HC Deb 08 December 1952 vol 509 cc39-42
The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. David Gammans)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a further statement about television.

I informed the House on 22nd October that the B.B.C. had been allowed to go ahead with the setting up of temporary television stations at Pontop Pike and Belfast. This has provoked a very natural desire for similar facilities to be provided elsewhere and especially in those areas ultimately to be served by the three remaining low-power stations in the B.B.C. programme—namely, Aberdeen, Isle of Wight and Plymouth. The Government have great sympathy with this desire, and have, therefore, very carefully considered whether something could not be done to meet it.

They have, however, concluded with great regret that it would not be in the national interest, at a time when important industrial investment is still severely limited on account of our defence and export effort, to devote more economic resources to the construction of new stations and still more to the manufacture of the receivers which the opening up of these new services would demand. They cannot, therefore, for the time being, sanction any further temporary stations.

It is not a question of the B.B.C. being unable, for technical reasons, to erect these stations in time for the Coronation. It is the drain on national resources which is the determining factor, and the suggestions that have been made that commercial enterprise might be allowed to provide stations would not dispose of this objection.

For the same reasons the Government cannot allow television relay companies to operate in areas not covered by the B.B.C. stations.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this decision by the Government will cause very great disappointment in the areas concerned? Can he give an assurance that the B.B.C. will be allowed to complete the three remaining low-powered stations before any consideration is given to licensing sponsored television?

Mr. Gammans

I am quite aware that this is bound to cause disappointment in the areas concerned, but I will remind the right hon. Gentleman that this country has the greatest television coverage of any country in the world. With the two stations at Pontop Pike and Belfast we are already covering 81 per cent. of the population. Even with the five permanent stations not yet permitted the coverage would be only 90 per cent. The nearest to that is the United States, which has only 63 per cent. coverage. I know that that is not very much consolation to those areas which will not be covered, but the Government's decision must be appreciated in the sense in which I have made my statement.

With regard to the last point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I would refer him to the White Paper on the subject which we discussed in this House in very great detail.

Lady Tweedsmuir

Is my hon. Friend aware that his statement will cause deep disappointment in the North-East of Scotland? Is it expected that, owing to the re-adjustment of the defence programme, there may be a temporary recession in the radio industry soon after the New Year? Should that take place will he consider whether he can authorise the manufacture of television equipment and sets in order to maintain full employment in the industry and enable as many loyal Scots as possible to view the Coronation?

Mr. Gammans

I appreciate my hon. Friend's disappointment, but there is no sign whatever of any recession in the radio industry. The number of sets produced in October this year was more than twice that produced during August. The danger is that if we were to permit these new stations to be set up we might be encouraging the creation of a far greater number of sets than the industry could normally carry in average times.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Does the Minister realise that the reason he gave on 22nd October, and which he appears to repeat today, namely, that the North of Scotland is only a fringe area, is irrational and shows a profound ignorance of the Scottish position? Does he realise that the North of Scotland is just as much entitled to amenities like television as the rest of this island?

Mr. Gammans

I must assure the hon. and learned Member that I did not use the noun "fringe" in any derogatory sense.

Mr. Hughes

In what sense, then? Does the Minister realise that to the people of Scotland it is a thoroughly offensive expression?

Brigadier Clarke

Does my hon. Friend not appreciate that private enterprise will put up the repeater stations, that there are plenty of television sets in the shops and that the Government have a way of stopping the manufacture of more sets if it is necessary? Let us use the ones we have.

Mr. Gammans

I must point out that the limiting factor is not so much the transmitting equipment as the receiving sets, and at the present time the value of the receiving sets in the homes of the people of this country probably exceeds £100 million. [An HON. MEMBER: "So what?"] I do not think that that is a bad effort, taking the country as a whole and considering the economic difficulties through which the country has passed.

Mr. Bowles

Is the Assistant Postmaster-General aware of the great disappointment among the people of the Irish Republic that they will not be able to see the Coronation?

Dr. King

Is the Minister aware that what he has said today will give great disappointment to some 3 million potential viewers in the south? Is he aware that this subject is about the only issue on which all the Hampshire Members of Parliament are unanimous? In view of this united front will he not reconsider the matter?

Dr. Bannett

Has the Assistant Postmaster-General given attention to these three points? First, there is an enormous and excessive number of sets already in the retail shops which have yet to be absorbed into private homes. Secondly, if my hon. Friend is arranging relay services for the Continent would they not be automatically available to the south of England? Third, in the event of the naval review being televised for the benefit of the country the relays needed for that purpose might be equally useful, used vice versa, in relaying from London to the south.

Mr. Gammans

My hon. Friend has raised two technical points regarding relays to the Continent and also the possible relay of the Review at Spithead. I imagine that he has in mind the question why this relay equipment cannot be used in the reverse direction. The reason is that these relays will be transmitted at a frequency which could not be used for transmission into houses, except with the use of very rare and somewhat expensive equipment. As to sets in dealers' hands, I must remind the House, as I said just now, that the number of sets produced has doubled in the past few months and that I do not think we would be doing the country good service if we allowed that number to be increased at the present time.

Mr. H. Morrison

May we take it that the answers given by the Assistant Postmaster-General are an indication that the Government have now abandoned the Prime Minister's slogan of "Set the people free."?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This is too big a matter to debate now.