HC Deb 05 April 1967 vol 744 cc288-303

In any proceedings against a person for an offence under this Act it shall be a defence for him to prove that the broadcast was received in the United Kingdom during the hours of daylight—[Mr. Channon.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Channon

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

We have heard on numerous occasions, not only this afternoon but in Standing Committee and on Second Reading, from the Postmaster-General and his supporters of their motives in introducing the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) in his recent intervention referred to the alleged damage which pirate radio stations have caused. I should be interested to hear from him exactly what damage he thinks they have caused.

Mr. Mawby

May I ask my hon. Friend, if it is not too great a burden, to read the speech which I made on Second Reading rather than expect me to repeat what I said on that occasion?

Mr. Channon

Nothing will give me greater pleasure than to read the speech of my hon. Friend, but it is rather difficult for me to do that while I am speaking and I have not had an opportunity of reading that speech. I shall seek a later opportunity to deal with the remarks made by my hon. Friend on Second Reading.

It has always seemed to me that the only argument advanced against the pirate radios which deserves merit, apart from the footling arguments of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson) about safety—

Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East) rose

Mr. Channon

The hon. Member will have plenty of opportunity to intervene as the night wears on. The only argument of merit has been that of complaints of pirate stations interfering with broadcasts from other stations which, it is claimed, have been adversely affected. Without conceding that at this stage of the argument, I put forward a Clause with the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) to deal with broadcasts received in the United Kingdom during the hours of daylight. The point of the argument about interference deals with broadcasts at night. If there is any evidence to the contrary, no doubt the Postmaster-General will produce it. It is said, for various technical reasons with which I am not qualified to deal, that at night interference takes place with other broadcasts. If so, there should be some special defence for broadcasts during daylight hours.

At all stages of the Bill my hon. Friends have been concerned with one thing above all else—the interests of the viewer or the listener. The listener's choice should have paramount consideration. I willingly take the view that these pirate stations should not be put out of business, if that is the wish, until some acceptable alternative is provided. That has not been done by the Government, The Government have shilly-shallied in a ludicrous venture of local radio stations and have produced no satisfactory alternative. I am trying to help them. The assistance which my hon. Friend and I are offering is that they should allow these broadcasts to go on at least in daylight hours. Then the listener, if he wishes, will be able to listen to pirate radio stations during daylight hours but there could not be interference caused during night hours. This is a compromise. All Chief Whips should compromise. Some are more reluctant to do so than others. The Postmaster-General should think about some form of compromise.

5.30 p.m.

As the years pass, I accept that the situation must arrive when pirate radio stations will be replaced by another form of broadcasting. Most people agree with this view. I hope that we shall have some form of local commercial radio. I think that this view is supported by a number of hon. Members. In the end, pirate radio stations must go. My hon. Friend and I would be prepared to accept any Amendment to the Clause to the effect that, when an acceptable alternative has been found, the special defence of broadcasting during daylight hours should be removed. This is a transition phase.

On Second Reading the Postmaster-General said: I have received complaints from many European countries about this. I would draw the attention of the House particularly to the extreme patience which has been shown by the Italian Government and the Italian broadcasting authorities.… We in this House have a duty to fulfil towards our Italian and other friends in Europe, to ensure that this unwarrantable nuisance … is removed as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February 1967; Vol. 741, c. 630–1.] If it is an unwarrantable nuisance, my hon. Friend and I have produced a scheme which would entitle people to listen to pirate radio stations during the hours of daylight, and during the evening hours pirate radio stations would not cause the nuisance of which the Postmaster-General and the Italian broadcasting authorities have complained.

Millions of people in this country take pleasure from listening to pirate radio stations. They listen to such stations because no acceptable alternative is provided. If it was, they would listen to it. The consumer has chosen. I do not want the Government to get too deeply entrenched in the stereotyped Socialist attitude of ignoring the wishes of the consumer. The consumer, in this case the listener, comes first. If the listener prefers to listen to pirate radio stations, it is intolerable that the House, in a pettifogging Socialist manner, should try to do away with the pirate radio stations if an acceptable way is found of permitting them still to operate.

I therefore suggest that the Government should accept the Clause, which would provide, at least temporarily until an acceptable alternative is found, that a special defence would be available to people prosecuted for offences under the Bill. The defence would be that the broadcast was received in the United Kingdom during daylight hours.

The Postmaster-General and his colleagues will, no doubt, find innumerable drafting reasons for not accepting the Clause. It might be argued, for example, that the Measure applied to broadcasts made by British nationals everywhere and that it would therefore be ludicrous that someone in Australia, where the hours of darkness are different from the hours of darkness here, could make the defence that the broadcast was made during the hours of daylight in the United Kingdom. No one in his senses would put up such an argument. I am sure that the Postmaster-General will advance arguments on grounds of principle rather than on grounds of drafting.

I shall not detain the House much longer because I have no doubt that other hon. Members will wish to speak—during the hours of daylight, not during the night. My hon. Friend and I would be prepared to accept any reasonable compromise and any drafting Amendments that the Postmaster-General might wish to make. We wish to preserve the listener's right to choose. We do so by providing an acceptable compromise which would enable people to make the defence that their broadcast was received in the United Kingdom during the hours of daylight, when, I am informed, there is no interference.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

Eager as I am to hear the Postmaster-General accept at any rate the principle, if not the wording, of the Clause, I feel that I must make a few remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) moved the Clause with his customary gusto. His speech was somewhat shorter than usual, but I appreciate that he wants me to finish my speech in daylight.

I did not follow my hon. Friend's earlier remarks as closely as I would have liked, because I was eagerly going through the Second Reading speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), which caused me a certain amount of confusion. I have found one paragraph which I think is relevant. I was almost diverted by one reference to pornographic novels, but I have eventually arrived at this paragraph: The fact that there is a shortage of medium wavelength bands means that any further services must be provided on v.h.f. That does not detract in any way from the Clause, because the Clause refers only to daylight hours. The night hours will be dealt with by my hon. Friend and myself on new Clause No. 5.

Throughout our proceedings on the Bill, and particularly in his speech on Second Reading, the Postmaster-General has made out that the overlapping and stealing of other countries' wavelengths by pirate radio stations has been almost the major factor which led him to introduce the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech on Second Reading: They "— that is, the pirates— …'pirate' wavelengths which have been assigned by Governments to legitimate broadcasting authorities. Pirate broadcasters deliberately put themselves outside these controls and seize any wavelengths which best suit their purpose, whatever the effect their transmissions may have on the radio services of other countries."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th February, 1967; Vol. 741, cc. 627–87.] During daylight hours they do not do those things. On the medium wave, during daylight hours broadcasts carry only over a comparatively short distance. That is why my hon. Friend and I refer specifically in the Clause to daylight hours. The technical phrase—my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes will correct me if I am wrong—is what is known as a primary service area. The reflection effects are practically nonexistent for standard broadcasts during daylight hours. In other words, it is a very limited area which is covered by these broadcasts.

People prosecuted under the Bill should be able to make the defence provided for in the Clause that they have broadcast during daylight hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West said that the Bill provides no alternatives. We on this side feel strongly about that. My hon. Friend also referred to the Government's lack of consideration for the consumer. I have many thousands of constituents who listen to pirate radio stations during daylight, and also possibly during the evening. They will be upset it these stations are closed down without any alternative being provided. However, I cannot pursue that point on the Clause.

My hon. Friend and I have shown that the effect of these broadcasts in daylight is very different from the effect at night time. If the Clause were accepted my hon. Friend, and I would not only have greatly improved the Bill; we should also have done the Postmaster-General and the Government a great service.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I support the new Clause. Hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will appreciate that I supported almost all the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) on various Amendments and had the pleasure of moving a number of them myself when my hon. Friend had to go on work of national importance, including addressing the Hitchin Ladies Conservative Tea Club. It was not for that reason that I did not attach my name to this new Clause. It was because I had some honest reservations about it. It is clear that my hon. Friend has designed the new Clause to get round the various objections which the Government have made to our suggested alterations, but I am a little reluctant to support my hon. Friend's alternative, because I believe that the Government's objections themselves have not been substantiated. If the Government had proved the case for their objections, it might have been a useful exercise to try to get round them.

Mr. Channon

I accept that point of view. It is only because the Government are pressing ahead with this ludicrous Bill that I am trying to devise some compromise which will make this intolerably bad Bill a fraction better.

Mr. Taylor

I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate my hon. Friend on having made this proposal, and I am sure that we shall have an interesting debate upon it.

However, the objections which the Government have advanced have not been argued. For example, they have spoken of the shortage of wavelengths. In 1948, a plan was drawn up and the plain fact is that about 50 per cent, of the stations now operating were provided for in that plan. The Government do not need new powers to permit local sound broadcasting. Under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, which I read rather carefully before coming to this debate, the Government have power to license local sound radio stations.

Mr. Edward Short

On a point of order. I do not want to curtail debate or to stop the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), as he knows. However, this is simply a new Clause which would make it a defence if a broadcast were received in the United Kingdom during the hours of daylight. It has nothing to do with alternatives.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. I was about to remind the hon. Member that the scope of the new Clause is very limited. This is not a Second Reading debate.

Mr. Channon

Further to that point of order. Is it not an argument in favour of the new Clause to say that if there were an acceptable alternative, the new Clause would not be necessary?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

All that is in order on the new Clause is a discussion of whether it should be a defence to prove that a broadcast was received during the hours of daylight.

Mr. Taylor

I am sorry if I transgressed. It was not my intention to do so and I was simply leading to a question which is relevant. Can the Postmaster-General confirm or deny that the Wireless Telegraph Act, 1949, with which he will be familiar, gives the Government power to allow daytime broadcasting by pirate stations? That seems to be the case because of the nonexclusive nature of the B.B.C. Charter, but I should like confirmation.

Under the present Government, as with most things, daylight comes a little later in Scotland than in the rest of the country, but this is not a major objection in principle. The new Clause would enable us to continue pirate radio stations in a limited way throughout the country, and that is very important to areas like Scotland where there are not the various alternatives which are available elsewhere. I tried to explain in Committee that in some parts of Scotland, in particular in Argyllshire and the Highlands, a pirate station is the only radio or television programme received. It is all very well for hon. Members like the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) and the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) to support the Bill without deviation, because in their constituencies people have all kinds of radio and television programmes and although their constituents may not be better off for some of the programmes which they get, at least they have a wide choice. In some parts of Scotland we have only Radio Scotland provided from a pirate ship, and unless we have some relief such as that proposed in the new Clause, we shall be cut off from this contact with so-called civilisation and lose such form of entertainment as the people in these areas have. If there were some form of compromise, the Government should carefully consider it.

5.45 p.m.

This is a very strange Bill, because every argument which the Government have put forward in its support has been utterly and completely demolished by my right hon. and hon. Friends. It is difficult to argue for a compromise when the Government's basic argument has never been substantiated. However, the new Clause would provide a halfway house and we could preserve some local sound broadcasting and bring relief to parts of the country where there is nothing else. I hope that the Government will consider the problem of remote areas where no alternative service is provided and will not think only of the plush areas like Putney and Meriden where local people have all the services of radio and television and the prospect of colour television. I hope that the Government will have some regard for areas where the pirate radio stations are the only means of entertainment, so that at least we can have sound radio from them during the daylight hours.

Perhaps there is more need in the hours when we do not have daylight, because in some of these areas they do not even have that extra pleasure of electric light. These remote areas and their problems should be remembered when we discuss this compromise, and if the Government regard this compromise as entirely unacceptable, I hope that they will find another. For example, would it not be possible to redraft the Clause so that areas of Scotland would be able to continue having these programmes during daylight and night hours. It ought to be possible to change the wording of the Clause to cover the serious difficulties which I have mentioned.

Mr. Dobson

I listened with amusement, as we have listened with amusement before, to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor). I know that he means well, but I would have much preferred him to say categorically as he appeared to be starting to say, that he was not in favour of the new Clause. I am not in favour of it.

I start from that point because of something which the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) said about me. He said that most of the things which I had said on Second Reading had not been proven or come to pass. However, that is demonstrably untrue. If he looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT, he will find that I was interrupted by one of my hon. Friends—which proves something about interference—and that in the speech which we were again recommended by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) to read, and which I browsed through very quickly, there is substantiation of many of the arguments which I put forward a little earlier in that debate.

This is the issue of whether we should agree to broadcasts being received in the United Kingdom during the hours of daylight. Technical problems immediately arise about what are the hours of daylight, and the hon. Member for Cathcart himself almost got into a detailed discussion of that issue. When discussing wireless wavebands, it has to be remembered that it is daylight in some areas when it is not daylight in others. I accept that it is said that the programme would be received in daylight, but the period of daylight varies from place to place, quite substantially between some areas. That would make it difficult to implement the Clause.

Mr. Channon

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not basing his case on that argument, because it can be met at once. Any hours of daylight can be defined—perhaps by the use of lighting-up times. It is an indefensible argument to say that the hours of daylight cannot be defined, for nothing is easier than finding such an acceptable definition. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will base his arguments on principle rather than on drafting.

Mr. Dobson

There is a very good example of how such a difficulty could arise. It has been suggested that interference is caused only at night time, but that is not true. There can be interference to a ship which is passing close to a station working in daylight or at night. If there is interference, it is as possible for it to occur in the daytime as at night. Hon. Members have been arguing that there would be no interference with other countries during the daytime, but they are ignoring the fact that there could be interference with people operating in this country during daylight. It is probably not true to say that there would be no interference with other countries during daylight.

In any case, even if one could not demonstrate that it was not true from a technical point of view, I am sure that we could produce technical experts to say that it was possible to have interference of this kind. I remember being in mid-Atlantic during the war and listening at one and the same time to a distress message from a ship which had been torpedoed and interruptions in that message from Walvis Bay, in South-West Africa. This was on the medium wave, very much the same sort of wavelength as that used by the pirate stations to which hon. Members have referred.

It is possible to have interference in daylight, and such interference is not necessarily local. Transmissions of this sort can cause wide interference. Purely on technical grounds, I regard the new Clause as bad. No need can be shown for this type of provision. As the hon. Member for Southend, West and others have said many times, the pirate stations are illegal and they cause a nuisance. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have the decency now to withdraw his Clause.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My only objection to the new Clause is that it goes nowhere near far enough. The only place in the United Kingdom where I can imagine the phrase "during the hours of daylight" being adequate to meet my wishes in the matter is in the extreme north of Scotland. It may be that daylight hours in Thurso and Wick would enable one to listen until almost midnight, and that would meet at least some of my concern in the matter.

I am concerned about the consumer, as all of us on this side of the House are. Those who listen to the free commercial radio stations in daylight are not just irresponsible teen-agers. They are some of the most useful and productive people in the country. I speak here from direct experience in my constituency. I have come across lorry drivers, for example, who find the pirate radio stations to which they can listen in daylight a useful companion on long journeys, and they have said to me that, if those radio stations were driven out of existence, they would find their journeys more lonely and they would not enjoy their work anywhere near so much.

Many factory workers in East Anglia listen with pleasure regularly to the broadcasts which are at present available to them in daylight hours. If these music stations are taken from them, people will not so readily enjoy the long hours of drudgery which many of them have to do at machines, and so on, in factories.

The same is true of tractor drivers. The Postmaster-General is not a well-known agriculturist. I assure him that, if he goes about to watch men ploughing in the fields of West Suffolk, he will find many a tractor driver, with a transistor radio set slung across his cab, listening to the pirate radio broadcasts during daylight.

Above all, there is the housewife. My interest in pirate radio stations—I confess that I never listened to them till this happened—arose when I was going from door to door at a by-election some years ago. I found housewife after housewife listening to a kind of music which I had never heard before. I admit that it was a revelation to me, and I asked them where the music came from. I was told that they got it from Radio Caroline, Radio London and so on, and only then did I become aware of these stations and start listening to them.

Mr. Rowland

How can the hon. Gentleman, with his long and distinguished record of residence in the United States, say that he had never heard this kind of station before?

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I had never before heard these stations which are audible in the United Kingdom. I assure the House that housewives in my constituency and, I believe, in all hon. Members' constituencies listen regularly and with pleasure to these stations during the daylight hours.

Another splendid example of a daylight listener is the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor as Postmaster-General, who once told an interviewer that he listened —I do not know whether he still does—to Radio Caroline in the mornings while loofahing his back in the bath. I do not know whether the present Postmaster-General does that—I doubt it—but it is interesting that a distinguished Minister of the present Government admitted that during daylight hours he listened to Radio Caroline.

What will happen if the pirate radio stations are blotted out in daylight hours? In my constituency it is frequently impossible to receive the B.B.C. programmes in daylight. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying that this is the fault of the pirates. The simple answer is that the power of the radio broadcasts which the B.B.C. puts out is inadequate. Perhaps it ought to have more capital and better equipment. Whatever the reason, the fact is that large numbers of people in West Suffolk often cannot receive the B.B.C. programmes well during daytime.

Not long ago, in my own cottage I had the radio set on and the only B.B.C. programme one could hear was a series of lessons in Chinese. My wife preferred to listen to Radio Caroline. If the Postmaster-General has his way, my wife will be deprived of the music which she enjoys and she will have to listen to lessons in Chinese, whether she likes it or not. She can switch off, of course, and she may be advised to do that if she is confronted by a B.B.C. monopoly.

The effect of the new Clause is to ask that the British people be allowed to continue listening to free enterprise commercial radio in daylight. This must be right. It must be right because the people have demonstrated again and again that that is what they want. The Government want to deprive the British people of something which they have demonstrated that they desire, and it is for that reason that I have the greatest pleasure in supporting this Clause and any other which would work in that direction.

Mr. Edward Short

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) is, I believe, a spokesman in this House for the Police Federation.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I regard that as a most mischievous, impertinent and invidious observation by the Postmaster-General, and I hope that he will with draw it. I am not—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order. It is an observation which one is entitled to make in debate.

Mr. Short

I withdraw the words that the hon. Gentleman is a spokesman in the House. He is a paid official, a paid spokesman, of the Police Federation.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw that?

Mr. Short


Mr. Eldon Griffiths

If the Postmaster-General wishes to refer to my affiliation with the Police Federation, will he please get it right? I should be glad to advise him in detail on what my relation is to the Federation.

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman referred to the pirate stations as free enterprise commercial stations. Does he know that we have prosecuted all the stations which are believed to be within the jurisdiction, that in every case we have obtained a conviction, that in one case a station has been prosecuted and fined heavily twice and it is still broadcasting today, defying the law? Yet the hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the Police Federation, talks about them here as knights in shining armour.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) asked me to deal with this question on the basis of principle and not drafting. I shall do that. I think that the drafting of the new Clause is all right.

There is a misunderstanding about the technical factors involved. Whether or not a particular broadcast is received in the United Kingdom depends on a number of technical factors. On the medium wave, it is mainly the design of the receiving rather than the transmitting installation which determines whether the broadcast can be received. That is a factor which is independent of the culpability of the broadcaster and his supporters.

Medium-wave transmissions do not carry nearly so far in daylight as in darkness. In daylight, the problem may be to hear a distant station at all, whereas in darkness the problem is to disentangle it from a host of other stations which can then be heard. It follows that if a station is received on an ordinary receiver in the United Kingdom in daylight it is likely to be fairly near the United Kingdom. Therefore, the new Clause would encourage broadcasters to set up their stations as near to the shores of the United Kingdom as possible.

6.0 p.m.

Moreover, it can be safely said that if a station is likely to be received in the United Kingdom during daylight it is even more likely to be received during darkness. Therefore, if the Clause were adopted, it would virtually have the effect of allowing pirate broadcasting to carry on with impunity and so defeat the whole purpose of the Bill and of the European Agreement, in which the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) played a great part when the Conservative Government were in office.

However, it may be that the hon. Members who support the Clause intend merely that it shall have the effect that proceedings shall not be instituted in connection with pirate stations which operate only during the hours of daylight. I agree that there could be a glimmer of reason behind that. During daylight, pirate stations cause much less widespread interference to other radio services than during the hours of darkness. But that is not sufficient justification for exempting them from the Bill. It remains necessary for the wavelengths and other technical characteristics of all radio transmitting stations to be regulated by Governments and to prevent the freedom of the high seas being used for the evasion of copyright obligations, to say nothing of the potential dangers to shipping, which are not a lot of "hooey" but are a real and ever-present danger so long as those ships operate.

I agree with the hon. Member who spoke about the threat to individual freedom. I am as concerned as anybody else about that in the present age, whatever Government is in office. I am all for preserving as much individual freedom as possible, but if anything in this world needs to be regulated it is broadcasting. If the pirate stations were legalised or ignored they would proliferate. If the Government of Great Britain said today, "We shall ignore the pirate stations or legalise them", we should immediately have not 10 but dozens of them around our shores.

That would create complete chaos in the ether within a very short time, even in daylight. This is quite a small country and that would be inevitable. The pirate stations are very high-powered; one only needs to listen to Radio 390 in London to realise how high-powered they are. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) pointed out that Radio Scotland, which was on a ship moored in the Clyde until the Procurator Fiscal intervened, was the only station which could be heard in the far North of Scotland. Clearly, if Radio Scotland could be heard in the North of Scotland during daylight, Radio 390, with a much more powerful transmitter, could be heard over large parts of Europe during the hours of daylight. I therefore cannot accept a compromise which would half legalise and half outlaw the pirate stations.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Could the Postmaster-General say something about the possibility of beaming broadcasts? Whereas Radio 390 could be heard in Europe if beamed towards it, it is technically possible to beam and screen broadcasts in a certain direction. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's final point would be met if the ships were beamed westwards rather than eastwards.

Mr. Short

That is based on the premise that they are legalised or licensed. That does not come under the new Clause, which concerns whether it should be a defence that a broadcast was received in the United Kingdom during the hours of daylight.

Mr. Channon

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman conceded that there was a glimmer of reason in the new Clause, and that he thinks that we have a case.

But it is typical of him that although he concedes that we have a case he will do nothing about it. He talks of a threat to individual freedom, but goes on to threaten it himself because he is taking away people's rights. The only reason I do not ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for the Clause is that I agree with their criticisms that it does not go far enough; I should not like it to go out from this House that I wished only that the new Clause should be acted upon by itself.

Therefore, I shall ask leave to withdraw the new Clause, although one thing that nearly made me ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for it was the totally unworthy and untypical smear which the Postmaster-General sought to make at the opening of his speech, which thoroughly disgusted me. But I do not wish to raise the temperature further and I therefore ask leave to withdraw the new Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.