HC Deb 14 April 1964 vol 693 cc220-3
4. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Postmaster-General if he will now state the system to be adopted by Great Britain for a colour television service.

5. Mr. Mason

asked the Postmaster-General if he has completed his study of the Television Advisory Committee's Report on Colour Television; and if he will now make a statement on the colour system to be adopted and when it is likely to be introduced.

Mr. Bevins

The Television Advisory Committee, which includes representatives of the B.B.C., I.T.A. and the radio industry, has recommended the introduction of a regular colour television service in 1967. It has also advised me that, in view of the desirability of avoiding a unilateral decision which might adversely affect the export of colour components to Europe and the easy exchange of colour programmes, a final decision on the system to be employed should not be taken until the C.C.I.R. meeting to be held in April, 1965, but that if that meeting fails to agree on a common system the United Kingdom should adopt the system of its choice.

I have considered this advice in the knowledge that the B.B.C. and the radio industry now take the view that a colour service could not in any case begin to operate until the end of 1966 or the beginning of 1967 even if a decision were to be taken now. If the decision is not taken until April 1965, it will still be possible to begin a colour service early in 1967, and on this clear understanding, I have decided to accept the advice of the Television Advisory Committee.

Mr. Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while there may well be a case for waiting for a unified European system, nevertheless the announcement which he has just made will be received with keen disappointment by some of our leading manufacturers, who have for some time been geared to go ahead? Does not my right hon. Friend think that in this case there is a good reason for Britain showing the lead to the rest of Europe? Does not this also mean that colour television will be long delayed in starting in this country?

Mr. Bevins

The trouble is that if this country were to take a unilateral decision at this point in time, as we could do if we thought it wise, we would be in danger of being out of step with all the nations of Western Europe, which undoubtedly would be damaging to the radio industry of this country. I should add that both the B.B.C. and the Indus- try, having taken a realistic look at the problem, do not feel that we could get either the transmission equipment or the receivers into operation much earlier than the end of 1966.

Mr. Mason

If we went ahead now with the development of N.T.S.C., which seems to be the colour system most favoured in this country, and the European countries went ahead later with either P.A.L. or S.E.C.A.M., exactly what would be the obstacles in our way? How would we be handicapped? Secondly, has the right hon. Gentleman any idea whether, when the Committee meets again in 1965, there will be any better prospect of success in getting European compatibility?

Mr. Bevins

If we adopted, say, the American system now and the French, Germans and other Europeans adopt a different system in 12 months' time, the British radio industry would be under the handicap of not being able to export colour components to Europe and the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. would find it more difficult than otherwise would be the case to exchange programmes with European countries. I think that the prospect of getting agreement at next year's meeting is fairly good. I should like to emphasise that the Post Office pressed strongly for a decision at the meeting a couple of months ago.

Sir R. Cary

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether the B.B.C. accepts his decision and whether he is saying that it will be technically impossible for the Corporation to initiate this service until 1967?

Mr. Bevins

Yes. The B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are represented on the Television Advisory Committee and the report of this Committee was both unanimous and unequivocal.

Dr. King

Is it not true that whatever decision the Postmaster-General takes today, neither the B.B.C. nor I.T.A. could mount colour television before 1967? Having said that, is it not important that the right hon. Gentleman makes his decision fairly quickly?

Mr. Bevins

Yes. What the hon. Member has said in the opening part of his supplementary question is perfectly true, as it is in the second part also.

11. Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

asked the Postmaster-General what is his estimate of the increase in cost of a television licence which would be required to cover the cost of colour television broadcasts when they are approved.

Mr. Bevins

An estimate in this form would be inappropriate. The B.B.C.'s finances are considered as a whole from time to time; and colour television is unlikely to start, as I have said, before 1967. Even then the cost will depend on the number of hours of colour television that can be mounted, both at the start, and progressively.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that colour television services are likely to cost three times as much as the black and white system and that broadcasting costs will also be very high, and is it not a little unfair to elderly people, when the cost of the licence is already rather heavy, that they should have to bear the cost of colour television which they will never wish to have or be able to buy?

Mr. Bevins

Well, no doubt there is something in what my hon. Friend says, but I think it is the wish of the House and the country that we should embark upon colour television at the right moment.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Does not the information about costs bear out the fact that my right hon. Friend's decision for caution in this matter is right?

Mr. Mason

Yes, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware, on the question of the licence, that having given the B.B.C. the right to go ahead and develop B.B.C.2 he now appears to be stiffing this development by severely restricting its broadcasting hours, and that this is really more or less a political expedient in order to avoid a licence increase? Excluding commercial advertising, is the right hon. Gentleman giving any consideration at all to financing the B.B.C. or broadcasting or television development without necessarily increasing the licence fees?

Mr. Bevins

This Question refers to colour television. It has nothing at all to do with B.B.C. financing or B.B.C.2.