HC Deb 01 June 1954 vol 528 cc1149-204
Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I beg to move, in page 9, to leave out lines 13 to 30.

The Chairman

I suggest that with this Amendment we might also take the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) in page 9, line 25, leave out subsection (3).

Mr. Grimond

I cannot help thinking that when hon. Members opposite read the first three subsections of this Clause they must have been caused considerable dismay. When the Government first decided to set up a new Television Authority instead of relying solely on the B.B.C., that decision was supported by appeals to principle on the very highest grounds. The Areopagitica was called in aid, and their arguments rang with cries of liberty and detestation of oppressive authority. Since then the discussion has taken rather a tumble, and lately it has centred around who is to pay for the service and who is to get whatever pickings there may be going.

It seems to me that we have travelled a long way from Areopagitica, particularly when we come, for instance, to subsection (1) of this Clause. Under that subsection: The Postmaster-General and any other Minister of the Crown may, if it appears to him to be necessary or expedient so to do in connection with his functions as such"— whatever that phrase may mean—give notice to the Authority: to broadcast, at such times as may be specified in the notice and from such of the stations used by them as may be so specified, any matter … In subsection (2) the Postmaster-General has equal powers to forbid the broadcasting of any matter.

These are not reserve powers; they are not to be used merely in an emergency. They are not limited in any way. I cannot help thinking that Milton must be turning in his grave if the news has reached whatever part of the other world he now rests in. They allow the most wide discretion to the Executive.

If it is argued that the same powers are given to the Minister over the B.B.C., that makes matters even worse. Are these powers necessary? What are they for? It may be suggested that the Executive must have the power to direct that official announcements are made on the air. If that is so, let the Government write the necessary provision into the Bill. The B.B.C. itself has asked that their powers be thus limited. If they are prepared to specify the type of announcement they would want to have made, there ought not to be very much objection to that.

These announcements are sometimes overdone. There is a certain bleak indigestibility about their matter and they are not presented in such an attractive manner as always to hold the public's attention. I view with some misgivings the continual creeping increase in the number of impartial statements and handouts which emanate from the Government. Many of these statements cannot really be impartial. They are the means of building up a Minister or supporting a policy.

There may be occasions upon which announcements of this sort might have to be made, but does anyone suggest that the I.T.A. would refuse a reasonable request from the Government? Would it refuse to broadcast the Postmaster-General's request to post early for Christmas, or an appeal from the Home Secretary on Civil Defence? It is true that the Civil Defence appeal might be limited in the Midlands. It is time that we got to the stage of treating the Authority as an adult and not a child. It would respond, surely, to any reasonable appeal from the Government.

There is a far more serious possibility that at some future time the Clause may become a real danger, because it might be used to control opinion. It is extremely wide, and empowers a Minister of the Crown to forbid the Authority to broadcast certain matter entirely. We all know that broadcasting is one of the most potent instruments in the hands of factions which aim at some sort of dictatorship. I do not pretend that there is much danger of the Clause being used in that way in this country at the present time; but times change. I do not suggest that we are suddenly going to descend into a Fascist or Communist dictatorship, but tyranny has a great many faces. It comes slowly, very often dressed in what appear to be very reasonable clothes. It appeals to what seem to be justifiable grievances. It may gain support—as Hitler did in his early days—from people who are otherwise perfectly good democrats.

It may not be a tyranny of the Fascist or Communist type, but of good and well-meaning men, and that kind can be one of the worst. It may be a tyranny of perfectly respectable political parties which get together to maintain the status quo and defend their vested interests. In Northern Ireland it may be used to prevent Republicans or Catholics from broadcasting over the Authority's stations.

Suppose there were widespread unofficial strikes? Under the Clause the Government can use all the media of the Authority to state their own point of view, and can forbid the Authority to broadcast any answer by the strikers. It may well do that with the concurrence of the official Opposition.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

That has happened with the B.B.C.

Mr. Grimond

That may be so. It is not then altogether a remote danger. I cannot think that it is in accordance with complete freedom of discussion as we understand it. I am not so worried about the possibility of the Government preventing the Parliamentary Opposition from broadcasting, but it might prevent certain of its own dissentient supporters from broadcasting.

Mr. Ellis Smith

That also applied to us.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Grimond

It may prevent broadcasts by those who want to criticise Parliamentary Government as a whole, those who do not think that Members of Parliament should have a higher salary, or even the Temperance League or the pacifists.

We have been told that the new Authority will be a highly responsible body of men, and I believe it will, though if that is so I do not see why Clause 3 should be written into the Bill in its present form. Would it not be better for us to leave the decision on this kind of matter in the hands of the Authority? This Clause is written in in an old-fashioned state of mind. It is the sort of thing which Governments have become used to writing into Bills. I do not think it is necessary to do so, certainly not for the party which now claims that "Change is their Ally." Let this new body judge these matters and act, if necessary, as a breakwater against the Executive.

I shall be told that the B.B.C. is subject to certain overriding limitations. I do not think it should be, but, even so, is there any reason why the new Authority should be a kind of shadow-B.B.C.? If the Government have these powers over the B.B.C., is it really necessary that they should have the same powers over this other body? Might it not be a good thing if the Authority were able to feel that it was free to take a different view from the Government or the B.B.C.?

I am not suggesting that the Authority should be free from all Parliamentary control. It would be appointed by Parliament. Its general behaviour would be debated. If there are certain specific matters in connection with which the Government want powers, let them write the words into the Bill. If they want emergency powers in time of war they will take them in relation to this body, just as they do in relation to others. If they want to suppress unseemly advertisements let them write the necessary provision into the Bill.

The Clause gives the Executive wide powers, and in its present form it defeats one of the strongest arguments which have been put forward by the Government themselves, one of the few arguments for the principle of setting up the Authority at all. Is it to be argued that the Postmaster-General is the best judge of these matters, and that the Executive should decide questions concerning the freedom of speech? If that is so it is a serious departure from the views we have held hitherto. It is not agreed by Milton, Mill or Laski that the defence of freedom of speech can be entrusted to the Executive. The Executive has a vested interest, in torpor—torpor of the mind—and is mainly concerned with keeping things as they are. It does not encourage new wine to get into the old, comfortable bottles and burst them.

Some hon. Members on this side of the Committee want an alternative to the B.B.C. which is not merely a purveyor of music hall jokes and after-dinner games but a serious alternative, broadcasting intellectual discussions of all kinds. They want a new adventure and they are prepared for it to take some risks and make some mistakes. Whether it is to be partially supported by commercial interests and by advertising or not, it seems to me that the Government will have missed a great opportunity in the Bill if they do not give the new Authority the means to sponsor serious and disturbing programmes without a continual fear of interference from the executive.

So far in this country we have got along very well with public discussion under the laws of libel and of obscenity. We have needed no more. We have needed no interference from the Government in these matters. I very much hope that we shall not now reconcile ourselves for all time to having written in the Bill these extremely wide powers which enable a Government to do anything they like to prevent the Authority from broadcasting at all, to tell it to broadcast anything they like or to order it to cease from broadcasting anything they like. I cannot believe that the Committee will be wise to leave the Clause in its present form.

Captain Orr

I find myself in almost entire agreement with practically everything which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said, except for his suggestion that perhaps someone in Northern Ireland might wish to prevent the expression of minority opinion through the medium of television.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

That was the best comment of them all.

Captain Orr

It was a good point but based on an inconceivable premise.

I want to talk for a moment about subsection (3). The Amendment which we have on the Paper suggests that this subsection be deleted, and our reason for desiring this is that the subsection gives power to the Postmaster-General to give directions in writing to the Authority about maximum and minimum times of broadcasting. This is a highly important and, indeed, a highly dangerous power to be in the hands of the Postmaster-General.

Let us suppose that the Postmaster-General fixes a maximum time and, at the beginning, fixes too high a maximum time. Supposing he says that the Authority and its programme contractors shall, from the beginning, produce programmes for the same number of hours as does the B.B.C. Supposing he fixes too high a figure. What is likely to happen? It might be an intolerable burden on the programme contractor.

Sir L. Plummer

The hon. and gallant Member surely means a minimum number of hours.

Captain Orr

No, I mean maximum. He might fix too high a maximum. I am sorry: I should have said "minimum."

Supposing he fixes too high a minimum time. It would place an intolerable burden upon a new programme contractor. The new contractor might have to fill an enormous number of hours for which he had neither the material nor the capacity in the early stages of development. He might have to do all sorts of undesirable things in order to fill the time. Instead of there being the large number of live broadcasts which we want, we might find him filling time with telefilms or with potboilers in order to meet his contract.

He might even fail to fulfil his contract and be subject to all the penalties which we were discussing under the previous Clause.

Mr. Ness Edwards

In the one case we are discussing the programme contractor and in the other case we were discussing the Authority. That is an entirely different matter.

Captain Orr

Surely if the Postmaster-General gives the Authority an instruction about the minimum time, the Authority must in turn give the same instruction to the programme contractor. If not, how can the Authority meet the instruction of the Postmaster-General? If it gives this same instruction to the programme contractor, then obviously it is part of the contract, and if the programme contractor, fails to carry it out, he is committing a breach of contract and, consequently, is subject to the penalty Clause.

Let us consider the matter the other way round. Supposing a maximum time is fixed. The reverse might happen. Once the scheme develops, after two or three years, we may find that, with the amount of money available and the great resources which have been developed, the new Authority is in a position to put on programmes for many hours of the day, which the B.B.C. cannot do. It is conceivable that the Postmaster-General, by some quirk or whim, may decide that the new programme contractor shall not put on programmes for longer hours than the B.B.C. That would be a highly undesirable position. It would be like tying a racehorse to a cart-horse. Why tie the new, enterprising, vigorous programme contractor to the hours of the B.B.C.? I can see no earthly reason for doing that.

Those are the two dangers, and I want an indication from my right hon. and learned Friend that this Clause is designed to be used solely for purposes connected with the national security and the national interest—in other words, that it is not to be used for the sort of purpose which I have described. There is one reason no doubt why a minimum time should be fixed. A Government might argue that if we are giving the frequency space and the channel—

Mr. G. Darling

And the money.

Captain Orr

—to the Authority—and if we are giving it the money, which is a pity—we must be satisfied that reasonable use is being made of the facilities.

I entirely agree with that. I should like an assurance, however, that the power to fix a minimum time will be used for that purpose and that purpose only; and that the power to fix a maximum amount of broadcasting time will be used only in cases of national security and the national interest.

Mr. Ernest Davies

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) suggested that to include the Clause in the Bill was to be old-fashioned. In listening to the doctrine which he put forward, I felt that I was listening to a surviving voice from the past, because we are here dealing with a public corporation, which is to be a public servant, and the inclusion of this Clause follows the precedent set in the case of other public corporations, particularly that of the B.B.C.

The hon. Member put up some Aunt Sallies to be knocked down. When he suggested that the Government could control information by making use of the powers in the Clause to give directions to the Authority to broadcast any material, he was stretching the position rather far and ignoring other Clauses of the Bill. He also suggested that the I.T.A. should be able to put on the air views about unofficial strikes—presumably to put out those views supporting the strike and those opposed to it, thus becoming a forum for the discussion of these very controversial subjects. That is completely contrary to the tenor of our discussion so far, and to the Clauses in the Bill which seek to establish impartiality.

7.0 p.m.

It would be extremely dangerous if the I.T.A. was used for such a purpose. This is a commercial Authority. We oppose it for that reason. For this commercial Authority to become a forum for controversy of that sort when a controversial situation has arisen would be a very considerable danger. Surely it is far better, if it is necessary for national announcements to be made, that they should be made under the ægis of the Government, so that the Government should answer to Members of this House for what it has instructed the I.T.A. to put out.

This is the case with the B.B.C. The B.B.C. can announce that it has received a directive from the Government, and we are then in a position to know what directive has been given and, if necessary, we can challenge the Government for having given it.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that on a day when there is an official strike the only kind of announcement about it which should go over the air should be either the official Government view or the official trade union view?

Mr. Davies

Certainly not. Obviously, news would be put out, and the news has to be impartial in accordance with the Bill.

There should not be a power within the I.T.A. to put out partial and controversial matters contrary to the whole purpose of the other Clauses of the Bill. There are a number of other reasons why it is necessary to include in the Rill the provisions of the Clause which the hon. Gentleman would delete.

Why should the I.T.A. be put in a more privileged position than the B.B.C.? It is necessary to have more control over the I.T.A. than it is even over the B.B.C.. because the I.T.A. is not so directly responsible to this House as is the B.B.C., and, as a consequence, it is much more important that the B.B.C., which is not subject to commercial considerations, should not be in a worse position than the I.T.A. That is to say, we need more protection against the I.T.A. than we do in regard to the B.B.C. I hope that the Government, as I am sure they will, will resist the Amendment.

In the case of the B.B.C., this power has been used so far very sparingly. So far as I am aware, the directive for refraining from broadcasting any specific matter has only been used in one particular, which is to prevent the B.B.C. from broadcasting its editorial opinions. That is already incorporated in this Bill as regards the I.T.A. in Clause 3 (2), where it is provided that the Authority shall not include expressions of its own opinion, subject to certain qualifications. This Clause gives the protection which it is necessary to have, particularly in view of the nature of the I.T.A.

Turning to the Amendment about which the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) spoke, there again it would be very dangerous if that subsection were excluded. It would enable most unfair competition with the B.B.C. to be introduced. The B.B.C. is providing a national service, and its main and only consideration is to provide the best service possible within its means for the community. The I.T.A. will be concerned solely with providing a service which will bring in the maximum revenue possible through the programme contractors.

If the I.T.A. were free to broadcast the hours it wished, and could pick and choose what times it was going on the air, it is possible that, if commercial considerations were paramount, it would pick only the peak listening hours, and put out the programmes at those times when it would have a peak audience, and be able to collect the largest revenue from the advertisers. I do not say that that would happen, but there is that danger. If minimum hours are not ordained by the Postmaster-General there may be not only unfair competition with the B.B.C. but the choosing of particular hours when television transmission takes place.

It is necessary that there should be some control over the number of hours, not only for these reasons, but also for technical reasons—availability of technicians, materials, and so on, so that the requirements of the B.B.C. are not encroached upon. I therefore suggest to the Home Secretary that he should resist both these Amendments.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I think that it would be convenient if I indicated briefly the Government's view. I am afraid that we must advise the Committee not to accept the Amendment which my hon. Friend has suggested. I enjoyed enormously the way he put it, and especially the Miltonic refrain which went through his speech. I was reminded of something which we had to learn at school: Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour; England hath need of thee; she is a fen Of stagnant waters. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) should congratulate himself on having disturbed this pool into the unusual situation of the Government and the Opposition being united on this point.

The hon. Gentleman did seize on some words and said that their meaning was not clear to him. I think that if I draw his attention to some words in subsection (1) he will find that they will help him with his point. The words are: …with his functions as such, … That means the Postmaster-General and any other Minister of the Crown may only ask for something in connection with his Departmental functions. Fascinating as Departmental functions are, I cannot believe that a Minister would take up a great deal of time by discussing them over the air.

Mr. Grimond

The Prime Minister presumably has almost all functions in his power, and can ask the Authority to do anything he likes.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

That is a very interesting point. But my point does still hold good that, broadly, the broadcast of Ministerial functions is a very different matter from the broadcast of Government policy or anything of that sort. In fact, under subsection (1), the requirements have been confined almost entirely to such things as police messages, notices of flood warnings, warnings of agricultural disease and the like. I think that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment had a point—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) will recognise it, too—that the Clause is wider than the use that has hitherto been made of it. That is a fair point and I am sure that the whole Committee would like me to look at it. I cannot help feeling that, as the hon. Member for Enfield, East said, the Clause is so well known and so much used that there must be a reason for the wording. The hon. Member made a case that it is drawn too widely for the powers for which it has hitherto been used, and I will look at that point.

Mr. Shackleton

The right hon. and learned Gentleman says that it is drawn too widely for the powers for which it has hitherto been used. As far as I know, no similar Clause has ever been operated. It bears no resemblance to the clause in the B.B.C. Licence.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

It is putting it a bit too far to say that it bears no resemblance. The same powers are used in regard to the B.B.C.

Mr. Shackleton

They are much more precise.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Exactly. I will bear that in mind.

Mr. Grimond

In its evidence before the Beveridge Committee, the B.B.C. drew attention to that and asked that the powers taken by the Government in their licence might be curtailed and made more definite.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

It is agreed, I think, that I should look at that aspect of it. Equally, we are all agreed that this is a power that in regard to the B.B.C. has never been misused or made the instrument of either politics or tyranny or any other sinister purpose.

Subsection (2)—the "require … to refrain" provision—is an emergency power. As I said on Second Reading, the intention is to provide for a situation in which there is great international tension or some other emergency of that kind.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman certain of that? In the case of the B.B.C., it was this very power which was used to give it a general directive not to broadcast any editorial opinion, which is certainly not a question of emergency. Surely, this would give the Postmaster-General power to request the organisation to refrain from broadcasting any matter, irrespective of any national emergency or otherwise.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I said that the intention of the Clause was to provide for an emergency. It was not to give a power to deal with editorial opinion, because we thought that that had already been covered by the Clauses which the Committee has discussed. I am completely accurate as to our intention. It certainly was not intended to cover a second time the ground with which the Bill had already dealt.

What we have to face is whether there should or should not be such a power in the Bill. I think that there ought to be. I think that the Government ought to keep this reserve power. I point out to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that there is no argument here about Parliamentary control. This concerns the action of the Postmaster-General, and if he misuses the power he can be called to account at once in the House and in the sharpest way.

7.15 p.m.

Subsection (3) is the one which interested my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). I sympathise with him in the difficulties which he envisaged. The answer lies in the common sense of the Postmaster-General in his utilisation of the powers. My worry was not the same as that of the hon. Member for Enfield, East, but it is a very real one. In my conception, the functions of government include dealing with high minimum standards, and by maintaining these standards preventing abuses in various ways. It is a social matter of interest to government, and something that cannot be divorced from government, how many hours of the day television should function. I am not arguing between the B.B.C. and commercial television; I am dealing with the whole field. I think that that is a social matter over which the Government ought to keep control.

I base my opinion on my own philosophy, which I have just explained. but whatever our philosophy of government I think we all agree that it is a function of government to keep some control in this matter. The difficulty which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland envisaged can be met by the fact that there is direct Parliamentary control. This is something to which Parliamentary attention could be directed at once. I am sorry if I have occupied too much time, but I cannot accept the Amendment.

Sir L. Plummer

I am glad that the Home Secretary has indicated that he cannot accept the Amendment, but I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). I think he has confused the issue a little in believing that because Clauses such as this are not made imperative upon the B.B.C., it is wrong that they should be made imperative upon the Independent Television Authority. There is all the difference in the world between the control that is necessary over a public corporation like the B.B.C. and a public corporation designed, as is the I.T.A., to run a service which in its turn is designed for profit. It is necessary, therefore, that there should be Clauses of this kind.

When the Bill was first introduced, it looked as though these Clauses were not as necessary as we now see them to be, for we did at one time envisage that the I.T.A. would be an independent authority, completely objective. But we know now that it can contain advertisers, people whose interest it is to see that it is made a good commercial proposition for advertisers and advertising agencies. It is essential, therefore, that Parliament should retain in its hands, through the Postmaster-General, these powers of direction and excision which Clauses of this kind give.

Subsection (2) is, in fact, the public defender. The situation may well occur when it could be used, not in the sense that the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggests, in cases of emergency, but when there is a direct difference of opinion between the members of the Authority and the Postmaster-General; when the Postmaster-General is loath to take the action that is in his hands—that is, to get rid of the members of the Authority—but finds it is necessary to prohibit certain matters or classes of matter from being broadcast: programmes which are offensive but which might not be offensive to the members of the Authority who, by virtue of the fact that they are in business themselves, take a less sensitive view than other people, including the Postmaster-General, would take, and would permit something which would be offensive to Parliament. The Clause gives the House power to ask the Postmaster-General to take action and for the Postmaster-General to inform and consult the House on any action that he proposes to take.

I am perfectly certain it would not be used in the interests of advancing a Fascist or Communist cause. After all, if either of these systems established a dictatorship they would use television, not in the sense of this Bill, but in the sense of their own interests. Any question of law would then go. While I concede that there might be abuses of this Clause, provided the power remained in a democratic House of Commons, as it would under this Clause, we could control those abuses.

Mr. G. Darling

The Liberal Amendment, with a capital "L," is full of dangers, and the Liberal Party have got to learn that our law can be preserved if the Government can step in now and again to see that it is preserved. This laissez faire of the Liberal Party does a disservice to liberalism, this time with a small "1."

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) mentioned the possibility of the Government stepping in to instruct the Television Authority how it should, for example, handle unofficial strikes. This is a serious matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) suggested that the B.B.C. has not always been impartial in the past in reporting these strikes. I think I am in order in replying to that to draw upon my own experiences.

For some years after the war I was the B.B.C. industrial reporter and it was my job to report on unofficial strikes. I got tired of doing it. I thought we paid too much attention to them. I would rather have reported what the other 99 per cent. of the workers were doing, and that was working pretty hard and getting this country on to its feet. But people wanted to listen to talks about the unofficial strikes. It was impossible for the B.B.C. to do anything else but report the two, three or four sides of unofficial strikes, and anyone trying to bring pressure to bear upon the B.B.C. about them was told that it would not allow pressure to interfere with its reporting. But there was no comment put out by the B.B.C.

We have got to bear in mind something that was said on previous Amendments and is germane to this, that the only way one can safeguard the impartiality of any broadcasting organisation in its presentation of news, facts and information is to make sure that the staff on the job are protected from any pressure that may be brought to bear on them. We have got to be more careful in the case of the I.T.A. than would be the case with the B.B.C.

The I.T.A. will be subject to business pressure. It may be that a business concern enters into a contract with a programme company or advertising agency to put on a whole series of programmes, say once a week for six months. Then it may find itself involved in an unofficial or, indeed, an official strike. One has got to be absolutely sure that the pressure on the contractor will not be such that anything connected with the view of the business concern about the strike finds its way over the air as news, partial or biased, or by way of comment.

The Government have got to make sure that business pressures are not used for the partial reporting of facts or comments on such a matter, and I would suggest that if the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary is going to look at this Clause again to see whether the subject cannot be defined more clearly, he ought to be very careful indeed that the door is not closed to Government and Parliamentary intervention. He must ensure that the I.T.A. and the programme company do what we want them to do, and that is to make sure that if there is any offence Parliament will have a full opportunity of saying what it thinks and bringing its influence to bear to make sure that there shall be impartial reporting and that nothing shall be done that contravenes the view we may express in this Committee.

It is important that this should be borne in mind and that in redefining this Clause it should be done in such a way that we shall not lose a lot of liberties and give too much authority, power and influence to the business interests that will be engaged in commercial television.

There is a further point. I do not know how under this Clause one could make sure that news, views and comments about politics and industrial affairs shall be as free and as unbiased as they have been in the B.B.C. The only way that it can be done is by putting control of all programmes in the hands of the I.T.A. and making the I.T.A., in effect, a public service corporation. We cannot do that now because the Clause dealing with it has been approved. I am convinced, however, that that will have to be done eventually so that this commercial undertaking will become a second public service corporation.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

Committee counted, and, 40 Members being present

Sir R. Grimston

I find myself in considerable agreement with much that was said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in introducing this Amendment. At the same time I think we are all agreed that the Government must have these powers over broadcasting certain matters in certain cases. What we have to be careful about is that they are not left too obviously open to abuse. I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend is going to look at the wording of this Clause as it is drawn extremely wide.

Some mention has been made of unofficial strikes. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) said either yesterday or on a previous occasion that he had used similar powers to give instructions to the B.B.C. to refrain broadcasting something that was going to be broadcast about the personalities engaged in an unofficial strike.

Mr. Ness Edwards


Sir R. Grimston

I would be glad it the right hon. Gentleman would tell us exactly what the position was.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I did not use the power, but the Minister of Labour—I was then the Parliamentary Secretary—did in these circumstances. A state of emergency had been declared as a result of a dock strike, and the Minister requested the B.B.C. not to allow the leader of the unofficial strike to state the case for the strike over the B.B.C. network.

7.30 p.m.

Sir R. Grimston

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think that I am trying to blame him. I am merely taking that as an illustration of the sort of case in which one has to be very careful, because, when all is said and done, the right to strike is surely absolutely inherent in the subject in this country, and whether it is official or unofficial does not affect that vital fact.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that on this occasion it was not the right to strike that was at stake, but the right to strike in breach of a contract.

Sir R. Grimston

The point here was really that a state of emergency had been declared in this instance, and that seemed to me to put the thing quite beyond any controversy. I do not think that we can argue about the other points at the moment. I quote that as an illustration and I wish to say how glad I am that my right hon. and learned Friend is going to look at the wording again.

I have one or two Amendments on the Paper which follow this one, which I hope are going to be called, and which I believe are some safeguards, so I will not pursue that subject now. Much as one would wish it otherwise, I think that the Government must retain the power in this Clause.

Mr. Shackleton

I am not in entire agreement with some of my hon. Friends in their attitude towards the Amendment moved by the Liberal Chief Whip. The first point I wish to deal with, and which was, in fact, the last point dealt with by the Home Secretary, is the power of the Postmaster-General with regard to the maximum and minimum time of programmes. This appears to be one of the arguments to which trust in the I.T.A. does not apply and which we now add to religion and medicine, they being subjects in which the Government or somebody else has to intervene.

I do not wish to deal with this so much as with the first two subsections. In the past the Home Secretary has evinced a good deal of anger at the suggestion that this Clause was too widely drawn. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that really we are doing nothing which, in fact, does not already apply in the case of the B.B.C. But it is precisely because the wording is so much wider than in the B.B.C. licence that I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite right in saying that he will look at it again. Since he is going to look at it again, may I draw his attention to the points on which I think there is a real difference between the practice in the past and the wording, as opposed to what he says are his intentions under the Bill.

There is no reference in the first subsection to any emergency under this Bill. The wording in the B.B.C. licence is very much more specific. It merely gives power to a Government Department to broadcast an announcement—and it specifically says an announcement—in an emergency. In the attempt to make this Bill as short and as vague as possible, that has been run together and has left a real gap which I think must be made clear.

It is not good enough merely to say that there is no intention of misusing this power. In that case, why has the Minister varied the not unsatisfactory wording—it may not be perfect, and this is a very important and dangerous subject—in the B.B.C. licence?

There is another thing. The B.B.C. is allowed, both in cases where it is compelled to broadcast something and where it is compelled to refrain from broadcasting something, to make an announcement to that effect. But, under this Bill, the Government will be able to prevent the Authority from making such an announcement to the effect that it has been compelled to put it out.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

There is an Amendment on that point which I was going to accept. I thought that the Committee would probably agree with that.

Mr. Shackleton

Quite obviously the Government cannot accept the Liberal Amendment as it stands, but I think that it is a worthwhile Amendment from the point of view of stimulating this debate, and I think that the Home Secretary, who has persistently said that anybody who has tried to achieve this is an anti-libertarian and is just being troublesome, must acknowledge that there are some real grounds so far as the wording is concerned. It is all very well to say that my hon. Friends on this side and the Government are at one in saying that no Government would do such a thing, but, in that case, let us get the wording right in the Bill, I agree with my hon. Friend that a democratic House of Commons is the main protection in these matters, as well as in avoiding the passing of sloppy legislation.

Mr. J. Hudson

I am extremely glad to have heard from the benches on this side an indication that opinion is not entirely united in complete opposition to all that the Liberal Party says on this occasion. In fact, it is well worth while now and again finding the Liberal Party trying to save its soul for Liberalism after going in other directions.

I think it is an important thing that we are trying to do, particularly under Clause 6 (2) where we are asked to give the Postmaster-General—and such a Postmaster-General as we have seen operating in the House—power at any time to require the Authority to refrain from broadcasting. There is no question in the Clause of any emergency, though it is true that the instructions to the Authority has to be in writing, which I think is important.

During the course of these discussions, I have been engaged in making propositions about certain classes of matter that I thought ought not to be broadcast. I wanted to make it clear by the actual Amendments moved to the Bill what those classes were. That does not lead me to suppose that I want to give to the Government, especially when they have turned down reasonable propositions after reasonable proposition, the right to come along and have the absolute power to rule out certain classes of material.

I am not in the least consoled by my hon. Friends who say, "It will be all right because we shall get a full debate in the House when the Postmaster-General indicates in writing his power to forbid the discussion of certain things." In the course of this debate we have had an example of how completely, this Government pay no regard whatever to important bodies of opinion on their own side as well as on this regarding the material that ought not to be broadcast.

I can well imagine that there are many things that have not been discussed in this Bill at all in which I am certainly interested and regarding which I certainly would not be allowed by the present Government to broadcast any of the things which I hold to be extremely serious. If anybody has any doubt about this they should bear in mind that the B.B.C. is not altogether free under its Charter from taking a very absolute attitude concerning things which it regards as being not altogether popular.

I was recommended by Philip Snowden a long time ago as a likely broadcaster for the B.B.C. to consider. I became a Member of Parliament for the first time more than 30 years ago, and yet in all that time I have not broadcast once about anything under the sun. I know what the power of the B.B.C. can be in forbidding unpopular opinion. I am not a bit anxious to put into the hands of this Government such a power. The Liberal Party may be inspired by John Milton, but he was often denied by the Liberal Party, which has, particularly in wartime, said and done things directly contrary to the principles that it is now preaching. However, I am glad it gives a warning today on this matter, and I am willing to support it in giving that warning. I do not want to put into the hands of the Government the absolute powers for which they are asking, least of all those given by subsection (2).

Mr. Ness Edwards

I shall deal first with subsection (3), because that seems to be the matter on which there is least dispute. I was rather surprised that Liberal Members had not more to say about it. If that subsection were deleted, the I.T.A. would be free to transmit during as much time as it liked, while the B.B.C. would be limited by the existing provisions. I am sure that it is not desired to give such preferential treatment to the I.T.A., and I think that the subsection should remain.

The amount of time devoted to television is a social matter, and a very important one. Any Government that thought of extending the amount of time for transmission would have to give very serious thought to the social consequences of extending it, and especially if an indefinite extension of time for transmission were contemplated. It is a matter of great social interest and any extension of time should be allowed only after very great consideration. I put it to Liberal Members, that they at least are prepared to see fair play for the B.B.C. in this matter, and that it should not be put in a worse position than the I.T.A. by not being allowed to transmit as long.

I agree that the wording of subsections (1) and (2) is wider than the wording of the B.B.C. Charter. I am glad that the Home Secretary will look at this again, so that the I.T.A. shall not be more under the control of the Government than is the B.B.C. I have had some experience of the operation of similar provisions in relation to the B.B.C. I do not remember a single complaint in the House about the operation of those provisions.

Mr. Shackleton

I do not think my right hon. Friend has made his opinion quite clear. I take it that he is suggesting that the I.T.A. should be only in the same position as the B.B.C.? Obviously he is in favour of the Government's exercising control over the I.T.A. in other directions.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Oh, yes. I shall come to that. The Liberals are apparently prepared to lay down that the House of Commons shall impose limitations on the I.T.A., but they are not prepared to let the servants of the House lay down those limitations, even although those servants, that is, Ministers, are answerable to the House. In that respect I thought that the Miltonic, very delightful speech of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) was very much wide of the mark.

7.45 p.m.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would consider what the position would be without some such safeguards. Without these safeguards, the I.T.A. would be absolutely free to do what it liked. Having regard to the purpose of commercial television, is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that no curbs are desirable? Does he think they are not, when we remember that the I.T.A. and the programme companies may be drawn from one strata of the community? Should they or should they not be allowed, if they so desire, to encourage insurrection in Northern Ireland, to encourage unofficial strikes—

Mr. G. Darling

They would do it every day.

Mr. Ness Edwards

—to encourage actions against the State—

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Or apologetics by the Bishop of Leeds.

Mr. Ness Edwards

—and all sorts of things like that? Putting it as narrowly as one can, there could be occasions on which the Authority ought to be under the control of the House, as, for instance, in a state of emergency, and when it ought not to be encouraged to state the case for actions against constituted authority in this country. I put it no higher than that. That is the position of the B.B.C.

Suppose there were an unofficial strike that led to a declaration of a state of emergency. It would be wrong for the I.T.A. to put up an unofficial striker for the purpose of extending the unofficial strike. I agree that in the news it would be right for the facts about the unofficial strike to be told objectively and impartially, but I do not think we should encourage illegal actions, which, without such a limitation as is imposed by the Clause, would be possible. We should think, the trade unions would think, the Committee would think it wrong if the I.T.A. were to put up people for the purpose of encouraging illegality.

Mr. Grimond

If the Clause stated that these powers were wanted in a state of emergency I should have some sympathy with it, but, as the right hon. Gentleman has himself rightly said, it is widely drawn.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I think we are now getting very near agreement. In other words, the Liberals agree that if this limitation were the same as that on the B.B.C., they would have no case for their Amendment. I take it that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) also agrees that there should be precisely the same amount of transmitting time for the B.B.C. as for the I.T.A. I am sure that even he, who is pro commercial, would not argue that the I.T.A should have complete freedom and the B.B.C. be tied.

Captain Orr

That is so.

Mr. Ness Edwards

We are getting agreement that if the Amendment were agreed to and these subsections deleted we should have an unfair situation. In the circumstances, and in view of the undertaking we have had from the Home Secretary that he will look at this matter again, and try to put the I.T.A. on a par with the B.B.C. on broadcasts in an emergency, I trust that the Committee will not be called upon to divide.

Captain Orr

I think we are pretty nearly in agreement about subsection (3). The Home Secretary produced a formidable case, and convinced me of the necessity of having power to fix maximum transmitting hours. Would my hon. Friend go so far as to give an undertaking that while the Government envisage the retention of this power in order to fix the maximum number of hours which may be devoted to television in the national interest, they do not envisage the use of this power in order to tie the new Authority to the hours of the B.B.C. or vice-versa?

In other words, it will not be used to protect one from the competition of the other but simply in the national interest to decide the maximum number of hours which either of the two may broadcast. If it is decided in the national interest that there may be eight hours television a day and if the B.B.C. says that it cannot produce as much as that, will the Government give an assurance that they will not necessarily tie the new Authority to the same number of hours and that they do not envisage this Government at any rate using the power for that purpose?

Mr. Gammans

As far as I am aware, there has never been any question of tying the hours of the Authority and the B.B.C. together, either as to the total number of hours or the specific time of day when each may broadcast, but my noble Friend would have to take notice of the number of hours which the B.B.C. had broadcast because it has had so much more experience in this matter than anyone else.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The hon. Gentleman has said something new. It opens new doors. Does he mean that the Postmaster-General will allow the I.T.A. to transmit at hours different from those now provided by the B.B.C.?

Mr. Ellis Smith

The Home Secretary did not say that.

Mr. Gammans

That could possibly happen. After all, we are talking about alternative programmes and, as has been pointed out on the other side of the Com- mittee on more than one occasion, it is very undesirable to have two authorities broadcasting virtually the same type of programme or it may even be the same programme at the same hours. I do not want the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) to read more into my words than they imply. I was asked whether it was intended that the I.T.A. could only broadcast the same number of hours as the B.B.C. I said that my words did not mean that at all. I was also asked if I meant that they would have to broadcast at the same hours. No decision has been taken or promise given and I am not attempting to give such a promise.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The hon. Gentleman is speaking in a different voice from that of the Home Secretary.

Mr. Gammans

indicated dissent.

Mr. Ness Edwards

The Home Secretary was quite explicit. As he put it, the I.T.A. was to put out an alternative programme during the present transmitting time and a change or extension of the hours was a matter which would have to be very seriously considered. I understood him to mean by that the extension of present hours of transmission. It will be within the memory of the Committee.

Mr. Ellis Smith

The Home Secretary used these words—that it was a social problem which he undertook to consider in the light of what was said in the Committee.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I agree, but on the other hand we can see the possibility now that on Saturday afternoons, or perhaps after the B.B.C. has closed down, the I.T.A. will be allowed to continue to transmit.

Captain Orr


Mr. Ness Edwards

But as the B.B.C. at present transmits at times permitted by the Postmaster-General, is there no possibility that the Postmaster-General will change the times of the B.B.C., giving preferential treatment to the I.T.A.? We should have a definite assurance about that. My impression was that the Postmaster-General would try to be fair about this matter and allow the I.T.A. to transmit, if it could, within the same periods as the B.B.C., and that any extension of transmitting time in this country would be a matter in which both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. would be treated fairly and that that would be done after great consideration by the Cabinet. I hope that the hon Gentleman does not seek to go further than that.

Mr. Gammans

I do not seek to go further than anything. I gather that what my right hon. and learned Friend said in my absence was that the Postmaster-General has control over the number of hours during which the new Authority may broadcast, the same as he has with the B.B.C. I was asked the rather different question as to whether or not there was anything in the Bill to prevent the Postmaster-General from allowing the new Authority to broadcast longer hours. I said that there is nothing in the Bill but that he would have to be guided in that by the experience of the number of hours which the B.B.C., with its great experience, could broadcast good programmes.

I was also asked whether the hours of broadcasting by the two Corporations had to be identical and whether such was laid down in the Bill. The answer is, "No." There is nothing whatever laid down in the Bill that both have to broadcast at the same time. If we were to put such a provision in the Bill we should be doing a very foolish thing and hampering the development of the new Authority.

On the point made about fairness, there is no conceivable reason why the Postmaster-General should be more fair to one Corporation than to the other. He has direct responsibility for both. It is taking a very poor view of the attitude of or conception of duty by a Postmaster-General to assume that he would be more fair to the one than to the other. I hope that I have resolved the doubt of the right hon. Member for Caerphilly. He raises so many doubts and pursues so many bogies where I assure him none exist.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Unfortunately, the bogies that we have pursued in this Committee have become realities. The bogies that we pursued about advertising and about putting money in people's pockets to help certain friends have both proved to be facts. In view of the fact that when the decision is taken it can be discussed in the House of Commons perhaps it is not necessary to push the matter further at this stage, but I warn the Assistant Postmaster-General that if the I.T.A. is to be allowed to transmit at hours at which the B.B.C. is not permitted to transmit there will be a first-class row in the House of Commons.

Mr. Grimond

Although at some point in the debate I detected a coalition of the orthodox growing up, the sort of coalition which often in history has cramped propress and confined liberty, I know that there are some pretty sound rebels on both sides of the Committee. In view of the undertaking which was so courteously given by the Assistant Postmaster-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sir R. Grimston

I beg to move, in page 9, line 20, at the end, to insert: Where the Authority broadcast any matter in pursuance of a notice under this subsection they may, if they think fit, announce that they are doing so in pursuance of such a notice. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if we discuss with this Amendment the Amendment in page 9, line 24, at the end, to insert: Provided that the Authority may at its discretion announce or refrain from announcing that such a notice has been given. The object of the Amendment is to make it clear that if the Postmaster-General instructs the Authority to refrain from broadcasting, or to broadcast something, the Authority in either case may announce that it is not doing it or is doing it at the request of the Government, whichever the case may be. I believe that I am right in saying that this condition appears in the B.B.C. agreement. In view of the fact that this is some little safeguard in relation to what we have been discussing on the previous Amendment, and that it is incorporated in the B.B.C. agreement, I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General and the Committee will see fit to accept the Amendment.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I should imagine that the Committee will agree with this Amendment and the one to line 24. I cannot quite understand why they were not incorporated in the original Bill. During the hearings of the Beveridge Committee the B.B.C. made representations concerning this matter and the new Licence of the B.B.C. was amended accordingly. It certainly seems desirable that these two Amendments should be accepted by the Government.

Mr. Gammans

I have no objection to the first Amendment. As a matter fact that same provision is in the B.B.C. Licence and I think it is very desirable.

I am not sure whether the Committee realise the implications of the second Amendment. There we are dealing with a legalistic question—which, so far as know, has never arisen—as to what powers the Postmaster-General has over the Authority and over the B.B.C. The point could arise in this way—I put it forward not because it has ever happened or that I could imagine it happening, but, as we are discussing this legalistic point we ought to consider it: the Authority may at its discretion announce or refrain from announcing that such a notice has been given. Here we have to assume that both the Corporation and the Authority are irresponsible bodies which would not take notice of such a Government warning. A very embarrassing situation would arise, as the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) with his knowledge of foreign affairs would agree, if, for example, we were having some difficulty in regard to a foreign country.

For the sake of argument, let us say that in reference to Nicaragua or Guatemala something came in and the B.B.C. and the Authority were asked not to broadcast it. I am quite sure they would not do so, but if this Amendment were accepted it would be possible for the Authority to say, "We have been asked not to say anything about Nicaragua, or Guatemala." I think that would be undesirable. I admit that that power exists in the new B.B.C. Licence, but I think it was a mistake to put it in. It would have been much better if we had followed the form I have mentioned and then neither the Authority nor the B.B.C. would have been empowered to announce that they had been asked to refrain from mentioning the matter.

I could see such a situation arising, it may be in regard to industrial trouble such as the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) mentioned. It would be very undesirable if when the Government asked the authorities not to broadcast a matter they announced, "We have been asked not to broadcast it because we are having trouble in such-and-such an industry." This is certainly not a party question, and I think that it would be undesirable if I were to accept the second Amendment, although I should be quite happy to accept the first Amendment.

Mr. Joseph Reeves (Greenwich)

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that there would be disparity between the two bodies? Does he think that situation is likely to last? This seems to be a serious departure.

Mr. Gammans

The hon. Member asks if that disparity is likely to last. I think that when the B.B.C. Licence has to be considered again that point should certainly be considered also.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir R. Grimston

I beg to move, in page 9, line 23, after "notice," to insert: being matter or classes of matter the broadcasting of which appears to him to be contrary to the national interest. The Amendment raises a matter which is akin to those we have been discussing. It is designed to provide that the Postmaster-General shall not give directions to refrain from broadcasting except on matters which appear to be contrary to the national interest. I think that this is a further safeguard. I put it forward for that reason and for no other. In the normal course of events, the Postmaster-General would not be actuated by any other motive, but we have been discussing what could conceivably happen and this would be a further safeguard.

Mr. Shackleton

Although I was glad to give some support to the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) a little earlier, I hope that on this occasion the Government will resist the Amendment, not because it goes further than the B.B.C. Licence but because it appears to me that this is a power which must be reserved to the Government.

As the Assistant Postmaster-General was out of the Committee when the Home Secretary was defending the attitude of the Government on earlier Clauses, I would remind the hon. Gentleman that he added this particular field to those in which he said, "Do not trust the I.T.A." The Assistant Postmaster-General and the right hon. and learned Gentleman can put that alongside the other items. I am sure that it is a power which is quite properly in the hands of the Postmaster-General, answerable to this House. I hope, therefore, that the Government will resist the Amendment.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I also hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will resist the Amendment. not only for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), but because I think that there is another cogent reason which was put forward in discussion of previous Amendments by my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer). He pointed out that subsection (2) gives power to the Postmaster-General to require the Authority to refrain from broadcasting any matter or classes of matter which could be used for purposes which would be helpful should a difference of opinion arise between the Postmaster-General and the Authority.

If a situation arose in which it was desirable to request the Authority to refrain from broadcasting any specific type of matter regarding advertising or the like the power could be used, and it may well be that it would not be possible to interpret that as in the national interest in the sense in which we generally understand the national interest. That, I think, is an added reason why it would be undesirable to accept this Amendment, but, if that argument is not acceptable, I would add it is difficult to define in connection with this Authority what exactly would be the national interest and what would not be the national interest. In the case of other public Corporations the Minister responsible has the right to give directives of a general nature "when the national interest requires." The phrase, "when the national interest requires," is used in most cases, but there we are concerned with commercial undertakings and the national interest would be easier to define because of the scope of the organisation, but in this case it would certainly be very difficult to do so.

Finally, there is the reason that this would bring about another disparity between the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. There does not seem any reason why the I.T.A. should be in a different position from the B.B.C. in this regard. If the Amendment were accepted, it would mean that the I.T.A. was in a better position than the B.B.C. which would be quite undesirable in view of the difference which exists between the two Corporations. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say that he cannot accept the Amendment.

Mr. F. Blackburn (Stalybridge and Hyde)

In many of the previous Amendments the Assistant Postmaster-General has asked, "Do not you trust the Authority?" The position now seems to have been reversed and we are having to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, "Do not you trust the Postmaster-General?" This is a matter which may be left to the Government—even to a Conservative Government—and I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will resist the Amendment.

Mr. Reeves

We are now considering a matter of great importance, regarding the estimation in which our system of broadcasting is held by other countries. When we established the B.B.C. as an independent Corporation, and in a sense divorced from Governmental interest, it had an important impact on listeners abroad. The B.B.C. was able to build up a measure of confidence possessed by no other broadcasting system in the world. We found that of great value during the war, when people in other countries listened to our broadcasts believing them to be factual and impartial, and we were able to advance our cause considerably on that account.

If it is felt that these Corporations— especially the new Corporation—are to be the instruments of the Government we shall lose that valuable asset. I do not like the emphasis on the national interest, because that could be interpreted in many and in most dangerous ways. We might be having an acute political dispute and the Government might feel impelled to use such a Clause to prevent the proper dissemination of news on such an issue. The Assistant Postmaster-General would be wise to resist the Amendment.

Mr. Gammans

The point raised by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Reeves) is a minor one, but I think that I had better reply to it. He was talking about sound radio, I take it, because television programmes broadcast by this Authority will not be picked up abroad.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Reeves

But we have already taken French programmes over the B.B.C. That is the kind of development which we hope for in the future. It is possible to obtain such link-ups in these days.

Mr. Gammans

I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he was referring to direct broadcasting, but it is not relevant to the answer which I wish to give to the point raised by my hon. Friend. I wish to try to convince him that the Amendment is unnecessary for a reason which has not yet been advanced in this discussion but which I understand is fundamental to our Constitution. It is always assumed that any Minister acts in the national interest. To depart from that dictum of our Constitutional practice would be undesirable.

During the Second Reading debate the Home Secretary said that the power conveyed to the Postmaster-General by this subsection: is one intended for and always restricted to, matters of high policy, such as defence, special circumstances in the international field, or something of that kind. Everyone who has had anything to do with government, of whatever party, knows that this power is very sparingly used. The corresponding powers … are contained in the Licence and Agreement of the B.B.C. The experience of the last 25 years shows there to be no real difficulty equally in practice."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 25th March, 1954; Vol. 525, c. 1457.] If my hon. Friend fears that a Postmaster-General who did not happen to like the Corporation and the type of work it was proposing to do, could act arbitrarily in this matter, I do not think he need worry, because any Government who wished to destroy this Corporation would not need to take advantage of this Clause to do so. They would do it in a very much more direct way.

So far as the general dictum is concerned, it is always assumed—we cannot assume otherwise—that where a Minister acts—and as I have quoted from the speech of the Home Secretary—this subsection has a somewhat narrow and important connotation—he must be acting in the national interest. I hope therefore that I have convinced my hon. Friend that the words "national interest" are superfluous.

Sir R. Grimston

In view of the explanation from the Assistant Postmaster-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I beg to move, in page 9, line 36, after first "Authority," to insert: a copy of which shall be laid before each House of Parliament. The object of this Amendment is to ensure that such instructions as are given to the Authority are publicised and known to the House. I feel that it is in the general interest that it should be known what the Postmaster-General of the day is instructing the Authority to do. This subsection says that he can give it instructions to extend the areas served, and to improve the strength or quality of the transmission. He can give technical instructions and instructions to install new stations in places which he chooses.

That may place a considerable financial burden on the Authority which may not be well placed financially, certainly in the early years, and the least we can do is to ask that such instructions shall be available for examination by the House so that we may know what is going on.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I think that this Amendment should be accepted. My reasons for supporting it are different from those advanced by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing), though I do not disagree with him.

It is very important that the House of Commons should be informed of any extension of the activities of the I.T.A. We on this side of the Committee are zealous that the B.B.C. should not be prejudiced in any way, or that the Authority should be extended at the expense of the B.B.C. Therefore, if the Postmaster-General gives instructions to the Authority on technical matters referred to in the subsection, and particularly regarding the extension of its services, the setting up of new transmitters and so on, we think that this House should be informed and be given the opportunity of questioning the Postmaster-General or debating the matter, so that the rights and interests of the B.B.C. are fully protected. I hope that the Amendment will be accepted.

Mr. Gammans

I appreciate what is in the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing). It is that the new Authority may be asked to extend its range of operations unreasonably by what I might call the caprice of a Postmaster-General. My hon. Friend wishes to have any notice telling the Authority to extend their operations laid before this House but I hope that I can persuade him that it is not necessary to do so

Under Clause 6 (4) the Postmaster-General may lay down … the adoption or use of such technical measures or processes as may be specified in the notice, or the installation, establishment, maintenance or use of such additional station … As my hon. Friend said, this is very largely a technical power, and many of the directions which would be given under the Clause would be essentially of a technical nature.

In the case of the B.B.C. the Postmaster-General has equivalent power in Article IV of the Licence. In the case of the B.B.C., before he suggests or insists that it extends its range or, what more generally happens, agrees to its request that its range shall be extended—I do not think that it has ever been done in the positive way; it has always been done in the negative way—he has an obligation to see that the Corporation has sufficient funds available from this House to start the new stations.

In the case of the Authority there is no such obligation, and the cost of any extension would have to be met from advertising revenue. That is the basis of my hon. Friend's Amendment. He fears that, because there is a different source from which the revenue comes, an unreasonable Postmaster-General might give directions which it would be very difficult for the Authority to carry out. My hon. Friend feels that there should be safeguards against that.

What we are really discussing is not whether there should be safeguards but what form those safeguards should take. My hon. Friend thinks that the best safeguard would be to lay a copy of any notice before this House. I doubt whether that is really necessary. As I have said before, any order given by the Postmaster-General would be very largely of a technical nature. However, I am convinced that, even if we do not lay the notice before the House, there is no conceivable reason why the matter should not come before the House. After all, as I have said many times during these debates, any action taken by the Postmaster-General can be raised in the House at Question time or on the Adjournment or in other ways.

I should have thought, from past experience, that if a major step such as unreasonably requiring the Authority to extend its range were taken, the people in the Authority would be a pretty dumb lot if they did not find some way of bringing it before the House in one form or another. I do not think it is necessary to take the extreme step which has been recommended, and I hope my hon. Friend will accept my assurance to that effect.

Mr. Ness Edwards

I agree that in the case of technical requirements it seems to be unnecessary to report to the House or to lay before the House a copy of instructions relating to the quality of transmission, the frequencies in use and so on, but matters of additional stations or apparatus being situated in certain places are of prime importance to the House. If the Postmaster-General were to require the Authority to have a second, third or fourth station in London while other parts of the country were left unprovided for, that is a matter about which hon. Members should show great concern. Equally, if the Postmaster-General required the Authority to have half a dozen stations in the Orkneys or in Northern Ireland, that would be a matter about which the House ought to be informed.

It is not enough for the Assistant Postmaster-General to say that hon. Members could raise such matters in the House. How are hon. Members to know what written instructions have been given to the Authority? It would be wrong for hon. Members to have to rely upon information obtained surreptitiously from the Authority about the Postmaster-General's instructions. The cleanest method is for the Postmaster-General to inform the House and let us discuss the matter on its merits instead of waiting until his instructions have been put into operation. Foundations may be laid, structures may be begun and machinery and equipment may be ordered, and then it may dawn on one that something unusual is taking place, and a Question may be asked and the reply may be that what has taken place is the result of the Postmaster-General's instruction.

There is something of substance in the Amendment which ought to be met. I agree that there is no urgency about technical matters, but in the case of the number and location of stations and installations there ought to be a direct report to the House. If the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) presses his Amendment, he can be sure of support from the Opposition.

Captain Orr

I think that our fears in this matter are clear. For once in a while, probably for the first time in this Committee, I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). I am not certain whether this is the best way of achieving what we want, but I feel that there is something in the right hon. Gentleman's point that Members of Parliament may have difficulty in hearing about directions until a considerable time after they have been given.

Very important technical directions can be given under this provision. The question of the power of the transmitters to be used is one of utmost importance. I suggest that the Assistant Postmaster-General might think about this again to ascertain whether there is any means by which hon. Members could be informed about major technical decisions, if they could be distinguished from the petty day-to-day details instead of having to learn about them through surreptitious channels.

There might be very important questions arising from the extension of stations. There might be a question of a programme contractor being allowed to convert to his own use a transmitter which he leased from the Authority. Such a matter might come within these provisions, and it would be something about which hon. Members might have a right to be informed in advance. Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider this point. I do not think that we need necessarily press this Amendment, but we ought to have some more information.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Blackburn

We ought to hear again from the Assistant Postmaster-General on this important matter. I am rather concerned about the wording of the subsection as it stands, because I can envisage the possibility of a conflict between the Authority and the Postmaster-General. According to Clause 1, the Authority has the duty of providing television services … for so much of the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands as may from time to time be reasonably practicable. Yet, in Clause 6 (4), the Assistant Postmaster-General may give instructions for the use of … such additional station, stations or apparatus as may be so specified, situate in such places and complying with such requirements", and so on. Let us suppose that the Authority says the instructions of the Postmaster-General are not "reasonably practicable." I think the hon. Gentleman should look again at this Clause to see if he cannot accept the Amendment, which would give some safeguard, or find some other form of words that would meet the points which have already been raised.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

I do not want to press this point, because I think the Assistant Postmaster-General has the sense of the Committee, but I hope the Government will not have to shelter under the technical umbrella. If we look at the history of broadcasting in this country, which has been so well written by Mr. R. H. Coase in "The Monopoly of Broadcasting," we see that it is quite clear that the monopoly in this country, unlike any other country in the world, was set up by the Postmaster-General on the grounds that it was required for technical reasons. It is quite astonishing how many things one can get through the House of Commons if we say that it is for technical reasons that we have to do them. Everyone puts their papers down and thinks that if it is technical it is all right. This monopoly has grown up without any justification, under the umbrella that it was created for technical reasons.

I do not accept this point of view that because it is technical we should not know about it, and I very much hope that my hon. Friend will give us some assurance that, when he gives instructions to the Authority he will not mark them "Private and Confidential." If the Authority is to be in a position to pub- lish those instructions, the spirit of my Amendment will be met, and 1 should then be very happy to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)

I do not think we would be willing to assent to the withdrawal of this Amendment, and, indeed, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not seek to withdraw it, because it is a matter of importance, as was indicated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). Subsection (4) gives substantial powers to the Postmaster-General, and they are powers of direction that might alter the balance of television broadcasting. They might have important commercial consequences to the undertaking, and they might have repercussions on the B.B.C. Indeed, there are all sorts of possibilities consequential on the very large powers given by this subsection.

I cannot see why the Amendment should not be accepted, but my doubt is whether it is strong enough, and whether it should not relate to a Statutory Instrument, which could be the subject of a Motion for annulment, if necessary. It may be necessary to raise this on Report stage. This Amendment merely says that a copy shall be laid on the Table, and, indeed, gives the House of Commons no rights at all, except that we are to be informed about it, can put down Questions, and, possibly, raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment. This is a milder Amendment than I would have liked, but I do not think there is any reasonable case for the Assistant Postmaster-General resisting it.

If nothing is done when these directions, some of which are of real substance and importance, can be given, the House of Commons may know nothing about them, but they may be matters of public interest and involve issues of public policy. It is true that somebody from the I.T.A., or possibly somebody else connected with this affair, may give information or inspiration to Members of Parliament, but that is not the best way to do things. I do not like it being done that way, and it is far better for these things to be plain and above board. Therefore, it is quite wrong on the part of the Government to resist an Amendment which in itself is reasonable.

The Assistant Postmaster-General seemed to think that somehow these things would leak or come out, but that is not the way in which Parliament ought to do its work. I suggest that he either accepts the Amendment or gives an undertaking to reconsider the matter between now and Report, including the point which I have suggested, that there ought to be a Statutory Instrument. If he Government like to think they can distinguish between tin-pot stuff and more substantial stuff, it may be worthy of consideration, but, as a matter of principle, I am sure that the Amendment is right and I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will think again.

Mr. Gammans

We are running out of Amendments. I will do what the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I was asked to give consideration to this Amendment; of course I will, but I cannot give guarantees. I want to give consideration to whether or not the situation which has been outlined in the debate would, in the opinion of the Government, be covered. The Amendment is supported on different sides for entirely different reasons.

Mr. Ede

That shows how good it is.

Mr. Gammans

Not altogether. We have heard on one side that it is necessary in case we had a capricious Postmaster-General, but the Opposition tell us that it is a safeguard against an over-indulgent Postmaster-General. We have not much more to discuss. I am happy to give the assurance that I will look at this matter again to see whether I think it covers the various points which have been raised in this short debate. If I do not think it does, I will come along with an Amendment on the Report stage, but I cannot guarantee that I will do so. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has asked me for that, so I hope he will rest assured with what I have just said.

Mr. Orr-Ewing

In view of the statement of the Assistant Postmaster-General, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Shackleton

I assure the Assistant Postmaster-General that there is still plenty to be said about the Bill. This is one of the most important Clauses. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who moved a very important Amendment, drew attention to fundamental principles of which the Government had apparently not been aware until the debate. I would draw the attention of the Committee and of the Minister to the fact that the powers given to Ministers of the Crown by the Clause will extend to Ministers of the Crown in Northern Ireland.

I have not taken an extreme part by advocating the abolition of the Government of Northern Ireland, and I am sure that my hon. and right hon. Friends would strongly disapprove of me if I did; but it is one thing to give powers to a Minister of the Crown in the Parliament of the United Kingdom and a different thing to give powers to Ministers in the Government of Northern Ireland. I do not know how far the Assistant Postmaster-General and the Government have considered this point, but the powers given would apply to the Northern Ireland Government.

There is some danger that these provisions might escape the notice of the House of Commons. I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will be able to tell us the attitude of the Northern Ireland Government on this matter. Are the Government aware that they giving the Northern Ireland Government these powers? Are they therefore intending to draw these first two subsections a good deal more specifically and clearly than they are at present?

We know that there are grave accusations flying around Northern Ireland about the use the Government there make of Government machinery to put over Government propaganda. I do not necessarily lend my support to those charges but merely say that they are made. Yet, quite without any explanation, we find these very considerable powers extended to the Northern Ireland Government.

I hope that, in the light of the debate which we had earlier on the Liberal Amendment, the Assistant Postmaster-General will say a few words. It should not really take long for either him or the Home Secretary to see that the arguments which have been deployed from both side have to be met. Unless they are met we shall have to put them a little more clearly on the Report stage and, if necessary, force them to a vote.

I should like to turn to that part of the Bill which deals with the Postmaster-General's power to require the Authority to extend the area served by the Authority's broadcasts. Will the Assistant Postmaster-General tell us how it will be done? Suppose the Postmaster-General finds no programme contractor willing to set up a station in Northern Ireland or in the North of Scotland, how is this power to be applied? In the Amendments to Clause 1 we sought to ensure that there was proper coverage. The Assistant Postmaster-General said then that it would be unfair to impose on the Authority an obligation not imposed on the B.B.C. We merely said that we should like the Authority to assume the same responsibilities as the B.B.C.

In the last resort, if I understand the Clause correctly, there is in the hands of the Postmaster-General this residual power to compel the Authority—and presumably the Authority by some means or another to induce the programme contractors—to set up television services in those areas. How will it be done? I take it that the I.T.A. cannot coerce the contractors to do it; if so, the Authority certainly has not the money itself to do it. It certainly has not enough money under the Financial Resolution. Perhaps we could have some explanation of that point.

In general, before the Bill leaves the House I would ask that close attention be given to all the implications in Clause 6 Potentially it is the most dangerous of the Clauses. It is a Clause which I am quite content—as we all are under present circumstances—to assume will probably be properly administered, but it is important that the wording should be clear. At present the wording is obscure and sloppy, otherwise it would not have deceived the Home Secretary as apparently it has done.

Captain Orr

The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) referred to the inclusion in subsection (1) of references to Ministers of Northern Ireland. Obviously, if the Bill is to extend to Northern Ireland as it does at present this is a sensible provision and one which exists in the case of the B.B.C. 8.45 p.m.

This House of Commons has devolved upon the Parliament of Northern Ireland control over certain matters. I can think of health and Civil Defence in particular where a Minister may require "in connection with his functions," as the subsection reads, to broadcast upon a matter. A United Kingdom Minister can broadcast, in so far as his authority extends at present for England, Wales and Scotland, but his authority in these matters might not extend to Northern Ireland, in which case it would be necessary and right that a Minister in the Government of Northern Ireland should have a similar right in connection with his functions.

I hope that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) was not intending to suggest that a Minister in the Government of Northern Ireland would or could misuse his powers or would be likely to do so under the Clause.

Mr. Shackleton

He could.

Captain Orr

Well, I do not know. The subsection says: The Postmaster-General and any other Minister of the Crown may, if it appears to him to be necessary Or expedient so to do in connection with his functions as such … Perhaps he could, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not suggesting that he would or would be likely to do so. No Minister in the Government of Northern Ireland has done so yet, any more than a Minister in the United Kingdom Government has done so.

Mr. Shackleton

I was careful not to get drawn into a discussion on Northern Ireland politics, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman knows that at least one-third of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland are convinced that the Northern Ireland Government are capable of that sort of thing.

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

Order. The hon. Member quite properly declined to be drawn into that subject.

Captain Orr

There is no suggestion that a United Kingdom Minister has ever misused the powers which exist in respect of the B.B.C.—not even a Northern Ireland Minister. The Northern Ireland Minister of Finance broadcasts his Budget statement. There has never been any suggestion that those powers have been misused.

Mr. Shackleton

The point is that both the hon. and gallant Gentleman and the Home Secretary seem to think that the powers that have been exercised in the past have been exercised under the Clauses in the Bill, and they have persistently referred to this Bill. I would again draw attention to the fact that in the past the powers have been exercised under a Charter and Licence of the B.B.C. which is worded differently.

Captain Orr

Yes, I appreciate that point, but if, as the Home Secretary has said will be done, this Clause is to be looked at with a view to bringing it into line with the provisions in the B.B.C. Charter, I do not see why, in those circumstances, we should not extend a similar power in connection with the new Authority to Ministers in the Government of Northern Ireland, in the same way as we do in the case of the B.B.C. My view about this matter in relation to Northern Ireland can be summed up by the fact that I have handed in a manuscript Amendment to the effect that the Bill shall not extend to Northern Ireland, but of course that is not yet under discussion, and I do not propose to pursue the matter.

Mr. Ernest Davies

I do not propose to detain the Committee for more than a few minutes because we are now only on Clause 6. We have nine more Clauses to discuss, including the very important financial Clauses, before the Guillotine fails at 10.30.

I rise because of some of the statements made by the Assistant Postmaster-General when we were discussing subsection (3). He made some rather worrying remarks which could not but give us concern. We were discussing the question of his right to fix a maximum and minimum time during which the Independent Television Authority should transmit its broadcasts, and he refused to give any assurances that these broadcasts would be confined to the same hours as those of the B.B.C. and that they would not be outside the hours during which the B.B.C. was transmitting. It causes us very much concern to think that the Authority might be given preferential treatment.

He endeavoured to claim that the Postmaster-General would certainly never give preference to one authority or the other, but because of the discussions we have had up to now we cannot have any confidence in that claim. I want to stress once more how important it is that no preferential treatment should be given. Unless the maximum hours and the hours of broadcasting coincide as between the two authorities there is a danger of that. I can foresee a situation in which the I.T.A. might decide that certain hours were more remunerative for broadcasting than others, or that it was more remunerative to transmit at periods when the B.B.C. was not transmitting, and the Postmaster-General might be persuaded to give the I.T.A. authority to do so in view of the need to increase its revenue.

That brings me to another point. All through our discussions the assumption has been made that the I.T.A. will succeed. What worries me is that if it does not it might be tempted to reduce its standards in order to increase its revenue. That is one reason why I consider the Clause to be very important, and that is why I do not object to it being drawn somewhat wider than the relevant section in the B.B.C. Charter.

My view is that it is necessary for Her Majesty's Government to have more control over the I.T.A. than over the B.B.C. That is all the more important in view of the fact that it will only be through the I.T.A. that the Government will have any control over the programme companies, who will not be answerable directly to the House. By this Clause it may be possible to control their activities, because the Government would be able to give directions to the I.T.A. to refrain from broadcasting certain matters, and this would have its effect upon the programme companies.

In the case of the I.T.A., commercial standards will govern broadcasting, and since those commercial standards should be subject to some measure of control the Clause is even more important in its relationship to the I.T.A. than to the B.B.C. All the arguments about the necessity to have these powers over the B.B.C. are equally relevant in the case of the I.T.A. When the Assistant Postmaster-General takes these matters into consideration and introduces a further Amendment on the Report stage. or in another place, I hope that he will not necessarily use the same wording as is used in the B.B.C. Charter. There may be other considerations which he ought to bear in mind.

Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)

I hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will give very careful consideration to the point raised in connection with subsection (6). As the Committee will appreciate, it contains the words, "any Minister of Northern Ireland." By virtue of this subsection any Minister of Northern Ireland will have the wide powers contained in subsection (1).

My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has already referred to the general principles involved in the Clause, and I shall not repeat his arguments. I think we should carefully consider the powers provided by the Clause and consider whether it is right that subsection (6), in particular, should be included in the Bill.

I do not propose to repeat the arguments, but I want to ask two questions. First, has the Minister considered circumstances arising in which there was a difference of view between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Northern Ireland? What would happen in such a case? How would the Clause be interpreted?

Secondly, is it clear that a Minister of Northern Ireland, in exercising powers under subsection (1), would be able to exercise them only within Northern Ireland? Is it clear that those powers could not be exercised elsewhere than in Northern Ireland by order from Northern Ireland?

Mr. H. Morrison

The programme would be bound to reach the North of England.

Mr. Wade

It is not clear from the Clause that these powers are so limited. It seems to me that they are wider, and perhaps wider than is intended.

Mr. Gammons

The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) asked me two questions. The first was about Northern Ireland. I think that at first I misunderstood him, for I thought he was suggesting that there would be two Ministers in charge of the Bill when it became an Act, one the Postmaster-General here and the other a mythical person, the Postmaster-General of Northern Ireland. Of course, the Postmaster-General in this country is equally the Postmaster-General of Northern Ireland.

I gather from what the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) said, however, that it was in rather a narrower connotation that he raised the point, for the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West asked what would happen if there were a difference of opinion between Northern Ireland and the Minister here. I remind him that the powers of the Minister in Northern Ireland refer only to the television station of the Authority in Northern Ireland, when one is erected, and such powers as the Minister in Northern Ireland may possess can therefore be exercised only in respect of that station.

The second question which the hon. Member for Preston, South asked was what would happen if we could not get a contractor for either Northern Ireland or the Highlands of Scotland. If we cannot get a contractor there will not be a programme. That is all.

Mr. G. Darling

Will not the Authority provide one?

Mr. Gammans


I remind the hon. Member for Preston, South that getting a contractor for one of these parts of the world may not be quite as difficult as he suggests. I will explain why. If we were to rely on the advertisement revenue which a contractor could get from a station in one of the more thinly-populated parts of the country, we might find that he would not get very far, but there is such a thing as network operations. In other words, under such operations it is not necessary for the particular station, which may be established in one of the more remote parts of the country—where the advertising revenue which can be collected is necessarily small—to pay for itself by the revenue which can be obtained locally.

Mr. Shackleton

What is the point of the Postmaster-General taking this power if it is meaningless—this power to require the Authority to extend the area served?

Mr. Gammans

We assume that before giving orders to the Authority to extend the Postmaster-General would have satisfied himself that it is in a position to extend. That is exactly the attitude which has been adopted by successive Postmasters-General about the extension of the B.B.C. programmes. The initiative has never come from the Postmaster-General. It has always come from the B.B.C., who says, "We want to extend; may we please do so." I imagine that the same attitude will be taken by the Authority.

9.0 p.m.

The other point raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) arose out of what I said earlier. He wanted an assurance. I think that he was not satisfied with what I said.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Far from it.

Mr. Gammans

He felt that in some way the hours which the new Authority can broadcast must be identical with those of the B.B.C., both in length of time and also the actual time. I do not know whether he has considered this in detail, but to my mind that would be a most hampering situation. It would restrict the type of programmes which the new Authority could set up to exactly the same times as the B.B.C.

Mr. Ernest Davies


Mr. Gammans

It would very largely. Whatever may be the virtues of this new Authority, one of the chief virtues would be to introduce variety into the time of these programmes.

Mr. Davies

There is no reason why, if the B.B.C. are broadcasting a play, the I.T.A. should not be doing music or variety. There is no reason why there should not be a balanced programme as between the two, one supplementary or complementary to the other. There is no reason why this should have to be done at separate times.

Mr. Gammans

We have to think of the viewers. We want to provide them with a different type of programme at an hour when the B.B.C. does not want to broadcast. If we accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, we are accepting something which will hamper the whole development of television in this country. The reason which I think the hon. Gentleman gave was that the programme companies would be thinking of revenue and would be getting revenue, as it were, when they ought not to get it.

Mr. Davies

Skimming the cream.

Mr. Gammans

I do not mind what expression the hon. Gentleman uses. Whatever revenue might be got by the programme companies, it does not affect in the least the revenue received by the B.B.C. The B.B.C. revenue is obtained by the licences. However many people who go on television by reason of this, there is only one person who benefits, and that is the B.B C.

If as a result of these new programmes some people decide to buy television sets, the chief beneficiary, so far as licences are concerned, is the B.B.C. I think that the hon. Gentleman if he considers this in detail will see that so far as that argument is concerned there is not a great deal of relevance in it. I am sorry if I have not managed to convince him that it would be putting undue restriction on the development of television if we were to specify that the two authorities should broadcast the same number of hours at identically the same time of day.

Mr. H. Morrison

I do not think that we have quite done with this Clause yet. The Assistant Postmaster-General seems to have argued himself into a tangle. He says that in the case of the B.B.C. it is not necessary for the Post Office to go to them and ask them to develop, extend and do this, that and the other. On the contrary, the process is the other way round, whereby the B.B.C. goes to the Post Office and says, "We should like to make this progressive development; will you kindly agree that we can do it? The Assistant Postmaster-General says "Yes" or "No"—probably he says "yes."

He says that this new Independent Television Authority will be doing the same. If that is so, why does he want subsection (4), which provides that the Postmaster-General may instruct them to do this, that and the other. It may be that he is right—I would not like to say that he is wrong—and that these new people will not be progressive. It may be that they will, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) says, be the skimmers of the cream. What Lord Ashfield used to call "Creaming the traffic" when the pirate buses were knocking about. It may be, therefore, that it is necessary for the Postmaster-General to give this direction, but we ought to know which way the argument is to go round.

Then in answer to the point as to whether sparsely populated areas like the Highlands of Scotland, North Wales and, to some extent, Northern Ireland are to be catered for by the new Television Authority, the hon. Gentleman said that there is such a thing as a link-up or a network, which, I presume, means the building up of a monopoly in the new circumstances. Is that not so? It means co-operation, building up together.

Mr. Gammans

It does not necessarily mean that.

Mr. Morrison

It sounds to me a little bit of a monopolistic tendency, which should shock hon. Members opposite if only they did not believe in monopolies, which of course they do. There is a certain lack of logic in the argument.

However, I am very glad to hear from the hon. and gallant Member from Down, South (Captain Orr) that he is going to move that Northern Ireland be excluded from the Bill; I gather he will do that. He is quite right, because that would be more realistic and Northern Ireland will not get much chance of being within the operations of these gentlemen. Secondly, the hon. and gallant Member shows that although he wants to foist this thing on the English, he has enough patriotism to prevent its being foisted on Northern Ireland. As a friend of Northern Ireland, I agree with the hon. and gallant Member.

The Deputy-Chairman

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not going further than that. We have not reached that yet.

Mr. Morrison

I was only following up what the hon. and gallant Member had said, and I was not going any further. I thought I was entitled to go as far as he had gone and to encourage him in his noble intention.

We may as well clear up Northern Ireland while we are about it. I speak as one well known in the House as rather a friend of Northern Ireland. Anyway, I have met trouble from folks from Southern Ireland at public meetings now and again because of my friendship for Northern Ireland and its friendship with the United Kingdom, not that I think the Northern Irish are always perfect

Subsection (6), I gather, is a new provision entirely. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) has had a look at the Charter and I have had a look at it. So that we could get a check up, we asked the hon. and gallant Member from Northern Ireland to look at it, and none of us has been able to find—of course, we may have missed something—any specific provision in the Charter to the B.B.C. whereby Ministers in Northern Ireland have a specific authority—which, of course, is a limited authority under the Bill; it is not an authority to prevent anything being broadcast; it is an authority for them to broadcast themselves or to require something to be broadcast—within the functions of Ministers of the Northern Ireland Government. If I am wrong, I shall be glad to be put right straightaway by the Assistant Postmaster-General, but we could not find in the Charter that any similar power exists in the case of the B.B.C.

Captain Orr

Northern Ireland Ministers do, in fact, exercise the power.

Mr. Morrison

I gathered from the Assistant Postmaster-General that in his opinion that was so, and I am not disposed to contradict him.

I gather that the Assistant Postmaster-General is in communication with his sources of information. I hope that if he gets information that I am wrong, he will tell me and thereby shorten the argument. But if I am right in saying that there is no specific provision in the Charter, how comes it that Ministers of Northern Ireland Government can exercise the right of directing the B.B.C. to permit them to broadcast? It may be that they have not exercised any such right and have merely asked the B.B.C. to be good enough to grant facilities to the Minister of such and such a Department in Northern Ireland to do this, that and the other.

But that is a different thing. The Northern Ireland Government is a Government of less Parliamentary status than this United Kingdom Parliament. I think that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, whom I know very well, would not be a party to Ministers fooling about; but although I do not want to be unduly controversial, I have known one or two Ministers in Northern Ireland, and so has my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who I should not like shooting around anyhow on broadcasts and requiring the B.B.C. to say exactly what they liked, although I would hope that the Prime Minister would hold them up.

What I want to know is, did those Ministers separately and individually have a right to do this sort of thing, because I would be a bit doubtful about it. It may be a matter of courtesy that the B.B.C. would give them facilities, but the B.B.C. would see that everything was all right. I am very doubtful whether this Television Authority is to be trusted like that, because this is a matter of political judgment which the B.B.C. has been learning over the years.

I do not like the new Television Authority being put in a different position vis-à-vis the Ministers in Northern Ireland and the Ministers here. I hope it will be careful about this because this business can be abused. If a Minister in Northern Ireland wishes to give directions that something should be broadcast, there is the possibility that the Bill could provide that he can only do so with the consent of the Government of the United Kingdom or the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who is the Minister who deals with Northern Ireland.

It is a possibility that some Minister in Northern Ireland may run away with something. I admit it is possible here, too, and, Heaven knows, our Government here is not perfect either, but nevertheless it is not so easy for a Minister in the United Kingdom Government to run away.

Captain Orr


Mr. Morrison

There are two other points on which we should hear from the Assistant Postmaster-General, because if this provision in the Bill is new we ought to know that it is new, and we ought also to know why it should be different in this respect from the Charter of the B.B.C. I wish to refer to the provision in the Clause whereby a Minister can give directions to the Television Authority as he can to the B.B.C. that it should broadcast something or should not broadcast something. I gather that an Amendment has been accepted whereby if a Minister directs the Independent Television Authority or the programme company— I do not know which it is; I suppose it is the Independent Television Authority—that it must disseminate something, it can say that the Minister has directed it so to do. I am very glad about that, because these are rather serious powers.

They are very great powers, and if they were intensively abused they could advance us on the way to totalitarianism. Nevertheless, in situations of difficulty or emergency, it may well be right that they should be used. I do not remember such powers being used when the Labour Government were in office, and I am not at all sure that they have been used in Conservative Governments either. If that is so it is a good thing, and it shows we are a decent, liberal Parliamentary democracy. But it is a serious power to direct the Corporation or the Authority to disseminate something. As I say, the Assistant Postmaster-General has accepted an Amendment providing that the Authority has a right to say it has been so directed. To that extent we are protected.

We come to a more difficult case, namely, when the Authority is told it must not disseminate something. The Foreign Office case was mentioned by the Assistant Postmaster-General, and, indeed, the whole point of telling it that it must not do something is possibly that it is not desired that the public should know what it is going to say.

9.15 p.m.

But if the Authority were in the position to say, "We were proposing to say something about something"—not necessarily all that the Authority was going to say—"but the Government have stopped us," it might mess up the whole thing. Therefore, it may be that we cannot effectively deal with that situation. However, if this is in the B.B.C. Charter, as I gathered that it is, I am not at all clear why these people should be better or differently treated.

I wish the Home Secretary had been here, not because I wish to depreciate the Assistant Postmaster-General, but because this is peculiarly a Home Office point. There ought to be a most responsible and firm undertaking on the part of the Government that this very great power which could be a very dangerous power will not be abused and that they will be careful about it. Let them remember, as we have been told, that even if nothing were said the chances are that the matter would leak out. The chances are that if such a negative direction were given some hon. Member of this House would find out. It might be that somebody would see to it that he found out. The Government should remember that if one commits murder one may be found out and if one commits sins against civil liberty one may be found out.

This is a very great power and I hope somebody from the Government Front Bench will be able to give a firm assurance that there will be no abuse of it. This is a very important Clause and it is well that we should have had such a good discussion of it. It confers considerable powers and there are some points which still need to be cleared up from the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Gammans

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has asked me whether this power conferred on Ministers in Northern Ireland is or is not contained in the B.B.C. Charter. I do not think that it is, but I am not quite sure. If we accept the right hon. Gentleman's theories about the actions of the Government of Northern Ireland we can only do so on one assumption—that they are not really responsible people. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be the last person to make that suggestion. He paid tribute to the Government of Northern Ireland and, quite correctly, to their Ministers. To suggest that one of Her Majesty's Ministers in Northern Ireland is not capable of acting responsibly in matters of this kind is an assertion which I believe none of us in this Committee would wish to make.

I would remind hon. Members that the powers which Ministers have under Clause 6 (1) are somewhat limited. The subsection states: The Postmaster-General and any other Minister of the Crown may, if it appears to him to be necessary or expedient so to do in connection with his functions as such, … Surely that means that if a Minister takes this power under the Clause he can do so only in connection with his Ministerial appointment and not as a party politician. That is a very severe limitation. If we went further we should have to say that because a man happens to be one of Her Majesty's Ministers in Northern Ireland he is going to abuse that power and mix up his political views with his views in connection with the office which he happens to hold, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to lend himself to such an assertion.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with us that when the Authority is asked to broadcast something it should be in a position to say that it had been asked. I am sure that that is right. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman agreed with me that it would be dangerous if we asked the Authority not to broadcast something and the Authority was able to say, "The Foreign Office say, 'Please do not broadcast anything about this or that part of the world'." That would lead to great dangers and difficulties.

The right hon. Gentleman asked if such an order would be given by a Minister in a responsible way and of course I can give the assurance for which he asked. He has known over many years so much about the inside of government that I should have thought it hardly necessary for him to ask the question. I think that he knows the deep consideration which would be given to such a question. So far as I am aware, in the whole history of the B.B.C. this question has never been raised and I do not think it ever will be so long as we succeed in getting, from whatever party, men who take a responsible view of the positions they hold. I cannot see that it can be otherwise, but if the right hon. Member would like me to give the assurance, I gladly do So.

Mr. Ede

I am glad that the Home Secretary has returned, because I want to put a point to him which has not been raised so far in the course of the discussion on the Bill, but which arises very acutely on this Clause. Throughout the discussions on the Bill, whenever there has been a matter of dispute we have generally been told, "Well, can't you trust the I.T.A.?" On one or two matters we were able to point out that the Government themselves were not doing so. The calibre and power of the I.T.A. and its personnel arise very acutely on this Clause where the possibility is very acutely raised of conflict with the Government on the discharge of their functions or in being able to resist some unlawful demand the Government might make of them. It is no use growing old unless one cultivates memory, and it is no good having memory unless one can call it to one's aid in difficult circumstances. During the eulogies which have been paid by hon. Members opposite to the personnel of the I.T.A. it occurred to me that a very similar position has arisen on a previous Bill, which was also guillotined and where the discussions on the Committee stage were very limited.

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember the Bill, the Licensing Bill, 1908, which went through this House without any great assistance from the Conservative Party and was then so mauled about in another place that the Government of the day thought it unwise to proceed any further with it. During the Committee stage the Liberal Government of the day were saying, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his partner in promoting this Bill have been saying to us, "Why can't you trust the Licensing Commissioners?" The Conservative Party said, "We should like to know who they are before we see whether we can trust them or not."

They asked the Government, as I ask the Government now, to tell the House, before the Bill leaves us, who these wonderful people are who are going to be able to discharge all these functions and, when necessary, to stand up to the Government. I will give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the reference. It is 19th November, 1908, in column 1402 of HANSARD: Mr. G. D. Faber (York): I beg to ask the Prime Minister whether, in view of the pledge given on behalf of His Majesty's Government during the Committee stage of the Licensing Bill that the names of the three Licensing Commissioners proposed to be appointed should be announced on the Report stage of the Bill, he will now make the announcement. The answer was given, quite appropriately, by the Home Secretary of the day: The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gladstone, Leeds, W.). That was Mr. Herbert Gladstone, the son of the statesman generally alluded to as "Mr. Gladstone," whose name I had always to pronounce in my early youth with the utmost reverence and for whose work on behalf of Southern Ire- land I still have the very liveliest recollection and gratitude. I beg to answer this Question on behalf of my right hon. Friend. The following are the names approved by His Majesty: the right hon. Henry Hobhouse, to be Chairman of the Commission, and Mr. Arthur W. Chapman, J.P."— who got the job—or who would have got the job had it been created—as a reward for fighting Mr. Broderick in the 1900 General Election at Guildford—

Mr. Wade

May I ask if that is in HANSARD?

Mr. Ede

No, that was obviously an interpolation. I do not think it possible that it even deceived anyone as slow-witted as a Liberal Member. … and Mr. F. H. Mellor, K.C., to be members. I suggest that that is a precedent which the Government should consider following in this case. We all know that suspicions have been aroused—it has been mentioned frequently during our discussions—about the origin of the Bill. It gives new powers to and a new relationship between the people who disseminate news and views and the commercial interests of the country.

I can well understand that the Conservative Party, who are always anxious that the brewers should be well treated, should want to know who were the Commissioners dealing with them before the House could give its final consent to a Bill. But these people will have powers not merely over the bodies but the minds and souls of the whole population of this country. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said quite frankly on several occasions, these are people who will have great powers; that we can trust them and that he will trust them, but I cannot help thinking that the Government have not yet embarked upon a proposal to put a maximum of 10 and a minimum of seven such persons in this great position.

We have the Whitsun Recess before us and there will be some days, I understand, after that before we resume consideration of this Bill. I hope, there- fore, that before we come to Report stage and have to consider further the powers of these people over the minds and souls and recreative activities of our people, we shall know who are the people whom the Government propose to appoint.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Philip Bell

I welcome the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend that he will look again at this provision. There would seem to be a certain amount of unanimity about the Clause. We all agree that the Minister must have certain powers, and I believe we agree that those powers should be defined.

In subsection (1) we are told that it is necessary when dealing with the positive powers of the Minister to put something into a programme that he can do if it appears to him to be necessary or expedient so to do. … That phrase seems to suggest a little frivolity on the part of the Minister, as if he might do something which was not necessary or expedient unless we reminded him. The phrase surely would run quite as easily: The Postmaster-General and any other Minister of the Crown may, in connection with his functions as such, by notice in writing. … Why have this cotton-wool-like phrase, … if it appears to him to be necessary or expedient so to do."? Subsection (2) states: The Postmaster-General may at any time … He need not bother about whether it is necessary or expedient, or get into a fuddle about that. I hope that the Government will agree to use words to provide that the power will be restricted when the Postmaster-General feels that the broadcasting of the matter would be contrary to the national interest. It seems to be the sense of the Committee that if we are to use a veto, thus qualifying the matter and not leaving it at large, we should say that the Postmaster-General should do this when he believes it to be a serious matter. As we omitted the words "necessary or expedient" on that occasion, I think that those rather fluffy words might come out of subsection (1).

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.