HC Deb 05 April 1967 vol 744 cc273-88

No criminal proceedings under this Act shall be instituted in the United Kingdom by the Director of Public Prosecutions or in Northern Ireland by Mr. Attorney General for Northern Ireland until the Secretary of State by Order in Council has certified that the necessary statutory powers have been taken by all signatories to the European Agreement set out in Command Paper No. 2616 to implement the said Agreement; and the. Secretary of State shall cause copies of the said statutory powers to be laid in the Library of both Houses of Parliament.—[Mr. Ian Gilmour.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gilmour (Norfolk, Central)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of the Clause is to make it impossible for any proceedings to be brought under this Bill until all the other signatories to the European Agreement have also implemented that agreement and that agreement has been notified to the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament.

It is fair to say that, throughout our debates on the Bill, the Postmaster-General has used the European Agreement as his bible. If it is possible to do so with a bible, he has sheltered behind it at all times. He has used it as a defence to all sorts of Amendments. In the Standing Committee, when we were moving a fairly innocuous though important Amendment to insert the word "knowingly", in rejecting our contentions he went so far as to say that though he had sympathy for the motives of those of us moving the Amendment, it would weaken the Bill and make it different from the European Agreement. He went on to say: I am afraid that I cannot agree to the Bill being weakened and to this divergence from the European pattern."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 9th March, 1967; c. 130.] The divergence related to the insertion of the word "knowingly", which would have brought the Measure into line with ordinary British principles of law.

I mention that only by way of illustration to show the importance which the right hon. Gentleman attaches to the European Agreement. It seems to us, therefore, that if he intends to be so fundamentalist about the bible of the European Agreement, we also are entitled to be fundamentalist about it. In accordance with the principles which he has outlined throughout our debates on the Bill, the behaviour of this Parliament should also be brought into line with that of the other signatories to the agreement.

We feel that this fundamentalist approach to the European Agreement will gain the approval of the Postmaster-General because he says that we cannot do things since the European signatories to the agreement have already made their view plain. Therefore, it follows that, equally, they must also carry out their obligations under the agreement, because we have not yet reached the stage when treaties should always override the law of the land or, if they do, there must be reciprocity.

It is true that the Postmaster-General has said that we are the worst offender in this matter, but that is because of the arrangements for broadcasting in this country, and I will not go into those because it would be out of order. However, that does not alter the principle which underlines the new Clause.

As we are on the subject of the European Agreement, perhaps the Postmaster-General could tell us about the Addendum to the European Agreement made by the Council of Europe on 30th January, 1965, when the Consultative Assembly passed an amendment resolving, inter alia, to insert an additional paragraph 3 to read: Considering that the sole justification for an international regulation of telecommunications is the limited availability of frequencies and spectrum space; and to amend the final paragraph to read: Recommends that the Committee of Ministers should instruct the Committee of Experts on Broadcasting and Television to examine the possibility of supplementing the Agreement by way of a protocol in order to … express the intention of the signatory of the Agreement exclusively to cope with the limited availability of frequencies and spectrum space, and not to safeguard the vested interests of any State or other monopolies in mass telecommunications …". It seems prima facie that this Bill would fall outside that amendment. Whether it does or not, it seems entirely reasonable that, if this country is acting in pursuance of a European Agreement, it should demand from the other signatories that they should carry it out. It is in that extreme European spirit that we support the new Clause.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Edward Short)

The new Clause would mean that no prosecution could take place until all the signatories of the European Agreement had taken similar legislative powers to our own. A provision on these lines would, of course, lead to indefinite delay in the implementation of the Bill. It would enable any single country of the 12 which have so far signed the agreement to delay action by the United Kingdom and it would really be a pathetic abdication of our responsibility to the international community to say that we would take no action until everyone else had done so.

I might say, by the way, that, as drafted, it would also have some weird side effects, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not intend. For example, it would bring the Bill into force in Scotland before the rest of the United Kingdom.

The underlying idea that anti-pirate legislation should enter into force simultaneously in all European countries is not, I agree, without merit, if it is considered as an ideal which it would be nice to aim for. As each country enacts the legislation it might be said to be driving a certain amount of business to other countries, particularly in supplies to ships, so from that narrow and rather disreputable point of view there would be an advantage in the simultaneous provision of legislation.

However, in practical terms, the idea of waiting for everybody to legislate is nonsenical. All the countries from which any pirate broadcasters are deriving any support have a strong moral obligation—they know it perfectly well—to cut off that support as soon as possible. The Scandinavian countries recognise this and acted promptly in 1962, as did Belgium. Now, because we are by far the worst offenders, it is unmistakably the United Kingdom's turn to take action. To hold back now would be a betrayal of our European neighbours whose broadcasting services are suffering a great deal of interference from our pirate radio ships.

Also, to do so would be wrong in itself. Pirate broadcasting is a challenge to the rule of law and we cannot take the line that we will re-establish the rule of law only when it is commercially expedient or not until we can certify that every other country has done what is necessary to this end. We must take action ourselves now and not look for the lowest common denominator in international action. Once we have enacted the Bill, we shall be in a strong position to press the signatories to the European Agreement to do so.

Incidentally, no addendum was added to the Council of Europe Agreement. The proposal of the Consultative Assembly to do so was considered, but rejected. The point here is that we are not protecting vested or monopoly interests, but the interests of listeners. If this kind of thing is allowed to develop there will be chaos in the air. We are protecting the people whose business it is to travel and work on ships at sea and we are protecting the owners of copyright. In the Government's view this legislation ought to be enacted without delay. I am sorry, but I cannot accept the new Clause.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I have been spared the humbug of the Postmaster-General on this matter by the good fortune of having been in the United States over the last month, where I was able to listen to free, competitive radio. I am glad that, on my return, I have the opportunity of speaking on the Amendments and new Clauses before the right hon. Gentleman, as he seems determined, has his way.

The right hon. Gentleman made much in his speech today of strong moral obligations and his concern to protect the interests of the listeners. I have never heard such humbug as that. In what way is he protecting the interests of the listeners by depriving them of the opportunity to listen to what they want? That is an extraordinary statement. His Government had two years in which to fulfil the strong moral obligations he has spoken about.

The right hon. Gentleman spoke about a challenge to the rule of law. Why did not these things cause the Government to move during their first 18 months of power? Time and again we were told that they would taken action and time and again they allowed their moral obligations and the challenge to the rule of law, as the right hon. Gentleman described it, to go by the board. Only now, when he produces this monstrous Bill to deprive people of their opportunity, does he come here and talk in high moral terms about challenge to the rule of law and protecting the interests of the listeners.

The new Clause seeks to ensure that other countries shall subscribe to the same set of rules that we are about to impose upon ourselves and asks that the British people and the British entrepreneurs shall not have imposed upon them something which people in other countries will not have to bear for a considerable period.

The Postmaster-General, taking refuge in this international agreement, must answer a number of questions about it. Some of the signatories to that agreement were Albania, Byelorussia, Monaco and the Ukraine. Will the Postmaster-General tell me in what way he thinks Albania will respond to the strong moral pressure which he is about to put upon her—

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman has his facts wrong. He is talking about the Council of Europe Convention, which has nothing to do with Albania.

Mr. Griffiths

I am referring to the European Broadcasting Convention, a copy of which I have before me, and which is the basis of much which the Postmaster-General has said in Committee and since. I am well aware of the Council of Europe's Strasbourg codicil, which is all that it really was.

How will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that countries like Albania, Monaco and the Ukraine will respect the same rules which he is imposing on the British? We have had an example—

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us which Albanian and Ukranian pirate stations menace the people of this country by interference with our air space?

Mr. Griffiths

I do not know, but it is a question of considering whether, under Albanian or Byelorussian protection there could well become stations which interfered with listening in this country—

Mr. Ian Gilmour

In fact, Albania interferes most drastically with the Light programme and the Home Service of the B.B.C., so the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), with respect, has his facts wrong: Albania is a prime culprit in this.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

If I may be forgiven, I said, "Which Albanian pirate stations"?

Mr. Griffiths

All that the hon. Member is demonstrating is that, in addition to humbug on this matter on that side of the House there is also ignorance. Albania, as my hon. Friend pointed out, does interfere with British broadcasts, and the Postmaster-General says, apparently, that he will go hawking round the moral obligation to Tirana and expecting the Albanian régime to respond—

Mr. Edward Short

I have here a copy of the agreement to which I was referring. It is the European Agreement for the Prevention of Broadcasts transmitted from Stations outside National Territories. It is the Council of Europe Agreement which the Government signed. Albania is not a signatory to it. It was signed by 12 countries, but certainly not by Albania, or by Russia, or by any other country of that kind. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not get his facts right before he started to speak.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

What I am concerned about, and what I believe the great majority of people in this country are concerned about, is the practical effect of the broadcasts; and it does not make any difference what piece of paper the Postmaster-General starts to wave about. If Albanian stations continue to broadcast, if stations from Monaco or other places continue to broadcast, they will provide a service which British citizens will be prevented from providing. The British public, if they want to, will be listening to broadcasts from other nations. The Postmaster-General will be able to do nothing about them, and he knows that.

In my constituency alone there will be many people who will not understand why countries in Europe are able to continue providing this kind of service—of which I am in favour—while the Postmaster-General proposes to suppress this kind of service being provided by this country.

Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me which foreign station, legalised by its own domestic Government, is providing this kind of service? At one point I got the impression that there was a large audience for Radio Albania.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

If the hon. Gentleman wants to know, I am prepared to read the list of stations which are broadcasting at the present time without authority under the European Agreement. If the hon. Gentleman wants that, I shall be glad to give it to him, with the kilocycles, frequencies, and so on, but I ask him to accept that there are in existence a large number of illegal, if he wants to call them that, stations which are putting out music, news, and so on. They are not covered by the European Convention, and they will be permitted to continue, although British stations will be suppressed.

We have heard about moral obligations. We were told the other day that the Foreign Secretary had sent a remonstrance to Egypt, and then his deputy Minister said that he had sent remonstrances to almost everybody he could think of. It is not remonstrances and moral obligations that count. It is a simple issue. Will foreign radio stations be able to continue to broadcast to this country while British people will be denied the opportunity so to do? Are our people to listen to broadcasts from other people's pirates while we are denied the opportunity of listening to our own?

Mr. Rowland

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to detain the House, he should do us the courtesy of being better informed. Does he not appreciate the distinction between pirate radio stations, which are mainly around our shores, and these other stations to which he has referred, which in every case have been authorised and legalised by the Government of the state from which they broadcast? There are only 10 pirates in Europe. Nine of them are around our shores, and one off the coast of another country. They cannot be confused with Monte Carlo, or with any of the other stations on the list to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The hon. Gentleman is confusing the practice with his own theory. It does not make any difference to me whether the Government of Albania, or Byelorussia, or Monaco have said, "Come into our territorial waters and have pirate radio stations and broadcasts". They have legitimated them, and that is their business. I would like us to legitimate the commercial radio stations in our country, just as they have done in theirs. All the hon. Gentleman has shown is that these countries have a great deal more sense than we have.

This is obvious from the fact that they have seen the good sense of legitimating variety of opportunity in radio. We have not done so. When the hon. Gentleman talks about there being only ten pirates in Europe, he is asking the House to accept his and the Postmaster-General's definition of a pirate, irrespective of what the original Convention said.

Mr. Rowland

Is the hon. Gentleman aware—I am not sure whether he is taking exception to them or not—that all the stations to which he has referred have an international telecommunications B certificate? The 10 stations which are the subject of this legislation are not in that category. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point that we ought to legitimate the pirates—this is a debatable point—but he must not confuse them with all the other stations to which he keeps referring.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am not confused. It would be open to the Post master-General—

Mr. Edward Short

On a point of order. I do not want to restrict the hon. Gentleman, but he is confusing two things. He is talking about the Copenhagen Agreement, which is quite different. The new Clause refers to the European Agreement set out in Command Paper 2616, which is a different document. This is a narrow point. The Clause proposes that this legislation shall not be enacted, and that no prosecutions shall take place until it is certified that all the other signatories of the European Convention—not the Convention to which the hon. Gentleman is referring—have taken similar action. This is the only issue that we are discussing. It has nothing to do with the Copenhagen Agreement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving

Order. If the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) is referring to a Convention and a document which is outside the scope of the new Clause, he is out of order. Perhaps he will tell me whether he is dealing with a document or a Convention which is covered by it.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am dealing with the practical effects of this legislation, and my concern is very simply that as a result of this Bill, unless the Clause is accepted, radio stations in other countries will be permitted to continue to broadcast without accepting the obligations which the United Kingdom is hereupon accepting, and that the only sanction the Postmaster-General will have against them, irrespective of the country they are in, will be the moral obligation about which he has been talking and the remonstrances which the British Government will hawk around Europe in the hope that people will take notice. That is the practical effect of it, and we are confronted—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am trying to understand the point being made by the hon. Gentleman, but if the control to which he is referring does not exist through the European Agreement he cannot be in order in discussing it on this new Clause. I doubt whether the hon. Member is in order, because he seems to me bringing in a wider field than that covered by the European Agreement which is mentioned in the Clause.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Perhaps I should restrain myself, and restrict myself to the countries referred to in the European Agreement as set out in Command Paper 2616. I shall refer to these countries and, to meet your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to these alone.

I am saying that unless the new Clause is accepted, radio stations which I call commercial free enterprise stations, and to which hon. Gentlemen opposite want to attach the label "pirate", will be able to continue to transmit material audible in the United Kingdom, and probably very much enjoyed here. Those who own and manage them will be able to continue to make money in some cases, or to put out the propaganda of their respective regimes in some cases, and yet British people will not be allowed to do the same. I am saying that this is a strange example of self-imposed double standards. We are to require all our people to subscribe to a strange set of moral notions, and to this petty bumbledom of the Postmaster-General. Our people will have to do that, but others will not.

I asked the Postmaster-General, and he has not replied because he cannot, how he will achieve the discipline on others which he is now to impose on the British. I do not believe that he can do that. I hope that the people of this country will recognise over the months and years ahead that while we have passed legislation, and the suppression, punishment and condemnation which the Postmaster-General seeks has been implemented, others continue to broadcast, and there is nothing that he can do about it.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

It is perhaps a pity that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has been away in the United States as he might otherwise conceivably have been a member of the Standing Committee and could, during the course of those proceedings, have taken steps to educate himself on the subject. As it is, we have had the disadvantage of his lack of knowledge. On the other hand, we would have had to go through the educative process in the Committee, and that would have been painful at the time.

The Opposition are seeking by this new Clause to do what they sought to do once or twice, or more in Committee; that is to say, saying on the one hand that they agreed with the Government—and the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds has not yet caught up with this fact—that the pirates should be abolished, but tabling various Amendments intended to have the opposite effect. They could then have been in the satisfactory position, as they were when the Government of the country, of saying in theory that they thought that the pirates should be got rid of but doing nothing whatever about it in practice.

The hon. Member has not yet caught up with that point; he is not yet with the Members of his own Front Bench. He does not wish to get rid of the pirates, while they do. They say, however, that it should not be done yet, for this or that reason, but only at some later stage. That is what they have been telling us all along, and that would be the result of acceptance of the Clause.

The Clause seeks to say, "We will introduce a piece of legislation which will go on the Statute Book, but nothing else will happen until every other country in the area has passed similar legislation". Incidentally, I take it that because of the use of the word "simultaneously" it would all have to happen on the same day, but we will let that go.

I hope that this new Clause will not be pursued. It is a totally wrecking move and, if accepted, would prevent the Bill from coming into effect, which is what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds would like to achieve—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Yes, indeed.

Mr. Jenkins

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends would admit that that is what they want to achieve. They have been saying precisely the contrary. They said in Committee that they accepted the principles of the Bill but wished, so they told us then, to improve it. The hon. Member does not want to improve the Bill, but to kill it. That is the object of his exercise, and there should be some getting together on the benches opposite.

It may be that the hon. Member's sojourn in the United States has refreshed his enthusiasm for free enterprise—

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I find it very surprising that we should be asked to listen to a lesson from him on loyalty to the Front Bench.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Both hon. Members are getting a little away from the new Clause.

Mr. Jenkins

My own Front Bench is very satisfied with my attitude towards it, particularly in relation to this Bill. I think that my right hon. Friends have no complaint, but if they have they will no doubt let me know. I am not suggesting that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds is disloyal to his Front Bench, but merely that he is a little confused.

The new Clause would virtually strangle the Bill and make it ineffective. If the hon. Member wants to do that, he must support it, but no one can support it who says that there is here something that must be dealt with, that this pirate problem must be handled, and that we have a duty to tackle it—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned me a couple of times, perhaps I might make it absolutely clear that I think that the Bill is misconceived and ought to be thrown out. I believe that if a pirate station is stealing people's copyrights it should be sued, and that if it is interfering with navigation or anything else it should be kicked off that particular wavelength and that particular place. But it is one thing to deal with stations as they exist, and another to gear up the great machinery of Parliament to obliterate them altogether.

Mr. Jenkins

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his individual point of view, but it will be recognised as an individual point of view that has little in common with the views that have been expressed and will be expressed by his own Front Bench. As I think I have made absolutely clear, I regard the new Clause as an entirely wrecking endeavour, and I hope that the House will reject it.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Peyton

The fact that I am speaking at all is due entirely to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). I congratulate the Postmaster-General on having attracted his hon. Friend's loyalty in a way that a great many of his colleagues have failed to do, but this is no doubt due to the right hon. Gentleman's skill, which I am happy to acknowledge.

I admit that until this argument started between my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and the hon. Gentleman, I was not at all sure where my sympathies lay. There is always difficulty in anyone who was not a member of the Standing Committee intervening on Report, as it is always claimed against him that he is breaking into private ground and does not know the rules of the club, but, at the risk of outraging the sensibility and sensitivity of those who were members of the Committee, I should like to make a few passing observations.

I always very much regret this constant proliferation of the criminal law that we are told is necessary in the public interest. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is one of those who gallops into this position with enthusiasm, and I am sure that he has been careful before making his decision, but I nevertheless find it really abhorrent that Governments should—unless under great pressure and for overwhelming reasons—resort to the criminal law to carry out a policy like this, which is essentially oppressive and suppressive.

I imagine that it all springs from the single fact that people have varying tastes and a certain element of competition at once outrages the larger, more staid and more pompous institutions, which find it difficult to digest. My own view is that we would do well to wait for a period—perhaps not for as long as 10 years or until all countries have ratified the Agreement, but for a number of years—in order to see whether other countries have taken the same power or what considerations have led them to hold their hand.

I believe that there is something to be said for the new Clause, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will not think that it has been tabled purely from a party point of view. It concerns a matter that to me is one of very deep conviction. I recognise that all Governments, and I am not now talking about parties, find themselves tempted along the path of multiplying the criminal law, and sometimes they make themselves ludicrous by not being able to enforce that law. I hope that the Postmaster-General will have these points in mind.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I do not think that any of us, at least on this side of the Chamber, are eager to extend the criminal law. Such an extension is something that we must all consider very seriously. In this case, we have to consider the fact that the previous Government and this Government decided that action should be taken, but that it was rather useless to take it in isolation when all the other countries involved had no legislation on the subject and had no intention of legislating on it. It was because of that situation that we played a big part in getting this general agreement between the nations of Europe so as to make certain that when we went ahead our activities would not be nullified by these ships being able to obtain their services and supplies from other European countries.

We have gone a long way. It is quite true, as the Postmaster-General said, that a number of signatories have gone much further than we have, but there are others—Holland, for instance—whose action has been summary rather than going through the procedure of legislation. Nevertheless in regard to television pirate stations it achieved its object, although a different way of dealing with the matter was chosen.

I am afraid that if this new Clause were accepted it could start us all over again on a long-winded roundabout way of dealing with the problem. Other nations which have not ratified the Agreement and taken the necessary action would sit back because they saw that Great Britain was sitting back. Then many years could go by with each nation saying, "After you, George" and at the end of the day we would have taken no effective action to find a solution to the problem.

Although I do not like the introduction of Acts of Parliament which bring more people and more actions under the criminal law, the damage that has been done and is being done by these pirate stations does not need repeating. It has been repeated ad infinitum during the stages of this Bill. This new Clause could lead to a situation in which our action and that of other European nations would be put off for many years.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) paid tribute to the Postmaster-General for his success in winning the loyalty of his hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins). I pay the Postmaster-General far greater tribute because, whereas the hon. Member for Putney is generally in favour of the Bill, the Postmaster-General on Second Reading won the allegiance of large numbers of Members of his party who were totally against the Bill. This may have been due to the talents of the right hon. Gentleman exhibited in an earlier incarnation by dint of a three-line Whip. No one knows more than he what threats were exerted to evoke full orthodoxy and voting strength in the Lobbies. From that point of view the right hon. Gentleman deserves all the tributes we can give him.

The hon. Member for Putney tried to ascribe to hon. Members on this side of the House sinister motives in supporting this new Clause, but, if I understood him aright, the Postmaster-General got the point straight away and understood what we are trying to do. That is to give him the strength of his own convictions. He has been using the European Agreement as the basis for his action. This new Clause provides a means to carry that action to its logical conclusion. The Postmaster-General had a certain basis of logic but he did not observe the practical consequences. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) pointed out, the Postmaster-General is flouting the interests of listeners. They have shown to what they want to listen and the Gallup Polls have shown that they want the exact opposite to what the Bill provides.

The Postmaster-General said that if we passed the Bill it would enable us to bring pressure to bear on other countries, but that again is the precise opposite of the truth. As soon as we pass the Bill in its present form we shall be unable to bring pressure to bear on other countries and we shall make ourselves impotent in that regard. The idea that the right hon. Gentleman can bring some persuasion to bear on other countries such as he brought to bear on his hon. Friends on Second Reading is a great misconception. He could bring some pressure to bear if he accepted this new Clause and said to other countries, "Provided you carry out your obligations, we shall carry out ours." That is the way in which countries operate. This country would not then be placed at a disadvantage compared with others. He would have a weapon which could be used if he accepted the Clause.

Question put and negatived.