HC Deb 30 July 1949 vol 467 cc2927-41

11.5 a.m.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

We have arrived at the end of a tiring and exacting series of sittings of Parliament, but I hope that hon. Members do not feel too exhausted to assimilate the simple but sad story of television in Scotland; simply because it does not exist, and sad because it certainly should have existed.

We cannot consider the question of television in Scotland in isolation from the general question of television in Great Britain, because the general plan, so far as a plan can be made out at all, is that it starts in the south and moves gradually north, and Scotland is very low down in the queue. Nobody likes to be in a queue. There are two ways of getting over that difficulty. The first is to try to jump the queue and the other is to get the whole queue moved on, and I propose to advocate the second process. At the present rate of progress it will be five or seven years before Scotland will be able to see impressive but unfamiliar sights such as the Trooping of the Colour or the Minister of Food setting off ventre à terre to buy unwanted Algerian wine. These are things we might be interested to see. James Watt, Murdoch, Lord Kelvin, John Logie Baird—there is an impressive list of Scottish inventors, but never perhaps has a country been so deprived of the fruits of one of its own inventors as Scotland has been in the matter of television.

In 1943 was set up the Hankey Committee which reported in 1944. Its report stated that it would be quite feasible for the Birmingham station, which was the second in the chain, to be in operation by 1947, but it is now 1949 and it is still not operating. Britain had a flying start in television. In 1936 we were the only country in the world with a system of high definition television in operation. By 1939 we had made considerable progress. Those were the days of private enterprise, Marconi, E.M.I. and others. By that time 20,000 receivers were in operation in this country, and, as the Hankey Report said, the demand from the provinces was insistent. Then came the war, and advance in television faded away, but a tremendous advantage in radar and radio location was derived from the very men who had become experts in matters of that kind owing to their training in television. Television formed a nucleus and jumping off point for the great achievements in radar which this country performed during the war, and it would be a bold man who would say that that will never be needed again. The Hankey Committee recommended that after the war there should be a courageous policy, but courage seems to have evaporated with the war, because practically nothing is happening in this country if we compare it with what has been happening in the United States.

In 1946 there were only 6,000 viewers in the United States. Two years later they were producing one million sets, with 66 transmitting stations, and their programme envisages the production of six million sets by 1951. There is a general impression that television is only of entertainment value, but the United States sees a tremendous future for it in a number of other directions. I was told when I was over there a year ago that one of the big chain stores—I think it was Sears Roebuck—each day televises its takings from every branch shop to its headquarters, that being the most efficient and the quickest way of showing the day's happenings. Then they told me that they had a camera which would allow them to televise the interior of a boiler while it was still in flame, without the cost and inconvenience of damping down. Then there is the possibility of being able to televise medical operations where the students cannot gather round in sufficient numbers to be able to see what is going on. So that it is a false impression that the only purpose of television is entertainment.

The Postmaster-General seems to take cover behind what we know as the reduced capital investment programme, but in 1945–48 no such thoughts dominated the minds of the Government and hon. Members opposite. Then money was pouring out like water, but nothing was being poured out on television. I want the House to think what trade we are losing by sacrificing the flying start we once had. Trade follows the transmitter, and export trade follows a thriving home trade. There is no greater fallacy than to think that in industry we can have a thriving export trade without having a basic and thriving home market. The British output of television sets at present is in the nature of 120,000. If that can be stepped up, we shall get reduced prices for the sets, we shall get increased demands, we shall get a thriving home trade and, consequently, we shall get a thriving export trade. The vicious circle has to be reversed and then we shall start to get somewhere. Think of the export of cameras as well as sets and valves and all the other ancillary parts of television sets.

Labour prides itself on getting things done, but all that has happened is that television has been "done in." This is a perfect case of arrested development and the Minister has told us, in answer to recent questions, that the problem resolves itself into one of labour and materials. Let us examine that for a moment. It is difficult to find out a great deal of detail because so little is published in this matter, but I am given to understand that there are only some thousand individuals employed at present in television in Great Britain, but the pool of individuals who could be called up to augment that number as a result of radio location in the war must be great.

As regards materials, the Minister has told us that there is no dollar problem involved, so that facilitates our task considerably. A conservative estimate of the capital cost of providing a full scale transmitting station, of which the Government are considering providing six, is something like £200,000. Let us look at the present running costs—

Earl Winterton (Horsham)

May I interrupt my hon. and gallant Friend to mention what I have no doubt he is aware of, that there are also methods of doing it through private enterprise—

Colonel Hutchison

I agree.

Earl Winterton

—and that there are in existence already some stations which have been used and should be used.

Colonel Hutchison

I agree with the noble Lord and I was coming to that aspect later.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Do I understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman to say that the capital cost of five transmitters would be £200,000?

Colonel Hutchison

Each—and that is a conservative estimate. Let us then look at the running costs. The Postmaster-General told us the other day that the present activity in television was costing us £860,000 a year and the Hankey Committee have estimated that to provide all the running costs of five stations would raise that to only £1¾ million a year. So if we can achieve anything approaching the American anticipated figures, even if we reach only a quarter of those figures, we are nearly home and making ends meet.

What is the present financing system as regards television? The B.B.C. get 85 per cent. of the payment for licences both for viewing and for broadcasting. That amount is just under £10 million. Of this they allocate, as they feel inclined, a sum to television which amounted last year to £860,000. That sum is too small. It is not allowing the television we have in operation to keep up the necessary repairs and keep itself in a state of modern equipment.

I suggest that first the B.B.C. should invoke Clause 18 (2) of their agreement and ask that the percentage be not 85 per cent. but 90 per cent. of what the Post Office collects in revenue from licences. That would add another £500,000 a year which, directed to television, would allow us to make tremendous progress. Failing that, what about sponsored programmes? I know that this is a vexed subject but if we allowed private enterprise to get on with this job, we would have stations in the north and in the Midlands almost at once. What is the objection to sponsored programmes? I yield to nobody in desiring to keep bad taste out of public programmes, but surely taste can be controlled? We have a Lord Chamberlain who controls the taste in films. Who would object to an announcement being made before a Beethoven Sonata that the programme which follows is sponsored by Imperial Chemicals?

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

Did my hon. and gallant Friend say that the Lord Chamberlain controlled the taste in films?

Colonel Hutchison

I said so because I have seen the signature of the Lord Chamberlain on the front of every film at which I have looked. In any case it is easy to establish a system of sponsorship of good taste, and that is the objection held in this country to sponsored programmes.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Wood Green)

Could I assist my hon. and gallant Friend in case it confuses the mind of the Lord President? The Lord Chamberlain censors the theatre, but the cinema has its own censor who has no relation to the Lord President or the Lord Chamberlain.

Colonel Hutchison

I am indebted to my two hon. and expert Friends on either side of me. The only point they have assisted me in making is that there is control, and that control can perfectly well be applied to television also. Newspapers have sponsored ever since we have known them, and I have not heard hon. Members object to the fact that advertising in newspapers occupies too prominent a place in the production of a newspaper. There are, I admit, two schools of thought about sponsoring. I am throwing this in as a second string to my first suggestion that, if finance cannot be obtained in the way I have suggested, there is this other method which at least might be tried and would certainly put television on its feet.

What, then, are the steps we can take immediately? First, that high level policy and research should be taken out of the hands of the Postmaster-General and put into the hands of some high ranking Cabinet Minister such as the Lord President of the Council.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. Hobson)

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is not suggesting, is he, that the Postmaster-General precludes private television manufacturers from proceeding with research?

Colonel Hutchison

No, I am not, I am saying that high level planning, high level research in this matter should become the responsibility of the Lord President of the Council in the same way as he has under him the Medical Research Council, and that alongside him should be the Secretary of State for Scotland as our chief "nagger" for Scotland. I do not believe that the Postmaster-General carries sufficient guns to be able to get on with this in the way it should be dealt with. Furthermore, in a manner of speaking, he is an interested party inasmuch as he is the father, no doubt indirectly, of the B.B.C. activities.

Now a word about the Advisory Committee that has been set up. De mortuis nil nisi bonum—do not let us speak any evil of the dead—but it appears that this Committee has gone right out of existence since Lord Trefgarne gave up the chairmanship. We have no record of any meetings, we never hear anything of what it does, and I suggest that it be immediately reconstructed or swept out of the way. At present all it appears to be doing is to be acting as a useful screen behind which the Postmaster-General may hide himself. It consisted of high officials of the B.B.C., the Post Office, the Treasury and the Board of Trade, and if it is to be reconstructed, as it might be in one of the two alternatives which I advocate, a considerable number of independent members representing television should be appointed thereto.

At some time the final issue as to whether the B.B.C. is to have a monopoly of television or not will have to be faced, and I am only afraid that the Beveridge Committee, now considering the conditions we shall apply to the B.B.C. contract when the present one expires, will be another excuse for getting nothing done. Probably not until 1951, when the present contract expires, will that issue be faced. After considerable debate and discussion some conclusion will be arrived at. Further steps will have to be taken, and at that rate of progress we shall get nothing done until 1952. It is intolerable that we should have to wait all that time for the hatching of this particular egg.

I have tried to show methods whereby the financing of a more active form of television can be provided. Let the Government get on with it. If they cannot produce the money which I have indicated would be necessary—£200,000 for a fully equipped television station—then let them take an intermediate and temporary step so far as Scotland is concerned. Let them fly up canned programmes from Alexandra Palace and erect a temporary transmitter and have mobile broadcasting vans. That at least would allow something to be done and would encourage the sale of sets, and would give some form of satisfaction to the insistent demand in my country that something should be done.

"Labour Believes in Britain," but clearly it does not believe in television. There is a paragraph in the booklet I have just mentioned which commences— Encouragement for enterprise and contains these words: In making use of science in industry Britain still lags behind some of its competitors. Most assuredly it does. Television should be striding north; but instead, it has creeping paralysis. We are throwing away the heritage which was handed to us by the inventors of this great invention. Let the Government, therefore, infuse new blood. I do not believe we shall get any progress from the Postmaster-General. We have failed to get it from him in improved postal services or in television. He may have very great difficulties to face, I have no doubt, but in getting nothing done he is the Past-master-General. The Hankey Report says that provincial—

Mr. Hobson

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that since my right hon. Friend has been in office, more telephones have been installed than in any other comparable period?

Colonel Hutchison

Is the hon. Gentleman aware just how many more are wanted? Is he aware that we have been pressing for a year to try to get improved postal services and later collections and earlier deliveries? But I should be out of Order if I pursued that matter. Let me just say this in conclusion. The Hankey Report says that provincial, including Scottish, demand is insistent. Then let the Government get a move on, and let that move be northward.

11.24 a.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I think that this is the first occasion in this Session and, indeed, in this Parliament that I have been able to agree with anything that has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison). With certain reservations, I certainly endorse his point of view and his argument that a greater measure of progress should be made on the television front, and certainly that Scotland is entitled to far greater consideration and that there should be a television transmitter in Scotland. The hon. and gallant Member said that in Scotland we were entitled to see the Trooping of the Colour and the Minister of Food buying Algerian wine. I would much prefer to see a television programme of the House of Lords; I believe that that would end finally the controversy between this Chamber and the other.

Mr. Ross

What about the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Hughes

That would just about finish it. The hon. and gallant Member estimated that the capital cost would be £200,000.

Colonel Hutchison

For one full station.

Mr. Hughes

For one full station—situated, presumably, in Central Glasgow; but I am not so sure that the hon. and gallant Member would endorse my constructive suggestion for getting the money and material for this capital cost. The hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned radar. There is a close connection with the research into radar and the cost and the number of scientists employed in that sphere. We were told in the Debate this year on the Navy Estimates that the capital cost of equipping one aircraft carrier with radar and radio would amount to £440,000. My suggestion, therefore, is that for half the cost of equipping one aircraft carrier, which would in any case be obsolete in another war, we could get the capital cost for our television transmitter in Scotland. If we were equally prepared to spend money on scientific research for civilian and social purposes, and devoted to that end half the attention we are giving to the purposes of preparation for war, we could solve our problem of television, so far as Scotland is concerned, without any difficulty at all.

I, too, was in America last year. In nearly every public house in New York—I do not say that I visited every public house—there was displayed on the window, "Television Here." If New York can have its television, surely Scotland and Glasgow—near by Helensburgh is the home of the inventor of television—are entitled to press upon the Government the urgency of this enterprise. I hope that the Government will take this problem seriously. If the Government want labour and materials, they can get them. I will not proceed to argue from what source, but I suggest that television should be one of the top priorities.

I say in conclusion that although we differ politically with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow, public opinion in Scotland is overwhelmingly in favour of pressing the Government to give a fairer measure of treatment to Scotland in this matter. I am not a nationalist—I am a humanitarian and something of a mongrel but there is a nationalist opinion in Scotland which believes that Scotland does not get fair treatment in this House, and if the Government merely proceed to pour cold water on this project they will be creating just another reason for Nationalist Party men to feel that Scotland is not getting a fair share of the revenue and activities of this country. We should not, therefore, be given merely the usual argument that nothing can be done, but should be given at any rate the assurance that, in view of the arguments which have been put forward, the Government will at least look again to see whether Scotland can get the measure of justice which she deserves.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Dr. Johnson used to say that the best road for a Scotsman was the road to London, but, looking round these benches today and seeing that, relatively speaking, there are few Scottish Members here, I believe that at a certain period of the year the road to the isles still has its attractions. Nevertheless, I think that if Dr. Johnson were alive today, he would find that there are stronger reasons than ever to tempt Scottish people from their homeland. The mishandling of the development of television in Scotland is a typical example of what is happening, or, to be more correct, of what is not happening.

Why is there this delay? No doubt the Government will say that the economic crisis is responsible for slowing down the programme, but my criticism is not that the programme has been slowed down, but that the Government, although it is supposed to stand for a planned economy, has so far failed to fix a definite programme which would enable manufacturers to plan ahead and, as a result, bottlenecks occur and expansion does not take place in the industry as it ought, the price of sets still remains too high and the chance of establishing an export market is gradually dwindling. Is it a valid argument to say that we cannot afford this development? Is it not a case of "ruining the ship for a ha'porth of tar"? After all, we are not asking for something costly like a new Forth Bridge, but for a few hundred thousand pounds before it is too late and before we lose to America the chance of creating a co-ordinated system of television for Europe and the Empire based on this country.

I would remind the House that "Britannia rules the waves" and that it is not only necessary to rule the waves of the sea, but also to rule the waves over the sea. Perhaps the Minister will change his line of defence and try to hide behind technical difficulties as well as economic difficulties which have been discussed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison). He will probably say that we cannot have television until a coaxial cable has been laid, or a chain of V.H.F. stations has been established. To the Minister sitting in London with a map of the British Isles in front of him, it may appear perfectly logical to proceed from the south to the north, but to people waiting in Scotland it appears quite illogical.

I am not here only to criticise the slowness in development, but also the order of priority which I believe is based merely on technical expediences. I claim that the correct way to develop television after Alexandra Palace was working properly, would have been to establish an independent transmitter first, in Scotland, secondly, in Ireland, thirdly, in the Principality of Wales and after that to go on to establish provincial stations in England. I do not want the House to think that I am making a narrow, nationalistic plea. Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) I support the Union, but the Government must realise that Scotland is not a province, or a region, but an ancient kingdom with traditions, customs, laws and a religion quite different from those which exist in England. For too long it has been the Cinderella of the B.B.C. Even now it is not possible to receive the Third Programme at all satisfactorily in Scotland. Therefore, I do not view the establishment of an independent transmitter necessarily as an evil. It might act as a focus for cultural talent in Scotland which the Edinburgh Festival has shown to be much more lively than was anticipated. If such television shows were recorded by filming, a profitable exchange of programmes could be established between Alexandra Palace and a Scottish station.

The reply of the Government may be that the population of two million is too small, but it is precisely because Scotland is so often regarded solely on a numerical and statistical basis which is doing so much to harm the good relations between the two countries and to make people lose faith in the Act of Union. Surely it is in the outlying districts where population is scattered and there are only a few people that television would have the most social value. Down here in the South of England people have an ample variety of amusement. There is Wimbledon, the Derby, the Boat Race, and, when people have got tired of those, they can come to this House. But all those things are beyond the means of people in Scotland and a transmitter situated in Falkirk would not only benefit the people in the towns, but would reach into the heart of the Highlands, into distant Argyll and the bleak uplands of the Border Country and bring to those remote and desolate areas all the fun of the fair. After housing, I imagine that nothing would be of greater help in overcoming the reluctance which people have to leaving the cities and going to work on the land.

I find it very strange that the Socialist Government, who pride themselves, quite inaccurately, on having created the social services, should ignore the social value of television while lavishing so much money on other services which are infinitely less valuable to the community and family life of the country.

Mr. H. Hynd (Hackney, Central)

Such as what?

Mr. Galbraith

Corsets, for example, and wigs and things like that. In "Labour Believes in Britain" there is a paragraph about stimulating private enterprise, but the failure of the Government to stimulate television is an indication of the stagnation which is bound to occur in all industries controlled by the Government, because where there is monopoly there is no incentive to undertake risks, without which development is impossible. I am informed that the radio industry itself is prepared to undertake those risks and carry out those developments. I ask the Government, if they have no intention of carrying out this development in Scotland now, at least to have the grace to get out of the way and let someone else do the job for them.

11.37 a.m.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)

We are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison) for raising this subject today. While I am not completely in agreement with all that has been said by hon. Members opposite, I wish to reinforce their argument. There is a strong feeling in Scotland, almost a bitter feeling, against the Government for their slowness in bringing forward this very great modern advantage for Scotland, particularly as the Scots feel that their noted son, who introduced and was responsible for television was a Dumbartonshire man. We feel rather chagrined that England should have the benefit of television and Scotland should still be left in the cold. I can remember seeing our Scottish team vic- torious when I looked into a television set and saw a Wembley match. I saw that match when at Welwyn Garden City long before the war and I had hoped that Scotland would benefit almost immediately by the introduction of television there.

I regret that I cannot follow the hon. and gallant Member for Central Glasgow on the technical aspects of the matter, because I know nothing whatever about them, but I wish to point out to the Front Bench some of our worries in Scotland. These are the rehabilitation of our agricultural areas and some inducement to get people to stay in the mines and in the mining districts. If one scrutinises the figures of the Ministry of Labour one finds that there are a great many vacancies in agriculture and in mining, and that they cannot be filled because there is no inducement. One also finds from a study of the subject that the social environment greatly tends to induce a husband to a particular industry. I understand that the town planners found that an employee was very often induced to select his industry because his wife preferred a certain social environment. There is no social environment in our Highland villages or in our mining villages which would attract young people to stay there.

What do we find, by contrast, with the introduction of television in London? We find complaints that families are gathering round the television sets, that the mother hurries with her household work to get everything done by a certain hour, that the children hurry with their homework, and that they all gather round the television set.

Mr. Gibson (Kennington)

They can afford it.

Mrs. Mann

Yes. They can more easily afford it today in the agricultural areas than they ever could before. They have so much better wages, they have family allowances and the older people have increased pensions, thanks to the Labour Government. It remains for the Labour Government, who have put television within the financial reach of the miner and the agricultural worker, now to introduce it on a large scale in Scotland. When they do so I am certain that they will help greatly to solve the problem of the depopulation of the Highland villages. They will probably also go a great way towards solving the problem of juvenile delinquency and matrimonial disturbances—why wives leave home and why husbands leave home. They will solve a great many social problems in Scotland by the introduction of television. I want to hear a reply from the Front Bench on why they cannot do this or why they are not doing so.

11.44 a.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) has put to the House a very important aspect of television. The social effects of television are of marked value, and if the Government have been so successful as they claim to have been in the solution of the housing question, the complement to that solution is to keep the people in their homes and allow them to enjoy their homes. The possession of a television set makes for a closer family life.

The presence here this morning of four Members on the Government side of the House who represent Scotland—one on the Front Bench—and six on the Opposition side who come from Scotland, two on the Front Bench, makes it very clear that Scots men and women have denied themselves privileges which the majority of the House have sought elsewhere, in order to come here and discuss this important question. We shall have to suffer the inconveniences of transport planning and pack ourselves into already over-packed trains to get back to our native land. We have faced those difficulties none the less, in order to put in this word for Scotland. The opportunities of speaking for Scotland here are extremely few. Scottish Business is relegated to an anteroom and is rarely discussed on the Floor of the House, so I welcome the opportunity of adding my word to those which we have already heard.

The approach to this problem seems to me to be one which the Lord President of the Council, who is the principal planning authority, might well consider. I know his slight indifference to Scotland, I know that it has often been a thorn in his side, but I beg him to look at the matter from the larger point of view of planning, which is his particular concern. Is it desirable that eight million people in London, crowded together, should have added to their many advantages all the advantages which television can provide? They already have—

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