HC Deb 21 June 1954 vol 529 cc169-73
Mr. Gammans

I beg to move, in page 11, line 23, to leave out "matter," and to insert "announcement."

I think it would be convenient for the House to consider at the same time the two following Amendments in my name.

The House will remember that the point was made in Committee that the Clause as at present drawn was wider than that which was used for the B.B.C.

Mr. Gordon Walker

We accept it.

Mr. Gammans

That is the justification for these Amendments.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

In the Committee stage, I moved that the first three subsections of this Clause should be omitted entirely, and I thank the Home Secretary and the Assistant Postmaster-General for, at least, making an improvement in subsection (1). "Announcement" limits to some extent, at any rate, the powers of the Government. I regret very much, however, that the Government have not seen fit to make any limitation of the powers that the Postmaster-General takes under subsection (2). Under subsection (2) the Postmaster-General may virtually order the authority to refrain from broadcasting any matter or classes of matter … and it shall be the duty of the Authority to comply with the notice. There are, I think, three possible types of matter which the Assistant Postmaster-General had in mind. The first might be matter which could be held to encourage people in this country to disorder. So far as that is concerned, we already have our criminal law. The second type is, I think, matter relating to the foreign situation which the Foreign Secretary might object to having broadcast. But in this country we have so far got on very well with newspapers which are completely free to comment, without any interference, on any matter, whether related to foreign or home affairs. Lastly, I suppose the Assistant Postmaster-General could use the subsection to forbid the broadcasting of any obscene or undesirable matter by way of advertisement or otherwise. But here, too, as he has frequently pointed out, the Authority will be a highly reputable one, and I do not see why he needs that power.

While I welcome the Amendment. I regret that he has not seen fit to write into the Bill any more precise definition of the powers which he required in subsection (2). Since Whitsun I have been bringing my reading up to date. In the Committee stage I referred to Milton's "Areopagitica" and works by Mill and Laski. I have now had the advantage of reading "A restatement of liberty" by the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) who has taken a prominent part in the consideration of this Bill. It appears from this book that he at least takes a new view of the powers of the State in regard to propaganda, and he may well feel it his duty to encourage the propagation of various forms of opinion. I do not think that this is the proper moment to go into this point in detail, but I feel that there is a real danger—I do not wish to repeat what I said during the Committee stage—that this Clause may be used on future occasions by a Government to impress their own views, not only against—

Mr. Speaker

I have been trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's speech. It seems to me that he is going very wide of the Amendment.

Mr. Grimond

I have very nearly come to the end of my remarks, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that I may say that there is in my view a danger that the Clause, in spite of the Amendment which has been moved, might be used by a future Government to enable them to impress upon—

Mr. Speaker

We are discussing, not the Clause, but merely a proposed change of words.

Mr. Grimond

Confining myself to that, I would say that although the Government now intend to limit their powers to announcements, a great deal can be included in an announcement, and among what might be included is an announcement of Government policy which might be of a very disputable and highly contentious nature. I suggest to the Home Secretary in all seriousness that in time to come he may regret having written into the Bill powers quite so wide as this.

I welcome the Amendment but I urge upon the right hon. and learned Gentleman that when the occasion occurs, perhaps when the Bill goes to another place, he might look at the Clause again, and see whether he is really satisfied that he really requires the wide powers which are still retained, and whether this Amendment meets the point made and accepted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the Committee stage.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 11, line 24, after "images," insert: of any picture, scene or object mentioned in the announcement.

In line 26, leave out "matter," and insert "announcement."—[Mr. Gammans.]

10.15 p.m.

Sir R. Grimston

I beg to move, in page 12, line 5, at the end, to insert: (5) Where a notice under the last foregoing subsection requires the Authority—

  1. (a) to establish or use any additional station; or
  2. (b) to install or use any additional transmitting apparatus for the purposes of the transmission of an additional programme,
the Postmaster-General shall lay a copy of the notice before each House of Parliament. The Amendment is self-explanatory, but briefly Clause 6 (4) gives the Postmaster-General powers to give directions to the Authority with regard to technical matters including the opening up of new stations. We think that where additional transmitting apparatus is ordered to be installed Parliament should be informed.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I beg to second the Amendment.

Mr. Shackleton

If the Assistant Postmaster-General is prepared to accept the Amendment—

Mr. Gammans

Yes. Sir, I am prepared to accept the Amendment. I am glad that my hon. Friend has not pressed his first Amendment. That would have meant laying before the House a whole mass of technical details which would have been inappropriate.

When this matter was raised in Committee I said that I would have another look at it with the object of laying before Parliament what should be laid before Parliament and, therefore, I am happy to accept the Amendment. [Interruption.]

Mr. Shackleton

The noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) always comes into the Chamber about this time of the night to make a few awkward interruptions. Last time the Guillotine neatly fell on him.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Which shows that the Guillotine is monstrous.

Mr. Shackleton

The noble Lord uses the word "monstrous," which is a very apt word, coming from him. I should like, however, to speak on the Amendment and to say that I am gratified that in this case, apparently, the Postmaster-General is not prepared to trust the I.T.A. Once again, this is an example of the "cox and box" and all the other tricks in which he indulges, depending on his mood and the need to conciliate his hon. Friends.

It is a most desirable thing that the type of powers—and very strong powers they are—to be exercised under this subsection, and the consequence of them, should be notified to Parliament so that we may have an opportunity to judge them. It would be helpful in fact if similar powers and the consequences of them were extended to various other parts of the Bill. But in this small part we are grateful that they exist. This Amendment, had it been put down from this side of the House in the first instance would undoubtedly have been refused.

Mr. Ness Edwards

We are only in this position in relation to this Amendment because, in the interests of debating more important matters, we have refrained from moving a substantial number of Amendments. Those who have spent less time in the Chamber behave as if they had spent the most time. I should have thought that if they had so much regard for this Bill they would have spent more time on Report stage watching what was happening, instead of coming in at the last thing at night and behaving in the manner in which they are behaving.

We are very pleased that the Government propose to accept this Amendment. It was discussed in detail on Committee stage, but I wish to know in what form this is to be carried out. How will the copy be laid? Will it be a case of the ordinary practice of placing it in the Library? Will notice that it has been laid be on the Order Paper? I take it that when it is laid it will not be subject to the approval or disapproval of the House unless special action is taken. Will it be available in the Vote Office or will it be confined to the Library? Equally, we are entitled to know whether or not every allocation of a frequency will be notified to the House in the same way.

Reference was made from the back benches opposite to the amount of power with which transmission is undertaken. The question was asked whether it would be low-powered or high-powered transmission. Will that information be given? [Laughter.] Hon. Members may smile about this, but it is of great significance. If it is a low-powered transmission that is authorised, it will cover an extremely small area and in that sense one can have many more transmitters all over the country and provide for a great many more programme companies. If that development is to be on the horizontal basis the more low-powered transmissions that we have the more stations we can have and the more programme companies we can have, and to that extent we are breaking the monopoly to a far greater degree than if the transmission is at high power.

Amendment agreed to.