HC Deb 11 November 1954 vol 532 cc1406-7
The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. David Gammans)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about radio licences.

As a result of certain recent developments, doubt has arisen as to the legality of charges made for certain classes of licence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act of 1904, including broadcast receiving licences and mobile radio licences. The Government propose to remove any doubt there may be by introducing legislation to validate charges made on all licences under the 1904 Act. For future and current licences, the matter has been clarified in the Wireless Telegraphy AC of 1949.

Mr. Attlee

As a survivor from the very large body of former Postmasters-General who, I understand, may be affected by this judgment, I welcome this action, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman could be a little more explicit about what the offence is, because we have not really been enlightened on what the Post Office have been doing wrong.

Mr. Gammans

This covers the action taken by successive Postmasters-General— in good faith, to a greater or lesser degree —in the past 50 years. What has brought this problem especially to the Government's notice is a lawsuit against the Post Office by a firm of engineers operating mobile cranes and other vehicles. As this case is sub judice, I had better not make any reference to it.

The point at issue is whether the Post Office is legally entitled to make a charge for private land mobile radio licences. These licences were originally issued under the 1904 Act, long before this particular type of radio service was ever thought of. An examination of the position has been made following the bringing of the lawsuit, and has raised questions as to the legality of the charges made in the last 50 years under the 1904 Act for all types of licence, including the largest type of all, which is the ordinary sound and television broadcast receiving licence.

Mr. Alport

Is my hon. Friend correct in saying that this matter is still sub judice? Can he say how this affects the question of safeguarding the channels that are available to private radio operators of this sort?

Mr. Gammans

The case is sub judice, as I said just now. In reply to the second point raised by my hon. Friend, the Bill will not affect that in any way.

Mr. Hobson

Under the 1904 Act and the 1949 Act wireless telegraphy licences have always been regarded as telegraphic licences. Does the hon. Gentleman's reply mean that there is now to be a complete division between the two?

Mr. Gammans

No, it does not mean that at all.

Mr. Hobson

What does it mean, then?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are to have legislation on this matter. We can discuss it then.