HC Deb 22 October 1952 vol 505 cc1025-30
Mr. Gammans

With permission of the House, I should like to make a statement about television development.

The House will be glad to learn that the Government have decided to allow the B.B.C. to proceed with the setting up of stations at Pontop Pike and Belfast in time for the Coronation. As a result of some considerable ingenuity on the part of B.B.C. and Post Office engineers, temporary stations can be set up at these places at much less expenditure of capital resources than under the schemes originally planned. As hon. Members are aware, my noble Friend has already given a pledge that Pontop Pike shall have first priority and he considers that Northern Ireland should have the next priority, as it is at present without television service at all.

The B.B.C. hope to be able to provide this interim service by using mobile transmitters and temporary aerials—these will naturally not give a service of the quality or coverage expected ultimately by the Corporation from the permanent stations. The Post Office, for its part, will do its utmost to ensure that, by the time the new stations are ready, the necessary links will be available to connect them with the existing television network. The service provided at these new stations will be continued until permanent installations can be brought into service.

The Government have carefully considered whether similar facilities could not be provided on this basis in the areas ultimately to be served by the three remaining planned stations. They regret that the technical resources of both the B.B.C. and the Post Office will be strained to the utmost in providing temporary service even at Pontop Pike and Belfast as proposed.

Hon. Members may rest assured, however, that the B.B.C. are also examining possible ways and means of improving service in fringe areas, even on a makeshift basis; but I am not in a position to say more than that today, nor am I very hopeful of the B.B.C. being able to accomplish very much in this direction.

Lady Tweedsmuir

The announcement by my hon. Friend that Northern Ireland and north-east England are to have television services before the Coronation will, I am sure, be greatly welcomed; but, on the other hand, is not he aware that the claims of north-east Scotland for the same service are just as eligible for very careful consideration, particularly as there is a transmitter available at Kirk o' Shotts, now only used as a stand-by?

I should therefore like to ask him two questions: first, whether he has, or will make, a full survey of the north-east area of Scotland, and second, in view of the fact that the B.B.C. have publicly announced their desire and ability to provide a service to north-east Scotland, whether his Department will examine the matter with the B.B.C., in view of the unique nature of the Coronation service and all that it means to the people of Scotland?

Mr. Gammans

I only regret that I cannot promise to give the same service to Aberdeen as that which has now become possible in the case of Kirk o' Shotts and Belfast, but the low power transmitter to which the noble Lady referred, which is now at Kirk o' Shotts, is in fact to be used for the Northern Ireland transmitter.*

With regard to having another look at it, the trouble is that neither the B.B.C. nor the Post Office have the equipment already manufactured which we could use for such a purpose. But, as I have told the House, the B.B.C. are going to see to what extent makeshift arrangements can be made in what I termed the fringe areas, and I regard Aberdeen as coming within that category. I should not like to raise any hopes that anything much can be done, but I can assure the noble Lady and the House that the B.B.C. will do all they can.

Mr. Ness Edwards

While welcoming the statement made by the hon. Gentleman, may I ask whether he is aware that the House is very pleased with this new sensitivity on the part of the new personnel at the B.B.C.? This matter has been raised many times in the House and we are glad that at last the B.B.C. have used their new initiative and engineering ingenuity to provide what was suggested to them 18 months ago.

Do I take it that there will be no difficulty, so far as the Post Office is concerned, as it has a radio link at Pontop Pike? Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what link there is to be between London and Northern Ireland, whether it is a cable or a radio link? Can he also tell us what is the capital cost of this and what would be the capital cost of any boosters which may be used in the fringe areas?

Mr. Gammans

So far as Northern Ireland is concerned, it will be a radio link. So far as Pontop Pike is concerned, it will be the co-axial cable which is in that part of the world. The estimated cost of these two stations and the temporary arrangement I have mentioned is of the order of £20,000 each.

Miss Ward

May I ask my hon. Friend whether he will convey to his noble Friend and the Cabinet, and the Prime Minister in particular—[Interruption.]—the deep appreciation which the people of the North-East Coast will feel that they are to be allowed to participate in the historical and traditional ceremony which will happen next year? They will indeed

*See corrected reply, 24th Oct., 1952, cols. 153–4.

be grateful. And would my hon. Friend bear in mind, when the Opposition jeer at my reference to the Prime Minister, that it was on the intervention of the Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—that this fresh examination was made particularly because of the Coronation ceremony which will take place next year?

Mr. Gammans

I think that the Cabinet, and the Government as a whole, will be grateful for compliments from anyone.

Mr. H. Morrison

In view of what the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) has said, can the hon. Gentleman say how anybody can get credit for televising the Coronation when we have been informed that it is not to be televised?

Miss Ward

What a silly question.

Captain Orr

Is my hon. Friend aware that this decision, and his personal contribution to it, will be widely appreciated in Northern Ireland, particularly in the hospitals?

Mr. Peart

Will the Assistant Postmaster-General use his influence to reverse the decision not to televise the Coronation ceremony, which has caused great concern throughout the country and which is a stupid decision, because the whole ceremony is to be filmed? Will he use his influence to have this decision reversed? Also, will he concentrate on the fringe areas, because, in my constituency, which is in West Cumberland, not only is there not good television reception, but also bad radio reception?

Mr. Gammans

The question of televising the Coronation does not come within my competence.

Mr. Smithers

Can my hon. Friend give the House any information about the prospects of an Isle of Wight transmitter, in view of the poor reception conditions in the South Coast towns and the large concentration of people in Southampton, Portsmouth and Bournemouth?

Mr. Gammans

I hope I have made it clear—I much regret to have to say this—that there is no possibility whatever of the B.B.C. being able to give a temporary service at the other three remaining low-power stations on the same lines as I have intimated will be given to the other two.

Mr. Woodburn

Further to the question by the noble Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) regarding Aberdeen, if the other stations are to get that service, would it help in any way if the Post Office were willing to surrender for a certain time during this important ceremony the use of their landline, so that Aberdeen might have some temporary transmission?

Mr. Gammans

I do not pretend to be a technician, but I do not think that would help in any way.

Mr. Fell

Will the Minister consider further areas like East Anglia and other fringe areas, which are so close to and yet so far from the transmission of the Coronation, and whether it would be possible, by some ingenuity not only on the part of the B.B.C. and the Post Office but by industry as well to give them a service? I am sure he has already contacted industry, but will he do so again, and see whether there is anything that can be devised to help the people in those areas, including Scotland?

Mr. Gammans

I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that I have given all the data with regard to the fringe areas. If by any means it is possible to give a service to those fringe areas which were mentioned with the amount of equipment which can be made available, the B.B.C. will certainly do it.

Mr. Grey

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is aware of the general appreciation that will be felt by the people in the North East of England? It has been a long time coming—long before the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) came to this House.

Miss Ward

The party opposite stopped it.

Hon. Members

You did not help it.

Mr. Grey

May I ask whether there was any political reason for the fact that this statement has been made today when it could have been made in answer to a Written Question put down last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey).

Mr. Gammans

The only reason I made it today at the first opportunity is that it is only now that the plans prepared by the B.B.C. engineers and the Post Office engineers have been completed.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

We have spent quite enough time on this matter.