§ Mr. John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I beg to move, in page 14, line 31, at the end to insert:(2) Not later than 1st October 1965, the Postmaster-General shall grant to the Authority a licence authorising the Authority to provide a second television service in such areas as the Authority may decide.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that it is convenient to discuss with this the Amendment to the Amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman).
§ Mr. Rodgers
Some of the signatories to the Amendment played a most insignificant part 10 years ago in introducing the first Television Bill, which attempted to break the monopoly of the B.B.C. Tonight we move an Amendment hoping that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will insert a date authorising the Authority to provide a second television service. In other words, we are trying to ensure that the monopoly of the commercial programme-producing companies under the I.T.A. is also broken.
When we were trying to break the B.B.C.'s monopoly, some hon. Members opposite tried to impugn our motives. They said that we are a pressure group advancing commercial interests. It is true to say—I ought to say it right away—that I am the deputy chairman of a company that buys £9 million to £10 million worth of television advertising a year on behalf of British advertisers, but I have never had a share and do not now own a share in a single TV company; nor, unlike some hon. Members, have I been invited to take part in any programmes.
Why did we take the stand 10 years ago, and why do I rise on behalf of a good many of my colleagues to take this stand on this issue tonight? Ten years ago we took the stand we did because we believed that television was such an important medium of mass communication that it could not be left in the hands of one group of people, however well-intentioned that group was.
I say right away that I have an immense admiration—I had it then; I have it now—forwhat the B.B.C. does. Indeed, I spent six years as a member of the B.B.C. General Advisory Council and I have a great admiration for all the people who work there, and in particular for the present Director-General. However, that did not prevent me from feeling that it should be shared and that it should not be left to one group of people. Equally we cannot leave commercial television in monopolistic hands.
It is interesting to reflect that 10 years ago in our first efforts to free television from paternal control, we had then the active support of many hon. Members who today make up the present Cabinet. We saw our fight then together as a first 1784 step, but a first step only, in the battle for the freedom of the air.
I therefore ask myself—many other people must be asking themselves this question—why the Postmaster-General has introduced the Bill in its present form, with the apparent support of the Cabinet, and not named a date when he will definitely ensure that this commercial monopoly is broken. I have one great sympathy with my right hon. Friend as one who fought hard for the establishment of the I.T.A. There is no doubt that the present programme companies, presented with a semi-Government monopoly for television and an absolute monopoly regionally for the collection of advertising revenues, have, after a shaky start, made a lot of money.
Some people allege that they have made far too much money. Some people allege that they have even become arrogant in their attitude towards business. Some even assert that to have an I.T.A. licence is to have a licence to print money. But whose fault has this been? Who is responsible if licences to produce television programmes and collect advertising revenues has led to great profits being made? The fault must partly lie with us in this House for creating this monopoly or semi-monopoly position.
I believed at the time, and those in the House with me 10 years ago equally realised then, that this was, perhaps, inevitable. Such was the feeling then, for it was felt that one could not have more than one experiment to see whether commercial television would be palatable to the British people. I am not querying what was done 10 years ago. I am saying that it was inevitable. However, the continuation of it now is inexcusable.
I sympathise to some extent with the decision of the programme companies to solve the allocation of advertising time by adopting the easy course of rationing time by the purse. This method has had some drawbacks. First, it has meant that the small advertisers have, in the main, been kept off the air and, secondly, that the large advertisers have probably been overcharged. In defence of the companies, it must be said that the absence of competition in television has meant that there has been no reliable yardstick as to what should be the advertising rates on the air. They have had more or less to guess them.
1785 There is no doubt that by adopting this course the companies have, on the whole, made huge profits. I have a good deal of sympathy with the Postmaster-General in his attempts to find methods to draw back some of these profits to the public. We had, first, the 11 per cent. T.V. tax as an attempt to deal with this monopoly position. But instead of touching the profits of the programme companies, the tax was passed straight back to the advertisers who, in turn, probably passed it back in some measure to the ultimate consumers of their products. So the T.V. tax failed in its purpose to deal with the monopoly profits being made by the programme companies. The absurdity of that tax was a reflection on the Treasury and the Post Office.
After weeks and months of discussion in Committee and elsewhere the Postmaster-General has now come up with a graduated tax on net advertising revenue. I think that he is right to have tried to find a method to get some of the money back to the public purse. We must now go ahead with this new tax, but I hope that it will be speedily ended. It is not a good method of taxation. In fact, I believe it to be a bad one. However, in the present circumstances it must continue. We must end that form of taxation as soon as we can and this leads me to the question of how to bring this new levy to an end.
I believe that there is only one answer that can be given to the whole problem facing television advertising today. The answer is to provide real competition. This would provide a solution to the problems posed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates) earlier. If we had competition many of the fears he rightly expressed about people working in the industry would soon disappear.
When I say that we want a second channel and so break the monopoly position of the television companies, I do not mean, as the Sunday Express stated two or three weeks ago, that I am…a leading champion of commercial television in the Commons "—whocomes up with a demand that the T.V. tycoons should be given a second channel by the end of 1965.That is the last thing I want to do. I do not want to give them any more 1786 channels, but to present competition to the present television tycoons.
My hon. Friends and I urge that a second independent channel should be introduced not later than October, 1965. The new channel should be given to companies different from those operating now. In this, I disagree with some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. David James). Furthermore, I believe that it is not necessary for the I.T.A. to fix the same regional pattern as obtains with the programme companies today. That would solve some of the problems of the smaller companies. In addition, the second commercial channel could start piecemeal, at first covering only the major sections of the populace and extending gradually to the remainder of the country.
Why does my right hon. Friend not welcome this constructive, expansionist and conservative policy and, instead, appear to cling to his destructive, dangerous and reactionary policy of trying to control profits by a bad form of taxation? Competition is the only sane answer to the problem facing the independent television companies.
I have tried to probe my right hon. Friend's motives for not naming a date in the Bill so far, and I will now try to anticipate what may be one or two of his arguments in support of his line of benevolent promise that, in the end, in the coming by-and-by, there will be a second channel. My right hon. Friend will probably say that there is little evidence of public demand. He may quote from the famous Pilkington Report, but to my mind the judgments and strictures of the Pilkington Committee are no more reliable than the opinions of any other dozen citizens picked at random.
The Pilkington Report was not a report at all, but an editorial comment on what was considered good broadcasting. If one searches the Report for a definition of "good" one finds only subjective Left-wing views as to the use to which mass communication techniques should be put. Worse still, the whole Report is full of nonconformist dogma that depreciates entertainment for entertainment's sake. The Report represents a unique opportunity lost. It would have done a lot of good to have had a 1787 probing search into television—B.B.C. and commercial—but that opportunity was missed. Instead of spending money on real research, finding out what people liked or did not like, and what their reactions were likely to be if they were offered this or that, all we had were the subjective opinions of people put out as a so-called Report. The Committee fell into the error of reiterating opinions un-backed by any facts or findings.
The Government, therefore, cannot hide tonight behind the Pilkington Committee's view that no second independent channel can be provided until the I.T.A. strengthens its rules, the existing independent television companies put their house in order, and the public demonstrate a need for this second channel. When I was a boy, I was told, "If you ask a silly question you get a silly answer." If we appoint a Committee like the Pilkington Committee, we get a fatuous Report like the Pilkington Report. It was a very poor thing. How such a Report as that could be introduced, which ignored the basic fact—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. One does not use a stopwatch, but there must be some limit. We cannot conceivably debate the whole Pilkington Report and its constituents on this Amendment. In so far as it relates to the proposal in the Amendment it is, of course, in order, but the hon. Member has already devoted more than two minutes to the Report.
§ Mr. Rodgers
It is important, Mr. Speaker, because these are the people who, through their Report, have stopped the provision of a second I.T.A. commercial channel for the moment, ignoring altogether in their remarks the fact that three out of four people still prefer the I.T.A. programmes to those of the B.B.C.—and that is something that cannot be laughed off.
The Government's second reason, probably, for disfavouring a second I.T.V. channel, although there are no technical reasons against it, is its alleged doubtful economic viability. At present, £70 million a year are spent on television advertising. Immediately after the imposition of the 11 per cent. tax there was a slight pause in the upward march of advertising and profits. Today, there are clear signs that the main contractors are 1788 heavily booked for the autumn and "time" is becoming ever more difficult to obtain. An extension of broadcasting hours will provide some alleviation but a second channel is the only real solution.
Let the B.B.C. get in first. I am delighted that the B.B.C. is having a second channel. I am only worried that I.T.V. is not. It should be recognised that the programme companies, with one notable exception, do not want competition. I do not speak on their behalf. The companies have been enjoying their present monopoly, and who can blame them when one looks at the facts and figures? It should be remembered however that the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, speaking for the whole body of the industry, has long advocated the provision of another channel. I believe that it is in the interests of British business that a second I.T.V. channel should be provided as soon as possible. If the present share of total advertising is maintained, the I.S.B.A. believes that revenue would increase by 1965 on television to £95 million.
As we all know, commercial television has demonstrated itself as a vastly superior medium in selling a large range of consumer goods. Manufacturers simply cannot afford to stay out of I.T.V., yet the introduction of a second B.B.C. channel, without a second I.T.V. channel, may make the medium less efficient economically, yet the present programme contractors in this situation are bound to see their profits increased. Given competition, however, that situation could change.
A second channel would possibly increase the total volume of advertising on television as a whole. Many products are at present precluded from advertising. Unless severe geographical or seasonal limitations are imposed it is almost impossible to advertise all the year round effectively on television with an advertising appropriation of less than £175,000. Competition from contractors on a second channel at lower rates than those existing today would attract a greater number of products and advertisers. Additionally, television might be capable of selling itself as a minority or selective medium. Up to date it has sold itself exclusively as a mass medium. If stations could offer lower rates during 1789 certain programmes and hours, advertisers of specialist products would use the medium and this would bring television advertising entirely new business. Programme contractors would be encouraged to put on special interest programmes without the inhibition of always trying to get a higher rating or the lowest common denominator of appeal.
Television advertising is likely to increase. The view in informed circles is that there is enough advertising now to support two commercial channels. Moreover, present studio capacity throughout the I.T.V. network far exceeds the modest demands made on it today. This means that a second channel could be provided without involving expensive capital investment on studios and technical equipment, at least at the outset. With a more rational division of broadcast areas it could be argued that there are already enough advertisers to supply a second service. I want to see the introduction of new blood to compete with the existing contractors and I believe that that will be forthcoming.
There are other compelling reasons for urging upon my right hon. Friend to name the date when a second I.T.V. channel can come into operation. There is already grave unemployment in the acting profession. The profession has felt the pinch already as a result of economies which some of the programme companies have been panicked into putting into operation. Already, parts have been cut out so that plays have only five or six characters. No wonder the British Actors Equity Association is worried and has pointed out that only 40 per cent. of its members are fully employed. That is one reason why we need a second channel.
There is another even more urgent reason. In relation to the growth of V.H.F. 625-line sets, the best chance that the B.B.C. has of obtaining a quick penetration would be by an energetic conversion campaign by the T.V. rental companies, which at present provide about 70 per cent. of the 12½ million multi-channel receivers in use. I am sure they, as businessmen, must know that this could be a much better proposition and immensely more attractive if they could add the promise of a second I.T.V. channel instead of the present limited appeal of only the second B.B.C. channel.
1790 This must be of tremendous importance also to television manufacturers. The growth of V.H.F. broadcasting will be slow enough. I assure the House of this. It will necessitate 100 transmitters and about 300 satellite boosters. All the existing camera and recording equipment would have to be replaced since it is impossible to convert 405-line pictures to 625 lines, whereas it is quite possible to do the reverse.
To my mind, it is inconceivable that this Government, or any Government, could take the line that there are enough book publishers today and that no new-comers should be allowed into the book publishing business. It is inconceivable that they would say that we have enough newspapers today and that we do not want any more. Indeed, a howl goes up from the House every time a newspaper closes down.
Why, then—I am really puzzled—do the Government play-act like Canute on this issue and delay decisions about a second independent network which would give a fillip to the set manufacturers and which would encourage technicians and actors who would benefit in their wages and conditions by competition for their services? The Government are proud to say that Tory freedom works. I ask them to be true to their traditions and to name the date in the Bill by which the second independent channel will come into existence.
If October, 1965, is not acceptable to my right hon. Friend, will he name another date not too far distant from that? If he does not wish actually to put the date in the Bill, will he see that it is left to the Authority to name the date when the second commercial service will start? Let him make concession to this great demand to free commercial television from its monopoly position in very much the same way as we made immense efforts 10 years ago to free the B.B.C. from its monopoly position.
§ Mr. Mason
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I will explain in detail why not.
I thought it was indicative of the activities of a few hon. Members opposite that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks said, in other words, that the same mob were now acting as were, in 1953, responsible for the introduction of commercial television. It is typical that an advertiser should move this Amendment. At least, he is honest. If there is anybody to gain by it more than anyone else, it is the advertisers.
§ Mr. J. Rodgers
I am not an advertiser. I spend no money or buy no advertising on my own behalf. I get my commission whatever medium I use, whether television, Press or anything else.
§ Mr. Mason
This really is a tactical manœuvre. The small minority of hon. Members on the Conservative benches in the Committee, seven in all, tested the Postmaster-General twice on other matters, put down a series of Amendments on this particular question and, on the last day of the Committee, withdrew them. They regrouped their forces, brought in a little fresh artillery, and, along with the garrulous camp of A.T.V., they are now ready to make a fresh assault on the Postmaster-General.
§ Mr. David James
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have had this continually for the last couple of months. AH that has ever been said from this side of the House is that the labourer is worthy of his hire, irrespective of the position he occupies within the industry. Do not criticisms of this point of view come ill from someone who so consistently urges that Members of Parliament are worthy of their hire as well?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of order. If I encounter some suggestion of undivulged motives, then we shall get into the realms of order, but I think that at present the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) and his friends have only been called "guns" or "big guns".
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Proceedings on Government Business exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]
§ Question again proposed, That those words be there inserted in the Bill.
§ Mr. Mason
I never realised that the skin of Tory politicians was so thin.
For my part, I hope that the Postmaster-General will give no promise other than the promises which he has given in the two White Papers which have been issued, particularly in relation to the post-Pilkington Reports. In paragraph 81 of Cmnd. 1770, the Postmaster-General said thatThe Government considers that there will be scope at a later stage for a second I.T.A. programme.In Cmnd. 1893 it was said:While the Government does not propose to authorise a second independent television programme in the near future, it does not dismiss the possibility of doing so later.My view is that that is as far as any Government can go at this stage in making any promise on the future of another independent television channel. Indeed, if the Postmaster-General indicates that his opinion has changed from what is said in those two statements, it shows that the pressure which has been applied in the past seven weeks has made him bend.
I should regret to hear any promise whatsoever from the Postmaster-General that there will be a second channel at some date in the near future. First, as he has rightly said—and the hon. Member for Sevenoaks chastised him on this point—there is no evidence of public demand. The advertisers, of course, want it. It would break the monopoly of the first independent television service and consequently would force down the advertisement rates. But it is not possible for this House to make a decision on the future of another independent television channel solely because of such selfish motives. I hope that the Postmaster-General will not give way on that score.
The question which has been raised many times before and by some of the 1793 companies, including some of the big four, is whether, if there were another independent television channel, there would be sufficient advertisement revenue to sustain two independent television channels. A.T.V., of course, has been demanding this, but I understand that there is a conflict among the independent television companies and that most of them are against its introduction.
§ Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
Does the hon. Member realise that the logic of his argument is that he is making a most impassioned defence of vested interests in this matter?
§ Mr. Mason
I am always passionate in my speeches if I feel strongly about a matter. I am not nastily against I.T.A. Independent television has made television as a whole much brighter than it was before its introduction. I am not deploying an argument on behalf of I.T.A. or the big four or all the programme companies. I am deploying an argument solely on the ground that it is not opportune at the moment to introduce a second commercial channel.
§ Mr. Mason
I am not aware of any time limit on this debate. First, the advertisers want it to break down the advertising monopoly. Secondly, there is no public demand. Thirdly, it is doubtful in some of the minds of television companies that there would be sufficient advertisement revenue to keep a second channel going.
There are many other developments, too. A lot of them are costly and are sucking up much of the manpower and the apparatus and equipment in getting busy within the radio and television industry. First, there is the change-over from 405 to 625 lines and the change-over from V.H.F. to U.H.F. Additional equipment is required for transmitting stations, masts, and so on. These involve additional cost, both to the B.B.C. and to I.T.A.
1794 The B.B.C. has been given the go-ahead for experimental colour television. The B.B.C. has been chastised by some people for dragging its feet, but this is a big decision and it must be compatible with Europe and, possibly, international television. It is a big decision to make and much research and development is going on into it.
There is the problem of the manufacturers and the development of sets with different linage, the switch-over from V.H.F. to U.H.F. and the receivers which may have to receive monochrome and colour as well. We are on the eve of another great development, as the Postmaster-General and anybody who takes an interest in the subject is fully aware. There is the chance now of pay-T.V. development in certain of the densely-populated areas. As far as I can see, there is no public demand for this either, but the Postmaster-General is giving the go-ahead. Already, ten companies are making claims upon him for licences. They must, in the main, be different companies from those which make up independent television. Consequently, far more companies, people, interests, equipment, and so on, are being sucked up into these various developments.
Then there is the problem of the switch-over from Bands 1 and 3 to Bands 4 and 5. I understand that there is a vacant channel. This may be why it is opportune for hon. Members opposite to press the Postmaster-General for this vacant channel. The House could be told that I.T.A.—
§ Mr. Mason
I understand that before the great engineering switch-over takes place there is a vacant channel and that this may be the opportune moment for hon. Members opposite, who understand the vacancies of channels on Bands 1 and 3, to make an approach. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks, who moved the Amendment, appears to be agreeing with me, so I am obviously right about that.
The House should be warned that, since the Pilkington Report, independent television is now on test. Indeed, the Postmaster-General has recognised this, since a long code of conduct is being put into the Bill which eventually will be 1795 imposed upon independent television operations. We hope, first, therefore, that there will be an improvement in independent television standards generally before a second channel can be considered.
There are other greater needs. No doubt, the Postmaster-General has been subject to pressure by many educational bodies and institutions that there should be next, not a commercial channel, but an educational or, as I prefer to call it, an instructional channel. No doubt, he has been pressed on that score, too. There is greater public demand for an educational channel than for a second commercial channel.
Other pressures are being exerted for use of the air and the screen or the resources which will be sucked up into these operations. The B.B.C. would like to introduce local broadcasting. There is a demand by the commercial lobby for commercial sound broadcasting. All these things cannot take place at the same time. There must be an orderly progression and there seems to be sufficient in the pipeline without introducing a second independent channel.
In my opinion, we canot have a further whirlpool of activity in this direction. We should be bowing down to the selfishness of the advertisers. Many reserves of technical skill and manpower required for other developments would be sucked into it, and we could ill afford it. Neither do I wish to see a higgledy-piggledy growth of broadcasting and television. That could easily happen. The growth must be orderly and controlled. I think that sufficient has been authorised at the moment. [Hon. Members: "Why"?] Let us await the developments which are in the pipeline, and then let us assess our supply position, and then, in accordance with public demand, the Postmaster-General, if he wishes, can take opinion and advice.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
I do not want to be unduly polemical, but the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) has on one or two previous occasions introduced a note of controversy, and I have never heard him make such a splendid reactionary speech as he has just done. I shall use his phrases, such as "orderly progression"—
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
—and things of that sort—that we have to be careful about things in the pipeline, and so on. He trotted them all out.
I think that we come back to matters of basic principle. I believe that my minority Report to the Beveridge Report played a part in this matter. I was very glad to hear the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) say that he now recognises that independent television is an integral part of the system.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I sincerely hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will also find some virtue in what I may say later in connection with what he is talking about now.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
The hon. Gentleman is taking a great deal on trust. I see virtue in what I have already heard.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Barnsley say that he thought that the effect of independent television was very much to improve the B.B.C. I think that that is so. I quite see that there are difficulties about the matter. I know that my right hon. Friend has given a good deal of anxious thought to it. But one comes back to first principles.
I feel as strongly about this as I did in 1950, when we considered the B.B.C. monopoly. This medium of information, education and entertainment is so powerful that there should be the maximum diversity. On page 17, the Pilkington Report states:…what the public wants and what it has the right; to get is the freedom to choose from the widest possible range of programme matter. Anything less than that is deprivation".That is exactly how I feel. The present position, where there is only one provider of advertising time on any one channel in any one area at any one time, is not what I had in mind when earlier I suggested a second service. This is a situation which should be changed as quickly as possible. To be absolutely frank, I want as many channels as possible as quickly as possible.
I do not care about the financial advantage of particular companies. Anyway, three of the big ones are against the suggestion at the present time. There is nothing particularly 1797 wrong about making a profit. In spite of that, I still believe that we should not have regard to the financial advantage of a particular company, but should act upon the principle that we must see that the power of a single channel is diminished. That is one of the great dangers about this medium which I have always felt throughout—that a single channel or a single programme can have too much power.
It is as if we had only a single news paper. I agree with what one of my hon. Friends said, that it is a tragedy when a newspaper goes out of circulation. I deeply regretted the fact that the News Chronicle went out of circulation, though it never said anything polite about me. But it was a bad thing for that to happen. I believe that we should have as many different expressions of opinion as possible.
That is the general argument. There are some very good specific arguments. I think that it will increase the time available to advertisers. It will also bring down advertising prices. That will be a benefit. It will also provide much more scope for programme makers, writers, producers, actors and equipment makers, and give us a broader base for exports.
This is also something which bears a little on what the hon. Member for Barnsley said. I think that the development of a B.B.C. second channel will go ahead quicker the quicker we push on with the development of a second commercial channel. It will help to get the new 625-line sets going, as the hon. Gentleman said.
I support the Amendment. I would have preferred the third channel to have been a commercial channel, because that would have been of considerable benefit to the taxpayer. But I fell in with the views of my colleagues, as my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General knows, on condition that a fourth channel for commercial television should be made available as soon as practicable. That is what I am asking for now—as soon as practicable.
One argument against the proposal for a second commercial channel is that it would not pay. I do not think that that is a matter for Government deci- 1798 sion. It is one for commercial decision by those who wish to enter the business. It is argued that it would be premature. But the Amendment is only a permission. It would not be mandatory. It would give a licence to the Authority to introduce this system in such areas as it thought fit. That would give it complete discretion.
Perhaps I am wrong to put this forward, but I believe that the third argument against this proposal is that put forward by the still considerable section of opinion which believes that there should not be a second commercial channel at all. It does not want any extension of commercial broadcasting. I do not think my right hon. Friend believes that, but I think that there are some about—I will not be more specific—who really want to smash independent television, who have never accepted it, as the hon. Member for Openshaw has accepted it, and who want to undermine it and eventually do away with it.
It is because I sincerely believe that to be the case that I consider that it is necessary to have this Amendment. I have kept reasonably silent about quite a lot of this Bill with which, to put it mildly, I am not in agreement. I agree with a lot of what has been said about Clause 7. I ask my right hon. Friend to look at this Amendment favourably.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
In calling the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) to speak, I make it clear that I am not calling him to move at this stage his Amendment to the Amendment, in line 1, to leave out "1965"and to insert "1967". He will have an opportunity at the end of the debate to move it if he so desires.
§ Mr. Chapman
I shall not eventually move this Amendment, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think that we can take care of it in the general debate and so save time as well.
The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said that he would not be polemical. I was glad of that. We have had so much polemics on this Bill that perhaps we can discuss it now in a calmer atmosphere. I am one who was originally a critic of commercial television, but who has now come to accept it, and I take up a 1799 position somewhere between my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
I want a second channel for commercial television. I would be quite happy to see it come along. I would not be as indefinite in postponing it as my hon. Friend would be, and I do not want it in the same terms as the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants it, in the context of as many channels as possible. I want to say how difficult it is for hon. Members to restrain themselves on this issue. The things which the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) said about the Pilkington Committee were a disgrace. I do not believe that he has ever read the Report.
§ Mr. Chapman
If the hon. Member has read it, I am glad to hear him say so, but he cannot possibly have read all the paragraphs in it which advocate a second channel for commercial television.
The hon. Member devoted a large part of his argument to saying that one of the reasons why the Government were resisting his demands was that they have fallen for the Pilkington Report. That is not true. The hon. Member cannot even have read it. The paragraphs about the future of television make it absolutely clear that the Pilkington Committee wanted more channels, first another channel for the B.B.C. and then other channels for the I.T.A. in a few years' time. For the hon. Member to argue like that shows that he cannot even have read the crucial paragraphs of the Report on this matter and it is a disgrace that he should castigate a report which he has not even read. That sort of thing is an abuse of our procedure.
One of the reasons why we cannot be so precipitate as to put the date of 1965 in the Bill is that it is impossible for the Government to commit a future Government. It is as simple as that. These things are not done in our legislation. No Government would put themselves into such a stupid position as to insist that a future Government, whatever their political complexion, must do something on a given date. Yet that is precisely 1800 what the Amendment proposes. Even if they did, it would be meaningless, because any future Government could simply say that it would repeal the provision immediately and would refuse to be bound by the decision of a previous Government to fetter their activities. We never do these things in the House of Commons and there is no valid precedent for an Amendment on these lines.
There is a second and even more important reason. I am not sure that hon. Members opposite appreciate what they have put in their own Amendment. It says that not later than 1st October, 1965, the Postmaster-General "shall" grant the Authority a licence for a second channel. That means that in 1965, come what may, comefair wind or foul, come economic crisis or boom, come war or peace, whatever the circumstances may be, the Government of die day shall grant a licence to the Independent Television Authority. That is not permissive. It might be permissive for the I.T.A. to open a second channel when it has the licence, but it would not be permissive for the Postmaster-General. He would have no right to say that the national resources should not be used for the purpose.
This is a stupid provision to attempt to write into a Bill in this modern age. It is not permissive in any valid sense, because the I.T.A. could cock a snook at the Government of the day and say, "We do not care whether there is an economic crisis. We have been given a licence and we shall start a second channel and spend all the millions of pounds on the capital equipment involved and you can go to blazes, because it is in the Act and we will do it whatever you may say".
§ Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
Why do the arguments not apply equally to 1967? The hon. Gentleman has put down an Amendment to make it 1967.
§ Mr. Chapman
I have already said that I would not move that Amendment. I put it down to focus attention on the remarks I am about to make.
The question is not only whether the Amendment is improper and stupid and foreign to our procedure, but whether the year 1965 could possibly be appropriate in all the circumstances. We have to be very careful about looking at the 1801 future. The B.B.C. second channel will begin to reach the London area in 1964, but it will not be until 1965, and more probably 1966, that it will reach the majority of the rest of the country.
In my view it is wrong to start giving another licence to the I.T.A. until we have had the sort of full coverage by the B.B.C.'s second channel which will enable us to earn all the lessons involved. There are all sorts of lessons to be learned, and we must see how public opinon reacts to the new kind of programme that will be B.B.C. II. Why rush in with a new type of programme which will be stultified at birth if it has to go on on the basis of the present-day programme? Why not look further ahead? This medium is developing rapidly. B.B.C. II will be entirely different from B.B.C. I, just as I hope I.T.A. II will be different from I.T.A. I.
I am with the right hon. Gentleman on this. I want to see the maximum variety in these matters, but we will get variety only if we allow these mediums to use their channels in new experimental ways and learn from each other as the years go by. In answer to the hon. Gentleman, if I had to give a date, the earliest would be 1967. Not till then shall we begin to learn all the lessons of B.B.C. II.
As I said, B.B.C. II will be very different from B.B.C. I, and we are now having the plans gradually unfolded. Mr. Kenneth Adam, head of B.B.C. Television, said recently:It has been suggested, and the sectional lobbies inside and outside Parliament will press this falsehood, for that is what it is, that we are out, or shall be when we have a second channel, to annihilate the commercial channel, that we shall to mount programmes as to present the viewer with an inevitable desire to watch the B.B.C. only. This is nonsense, it is utter, stupid nonsense. Speaking as Director of B.B.C. Television, I can tell you that we are less and less concerned with commercial competition. We are even paying less "—I am sure he should have said "beginning to pay"—attention to the counting of heads. We shall give up whole evenings to special projects. If, as happened when we did this with the production of Carmen before Christmas, we get an audience as large as 8¾ million, so much the better. But I declare here and now that we shall seek the ratings, in the sense of running after them, less and less. And I mean from now on; I do not mean from April, 1964. So that I can say, without any qualifications, that we have no desire to attempt to destroy by our programme 1802 planning the legitimate audience that commercial television can hope to achieve. If, as we hope, by producing better programmes we get better audiences, that will be fine. That is obviously what we want. But there is not, and never will be, any deliberate effort or intention on the part of the B.B.C. Television Service to destroy I.T.V.".He goes on to say that this will be a new type of evening entertainment. Some evenings will be given over to boxing, and others to opera. Efforts will be made to look after minority interests, and to provide half an evening's entertainment for them. I am not saying that this is good or bad. This is a new step forward in television technique. Would not it be better if the second channel learnt from the experience of the others instead of, as hon. Gentlemen seemed to suggest, providing another I.T.A. 1963 version? That is what will happen if we rush into this.
I want a maximum period consistent with limiting the number of channels that we can have to provide national coverage. This will mean perhaps half a dozen in the end, and I want to ensure that we make the best use of the channels. I therefore say to hon. Gentlemen that it is stupid to try to jump the gun. If we must have a date, it should be in the late 'sixties rather than in 1965.
The other point about the danger of an early date is that I wonder whether hon. Gentlemen realise the technical problems involved?
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Does the hon. Gentleman exclude the possibility of the third and fourth channels learning together? If they developed together, would not they learn quicker?
§ Mr. Chapman
That may be true. It would be impossible to do that in one quick stage when B.B.C. II comes in in 1964, because the B.B.C. has had to take two or three years in preparing this. If I.T.A. started in 1965 it would be at least five years behind the B.B.C. which had to startin 1960, if not earlier, preparing B.B.C. II. They would not be learning together in that sense. All I am saying is that, given this gap, let us phase this plan properly. I want a second channel, but I do not want it to be another I.T.A. 1963 version as a result of rushing it unnecessarily.
I was about to say something about the technical problems. I do not know 1803 whether hon. Members opposite realise that the capital cost of the B.B.C. second channel is £40 million minimum for a start. It will involve about 250 new transmitters and not, as an hon. Member opposite said, 100 small power boosters, but 250. This is a formidable technical problem from which we have to learn a great deal. To say that suddenly, without having paused to realise what is involved technically, we have got to rush ahead with a partial duplication—I do not say a complete duplication, because there will be a joint use of facilities to some extent—of a 1963 version is quite stupid in terms of the long-run interest of television in this country.
1804 I think I have spoken long enough on this issue. I say to hon. Members: be patient. I think that having won the battle—and I give it to them—of the introduction of commercial television, having now got what is an agreed Bill between the two sides of the House—
§ Captain Orr indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Chapman
The hon. and gallant Gentleman shakes his head, but he is only a small lobby on the opposite side of the House. In the main, we have an agreed Bill, and I ask hon. Members to realise that the best interests of television in this country are served by proceeding steadily and in agreement rather than unduly quickly.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
The more I have listened to hon. Members on both sides of the House the more I have become convinced that the best way to solve this difficult problem would be to have a third channel shared by the B.B.C. and commercial television.
The Government suggest that the third channel should be given exclusively to the B.B.C. As has already been said this evening, reference is made in the White Paper to a fourth channel for use at some future date by commercial television. I do not want to repeat the points that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) has already made, but it seems to me that many of the objections that he raised would be overcome if this suggestion of sharing this third channel between the B.B.C. and commercial television were adopted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) brought forth some powerful arguments for the fairly quick introduction of another channel for commercial television. It seems to me that if this third channel were shared as I have suggested, it ought to satisfy some of the points raised by him and other of my hon. Friends.
The hon. Member for Northfield made some valuable remarks on the need for experimenting and said that valuable lessons would be learned from the B.B.C. using the second channel—
§ Sir W. Wakefield
If my hon. Friend will permit me to finish what I am saying, I will then give way. As I was saying, the hon. Member for North-field made some pertinent observations and I would have thought that they supported the proposal that I am making, namely, that if the third channel were shared by commercial television and the B.B.C, both would be able to experiment and develop.
The money obtained from advertising would pay for the majority if not all of this programme, and that, again, would remove a great worry which I see facing us all, for the B.B.C. has indicated that the introduction of this second programme will be very costly. It has been suggested that the licence fee will have to 1806 be put up to £6. This suggestion of mine would overcome this difficulty about putting up the licence fee, since much of the programme, if it were shared with commercial television, could be paid for out of advertising revenue. Thus one great headache would be removed.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke
Will my hon. Friend tell the House which companies would do this sharing? Would they be existing companies merely having another go and getting more advertising revenue, or does he envisage new companies coming in?
§ Sir W. Wakefield
That would be entirely a matter for my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General. All I am suggesting is that here is an opportunity to have commercial broadcasting side by side with the B.B.C. which, instead of having to provide all the equipment and all the finance for this programme, would have to provide a part only. Now that the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) is in his place again, I would repeat what I have said before, that the very real objections which he raised would be overcome if this suggestion were adopted. I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, as it is late and others want to make their contributions, but I ask hon. Members to consider that this sharing would be a very happy compromise and would get us out of some of our difficulties.
§ Mr. Willey
I intervene only because I see that the Postmaster-General is anxious to intervene and I should like to thank the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) for raising this matter though I hope he will not press his Amendment. I will say in a few words why.
In their White Paper the Government say:The Government still feels, however, that a second commercial programme may prove to be desirable in order to allow full scope to independent television to offer more selection to viewers and to experiment.This is a view I share. Why should we not, therefore, accept the hon. Member's Amendment? The Government also say:The Government is not at present satisfied that in such a situation sufficient advertising revenue would be forthcoming adequately to sustain two commercial programmes.1807 I put that point to the hon. Gentleman because he was not on the Standing Committee. I think everyone who was would take the view that it would be unfair in present circumstances to take any decision about the second programme—not in principle, but about the date. The gravest apprehension was expressed by hon. Members in pressing their view about profits and opposing the action the Government have taken. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) was alone in expressing his view, and I accept that. Otherwise, those who opposed the action of the Government did so because they said this would be gravely prejudicial to the companies. In those circumstances, we have to give the companies some security.
I am not defining a date but leave that to the Authority. It will readily appreciate the effect of the levy, if it has any marked effect on the programme companies. We are not in a position to decide this, but the Authority will be. This is a matter which should properly be left to the Authority. Those of us who took part in the Standing Committee must have been impressed that it would be wrong for us to give a decision giving a right to establish a second channel. The Government have expressed the general view and we must leave it to the Authority to decide when it might be appropriate to take action.
§ Captain Orr
Would the hon. Member be happy to see that provision written into the Bill; that it should be left to the Authority?
§ Mr. Willey
I am willing to leave it to the Authority, subject to a further condition which I shall mention. This Amendment does not do that. It makes nonsense of the debate if we say the Amendment does that. The Amendment indicates a time-table; that is why it is unsuitable. When I am asked why I would not leave the matter entirely to the Authority, I make a reservation which I am sure the Government Front Bench would make. This must be considered in the light of the circumstances obtaining at the time.
The right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has now left the Chamber. I make no complaint about that, but if a decision had been 1808 called for a couple of years ago the Government would not have welcomed it then because of the economic difficulties. We cannot legislate in advance for circumstances a year or two ahead. We accept the intention expressed in the White Paper to leave it to the Authority subject to the circumstances of the time. I say this personally because I am not unattracted by the proposal. The question of a second channel is particularly relevant to something to which considerable attention was paid in Committee. That is networking. Networking would be more effective if the companies knew that all the time they had to produce two programmes. That would have a marked effect on networking.
We have said time after time that what is needed is to give the Authority more power, status and discretion. We curb that by saying that we cannot legislate absolutely in advance on this matter but have to consider it in the light of circumstances then obtaining. I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) that we have to wait for the B.B.C. to have a pilot run in order to see how this will work. One might as well say that we should have two pilot schemes and carry on by mutual experience. One must bear in mind the technical side of this matter, about which I am ill informed. I cannot—but that is no reason why the House should not—take a decision, but if the House is not better equipped than I am on the technical side, hon. Members would be ill advised to take a dogmatic view on the subject.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Bevins
The House has enjoyed a good tempered and a temperate debate so far. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) for his remarks at the beginning of his speech. In principle I agree entirely both with him and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that in broadcasting no Government has any right artificially to deprive the public of services when the technical frequencies are available. I have always held that view and that, in principle, is still my view.
I wholly agree that the Government and the Authority should, in the future, 1809 do all we can—and certainly more than we have done in the past—to promote genuine competition in commercial television. Perhaps the most significant and interesting thing that has emerged from the debate is the fact that hon. Members on both sides of the House have voiced their support, at least in principle, for the idea of a second commercial channel. It is, I think, the first occasion since commercial television was first debated in the House that we have reached the stage when hon. Members are separated not on matters of principle but only on matters of detail.
The purpose of the Amendment is to write into the Bill a requirement that not later than October, 1965, the Postmaster-General shall issue a licence for a second service for such areas as the Authority shall decide. This proposal contains two elements. Firstly, it suggests that the fourth programme should be allocated to independent television, and it goes on, secondly, to indicate when the fourth programme should actually start. These are in themselves separate propositions and they involve separate considerations.
The first question is this. Should I.T.V. have a second programme at all? I will not weary the House at this late hour by repeating what was said in the two Government White Papers, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, when he replied to the debate on Second Reading of this Bill, expressed his personal hope that the time would not be far away when this second programme could be authorised. In Committee I, too, made it clear that I shared that hope. No hon. Member can suggest, therefore, that the Government have been opposed in principle to a second programme. The question, of course, is why have we not given it the green light.
Hon. Members will know that for technical reasons the maximum number of programmes we can have in this country is six; two in the V.H.F. bands and four in Bands 4 and 5. Two of these are already in use. Two more will be needed for the change from 405 to 625 lines by duplicating the existing services in U.H.F. One will be needed for the second B.B.C. programme, and this leaves one free channel for at least about ten years while the change to 625 lines in being made.
1810 For this single remaining channel there are a number of claimants—let us be honest about this. First—and foremost—there are the claims of independent television. There are also the advocates of a full-time educational programme and a pay-television programme. The Government are not dismissing these claims out of hand, but I feel—and this is the view of the Government—that the immediate future for pay-television will be over wired circuits, and I believe that experiments will very soon be under way.
I am sure that a good deal more can be done within the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to build up and develop the educational service within the existing structure. The more we can do here, and the more quickly and the more imaginatively it can be done, the better for us all. It is perfectly true—and I concede this to my hon. Friends—that the bringing into use of a second commercial programme would help to make room for more educational and instructional programmes.
I therefore come to a declaration of intention. It is the Government's intention to authorise the introduction of a second independent television programme as soon as the Government are satisfied that conditions are such that it can be made a success. When a second I.T.V. programme comes, it must be a success, not merely for those who run the service but, which is more important, for those who watch the service. The Government would therefore hope to issue a licence for I.T.A.2—if I may so describe it—during 1965 unless, and this is unlikely, it seems that the financial or other obstacles are insurmountable at that stage.
That means that I.T.A.2 could be on the air during 1966, but I would beg the House to consider one or two of the very real hurdles that must be overcome before there is a guarantee that the conditions of which I have spoken will be met. I ask my hon. Friends to believe me when I say that here I am not attempting to manufacture arguments out of the blue, but simply trying to face up to the hard realities.
First of all, we have for some time now been discussing a Bill which will have a very considerable effect On the future of independent television. The Authority itself is faced with a great 1811 deal of work to give effect to this Bill—new contracts embodying a large number of new provisions covering such matters as rentals, control over the sale of programmes, networking, programme standards, reforms in advertising, and the rest. It will have to prepare itself for the change over to U.H.F. and 625 lines, and the introduction of colour television. Let us be under no illusion—these are very formidable tasks for the Authority to undertake, and it seems to me to be essential that if the intentions of this House are to be carried out effectively by the Authority—as the whole House and I must wish them to be—theAuthority should be given reasonable time to work them out in detail.
That leads me to ask whether it would be reasonable to add to this burden, right away, the complications of planning and organising a second programme. Such a decision would bring a great number of very real problems in its train, both for the Authority and for the Government. For example, how are contracts to be allocated, not merely for the second programme but for the first programme as well? Should new companies which enter the arena be obliged to operate on U.H.F. only, or should new companies and existing companies share the V.H.F. and U.H.F. channels?
What machinery is needed to ensure that at one and the same time there is the effective competition, to which my right hon. and learned Friend very rightly referred, between programme contractors and a real choice of programmes for the public? Perhaps, most important of all, should we accept the domination of the big four as a permanent feature of independent television in this country, or should we seize this opportunity given by a second programme to give other companies a chance to compete for the mass audiences which are now monopolised by the existing contractors?
Here, I come to the principal point which I make. I can put it very simply. If the Government were to give the go-ahead for the second independent television channel here and now, it is virtually certain that no new companies would enter the field, for reasons which 1812 I shall explain in a minute. If, on the other hand, we wait until there has developed in this country a U.H.F. viewing market of a fair size, then it is quite on the cards—indeed, it is probable—that new companies will come into the field, and then we shall be able to secure genuine competition for the first time.
That leads me to what I think is, perhaps, the most decisive factor in all this. It is the financial one. No one has ever suggested, either in the House or outside, that a second I.T.V. programme would, in itself, be viable during the next year or two, even here in the Metropolis. This is why, as we all know, the 14 contractors, with one solitary exception, are against the second programme at this stage, and I should be astonished if the exception took the view that a second service would be viable during the next year or two.
I ask the House, even at this late hour, just to consider for a moment or two the revenue prospects of the second I.T.V. programme in the London area, if one were started during the early part of 1965, because this is crucial to the whole question. Such a programme would have to go out in U.H.F. on 625 lines. This immediately confronts us with the first and main factor which would condition the revenue of the programme company to which this second programme was allotted. Let us suppose that, by that time in 1965, there are about 3 million television sets in the London area. A lot of these sets, possibly a half or something like that, will be rented, and most of the people who rent these sets, though perhaps not all, would probably be willing to pay an extra few shillings a week for dual-standard sets. On the other hand, it would not be reasonable to suppose that people who own 405-line sets purchased at varying times in the past would all be willing to scrap them and put them into the garbage bin straightaway. Clearly, the replacement of these 405-line sets will be a fairly gradual process.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), whose knowledge of this part of the subject I gladly acknowledge, has estimated that, by June, 1964, there may be about 1 million dual-standard sets in the London area. The best information I can get from the radio industry and 1813 elsewhere indicates that there are about 500,000 dual-standard sets in this area at present, and my advisers reckon that, by the end of 1965, the number might be 1 million to 1½ million, or possibly a few more. It is, therefore, probable that, in 1965, one half, or perhaps rather more than one half, of the sets in the London area will be capable of receiving programmes transmitted in U.H.F. on 625 lines. The rest of the people would still be content, for the time being, to receive the existing I.T.A. and B.B.C. services.
Thus, in 1965—and this is the vital factor, from which there is no escape—something like one-half of the viewers in the London area would be able to receive a second I.T.A. programme. These people would have a choice of four programmes: B.B.C.1, B.B.C.2, I.T.A.1 and I.T.A.2. It would be rather too much to expect that all these people would take their allegiance en masse to the second I.T.A. programme, because some of them would still want to watch "Panorama" and "Coronation Street". I should be surprised if, on the average, I.T.A.2 attracted more than one-quarter of the viewers who were capable of receiving that programme.
Therefore, the probable viewing potental of I.T.A.2 in London, if it were introduced in 1965—this is important, because time is the all-important factor—would be about one quarter of one-half of the total London viewers—that is, 12 per cent. of the total number of viewers. If by 1965 three-quarters of viewers have new sets, the viewing potential would be one-quarter of three-quarters, or 18 per cent. of the total. But if by 1966 we suppose that 90 per cent. of the viewers in this area had dual-standard sets, the viewing audience might be getting on for 25 per cent. That is why the timing of this operation is so vitally important.
We must remember that advertising revenue is primarily related to the size of the viewing audience. Having said that, I do not dissent from what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks. It is true that given a second commercial programme, there would be additional advertising revenue, especially from smaller advertisers who are unable to pay the present rates.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hitchin)
Has my right hon. Friend the number of television sets that were able to receive I.T.V. on its introduction in the London area in 1955? I think he will find that it was about 200,000 only.
§ Mr. Bevins
My hon. Friend may well be right. I remind him that it was largely because of that factor that so many people burnt their fingers when commercial television was first introduced. We are more likely to get a successful second commercial channel if we synchronise that channel with the availability of public demand for the service.
I should like to add a word or two about the other side of the coin—that is, the cost of a second service. The costs of the contractors amount to about £36 million a year. Next year, or by 1965, they may have gone up to about £40 million. Nobody knows what a second programme would cost, but if it is to be good—and if it is not good, no hon. Member, on either side, wants it—it will cost a great deal more to run than it would bring in, certainly if it were introduced too soon. Even the most conservative estimate of cost which I have been able to get puts the cost a good deal higher than the total yield of the proposed levy in the Bill. It is for these reasons that we are entitled to ask for a little time, time to let the I.T.A. reorganise its existing services in the way Parliament desires, time to see how these reforms work out in practice, time to make proper plans for the introduction and development of a second programme and time, of course, to enable us to be sure that revenue will grow fast enough to meet the heavy costs of such a programme.
All this does not, however, mean that a decision to start a second programme must be put off for many years to come. I am not trying to convey that impression to the House. Indeed, it is our belief that the new arrangements proposed in the Bill will work effectively, although it will not be possible to form a firm judgment until the arrangements have been in operation for a reasonable time—say, during 1965. It ought to be possible at about that time to assess the effects of other factors, including the level and the trend of advertising revenue, the number of new sets, and the influence 1815 of B.B.C. 2 on the financial health of the system.
But if all goes well and there are suitable companies willing to offer their services to the I.T.A., the Government would certainly hope during the autumn of 1965 to authorise the physical build-up of the second programme, starting in the areas of big population. I myself am convinced that this is the right approach in the national interest. I hope that my hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend will not try to force an open door, and I beg them to recognise that the good will of Parliament to independent television is the greatest asset this industry can enjoy.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, would he just clear up this point? Is he saying that, despite his caveats, it is his hope and the hope of the Government to issue to I.T.A. 2 during 1965 a licence so that the second service will come on the air in 1966?
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I could not help thinking what super-optimists the movers of the Amendment are. They are talking about 1965 as if there will be a Tory Government in power then. Everybody in the country knows that that will not be so. Therefore, what they are doing by implication is committing somebody else to do something which they are desiring to do now.
I have conceded many things to the Postmaster-General during the Committee stage because I think he is right. Speaking generally, I would agree with most of the arguments that he has adduced today. But before I come to those, I want to say one word to the right hon. and learned Member for Wirrall (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd).
As I see it, there are two things in the Amendment—the date, 1965, and the delegation of authority to the I.T.A. to make the decision. An hon. Friend of mine has said that he would perhaps be prepared to allow that. Personally, I cannot agree with that. A decision on something which is of such major importance as whether we are to have an additional television channel is infinitely too big for an Authority of this sort to undertake. If when the right hon. and learned 1816 Gentleman was Chancellor of the Exchequer anybody had approached him and said that a decision involving the nation in expenditure of£40 million, £50 million or £60 million should be made on his behalf by a nationalised industry or any other board, would he have approved of it? He knows very well that any Chancellor, whatever the Government in power, will insist upon reserving to the Government the right of making such big financial decisions which involve not only money and capital investment but the use of material, labour and the rest which are factors in the economy of a great industrial nation. I am surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has so readily thrown over the cloak of his responsibility to the nation for big expenditure. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] Oh yes, let us face it.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd
This is happening all the time. The nationalised industries have certain investment programmes and they make their decisions.
§ Mr. Williams
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us whether the decisions to spend a certain amount rested with them?
§ Mr. Williams
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the specific question? I am not saying that the National Coal Board or the board of any other in nationalised industry did not build up a case for itself and come to a conclusion that it wished to spend, say, £50 million. I am asking him to say whether it was allowed to make the decision to spend the money without the consent of the Government and the Chancellor.
§ Mr. Williams
I must leave it to the House to decide whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has answered a straight question in a straightforward way.
I think that the Postmaster-General has a very sound argument here on the four counts he made. I am not a 1817 scientist or a technologist. I have not all the information available that some people have. But I am perfectly satisfied that it is physically impossible either for I.T.A. or anybody else to open a fourth channel in 1965.
§ Mr. J. M. L. Prior (Lowestoft)
How is it that Brisbane, with a population of 625,000, which has had television for only five years, is jumping the hurdle this year while we are making such a song and dance?
§ Mr. Williams
I cannot answer that question any more than I can answer the question of why Australia, with such a smaller population, beats us at cricket every time.
The point is that we have not the material nor the technicians and skilled people, nor the installations and machinery for this job, and if we started now at high speed to try to produce them, we would still not have them available by 1965. I am quite sure that that is the case. If anyone here has figures proving the contrary I should be glad to hear them.
The fact is that, with all its developments in telephone communications, the Post Office faces a serious shortage of skilled and semi-skilled engineers to carry out its normal work. If we try to superimpose obligations of this size on top of that, it will collapse under the strain. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that very well, otherwise there was not much sense in some of the Budgets he presented as Chancellor.
I am very glad that the Postmaster-General has said that the Government will review the position. I have no objection whatever to Independent Television reviewing the situation and all its aspects between now and 1965 and presenting its case to whoever happens to be Postmaster-General at the time. I think that this House would be failing in its constitutional responsibility if it failed to recognise that a matter of this magnitude was one proper for the I.T.A. and not the Government of the day.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Rodgers
I have enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Openshaw(Mr. W. R. Williams), but I cannot agree with him that the introduction of a second independent television 1818 channel should be held up because of lack of technicians between now and 1965. If the hon. Member spoke in that manner in relation to our education or hospital programme he would be howled down, and I say that there is no evidence to support that view at all.
§ Mr. Willey
The hon. Member has raised the question of education. There is the important question of a proposed educational channel, and that is very relevant to what use would be made of a fourth channel if that became feasible and available.
§ Mr. Rodgers
Yes, that has been touched upon, but what I want to say is that we are grateful to the Postmaster-General for the very fair way in which he dealt with our arguments and for the obvious care and attention he has given to them. At the same time, I cannot agree with some of the points he has put forward. He is right to say that the timing of the operation of a second television channel is all-important, but I cannot go along with him when he says that he does not agree that multi-channel operation would be greatly encouraged if the radio-rental people and the television manufacturers were able to say that by such and such a date there would not only be B.B.C. but independent programmes available as well.
Do the Government intend to introduce a second channel—for independent television, I think—as soon as it can be made a success and in 1965? If that is the Postmaster-General's promise, then I say that he is a man of honour and a man for whom I have great admiration, and, in the light of that promise, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. V. Yates
It is very regrettable that an issue of this kind should be discussed at about twenty minutes past eleven at night and that we should have had such little time to debate it. The Committee stage has been rushed through with inadequate time and I claim the right to say that this proposal has not been adequately discussed. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers), who proposed the Amendment, has not interpreted the remarks 1819 of the Postmaster-General correctly. I certainly did not understand the Postmaster-General to say that he was prepared to introduce a new channel in 1965. There may be plans for the following year, but the hon. Member was not quite fair to the Pilkington Committee, and for that reason I cannot but detain the House for a very short time.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not unsympathetic to the idea of a second channel. Originally, I was totally opposed to independent television of any sort. I was anti-I.T.V., but I have given a great deal of thought to this matter since its establishment and I have been more convinced of the need for competition since I have seen the programme, "That Was The Week That Was".
I want to see what the second programme can do and what independent television can do under its new constitution. We have given the Authority additional powers, and we shall watch how they are used. From talking to Sir Robert Fraser and other members of the Authority, I formed the view—and I hope that I was right—that they would not repeat some of the thoroughly objectionable features which we have had on the B.B.C. I shall watch very carefully. Hon Members opposite may be thankful that in the last two or three weeks there has not been a "That Was The Week That Was."
The hon. Member for Sevenoaks was not fair to the Pilkington Committee which examined a good deal of evidence and presented it fairly. On page 242 of its Report it quoted Associated Rediffusion as saying:Competition between two services, each carrying advertisements, would inevitably be competition for the attention of the majority audience. Such a system would inevitably produce competing programmes of a general type provided today by I.T.A. but with the influence of the mass audience very much accentuated. Under such a system it would be even more difficult that under the present system to provide for the interests of minorities. Even the general quality of the programmes might well deteriorate.In support of this view, it quoted former members of the Authority and paragraph 904 of the Report says:We record here that the former Chairman and two former Members of the Authority were among those who argued 1820 against the extension of its service. Giving oral evidence, Sir Kenneth Clark told us that the introduction in 1964 of a second service financed from advertising revenue would be the worst of all thing to do. We recall that Sir Kenneth was against any extension of the television services. Having recalled this, we note his view that, if there were two commercial competing companies in the same area, standards would drop.These were the views of people of experience. But in spite of that evidence, in paragraph 907 the Pilkington Report said:We recommend that if, after independent television as reconstituted and re-organised has had sufficient time to adapt itself to its new constitution, it has proved its capacity to realise the purposes of broadcasting, it should be authorised to provide a second programme.I agree with that, and the sooner the better in view of the necessity for competition and for maintaining a high standard of broadcasting.
I do not like advertising, and I do not like advertising on independent television. I do not like the interruptions, and I do not like the idea of two sets of programmes both with advertising. Nevertheless, this has come to stay, and I believe that it has made its contribution. It has put the B.B.C. on its toes. There is still a lot wrong with the B.B.C., and let us hope that it can be put right by competition. I feel very strongly that the B.B.C. is not all that it should be. The Authority will have the power to criticise and to be objectionable. We shall have to watch that. I believe in the right to criticise and in freedom of speech but not the power to be thoroughly unscrupulous and objectionable to living persons. It does not matter whether it is the Royal Family, or who it is. I should like an opportunity to examine this to see how it is working, and we can then go forward to the next channel.
§ Amendment negatived.