HC Deb 15 July 1959 vol 609 cc549-56

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bryan.]

10.11 p.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

Since I entered this House, I have been increasingly aware of the consciousness there is in all parts of it that the battle for the defence of democracy is not won by weapons alone. We are frequently told that this is an age of conflicting ideals and that the important task before us today is the influencing of the opinion of the uncommitted millions in all sectors of the world.

If I may say so, I was particularly impressed, in the defence debate on 25th February, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) asked the House: May not our undue concentration purely on weapons, and atomic weapons, if it is pressed too far, become our kind of Maginot Line? And, as we are discussing Kenya tonight, it would be quite right to turn to another part of my right hon. Friend's speech, when he said: … I would rather see a £5 million education scheme for Kenya than a couple of Blue Streaks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th February, 1959; Vol. 600, c. 1169–73.] We are aware that today there is a stirring of the nations and peoples of the Middle East, that there is a spread of nationalist ideas, and that this movement is spreading from the deserts of Arabia, through the Horn of Africa into the centre of this mighty and powerful Continent. This, of course, is a natural development in the affairs of people, and what we wish is that this development of nationhood should be allied to a firm belief in the rule of law, and development towards democracy along the lines that we know.

There are, of course, essential differences that must be applied to render this adaptable to the African and tribal traditions. Above all, it is the minds of men that are important. Whenever one speaks on this subject in general terms in this House one meets with approval, but what I am trying to do tonight is to carry the general principle forward one stage by considering the problems and the practical applications of this matter. The fact is that the Government of Kenya have pledged themselves to provide a television service within the next two years, and it is for this reason that I think it is worth the time of the House to consider this important matter now.

We all know that in Kenya, since the alarming days of Mau Mau, there have been courageous and enlightened attempts to win the confidence of all shades of opinion and of all tribes and types of people. Here television can have a unique influence. As we know from our experience in this country, it is a medium that has interest and attraction for all types of people. In addition, while the "Voice of Cairo" over the sound radio transmission emits noises which, if I may say so, are not necessarily favourable to the United Kingdom, it is impossible to flood Africa with television propaganda from afar and from an alien source because the thing just is not possible. A new television service in Kenya would have the stage to itself and would not have to compete with or reply to a hostile source. We know that the Kenya Government are exploring the best method of installing such a service, and it is right that we should consider this problem. I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the interest that he has shown in the documents that I have sent to him.

I think we shall all agree that there are two problems to be overcome. If television is to have the confidence of the people not only in Kenya but in the Continent of Africa, and if it is to be of any service to democracy and to the cause which we are trying to defend, it must have the confidence of these people. If it is to have this confidence, it must not be seen to be completely controlled by government, because if it is it will be regarded purely as an instrument of government, and agitators—because we must not delude ourselves; there are plenty of those in other countries—will say that it is simply a scheme for keeping white domination in the Colony of Kenya. If this were to happen the service would immediately become discredited.

At the other extreme, this service should not become excessively commercial. I would not suggest that television advertising should be excluded from such a service, but it is said that we in the United Kingdom are gullible to the beguilement of television advertising, and I should like to preserve the Africans from the African or Swahili equivalent of "Omo washes brighter". I do not know how that translates into that dialect. I should think it goes pretty well, but I think we want to keep these things down to a moderate degree.

It would be wrong that excessive profits should be made in Kenya for interests outside the Colony, because if this were to happen the service would be discredited. On the other hand, if we limit both the Government control and the potential advertising there is a serious financial problem. There is, however, influential opinion that it would be better to start this service on economic lines and not in too elaborate a fashion, in order to avoid the crushing expense that would render it dependent on an outright Government grant or complete commercial control.

At present we are seeing the development of the Kenya Broadcasting Service, and the present Government Department which controls broadcasting in Kenya it to be developed into an independent corporation. I should like to see an independent corporation for television, with African, Asian and European representatives giving honorary and unpaid service. It is right that the Government should be represented, but I should not like to see it have an overriding power, except in the last resort as a reserve power,. As to day-to-day functioning, it would be better to have a director responsible to the corporation.

On analysis, I think we would agree that the function of television is to provide a news service, education and entertainment, and I think that many of us, particularly those who have greater experience than I have in the use of this medium, would also agree that greater economy could be effected by the use of films than by the use of live transmissions because of the high labour charge that would be involved. I have received estimates that give running charges between £50,000 and £200,000 according to taste, and in these estimates salaries play the highest part of the running charges. For that reason the use of films whenever possible can be well understood.

To continue the revenue aspect, income could be derived from licences, from an Exchequer grant and from advertising revenue from the limited amount of advertising that would be permitted. As to coverage, a transmitting station might possibly be set up in the west of the town where the ground is high and might provide a suitable site for a transmitter. At a relatively small cost, repeater stations could be set up for the rest of the Central Province, the Highlands and Machakos. This area would include only one-sixth of the population, but apart from the quantitative basis, this is the "heartland of the Colony." It contains the most politically and economically advanced elements, and we should rightly concentrate upon them first.

In Kenya, as in most of Africa, it is the communal unit which is the most important. Probably, in urban areas, arrangements for reception would be established in bars and community centres. In the villages, it would be done in the village centres.

As regards the capital charge, we have received quotations for a transmission service of between £60,000 and £145,000. One would not wish to go into excessive detail at this stage. In Canada, one transmitting station is established in a private house. It seems, therefore, that, if one went to the lowest level, one could do things very economically indeed. It would be unwise at this juncture to go deeper into detail. These matters will be considered by the Government of Kenya in the near future.

The details to which I have referred tonight are important if the service is to retain the independence which is necessary if it is to have the confidence of the people of Kenya in the years to come. This is the point at issue tonight. We all know that the struggle for the minds of the uncommitted peoples is paramount today if democracy as we cherish it is to survive and spread at this time of great challenge. It is easy to obtain applause by proclaiming this general principle. It is prudent to carry the argument one stage further and investigate ways and means.

10.22 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Julian Amery)

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster) has done the House and the Government a service in raising this important matter tonight. The prospect of television in Kenya is arousing a good deal of interest and receiving fairly urgent consideration out there. I have no doubt that what my hon. Friend has said will be noted in Nairobi.

As my hon. Friend said, there is already a strong sound broadcasting organisation in Nairobi, and this is to be further improved this year. The existing African programmes, which have been the concern of a Government Department so far, and the European and Asian programmes, which have been run by Cable and Wireless, are being taken over by a Kenya Broadcasting Service. This arrangement will come into effect on 1st October, and the service will have the advantage of backing from Britain in two ways. It will receive what I think is the biggest broadcasting grant ever made by this country overseas, namely, £234,000, and the British Broadcasting Corporation has made available to it key personnel on both the directing and the technical sides.

My hon. Friend will agree, I am sure, that we should give first priority to sound broadcasting. It has a Kenya-wide coverage. Receiving sets are relatively cheap in Africa, and, of course, it is fairly easy to arrange programmes of music, talks and news. As my hon. Friend pointed out, however, television has very great and, in some respects, superior attractions over sound broadcasting. The appeal of the visual medium, though difficult to define, is very real, as we know from our own experience in this country. It can be a powerful medium not only for entertainment but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Head) has said, for education, also. It is something which only a local station can give. It is something, therefore, which offers us both an opportunity and an obligation which no foreign Power can fulfil or undertake.

There are, however, very real difficulties to overcome. A television service in Nairobi would not have a Kenya-wide coverage. It would be possible to have a television service to cover Nairobi and the surrounding area, and it would probably be possible fairly soon to duplicate its facilities in Mombasa, but where there is no electric main current I am advised that reception would be impracticable even near towns. Further afield from the towns, it would not be possible to receive television. Even Lord Boothby, that shining star of television, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) once called him, was not seen by his constituents in Aberdeen for some years after television was introduced in this country. It would certainly be quite a time before a television service from Nairobi would be receivable in the villages at any distance from Nairobi.

Television sets are, in terms of African income, still very expensive to buy and to maintain. The European and Asian population could, of course, afford them, but it will be some time yet before a wide African audience could be developed to view on an individual basis, though there might be a good deal of scope for communal viewing in cafes and clubs and places of that sort.

One would also have to overcome the shortage of engineering and programming staff, who are in fairly short supply, even in the developed areas of the world. The programmes themselves are much more difficult to arrange and much dearer than sound broadcast programmes. News, music and talks are fairly cheap to organise, but when one uses the visual medium one must produce a wider range of entertainment and employ more personnel, usually more highly paid personnel. I think that one could draw a good deal on local talent, but in the early stages this would be limited.

I think that none of these difficulties is insuperable, but they must be faced and overcome. As my hon. Friend said, one of the problems about how they are to be overcome is to find the right organisation to deal with them. There is, I suppose, a broad choice of having a commercial television service, a Government-run television service or an independent corporation. We in the Colonial Office have never taken a dogmatic view about which is the right solution. The Kenya Broadcasting Service is a Government Department, but it is intended that it will in due course become an independent corporation.

We have advised Colonial Governments that in some cases financial circumstances may make it necessary that their television services should be commercial—this does not apply to all Colonies, only to some. We have accordingly encouraged United Kingdom programme companies to take an interest in the development of television in the Colonial Territories. A number of proposals have been already made for associating a commercial television company with the operation of a television service in Kenya. Some would include more Government control, some less. We have not a rigid view on this point.

My hon. Friend sent me a very interesting memorandum by Dr. Williams on this subject which we in the Department have read with interest and which we regard as a thoughtful and useful contribution. We have passed it on to the Government of Kenya, and I am sure they will give it very close consideration. However, the final decision, as I am sure my hon. Friend will agree, is primarily a matter for the Government of Kenya.

A good deal of interest has been aroused inside and outside political circles in this matter. At the end of May, the Chief Secretary announced in the Legislative Council that, in the Kenya Government's view, there was a need for an impartial examination into all the problems raised by proposals to set up a television service in Kenya.

He said that the Government of Kenya had therefore decided to set up a Commission to investigate all the relevant factors and to report. This proposal follows a precedent which Kenya successfully adopted over the introduction of sound broadcasting. It set up a commission for that and it is now proposing to set up a commission to investigate the introduction of a television service. Three members of the commission are to be from Kenya and two, including the chairman, are to be from outside Kenya. The Governor is seeking my right hon. Friend's help in suggesting suitable persons for the chairmanship and the other member from outside Kenya.

The commission will consider the problem in all its aspects. It will consider the economic aspect—the cost of operation. It will consider the technical aspects—the provision of the necessary staff and the question of the range and instruments best suited to Kenya. And it will consider the problem on which my hon. Friend dwelt most, the organisation of the service and the extent of Government participation or guidance in its operations. It will also consider—it is not the least important aspect of the problem—the social implications for Kenya of the introduction of this new medium of entertainment and education.

It would be wrong for us here tonight to try to anticipate the findings of the commission, but, as I have said, I think my hon. Friend did a service in expressing his views in the matter, because I am sure that the commission in Nairobi would want to have before it all possible ideas on the proper development of the service. The introduction of television in Kenya is a revolutionary development. As yet there is no television south of the Sahara. Western Nigeria will be the first among the Colonies in Africa to have its own television service—in the next few months, we expect. The Central African Federation already has proposals which are far advanced.

I can say that my right hon. Friend entirely endorses what my hon. Friend has said about the importance of this problem and the great advantages that would flow from the setting up of a television service in Kenya. I think the House will agree with me that the Kenya Government are wise to arm themselves with the best advice they can get before they decide on the method, the structure and the organisation of their television service.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

Do I take it that the commission would be invited to this country to see our experience in these matters, and to see the types of programmes being transmitted under both systems so that it can judge for itself which would be the most suitable for its territory?

Mr. Amery

I am sure the B.B.C. and, I have no doubt, the independent corporations as well would make any advice which they have available to the commission. As I have said, two of its members will come from outside Kenya, probably—not necessarily—from this country. Any advice which we can persuade others to give or which others voluntarily give—I am sure they will give it lavishly—will be made available to the commission.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to Eleven o'clock.