HC Deb 29 April 1955 vol 540 cc1309-12

2.4 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

I wish to raise another matter which I was advised I could do, and that is television facilities in Cumberland.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

I do not at the moment see a Minister present who is able to answer the hon. Member. I do not know whether the hon. Member has given notice to the Minister concerned or not.

Mr. Peart

I have tried to give notice to the Minister, and I understand, for reasons I appreciate, that the Minister cannot be here because he has a special engagement which he must fulfil. I therefore wish to exercise my prerogative and raise this matter now.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I cannot stop the hon. Member, but I must point out to him that the practice has been deprecated from the Chair as not being in accordance with the best practices of the House.

Mr. Peart

I recognise that, and I do not wish to be discourteous in any way, nor do I wish to attack the Minister. I raise the issue as a matter of urgency because it affects my constituents and it is non-political. In that sense I feel that I would not be discourteous to the Minister in raising this issue now.

The point is that we in Cumberland will be unable to enjoy the televiewing of the Cup Final on 7th May. The reason for that is that my constituents are served by the Scottish transmitter, Kirk o' Shotts, which caters not only for the North-West part of England but also for Northern Ireland. The reason we cannot see this match is that the Scottish Football Association made representations to the B.B.C. and, as a result, we are to have a cricket match instead.

I have myself made direct representations to the Scottish F.A. and this morning at the House I received this telegram: Television Cup Final subject to international agreement. Scottish F.A. cannot intervene. What I am seeking to do is to ask the Postmaster-General to use his influence either directly or indirectly to enable the B.B.C. to have this matter—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That raises another point. It is not clear to me that the Postmaster-General has any responsibility in this matter. This is probably a matter of day-to-day administration within the Broadcasting Corporation.

Mr. Peart

With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I was advised this morning when I raised this matter in relation to a Question which was ruled out by the Table that I could raise the matter on an Adjournment, and for that reason I claim the right now when by chance the proceedings in the House have finished rather early.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That just shows the difficulty of the practice. I am not able to answer the hon. Gentleman, but it does not appear to me that this is in order. I have very grave doubts whether the Postmaster-General is responsible. That is one of the advantages of having a Minister here, and in the absence of the Minister to say what his obligation is, I am unable to determine this issue.

Mr. Peart

Under the terms of the Charter the Minister has power to give instructions. I am not pressing this matter that far, but he has a responsibility. I recognise that he did answer a Question which was put to him on 26th January as to whether he was prepared to answer questions relating to the British Broadcasting Corporation sound and television programmes and the Assistant Postmaster-General said that he was not. I accept that, although there was a measure of criticism from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) that the Minister was being too sweeping.

I am merely suggesting here that in an area in the North-West of England where television facilities are inadequate my constituents wish to see something of national interest like the Cup Final. They are great sporting enthusiasts, and here is an opportunity where the Minister could help to provide a service for the community in Cumberland to allow it to have the same facilities as other English listeners will have on 7th May.

I am certain that the Minister himself will be sympathetic. I am in no way criticising him, and I hope the B.B.C. will look at this matter and that in Cumberland we shall have an opportunity on 7th May of enjoying the same broadcasting and television facilities as our fellow English viewers will have in other parts of the country.

2.8 p.m.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

I do not wish to detain the House, but we are indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) for raising this very important question. Those who have been associated with the Post Office are aware of the difficulties involved. I must say it is rather unfortunate that nobody is on the Government Front Bench to give a reply to this debate. I appreciate the shortness of the notice, but nevertheless this is a fundamental question, and I should have thought that through courtesy to the House we should have had a reply from Her Majesty's Government, particularly in view of the fact that we have a new Postmaster-General. But apparently the voice of the Government is to go by default.

I appreciate that one has got to be very careful here to keep within the bounds of order. Nothing must be said which involves new legislation, but if my memory serves me right—and there were many occasions during the five and a half years I was at the Post Office when this problem came forward—the solution is legislation to compel these people to allow these spectacles to be televised.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That clearly is out of order.

Mr. Hobson

I want now to come back to the point raised by my hon. Friend. The Postmaster-General has at present an overall responsibility under the Charter. Indeed, he can interfere with the programmes, and it has only been the common practice of the House—and rightly so, generally speaking—not to exercise that power. There is not the slightest doubt that the Postmaster- General has that overall power. Between now and the Cup Final, which is a week tomorrow, I hope that approaches will be made at top level by the Postmaster-General to the representatives of the Scottish Football Association on this question.

Further, it seems to me that the B.B.C. could be approached to allow the programme, which will normally be broadcast on the rest of the British network, namely, the Football Association Cup Final, to be put out at Kirk o' Shotts in order that Workington can see this spectacle. That ought to be done, and I hope that between now and Wednesday my hon. Friend will pursue this matter. There are ways and means of raising it in the House between now and Wednesday, for instance by Question, and it may be that there are not many Questions on the Order Paper.

We ought to say here that, as far as my hon. Friends on this side of the House are concerned, we think it is the duty of the Postmaster-General to make his position clear. I had to deal with this problem when I was Assistant Postmaster-General, and on two occasions we found that the sporting authorities were amenable. I know it will be said that the question of copyright comes into this. I know all the problems of copyright law, but a report on it has been before the present Government for about two years. They have done nothing about it, and as far as copyright concerns financial remuneration, the B.B.C. has always proved to be reasonably generous.

It is unfortunate that there is no one here from the Post Office, especially in view of the fact that we have a new Postmaster-General. The Assistant Postmaster-General has been indisposed over a period, but we ought to have had the view of the Department on what they will do, so that Workington can see this great annual spectacle of British sport, namely, the Football Association Cup Final.