HC Deb 11 December 1963 vol 686 cc385-7
14. Mr. Mason

asked the Postmaster-General what conclusions he has now reached with regard to experimental pay-television services.

Mr. Bevins

I now propose to offer licences for pay-television experiments to the following five groups for a period of three years:

  1. (1) Caledonian Television Ltd. in Penicuik, near Edinburgh, with a possible extension later elsewhere in Scotland.
  2. (2) Choiceview Ltd. in Leicester with the option of an extension in a London area.
  3. (3) Pay-TV Ltd. in
    1. (i) Sheffield.
    2. (ii) Certain London Boroughs, with a start initially in Westminster and Southwark.
  4. (4) Telemeter Programmes Ltd. in
    1. (i) An area in the north of England.
    2. (ii) A London area comprising Merton, Mordern, Mitcham and Wimbledon.
  5. 386
  6. (5) Tolvision Ltd. in
    1. (i) A grouped area encompassing Luton and Bedford, and stretching I should hope into towns in Hertfordshire.
    2. (ii) A London area.
The five companies are entirely independent of each other in control and finance. I hope the areas chosen will help them to develop a variety of approach, as well as covering a good cross-section of the community and forming a reasonably practical basis for an experiment.

The issue of licences will of course be dependent upon the companies accepting its conditions, including the necessary statistical returns for which I shall ask and the devising of adequate safeguards for the legitimate interests of cinema exhibitors in the experimental areas; on this I am in consultation with my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development. I shall also need to be satisfied about the structure of each company before I actually issue licences.

I will keep the House informed on the progress of the experiment. I shall put a copy of the licence and other documents in the Libraries of both Houses as soon as they are in their final form.

I shall expect all the companies to start their services within one year from the date of issue of licences.

Mr. Mason

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. Is he aware that whilst not opposing this experiment, we are rather surprised that it should get this priority in the future development of broadcasting and television, especially having in mind that it will be a discriminatory medium, which, on cost alone, will squeeze out a number of old-age pensioners, the permanently sick and disabled, and persons in the lower income groups? Has he told all the companies concerned that this is purely an experiment, that a national pay-television service will not automatically follow, that there will be no advertisements on this medium, and that it will also be subject to the code of conduct embodied in the present Television Act? Could he also inform the House how many subscribers will be initially on this medium and, although he is not directly financing, I understand, these five companies or assisting them financially in developing this medium, what will be the cost of the service that he will allow them to use?

Mr. Bevins

I will try briefly to answer the hon. Gentleman's supplementry questions. First, people are entirely free to decide whether or not they take pay-television services. The services do not use frequencies of any sort; they are by wire. No advertisements will be allowed. The contractors will operate under the general requirements as regards the code of behaviour set out in Section 3 of the 1954 Television Act. As we said in the White Paper, there could be no guarantee at this stage of a permanent service but we would have to see what sort of television is produced. If it is good and popular television, I have no doubt that Parliament would wish to go further.

Mr. Stratton Mills

While welcoming what my right hon. Friend has said, may I ask whether he can give an assurance that he will watch as far as possible that these firms do not compete with the normal programmes on either Independent Television or the B.B.C. channel, and that he will try to ensure that they bring to the viewer programmes which they would not otherwise see?

Mr. Bevins

In general, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I think that the sort of television that will be provided by these companies will be distinctly different from both that of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., and, of course, they will be barred from "hogging" events of national importance for their programmes. I have also made it clear to the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. that if they feel that they are being unfairly dealt with regarding this experiment they can always make representations to me.