that there had been no real consultation with anybody but experts. That is not true. There has been consultation with manufacturing interests and with practical people. In the Post Office we have some very valuable engineers, not only in the research field but in the field of application. As for the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack), who seemed thoroughly to enjoy himself in the short contribution which he made, 1637 but which unfortunately was not very relevant to the Bill —I see he is not in his place at the moment —I hasten to assure him that we do consult with the B.B.C. and that we are on exceedingly good terms with the engineers of the B.B.C. At the same time, I would remind him that we in the Post Office, too, have our own engineers to deal with this problem.
The hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) asked why we were taking these powers. The fact is that at the moment we have no powers of entry, and that is why we are seeking them. We cannot do anything with regard to apparatus which is causing interference unless we have got the powers of entry. This is not merely for the purpose of prosecuting anybody —that would be the last resort —but to help people get over this interference which is affecting not only their neighbours but themselves. He referred to the question of legislation in other countries. I have already dealt with that, and have read out the appropriate Section of the American legislation.
§ Mr. Grimston
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me. Can he tell us if the American legislation or any other legislation contains these powers of entry?
§ Mr. Hobson
The powers of entry relate to the question of interference, and it is quite safe to say that one cannot prove interference from domestic apparatus unless there is the power of entry.
§ Mr. Hobson
That is not quite relevant. The point is that they are faced with the problem and they have taken legislation. Even if we assume that there is no legislation in any other country that is no reason why we in Britain should not take the necessary legislation, particularly as it affects safety of life in the air. We have always been in the forefront in matters of this sort.
§ Sir H. Webbe
I hope the Minister will allow me to correct what I am sure is quite an unintentional misrepresentation of what I said. I certainly did not say that there was no legislation in other 1638 countries. In fact, it was my privilege to inform the House, when the Minister himself had said that he did not know, exactly in which countries legislation did exist and the character of that legislation. If I may correct the Assistant Postmaster-General, I would like to tell him that there is legislation also in Denmark, which apparently he does not know, and that the legislation in France is not in fact in force or enforceable. If the Minister is going to make any great point about legislation in other countries, I hope he will acquaint himself correctly of the facts.
§ Mr. Hobson
I admit I misquoted the hon. Gentleman. I am aware that there is legislation in Denmark, and I thought I said so in the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Westbury.
I now come to the general question which was raised by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). He referred to cases in which we had to deal with recalcitrant people, and I have already given the figures which were asked for. There are cases in which people can deliberately cause interference through spiteful motives. Leaving open the door of a refrigerator can cause interference and inconvenience not only to the person owning the refrigerator but to many other people. In cases of that sort, surely we are entitled to take the necessary measures. As to the point concerning Scottish law, I am informed that the appropriate authority is the Procurator Fiscal, but if there are any doubts in the mind of the hon. Member who raised this point, he can bring them to our attention on the Committee stage.
I now come to the general question of the terms of the Amendment. The Amendment says:That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which contains onerous provisions that cannot be justified by public need.I think one is entitled to ask what are the onerous provisions. I suppose it would be said that the onerous provisions will arise in cases where people whose apparatus cause interference refuse to disconnect their apparatus or go to the necessary expense of preventing the interference. But are these conditions really onerous? Let us examine them. In most cases the remedies can be easily applied for the 1639 expenditure of a very small amount of money. For a motorcar the sum involved is something like ls. 6d. or 1s. 9d. per cylinder. Interference which is being caused by domestic appliances can be prevented by the expenditure of a sum in the region of 30s. With industrial apparatus and processes, as far as electric motors and the thermal treatment of materials is concerned, here, again, the expenditure in preventing the nuisance would be quite modest.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
Would that mean an expenditure of 30s. for every piece of domestic electrical apparatus operating in the home?
§ Mr. Hobson
No, that is not so. In many cases the sum of 30s. would cover the cost of preventing interference from every single piece of apparatus in the home, by means of the insertion of condensor coils in the leads.
§ Sir H. Webbe
I am sure that the Assistant Postmaster-General does not wish to mislead the House, but can he tell us that it is possible to screen any electric iron for 30s.? If so, I can offer him a very high position in a dozen high grade electrical apparatus firms.
§ Mr. Hobson
My information is that the interference can be stopped by the expenditure of a very modest sum of money. In answer to the hon. Baronet, let me say that there are now being advertised irons which do not interfere with wireless reception. Therefore, the large sum of money implied by his question is incorrect. I am bound to pay attention to the information I receive on the cost of preventing these interferences.
Medical diathermy apparatus is a notorious offender. Many hon. Members have complained about the interference to their wireless and television from such appliances. We do know the means of overcoming this difficulty; we can allocate the frequency on which the medical diathermy set will operate and, what is more important, we can also screen the apparatus. At present, however, we have no powers to do so, and that is why we seek the powers which this Measure contains.
Fines have been criticised as being too heavy. That may be so, but it is another aspect which can be dealt with in the 1640 Committee stage. I would point out, however, that the amounts referred to are the maximum, and not the minimum, fines. Nobody will say that, in the case of a person wilfully causing interference —where it is proved, and where it jeopardises the lives of sailors, airmen, or passengers —such a fine is too heavy.
We must appreciate that great developments lie ahead of us for wireless aids both to shipping and to aircraft. There are the developments now taking place, for instance, in the Isle of Man and on the Mersey, so that ferry boats may operate during fogs; but the value of the radar can be reduced considerably by interference which, we should remember, can come not only from the household, but from industrial establishments. The safety of public services is of paramount importance and without this Measure we cannot ensure that these wireless aids will be able to function. For these reasons, therefore, I ask hon. Members even at this late hour to consider their position vis-à-vis the Amendment.
The expenditure of money by private people is referred to in the terms of the Amendment. But is there anything particularly revolutionary about this? One can say, first, that it is a social debt and, second, as has been pointed out already by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Turner-Samuels) that a person must maintain the drainage system of his house in proper condition or otherwise he is subject to penalties. Furthermore, the owner of a motorcar must ensure that his brakes and silencer are effective. No great change, therefore, is contemplated. A fair analogy to our asking people to incur the proposed expense was the action taken to make it compulsory for cyclists to carry rear lights.
We have been asked repeatedly by many hon. Members what we are doing in the way of consultation with manufacturers. There have been such consultations, and we want them to take place at the source of the problem, but the difficulties which have been enunciated by my right hon. Friend this afternoon are not just as simple to get over as the mere statement of the fact. There are, for example, questions of frequencies and voltages and, furthermore, the natural tendency to determine the most stringent requirements. And 1641 apparatus which may cause a nuisance in one part of the country may not do so elsewhere. It will be seen, therefore, that it is impossible for us to take the proper steps without this Measure, but we shall, of course, continue our efforts in the direction of consultations. This, too, is a point which can well be raised in Committee.
Let me say, finally, that the Bill is necessary for dealing with the present evil. In addition, it envisages difficulties which are likely to occur in the future. I plead with hon. Members to give it a Second Reading and let us, on the Committee stage, deal with the points which they have raised, in order that we may have a really workable Measure with which to deal.
§ Mrs. Middleton
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down may I put to him a question regarding domestic apparatus? Nowadays a good many patriotically-minded women put off their ironing, their cooking with electric cookers and washing with electric washers until the evening, in order to help the nation. That would probably interfere with the reception of wireless and television in a neighbour's
§ house. Am I to understand that these housewives, by this Bill, may be involved in an expenditure of up to about 30s. per piece of apparatus, because they are trying to help the nation by using their electrical appliances during the evening?
§ Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)
I would like to support what the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) has said. She said it only very gently and mildly, but I think it is about time that the Government gave up these petty persecutions of the ordinary housewife. I am very glad that the hon. Lady has spoken on this subject. I certainly give her full support and I hope she will have the courage and honesty to come into the Lobby against the Government on this particular Bill.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 256; Noes, 96.1643
|Division No. 2.]||AYES||[7.38 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Coldrick, W.||Ganley, Mrs. C. S.|
|Adams, Richard (Balham)||Collick, P.||George, Lady M. Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Adams, W. T. (Hammersmith, South)||Collins, V. J||Gibson, C. W.|
|Allan, A. C. (Bosworth)||Cooper, Wing-Comdr. G||Gilzean, A.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Corlett, Dr. J.||Glanville, J. E. (Consett)|
|Attewell, H. C.||Cove, W. G.||Granville, E. (Eye)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R||Cullen, Mrs. A||Greenwood, A. W. J. (Heywood)|
|Austin, H. Lewis||Daggar, G.||Grenfell, D. R|
|Ayles, W. H.||Daines, P.||Grierson, E|
|Bacon, Miss A||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Griffiths, Rt Hon. J (Llanelly)|
|Baird, J.||Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Gruffydd, Prof. W J|
|Balfour, A||Davies, Edward (Burslem)||Gunter, R. J|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. A. J||Davies, Harold (Leek)||Guy, W. H.|
|Barstow, P. G.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Hamilton, Lieut.-Col. R.|
|Barton, C.||Davies, S O. (Merthyr)||Hannan, W. (Maryhill)|
|Battley, J. R.||Deer, G.||Hardy, E. A|
|Bechervaise, A. E.||Delargy, H. J||Harrison, J.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J||Diamond, J||Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick)|
|Benson, G.||Dobbie, W.||Herbison, Miss M|
|Berry, H.||Dodds, N. N.||Hobson, C. R.|
|Boardman, H.||Donovan, T.||Holman, P.|
|Bowden, Fig. Offr. H. W.||Driberg, T. E. N.||Horabin, T. L|
|Bowen, R.||Dugdale, J. (W. Bromwich)||Hoy, J.|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M. (L'pl Exch'ge)||Dumpleton, C. W.||Hubbard, T.|
|Braddock, T. (Mitcham)||Dye, S.||Hudson, J H. (Eating, W.)|
|Bramall, E. A.||Edwards, Rt. Hon. Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Hughes, H. D. (W'lverh'pton, W.)|
|Brook, D. (Halifax)||Edwards, Rt. Hon. N. (Caerphilly)||Hutchinson, H. L. (Rusholme)|
|Brooks, T. J. (Rothwell)||Evans, Albert (Islington, W.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)|
|Brown, T. J. (Ince)||Evans, John (Ogmore)||Irvine, A. J. (Liverpool)|
|Bruce, Maj. D. W. T.||Evans, S. N. (Wednesbury)||Irving, W. J. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Burden, T. W.||Ewart, R.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A|
|Burke, W. A.||Fairhurst, F||Janner, B|
|Byers, Frank||Farthing, W. J||Jay, D. P. T.|
|Callaghan, James||Fernyhough, E.||Jeger, Dr S. W. (St. Pancras, S.E.)|
|Castle, Mrs. B A||Fletcher, E. G. M. (Islington, E.)||Jeger, G (Winchester)|
|Champion, A. J.||Follick, M.||Jenkins, R. H|
|Chetwynd, G. R||Forman, J. C.||John, W.|
|Cobb, F. A||Fraser, T. (Hamilton)||Jones, D. T. (Hartlepool)|
|Cocks, F. S||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N||Jones, P. Asterley (Hitchin)|
|Keenan, W||Nichol, Mrs. M. E. (Bradford, N.)||Swingler, S.|
|Kenyon, C||Nicholls, H. R. (Stratford)||Symonds, A. L|
|King, E. M.||Oliver, G. H.||Taylor, H. B. (Mansfield)|
|Kinghorn, Sqn.-tdr. E||Orbach, M.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Kinley, J.||Paling, Rt. Hon. Wilfred (Wentworth)||Taylor, Dr. S. (Barnet)|
|Kirby, B. V.||Pargiter, G. A.||Thomas, D. E. (Aberdare)|
|Kirkwood, Rt. Hon. D||Parkin, B. T.||Thomas, John R. (Dover)|
|Lang, G.||Paton, Mrs. F. (Rushcliffe)||Thorneycroft, Harry (Clayton)|
|Lavers, S||Paton, J. (Norwich)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Lee, F. (Hulme)||Pearson, A.||Tiffany, S|
|Leslie, J. R.||Peart, T. F.||Timmons, J.|
|Levy, B. W.||Perrins, W.||Titterington, M. F.|
|Lewis, J. (Bolton)||Porter, E. (Warrington)||Tolley, L.|
|Lewis, T. (Southampton)||Porter, G. (Leeds)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Proctor, W. T.||Ungoed-Thomas, L.|
|Lyne, A. W.||Pryde, D. J.||Viant, S. P.|
|McAdam, W||Pursey, Comdr. H.||Wadsworth, G.|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Randall, H. E.||Walker, G. H.|
|Mack, J. D.||Ranger, J.||Wallace, G. D. (Chislehurst)|
|McKay, J. (Wallsend)||Rankin, J.||Wallace, H. W. (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Maclean, N. (Govan)||Reeves, J.||Warbey, W N.|
|MaLeavy, F||Reid, T. (Swindon)||Watkins, T. E.|
|Macpherson, T. (Romford)||Rhodes, H.||Watson, W. M|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Richards, R.||Weitzman, D.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield)||Ridealgh, Mrs. M||Wells, P. L. (Faversham)|
|Mann, Mrs. J.||Robens, A.||Wells, W. T. (Walsall)|
|Manning, Mrs. L. (Epping)||Roberts, Emrys (Merioneth)||West, D. G.|
|Marquand, H. A.||Roberta, Goronwy (Caernarvonshire)||Wheatley, Rt. Ho. John (Edinb'gh, E.)|
|Marshall, F. (Brightside)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||White, H. (Derbyshire, N.E.)|
|Medland, H. M.||Ross, William (Kilmarnock)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Mollish, R. J.||Royle, C.||Wigg, George|
|Messer, F.||Sargood, R||Wilcock, Group-Capt. C. A. B.|
|Middleton, Mrs. L.||Scollan, T.||Willey, F. T. (Sunderland)|
|Millington, Wing-Comdr E. R||Scott-Elliott, W.||Willey, O. G. (Cleveland)|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Shackleton, E. A. A||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Williams, J. L (Kelvingrove)|
|Moody, A S.||Sharp, Granville||Williams, R. W. (Wigan)|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B||Shawcross, C. N. (Widnes)||Williams, W. R. (Heston)|
|Morley, R.||Silverman, J. (Erdington)||Willis, E.|
|Morris, P. (Swansea, W.)||Simmons, C. J.||Willis, Mrs. E. A.|
|Morris, Hopkin (Carmarthen)||Skinnard, F. W.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. H.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Lewisham, E.)||Smith, C. (Colchester)||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A|
|Mort, D. L.||Smith, Ellis (Stoke)||Woods, G. S.|
|Moyle, A.||Smith, H. N. (Nottingham, S.)||Wyatt, W.|
|Murray, J. D||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank||Yates, V. F.|
|Nally, W.||Steele, T.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Naylor, T. E.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E)|
|Neal, H. (Claycross)||Summerskill, Dr. Edith||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Collindridge and Mr. Wilkins.|
|Astor, Hon. M.||Harris, F. W. (Croydon, N.)||Orr-Ewing, I. L|
|Bennett, Sir P.||Harris, H. Wilson (Cambridge Univ.)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Birch, Nigel||Harvey, Air-Comdre. A. V.||Price-White, Lt.-Col. D|
|Boles, Lt.-Col. D. C. (Wells)||Head, Brig. A. H.||Prior-Palmer, Brig O|
|Boothby, R.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir C||Ramsay, Maj. S.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hollis, M. C.||Ropner, Col. L.|
|Bower, N.||Hope, Lord J.||Ross, Sir R. D. (Londonderry)|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T||Howard, Hon. A.||Sanderson, Sir F.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Hutchison, Lt.-Cm. Clark (E'b'rgh W.)||Scott, Lord W.|
|Carson, E.||Jarvis, Sir J.||Shepherd, S. (Newark)|
|Channon, H.||Jennings, R.||Shepherd, W. S. (Bucklow)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. W. S.||Joynson-Hicks, Hon. L. W||Smith, E. P. (Ashford)|
|Clarke, Col. R. S.||Kerr, Sir J. Graham||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Clifton-Brown, Lt.-Col. G.||Lambert, Hon. G.||Snadden, W. M.|
|Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F.C||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H||Spearman, A. C. M|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E||Lipson. D. L.||Spence, H. R.|
|Crowder, Capt. John E||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Studholme, H. G|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Lloyd, Selwyn (Wirral)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (P'dd't'n, S.)|
|Dower, Col. A. V. G. (Penrith)||Low, A. R. W.||Thomas, Ivor (Keighley)|
|Dower, E. L. G. (Caithness)||MacAndrew, Col. Sir C.||Thorneycroft, G. E. P. (Monmouth)|
|Drayson, G. B.||McCallum Maj. D.||Touche, G. C.|
|Drewe, C.||Maclay, Hen. J. S.||Turton, R. H.|
|Dugdale, Maj. Sir T. (Richmond)||Maitland, Comdr. J. W.||Tweedsmuir, Lady|
|Duthie, W. S.||Manningham-Buller, R. E||Walker-Smith, D.|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Marshall, D. (Bodmin)||Webbe, Sir H. (Abbey)|
|Elliot, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. Walter||Marshall, S. H. (Sutton)||While, Sir D. (Fareham)|
|Foster, J. G. (Northwich)||Medlicott, Brigadier F||Williams, G (Torquay)|
|Galbraith, Cmdr. T. D.||Mellor, Sir J.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Glyn, Sir R.||Morris-Jones, Sir H.||York, C.|
|Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. W. S. (Cirencester)||Young, Sir A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Gridley, Sir A.||Neven-Spence, Sir B|
|Grimston, R. V.||Odey, G. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hare, Hon. J. H. (Woodbridge)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir H.||Major Conant and Colonel Wheatley.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next. —[Mr. G. Wallace.]