HC Deb 12 May 1965 vol 712 cc504-7
12. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a statement on the progress towards the establishment of colour television in the United Kingdom.

34. Mr. Jopling

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will now reconsider his decision to adopt the National Television Systems Committee system of colour television, in view of the implications of the Vienna Conference.

66. Mr. Boston

asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a statement about the introduction of colour television, in the light of the recent Vienna Conference.

Mr. Benn

There is nothing I can usefully add to the Answers I gave to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) on 5th May.

Mrs. Short

Is my right hon. Friend aware that several hon. Members recently saw a demonstration of the three systems of colour television and that the majority view was that there was very little difference between the American system and Seecam? In view of the Vienna decision and the close contact that British colour television in future is likely to have with the Russian scientific television service, will he undertake to keep an open mind and look again at the possibility of adopting the Seecam system?

Mr. Benn

The Television Advisory Committee is looking at this and reviewing the outcome of the Vienna Conference. A number of factors, some technical, have to be taken into account, but it would be a very great pity to give up, even at this stage, the possibility of a world standard system for colour television.

Mr. Jopling

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many lay viewers who have seen comparisons of the three principal systems are quite unable to choose between them? Is he further aware of the danger of our being odd man out in Europe, particularly in view of the export potential for our manufacturing industry? Will he give us an assurance that his earlier decision to tie this country to N.T.S.C. is not irreversible?

Mr. Benn

There was no earlier decision to tie this country to N.T.S.C. After assessing the various systems, our delegation was briefed to advocate the adoption in Europe of N.T.S.C. on the ground that it was technically the best. It has the advantage of having been in use many years, whereas the other systems have not been in use in a general way. I have seen all three systems and, although a layman will not be able immediately to detect great differences between them, one of the factors we must consider is the potentiality of development quality later on as between the three systems. Therefore, this matter is a little more complex than may at first appear to be the case.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Is the right hon. Gentleman now able to say when he expects colour television to be available to the viewing public in this country?

Mr. Benn

For the reasons which I have given, it is not now possible to give a date because of all these factors which have to be taken into account. Everybody is anxious to get on with this as quickly as possible, but the House knows very well that broadcasting decisions, particularly in relation to technical standards, are of such importance that a desire to get ahead can operate against a wise ultimate decision. I have in mind in comparison the decision in 1946 to go on with 405 at a time when there was a natural desire to get back to television when on reflection it might have been better to have moved to 625.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that we certainly sympathise with him in this difficult decision which he has to make? May I urge him to hasten slowly on it? This is not a matter on which we would wish to push him. Will he not agree that this is a matter with which it would be easy to deal if it were purely a technical matter, but that it has now become virtually internationally political as well?

Mr. Benn

I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support on this issue. As I said, I am as keen as anyone to get ahead, but it is much more important that we should get it right and not be hurried.

Mr. George Jeger

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be an awful pity if the proceedings of the House were to be televised without doing full justice to my very colourful hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short)?

Mr. Robert Cooke

Are we to understand that we will not hear anything more from the right hon. Gentleman tomorrow on this subject or about the review? Will he give an assurance that he will make it possible for the House to debate any decisions which he may take on the future?

Mr. Benn

The debate for tomorrow has been tabled by the Opposition and is to be opened in accordance with practice. I shall do my best to deal with any points which are raised, but I cannot give an undertaking to the hon. Gentleman that if questions of colour are raised I shall not speak about them. That is a very difficult suggestion.