§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I am sorry to detain the House on this matter, but the dissemination of news by the B.B.C. during a newspaper strike is a matter of considerable importance to the general public. A few weeks ago, when I was fortunate in the Ballot for this Adjournment, the subject was very topical, but it is still important in case there should be a newspaper strike again. I propose to ask my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General to bring to the notice of the B.B.C. certain suggestions which I shall make.
I have no wish to attack the B.B.C. unfairly. I have occasionally been employed by the Corporation, although not to such effect or for so long as my right hon. Friend was employed by them in the past. My wish is to see that the B.B.C. operates with the greatest credit and to the fullest advantage of the whole nation.
The general opinion, I think, was that in the first few days of the newspaper strike we were relieved to be without the newspapers and without many things that we felt better without, but it became obvious after a few days that democracy could not operate without news. Consider Question Time in this House. Half the Questions that are put down arise from items of news of general interest and they give rise to news of the greatest interest to the public. People follow all these things in the newspapers very closely. I know, because I made my maiden speech during the time of the strike and my usually well-informed friends still ask me when I am to make my maiden speech. But I make no complaint about that.
The B.B.C. news bulletins first rose to importance and to influence in the country, I suppose, when Hitler marched into the Rhineland and later into Czechoslovakia. Before that, the news bulletins were taken rather light-heartedly. I seem to remember that their chief function was 1462 to describe the wanderings of depressions over Iceland, and so on. Then, in the war, we hung on every word of the bulletins and they became an integral part of our national life.
Now, what I call the official part of the news bulletins absorbs about the first 10 minutes of any bulletin, which covers such serious topics as four-Power talks, the situation in Indo-China, our serious debates in Parliament, and so on. But—let us be quite frank—the public listens to the first 10 minutes or so of any news bulletin with only half an ear. What people really listen to with the greatest interest is the five minutes of general and sporting news in the latter part of the B.B.C. bulletins.
My first criticism of the B.B.C. when there were no newspapers was that it was too slow to expand the bulletins to take in items of more general or popular interest. It took the B.B.C. about a week or 10 days to expand those news bulletins to satisfy a greater demand. If one analyses a daily newspaper, one finds that it is made up of about 70 to 100 different items of news—that is, hard news and not comment. The B.B.C, in its ordinary bulletins, deals with only about half a dozen of these items. I suggest that what was wanted during the strike was frequent bulletins of, perhaps, 10 minutes' duration, of a more general or popular nature. These might have been broadcast at every other hour, apart from the regular bulletins, or at half hourly intervals, in the Light Programme. I suggest that even the sacred Third Programme wavelength could well have been used for popular and general bulletins. The Third Programme wavelength is not used until 6 o'clock in the evening.
During the period of the strike, the B.B.C. programmes were too inflexible and not sufficiently imaginative use was made of them. We might have had bulletins more on the lines of the American approach—on the lines of news-casting—with a little more colour thrown into them.
Constituents of mine have given to me three detailed examples of complaints, and they have put them to me as follows. I am told that on Saturday evenings the results of the football matches were issued three times, at 5.30 in Sports Report in the Light Programme, at 6.15 after the 1463 news in the Home Service, and at 7.25 in the Light Programme. However, those results are not the only things people are anxious to know on Saturday evenings. They are very interested also in the Football League tables, and no such League tables were given out by the B.B.C. until Sunday mornings, when one had to get up rather early to listen to them.
Then there was a complaint about horse racing news. I am not particularly interested in that, but a number of people are very much interested in horse racing, and I do not see any reason why the betting odds could not have been broadcast, possibly on the wavelength of the Third Programme. Thirdly, not enough City news was broadcast.
I should like to make three suggestions to my right hon. Friend to pass on to the B.B.C. against the event of another newspaper strike. The first is that the news bulletins should be expanded more quickly than they were the last time, that is, in the first day or two. Secondly, that there should be inserted in the programmes bulletins of popular news value. Thirdly, that an alternative wavelength, possibly the wavelength of the Third Programme, should be used for this purpose of news broadcasting.
I believe that my right hon. Friend has the authority to take these matters up with the B.B.C. The relations between the State and the B.B.C. have been laid down in Agreements, Licences, and the Royal Charters. The first Agreement between the Post Office and the B.B.C. was drawn up in November, 1926, when the old British Broadcasting Company Limited was wound up and, in its place, was established the British Broadcasting Corporation under the Royal Charter of December, 1926, which came into force on 1st January, 1927. Now the relations between the Postmaster-General and the B.B.C. are governed by the Licence and Agreement of 12th June, 1952, and by the Royal Charter of 1st July, 1952.
The Preamble of the Royal Charter brings out one of the points I am putting forward. It says:And whereas in view of the widespread interest which is thereby and by other evidences shown to be taken by Our Peoples in the broadcasting services and of the great value of such services as means of disseminating information, education and entertainment, We 1464 believe it to be in the interests of Our Peoples in Our United Kingdom and elsewhere within the British Commonwealth of Nations that the Corporation should continue to provide broadcasting services pursuant to such non-exclusive licences and such agreements in that behalf as Our Postmaster-General may from time to time grant to and make with the Corporation.One of the Objects of the Corporation set out in the Royal Charter, in paragraph (e), is:To develop, extend and improve the Home Services and the External Services and to those ends to exercise such Licence or Licences in such manner or by such means and methods as may from time to time be agreed by the Corporation and Our Postmaster-General, and to concur in any extension, adaptation or modification of the terms, conditions, provisions, restrictions or limitations of any such Licence or Licences as may to Our Postmaster-General seem fit.Clause 3 (7) gives power to the B.B.C.to collect news and information in any part of the world and in any manner that may be thought fit and to establish and to subscribe to news agencies.I suggest that under Clause 3 (d), dealing with the objects of the Corporation, the Postmaster-General has power to discuss these matters with the B.B.C, because the wording of the Clause implies that from time to time there shall be discussions between my right hon. Friend and the B.B.C. If my right hon. Friend does not take that view, then at least I ask that he should send a copy of the Report of the debate to the B.B.C. for study by the B.B.C. as a matter of importance and interest to the public so that the Corporation can modify its ideas about the dissemination of news in case there is ever again a strike in the newspaper industry.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
I wish to make a very short intervention. I hesitated to rise because I thought the Postmaster-General was about to reply to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and I thought he was also about to make a statement about television facilities in Cumberland. That is a wider issue which, no doubt, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) will raise if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker.
I should like to stress what the hon. Member for Twickenham said about the importance of news to a democracy and I would also stress the value of sporting 1465 activities. We are a democratic community and we feel that our democracy is healthy partly because we have a safety valve in our enjoyment of sport. I want to stress the importance of the provision of sporting facilities and sporting entertainment by the B.B.C. for my constituents.
I raised this matter on Friday, and no doubt the Minister has read the report of my speech in HANSARD. He was not present, but I know the reason; he was journeying to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and he well knows the position in Cumberland. The Minister, as a supporter of Luton, is an enthusiastic football fan. Luton have been very successful this season. I once had the privilege of watching them defeat Workington in the F.A. Cup, when the Minister was present. I know that I have the Minister's sympathy for Cumberland's claim that we should be able to watch the television of the F.A. Cup Final on 7th May.
Unfortunately, we get our reception from Kirk o' Shotts, which is a Scottish station but which caters for viewers in Cumberland as well as for viewers in Scotland. The Scottish Football Association has, unfortunately, decided that if the F.A. Cup Final is broadcast, Scottish viewers and my constituents will watch a cricket match between Poloc and the West of Scotland. I know that my Scottish friends in the area would rather watch the English Cup Final. After all, Newcastle United have several Scottish players and there are many Scottish players in many of the other English club sides. This is a programme which would interest Scottish viewers.
The Scottish F.A. has decided that it shall not be televised, however. It is not the fault of the B.B.C. in this case. The hon. Member for Twickenham was prodding the B.B.C. and asking the Minister to use his influence with them, but in this case it is not the fault of the Minister, who is sympathetic, and it is not the fault of the B.B.C, which is also sympathetic. I read this weekend a statement by a B.B.C. official, as follows:The Scottish F.A. would not give permission to televising the final as it might affect local club gates. Geographical and technical conditions are such that the B.B.C. cannot transmit to Cumberland from anywhere but Kirk o' Shotts.1466 There was a statement that the B.B.C. had great sympathy with the viewers in Cumberland. I am sure that every hon. Member sympathises with my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) and I sent a telegram to the Scottish F.A. I am rather perturbed about the reply which we received from the Scottish F.A. which was to the effect that the television of the Cup Final was subject to international agreement and that the Scottish F.A. could not intervene.
The position is that the B.B.C. desires to televise the Cup Final to this area, the Postmaster-General is certainly sympathetic, and Scottish viewers as well as my constituents certainly wish to see the match. The only people really responsible for the cutting down of the facilities are the Scottish F.A. This means that a small group of men can virtually decide what shall be the national programme broadcast to the country. They may be very worthy men, and I do not criticise them as individuals.
The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) says that this is an example of State planning. On the contrary, the State, through the B.B.C. which is a public Corporation, wishes to provide the television facilities and the Post Office, a State Department, also wishes to provide them; but a private organisation concerned about the commercial interests of football in Scotland is by its action denying people in the north of England opportunity to see a national spectacle. This is not a political matter, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Louth is in sympathy with my view.
It is important that a national spectacle which can be seen in other parts of the country, and which my constituents saw last year, should be broadcast to the whole of the country. I ask the Postmaster-General to use his good offices, either directly or indirectly, not to persuade the B.B.C. to televise the match but to enable the B.B.C. to make further approaches to the Scottish F.A.
The Postmaster-General is sympathetic, the B.B.C. is sympathetic, and I should like an appeal to the Scottish F.A. from this House not to be so mean and autocratic. I wish football in Scotland well; I hope that the Scottish clubs get good gates. I wish every success to their 1467 organisation, but I ask them to show a little tolerance. I hope that they will show as much tolerance as was shown to me on Friday, when I first raised this matter in the House. I hope that from this House we can take some initiative which will enable television facilities to be provided for an area which is very much isolated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle has for a year or two been agitating about television facilities for Cumberland, and I hope that he will pursue the matter even though this is the last week of the present Parliament. Cumberland is an isolated area. My constituents have to travel long distances to see First Division football, although we have a very successful Third Division side this year as well as a successful Rugby League side. However, my constituents wish to see this national spectacle which I know will be enjoyed by all our fellow countrymen next week.
This a non-political matter. I hope that there will be an approach outside this House so that we in Cumberland can watch this national spectacle which, after all, is a part of our English way of life.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Hargreaves (Carlisle)
I am glad to have the opportunity to support the representations made tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), especially as it seems to me, and to a number of people in the Carlisle and Cumberland area, that this limitation, which came to our notice with the issue of this week's "Radio Times," last Thursday, is an additional rebuff to us in our attempts to improve conditions in the area.
The Postmaster-General will probably know that not long ago there was an all-party approach from Cumberland and Westmorland to the Assistant Postmaster-General on the subject of television and sound radio. It is not a one-sided approach on this side of the House. Many people in the area feel that to a very great extent they are being neglected.
Had the right hon. Gentleman been in Carlisle a little later in the week than he was, he would have been surprised, as I was, by the amount of feeling that 1468 has been expressed this weekend not only in the local Press but in other ways. Messages have been sent to the British Broadcasting Corporation and, in addition, there was the effort made in concert between my hon. Friend the Member for Workington and myself.
As I have said, the efforts we have been making extend over a very long period of time and seem to show a neglect by the Corporation of the people living in that area. They are suffering from very wretched reception on the Home and Light Programmes, and as for the Third Programme we are not able to receive it at all. The Kirk o' Shotts television station serves the northern part of the county and the people there will be denied the opportunity of viewing this football spectacle, to which many thousands of people look forward at the end of the football season.
As my hon. Friend has indicated, we have gone as far as we can to bring some pressure to bear upon the authority in the hope that the wishes of the people in the area can be met. I am certain that even at this late stage, if the programme could be televised from Kirk o' Shotts, then announcements could be made in advance so that the people would be aware of the change which would ensure that they saw the Cup Final on television. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman, even now, will be able to do something which will result in the wishes of these people being met.
I indicated earlier that there has been really strong feeling for a long time at the neglect from which we have suffered. I have outlined the efforts that have been made. I could go through them in detail were that necessary, but they are all available in the Departmental records of the right hon. Gentleman, and no doubt he will consult them later. I do not want to detain the House in going over these details, but I should like to express the strong feeling that is felt on this question. The fact that the people will not be able to see this final, a decision made known to them only in this week's issue of "Radio Times," has aroused in Cumberland a very great deal of resentment. I hope that the Postmaster-General can help us to ensure that the people in this area are fully served by the television service from Kirk o' Shotts this coming week-end.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I certainly feel that anybody who asks for a B.B.C. televised outdoor event is to be encouraged, because my own experience from watching television programmes is that the most successful put out are the televising of outside events, especially sporting events. Whether one wishes to follow Chelsea or not, those who take an interest in football should be given a fair opportunity to see whatever game they want.
It seems to me, judging from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and from the subsequent speeches, that a matter of high principle is involved here. It seems open to question whether anyone—other than perhaps Parliament, the Churches and the Judiciary—should have the right to prevent television cameras from going anywhere. Television has come into our lives to such a great extent, and will intrude the more so in the future, that the question arises whether the television cameraman should have the same rights as the ordinary Press cameraman. I know that Press cameras are not allowed in this Chamber. I do not think that they are allowed in the Law Courts, and that only under certain special circumstances are they allowed in our churches. Otherwise, the Press cameraman is fairly free to roam where he wishes, and I think that wherever a cinema cameraman may go, the television cameraman should be able to go.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) said that he had nothing personal against the Scottish Football Association, and neither have I. But, sooner or later, we must take an important decision whether anyone should have the right to impose a bar on the television cameraman separately from the Press cameraman or the newsreel cameraman. We must adopt a broader outlook than we have at present on these matters. I am not saying that at present the time is ripe. But as television becomes more comprehensive, and as more programmes are available, we shall have to come to a decision, while ensuring that there is no risk of monopoly, or undue financial damage to any private concern.
During the newspaper strike I listened to one or two of the B.B.C. news bulletins and I think, purely from a technical 1470 point of view, that there is a limit to the time during which a news bulletin is topical. It takes far more concentration to understand and to follow what the announcer is saying in a 20-minute news bulletin than to read the leading articles in all the newspapers which one finds in this House. It is very difficult to concentrate, because the subjects change so rapidly. There is no break in the transmission. The announcer goes from one subject to another in a manner which is almost an encouragement to cultivate a grasshopper mind. Whether there be another newspaper strike or not—and it is to be hoped that there will never be another—I think we should be careful in suggesting that the B.B.C. should be under any obligation to allow a certain time for news bulletins.
The B.B.C. technicians are second to none when it comes to deciding what the public want. After the experience they have had, dating back to the days of 2 L.O., they should know how long the public desire news bulletins to last. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham that it might be possible to insert news bulletins in other programmes, but I think it would be a mistake to make the bulletins any longer, and that 20 minutes is the limit. I remember the days when, with a home-constructed crystal set, and after tinkering with the crystal and the cat's whisker, I listened to the music of Leslie Sarony coming from the Savoy Hotel. I think that my hon. Friend skipped a bit of history in his account.
I believe I am right in saying that the B.B.C. came into its own at the time of the General Strike, in 1926. It is perhaps rather quaint that until we had a newspaper strike, the B.B.C. was unable to take full advantage of giving a news service. If anyone suggested that the Government should tell the B.B.C. what it ought to do, I think that the right hon. Member for Lewisham. South (Mr. H. Morrison) would be the first to say that the B.B.C. must be allowed to decide these things for itself. I certainly would not suggest that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General should do it either.
I think that the best way of ensuring that the public is properly served in these circumstances would be for there to be more than one organisation disseminating information. I do not wish to be unduly 1471 controversial, but I honestly believe that there should be more than one organisation doing it. I suspect that the B.B.C. was most anxious throughout the newspaper strike to avoid exacerbating any feelings. It cannot have been an easy thing for it to do, because some of the men working for the B.B.C. belong to the same unions as those involved in the strike. That must have presented a difficult situation for the B.B.C.
On the whole, I think that, in the end, the B.B.C. provided most of the things which the public wanted so far as news was concerned. I still believe that for the future—let us hope that it will never be necessary to cover the sort of circumstances which my hon. Friend had in mind—we should have as great a variety of sources for putting over the air, whether pictorially or in sound, the information and programmes which the public want.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)
I rise to say a few words because I think that it would be quite wrong if the House allowed it to go out that the speech of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) had our general approbation. There may be a case for saying that the B.B.C. did not reach perfection in giving news bulletins during the newspaper strike, but I found it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman when he said that, in his opinion, the B.B.C. ought even to have given the betting odds. It may well be that betting odds are of very great importance to his constituents in Twickenham, but I cannot imagine that they are of very great importance to the general population.
§ Mr. Collick
I wondered whether the hon. Gentleman was going to be critical of the B.B.C. because it did not give the Stock Exchange prices.
§ Mr. Collick
I thought that if the hon. Gentleman had a case at all on those grounds, he might as well have been critical of the B.B.C. for not giving the Stock Exchange prices and all the rest. However interesting that might be to hon. 1472 Gentlemen opposite, I am certain that it is not a matter in which the general population have any concern at all.
§ 9.39 p.m.
Mr. W. M. F. Vane (Westmorland)
Instead of supporting the doctrine that an Englishman's home is his castle, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) said that he could go either into a church or come into this House to avoid the television camera. Although I differ from my hon. and gallant Friend on that and on other things which he said, I really rise to add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) who, in all seriousness, was complaining about the poor reception in Cumberland and Westmorland.
We know that we have rather a difficult geography and that we also have a large concentration of population on the west coast, which is very far away from any of the main broadcasting stations. For a very long time now we have been hoping that some means would be found of overcoming the technical difficulties which we all admit exist.
It is not so very long ago—all the same it is some months—that an all-party delegation met the Assistant Postmaster-General, who received us most kindly and led us to believe that some steps would soon be taken to improve the reception and perhaps even to build a new small station at Carlisle. Since then I have been expecting to hear something, and have been disappointed. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Carlisle has heard from the Post Office, but I hope that the Postmaster-General can tell us something about that matter, because I feel that some improvement in that direction is overdue for a large section of the country in the north-west of England.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede (South Shields)
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) must be rather surprised at the width the debate has taken from the comparatively narrow point which he raised; in fact, a debate of this nature upon an Adjournment approaches nearest to Lewis Carroll's axiom of oratory:Let it be granted that a speech may be made on any point and at any distance from that point.1473 While the Chair, as a rule, prevents that from being an axiom of the House, debates perilously approach it upon occasions such as this.
Some of the criticisms of the B.B.C. made by the hon. Member for Twickenham indicate the dangers that might have been brought upon the B.B.C. It is not so much the odds after the race about which people are concerned as with what "Templegate," "Ajax" or "Uno" tell them before the race is run. Occasionally, at Epsom, I have seen Officers of the House studying the back page of the noon edition of the "Evening Standard."
§ Mr. Ede
I have not seen Officers of the House doing that. I want to be strictly factual. Occasionally, they have been discriminating enough to find something which the newspapers have not suggested. It might be rather embarrassing if the B.B.C. had an official tipster. I understand that there is a young lady who has given tips upon more than one occasion upon television programmes and that, so far, not one has come off. I think that Prince Monolulu, giving his views on television about what might be happening within a few minutes—with appropriately censored patter—might cause very considerable embarrassment. All I can say is that once, as I was walking into the paddock at Epsom with a lady, I received a most obsequious salute from that gentleman, and my lady friend said, "Now I know that you really are a famous man."
The B.B.C. had a very difficult task to perform upon this occasion and I think that, generally speaking, it rose to its task, for it was very difficult, in the circumstances of that time, to give news without giving opinions. Most of us read the newspapers to get some idea of various opinions. In fact, a friend of mine who writes for a certain professional journal, after commenting upon having had to listen to impartial news for some days, said, "How glad I was to get back to something that had good, robust bias in it." Whether the bias is what one would like to put on the ball oneself or what an opponent has put on it, it does give that spice to even the most formal news which makes the reading interesting.
1474 I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) that it is very difficult to sustain interest in a B.B.C. bulletin dealing with a number of things in which one is interested when it is interspersed with a number of things which do not appeal to one at all. Frequently one finds that one's mind is wandering when listening to something in which one is not very interesting, and then, when the announcer gets to the end of a sentence, realising that he was saying something in which one imagines one would have been interested if one had been paying attention all the time.
I share with him the view that a 20 minute bulletin is quite long enough. Do not let us forget that even during the war, although we had very frequent bulletins at the beginning, it was not very long before the number was cut down. I think that the B.B.C. would be very severely criticised if it accepted the suggestion of an hourly bulletin of news or anything like that.
I join with my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Mr. Peart), Carlisle (Mr. Hargreaves) and Birkenhead (Mr. Collick) and with the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane) in their plea that some provision should be made for the North-West Coast and the other areas in England which would have difficulty in getting a television view of the Cup Final. Personally, I enjoy watching cricket on the wireless more than football.
§ Mr. Ede
It is also wireless. Although we call it all wireless, it does originate in wires and is picked up by wires. I enjoy watching cricket rather more than football, but I cannot think that I should enjoy watching a Scottish cricket match rather than the Cup Final in England.
There are great occasions when one feels that one is part of a great national event and can participate in it by watching it on television. I certainly hope that in this matter, whatever the difficulties may be, they can be overcome. I am quite certain that there will be keen competition and I wish that it could be between two services by the B.B.C. on television on occasions such as this, when a second service is available. I hope that the B.B.C. will not be restricted by some such arrangement as, we understand, operated on this occasion, whereby it will 1475 be excluded from giving the service for which the majority of the people in the country wish.
I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to exercise influence which will enable the wishes of my hon. Friends' constituents and those of the hon. Member for Westmorland to get what I am quite sure will be the overwhelming desire of all viewers in that part of the country on the day of the Cup Final.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General (Dr. Charles Hill)
It has been an interesting debate, not least because of the reminiscences, sporting and otherwise, of the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). In most of what has been said it has been implicit that all that I can do is to convey to the appropriate quarter the views expressed.
There was a sentence in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) in which he quoted from the Charter. That quotation seemed to suggest that I, as Postmaster-General, have a power that can be exercised to secure the result that he wants. I must make it clear at the outset how limited—and in my view rightly limited—are the powers of the Postmaster-General in this respect.
My hon. Friend quoted from the Charter a statement of objects, from a clause which merely said that in granting the Licence the Postmaster-General might apply conditions. The important thing to remember is just what conditions are attached to the Licence today. In Clause 15 (2) of the Licence, the Postmaster-General is empowered to require the B.B.C. to broadcast an impartial account of the proceedings of Parliament. In Clause 15 (3) he is empowered to require the Corporation to broadcast Departmental announcements. Those matters would certainly not produce the kind of cosy colour which my hon. Friend sought to obtain during a newspaper strike.
Bearing in mind that Clauses 15 (2) and 15 (3) are so limited, that Clause 15 (4) gives the Postmaster-General power to forbid by written communication certain classes of matter, and that these are 1476 the only sources of authority for the Postmaster-General in the Licence, it is clear that Parliament has not intended the powers to be granted, for which I am truly grateful.
That is the position. I have no other power whatever to tell the B.B.C. to broadcast this or that. I have no power whatever to call upon it to broadcast from this or that station. Incidentally, there was a power of that kind in the earlier T.V. Licences of 1937 and 1946, but that power was never used and was not repeated in 1952.
Let me sum up. Within the limits I have described it is the B.B.C. which is responsible for the manner and the matter of its day-to-day programmes. It would be most undesirable to disturb that arrangement, however strong the arguments appeared to be in relation to a particular criticism. It has been said our recent experience might suggest the need for both methods of presentation: the impartial, factual method of the B.B.C. and the robust, biased, but coloured angle of presentation which we have become accustomed to have and to enjoy in the newspapers of our choice.
So, at the risk of repetition, I say that I have no power and no desire to intervene on any of the topics that have been raised by hon. Gentlemen here tonight. I shall not express any views on the suggestions that have been made to the B.B.C. of what it should do should there be a newspaper strike in the future. I am certain that the B.B.C. follows with interest what is said in this House about its activities.
On the other hand, I have made inquiries about the position in the North of England in relation to the Kirk o' Shotts Station, because it seemed to me to be a little odd that that part of England should be deprived of viewing the English Cup Final because, in fact, the transmitting station which served it is in Scotland. I want to report to the House what I have been informed as a result of those inquiries. It is that it was part of the agreement between the football associations—including, incidentally, those of European countries—that the F.A. Cup Final would not be televised in other countries when football league clubs were engaged on the same afternoon.
1477 Naturally, I have further inquired whether it was the case (that football league games were still continuing. I have been informed that next Saturday there are two charity cup semi-finals in Scotland involving Scottish League football clubs, that there are various Senior League county cup ties in which Senior League teams will be engaged, and finally, junior professional football games leading up to their final on 14th May. A further approach has been made today to the Scottish Football Association by the head of outside broadcasts of the B.B.C., and I can further report that the secretary of that body has reaffirmed that in view of the foregoing facts which I have recited the Football Association Cup Final cannot be relayed from the Kirk o' Shotts transmitter.
§ Mr. Osborne
Can my right hon. Friend tell us for how long this agreement lasts, and is there no means of breaking it? Is it going to stay for ever?
§ Dr. Hill
I cannot pretend to go into greater detail than I have done. Without notice, I do not know the length of period of the agreement; I know that it is in operation at the present time. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I want deliberately not to be drawn too far into this matter because I want, above all, to retain the position that it is the responsibility of the B.B.C. and not of the Postmaster-General.
§ Sir William Bennett (Glasgow, Woodside)
Is it not a fact that the Kirk o' Shotts station was set up to serve Scotland and Scotland alone, that representations were made that it should not reach the Border and that another station was to supply that area?
§ Dr. Hill
I confess that I have had to say to people in that part of England which receives the Kirk o' Shotts transmission that that is the station to which they must look for their television. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Sir W. Bennett) knows, if I were not speaking as Postmaster-General I should hold some pretty frank views on that, and express them.
But there I must leave it. I have made inquiries. I hope that what has been said here today will lead those responsible so 1478 to re-examine the position as to make absolutely certain that they are right. For myself, I have not intervened, I cannot intervene and I will not intervene, as I have no power to require them to do what so many people in the North of England want them to do. The hon. Gentleman knows that I went for another purpose to Carlisle last Friday. I may tell him that the early stages of the conversation were not the oratory which the people might subsequently expect on wider topics but this particular problem of the denial to that area of the possibility of witnessing the Cup Final.
§ Mr. Hargreaves
Has it been reported to the right hon. Gentleman that the report to the head of outside broadcasts of the B.B.C. originated in the City of Carlisle arising from the strong resentment of the people there about their "lost weekend"?
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]
§ Dr. Hill
I am aware of the other problems in Carlisle and generally in those counties. I shall not weary the House with details now, except to say in respect of sound broadcasting that the one really hopeful prospect of solving the difficulties of that area lies in the development of very high frequency broadcasting, the first station of which I had the honour earlier this evening to open—not, alas, in the North, but in Wrotham, in Kent. Secondly, the B.B.C. plans the construction by the end of 1956 of six low-powered television stations, including a station in the Carlisle area. The site has not yet been selected, but tests are now proceeding. To that extent I can give those tokens of my concern about reception in that area, as in other areas.
I would say to my hon. Friends—while denying myself the temptation to pursue 1479 the point raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) and the dangerous doctrine he was beginning to outline—that while a debate such as this affords an opportunity of plain speaking to whomsoever it may concern, I desire to 1480 make perfectly plain the absolute limitations—desirable limitations—on what the Postmaster-General can do in directing the British Broadcasting Corporation.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Ten o'clock.