HC Deb 28 June 1967 vol 749 cc422-69

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Armstrong.]

10.16 a.m.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

I would, perhaps, be best serving the interests of the House, Mr. Speaker, by coming straight to the point, rather than dwelling on the historic nature of an occasion on which the Liberal Party has had the privilege of selecting the business of the House. It may be that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party will refer to that aspect if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye. By that time, I hope that it will have become apparent that this occasion has been valuable not only to the Liberal Party but to the House as a whole.

It is with that point in mind that we have selected for debate the Television Act, 1964, and its consequences. No one can deny the importance of the subject. In so far as it affects the quantity and quality, the general character and range of choice of television programmes it affects us all. It has some personal implications for all those whose livelihoods depend in one way or another on television—those who work in it, those who invest in it. It has equally serious implications for those who are concerned with the way in which news and information is disseminated. Perhaps it has the most serious implications of all for those concerned about the manner in which power is wielded in a Parliamentary democracy.

There can be no doubt about the power. The power to award or take away fortunes, to bestow or to remove influence, to say who shall or who shall not operate in this sphere, is of very much more than mere passing interest. Let us be clear that in operating this power and taking the steps it has taken the Independent Television Authority is doing no more than discharging the duty laid on it by this House.

Let us also be clear that in carrying out these very heavy responsibilities the Authority is not accountable for its actions in what we have come to regard as the ordinary sense. We are getting a little too used, in my opinion, to power being exercised by non-elected bodies, but where it is so exercised the House has a special responsibility to see that the public interest is being served. The Guardian has already made some pungent comments on I.T.A.'s accountability to this House, but we can do something to neutralise the effect of our lack of direct authority.

I would first ask the House to consider whether the special position of the I.T.A. does not indicate that its proceedings should be open, as far as is conveniently possible, to public scrutiny. Let us take the kind of criteria on which the Authority exercises its powers and makes its decisions. I believe that these criteria ought now to be published much more widely than has hitherto been the case. It seems to me to be very difficult to expect a company to conform to the wishes of the Authority unless those wishes are clearly known.

I believe, too, that it is important that the Authority's wishes should be made clear in a public sense so that the public itself can decide whether or not it approves of the sort of criteria upon which the Authority bases its decisions. The public might also wish from time to time to comment on the extent to which existing companies are conforming with those criteria.

In other words, I am not at all sure that we can be entirely happy with a situation in which the axe suddenly falls at the end of an allotted period. If the Authority has comments to make on the record of a company, on its progress and on what it is doing, the Authority has a duty to make those comments on a more continuing basis, or there should be at least some kind of half-term report.

In saying that, I want to emphasise that if the Authority is to make such comments it is necessary that those comments should be made in every way publicly. To encourage the Authority to make comments privately to a company would give it powers of censorship which are, perhaps, even more objectionable than any other kind of censorship, in that it would be a kind of secret censorship. It would be exerting influence without the manner in which that influence was being exerted being seen by the public. Therefore, let us have a clear statement of the kind of criteria upon which the Authority is to base its decisions.

Next—this is equally important—I believe that the public is entitled to see and to scrutinise, to some extent at least, the bids which are made by various companies which seek contracts. Were we now to have an opportunity to study some of the bids which were made at the very beginning of television, we might find that there has been a conspicuous difference between performance and previous promise. At least the publication of these bids would show the public what sort of evidence was before the Authority and would enable the public to make up its own mind and make its comments through the channels which are open to it.

Further, it would have a salutary effect in that, if the bid had been published and if certain important points in the bids had been evident, comment would immediately occur if the promises which were made initially were not being kept. Therefore, this could have an important effect in maintaining standards once a company has actually got the contract.

Objections may be raised to this procedure. It may be said that one of the important considerations which the Authority has had to have in mind is the type of artistic and creative talent available and that sometimes people associated with a company making a bid might not wish their association to be known, unless they have been successful, since they may at that time have formal connections with other companies or with the B.B.C. If the connection of such a creative person is to be so important a matter as to weigh heavily with the Authority in its decision, I should have thought that it ought to be on a very much less tenuous basis than one where the person concerned is not prepared to stand up and be counted and be seen.

Next, I think there is reason to ask the Authority, when it makes its decisions, to publish at the same time some kind of judgment giving formally the reasons why it has preferred A to B, the reasons why it has taken certain steps. It has done so, up to a point. If the procedure were formalised to a greater extent, it would have undoubted advantages.

It has been suggested that we could go still further and have the entire proceedings held in public. I accept that there are difficulties about this, although I think that there is possibly a case for some kind of cross-examination procedure to be adopted during the course of the investigations into the various bidders. I certainly think that the record of the proceedings ought to be kept and ought to be published once final decisions have been made.

The final point in relation to bringing these whole proceedings more closely under public scrutiny would be the consideration of some kind of appeal mechanism. Again, I realise that there are difficulties. One would not wish to establish some kind of appellate machinery which would gum up the entire works and which would necessarily encourage everybody who has been unsuccessful to appeal. But there are precedents for controlling appeals. In the law generally the right to appeal is not necessarily automatic.

I doubt whether the Postmaster-General would wish to exercise this function and be the person responsible for an appeal. It is certainly possible that he might be the person who could vet applications to appeal, and certain types of criteria could be decided upon which an appeal might be allowed to go ahead. Then perhaps we could devise some kind of machinery, such as a committee of the Privy Council, so that there would be appeal machinery.

I want to be clear about this. I do not want to be misunderstood. I believe that the Authority has discharged its functions in a highly responsible way, but we should be unwise to ignore the fact that the possibilities of corruption in this sort of enterprise are almost limitless; and perhaps, what is even more relevant, the possibilities of accusations—even ill-founded accusations—of corruption are clearly there. For that reason, if for that reason alone, some kind of appeal mechanism ought to be introduced.

I move on from the question of opening up the whole proceedings to public scrutiny to look at the constitution of the Authority itself. When it was orginally set up, the whole prospects for independent television were seen to be rather different. Certainly it was not possible to anticipate at that stage the kind of developments which have taken place. Without making any criticism whatsoever of the members of the Authority, I begin to wonder whether the Authority needs strengthening in certain directions in order to enable it to discharge certain functions which were not envisaged when it was set up.

I have in mind the possible need for the presence on the Authority of one, two, or perhaps three, members who have had direct personal experience in producing, presenting, or otherwise managing, television programmes. This is important. The implications of having on the Authority people who are familiar with the practice of the Stock Exchange and various matters which flow from that will probably be taken up by other hon. Members.

On the question of having on the Authority people with a knowledge of television in a practical sense, there are some special points to be made. I want to look at a very new development. It is now proposed—I am sure that the House will welcome the proposals—that the Independent Television News should mount each night a half-hour news magazine programme. It is quite clear that this must be an editorial programme. It must be comment of some kind. This is a function which the I.T.N. has never previously exercised. To whom is it to be responsible—to the Authority? To what extent is the Authority geared, in the sort of way the B.B.C. is geared, to exercise some kind of control over balance, over the selection of material, and so on?

I am inclined to the view that the Television Act has, in many ways, proved to be rather more restrictive on television producers than the Charter of the B.B.C. The B.B.C. has an overall obligation to present a balance of programmes, to present minority opinion, and to behave in a generally fair way. It is an overall requirement. The Act at any rate tends to be interpreted as requiring independent companies to balance each programme within the programme. This can sometimes have some extremely unfortunate effects. I believe there was one quite recently.

One of the independent companies, as hon. Members will know, managed to secure an interesting, and I think important, interview with President Nasser. The company wished to put it out. It was not allowed to put it out in the one programme, unless it could put out simultaneously a corresponding type of interview with an Israeli spokesman. The company therefore had to make hurried efforts to get this. It managed to get it. The net effect was that it had an interview with Nasser which had been prepared and recorded under ideal circumstances and which was a very telling interview; and then, added to that by way of balance, was an infinitely less telling interview with an Israeli spokesman. The result was that, in the struggle to secure balance within the programme, an unbalanced programme was produced.

I believe that had the company concerned been allowed to go ahead as it wished and then say, "This is purely the Arab point of view. We hope to bring the authoritative Israeli point of view in a later programme tomorrow", the interests of what we all have in mind would have been served. This emphasises the point I want to make. Is the Authority geared to undertake these rather delicate professional activities?

I had a personal experience of this kind. Many years ago I was endeavouring to present a programme on clean air and smokeless zones. I discovered that it was going to be extremely difficult to put on the programme unless I could unearth a reluctant representative from a backward local authority and drag him to the studio to say that he did not agree with clean air zones. This is not the sort of thing which was originally intended, nor what the Act specifically lays down, but it is likely to arise while the Authority continues to be weak in its personnel and in experience of these things.

The introduction of independent television has had on the whole an extremely good influence. The competitive influence has been valuable. It has had a valuable effect on the B.B.C. The improvement which took place in the B.B.C.'s news coverage was spectacular when it had competition. The one field in which I have some particular criticism is that of the regional programmes. This in part is because Independent Television in this field has not had the kind of competition from the B.B.C. that it should have had. The B.B.C., being very centrally based, has tended not to compete. One has only to go to the B.B.C. regional headquarters in Leeds or Manchester to see positive temples of unregionalism. If the B.B.C. competed more in this direction the independent companies might have a better record.

In another respect, whilst the companies are acting perfectly properly, they are tending to take steps which I regret. Once they are in, and have the opportunity of amassing great profits, they use them to diversify. They take steps to get into parallel, indeed sometimes quite perpendicular, activities. The business of a television company is television. Nevertheless, we must be aware that the atmosphere of insecurity which is now enveloping this industry understandably will, if anything, accelerate the tendency to diversify. That will be to the detriment of television.

I pass on to something which I believe to be fundamental. That is the matter of diversification in another sense. I refer to the rôle and intervention of the Press in Independent Television. In the early days this was discussed at some length. To what extent should newspapers be allowed to take part in this immense enterprise? Certain newspapers expressed their views very strongly and later they expressed quite contrary views equally strongly. The fact remains that we have seen in this period an increase of intervention. We have seen recently in the award of contracts that it is perfectly simple for any newspaper to get into television provided it can associate itself with a bid in its own area.

If the company is not successful the newspaper will be interpolated into the one which is successful. We should examine to what extent this is a good thing. Are we concerned about an evolutionary process which could lead to these two great media coming under one unified control? This is something which the House should consider. What is the object of this exercise? Why are newspapers automatically to be allowed in? Is it because it is felt that they have a special rôle in interpreting local life? I remind the House that it is the people at the top—not the editors and those who produce the newspapers, who are moving into television—but the dynamism from the top. Or is there a feeling that the Press will suffer considerably from loss of advertisement revenue and therefore it has to receive a kind of oblique subsidy? If it is this, it is something we should either do or not do on purpose. We should not merely allow it gradually to evolve.

I am as concerned as any hon. Member about the plight of the Press and the possible disappearance of newspapers. This is desperately important and the well being of the Press is important, but we should not allow it to have a subsidy through an evolutionary process which merely happens because of the way in which the Television Authority acts. Let us consider whether this in the long term is in the interests of the Press. When the driving force behind a specific newspaper—say such a local newspaper as I have in mind—is appointed to a key position in a television company, where does the interest lie? Will the tendency not be to concentrate on this new and important output, and will there not be a tendency to regard the particular newspaper as less and less important? Is it not pssible that in the long run individual newspapers whose heads are now moving into television might ultimately suffer since the degree to which their people enter into television must ultimately be at the expense of the newspapers?

I think many hon. Members would like to see new developments in this field. I should like us to explore more closely the recommendations of the Pilkington Committee. I do not agree with the whole Report, but I think one aspect was not pursued far enough. That was that we should consider whether or not it is possible to separate the matter of the sale of advertisements from the matter of competition in the producion of programmes. This is a matter on which I hope we shall hear some comment. I should like to hear about the limitation of profits. That becomes very apparent when we look at the extremely relevant article in this morning's Times' Business Supplement. We should consider the method which I think the Authority itself prefers of some excess profits tax based on capital employed rather than a levy which appears not to be acting in the interests—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are on the Adjournment. It is not in order to suggest new legislation, but the hon. Member may refer incidentally to the possibility of new legislation.

Dr. Winstanley

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Speaker. I have referred incidentally to the possibility of new legislation. We might explore still further the idea of broadcasting being under some kind of unified control by way of a broadcasting commission such as was mentioned by the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not asking for this so that there should be more interference but so that in the long run there should be less, because I believe in television. I believe in the people who do the work. I do not think it makes any difference whether that work is done for public or for private companies. I believe that the producer of television is interested in television and wants to get on with the production of good programmes but the arrangements at the moment do not always have that result. If there are difficulties in mounting a current affairs programme, sometimes in the end the producer in desperation will say, "Let us put on some girls or a 'quiz'. There will be no difficulty about that and no argument about balance." I should like to go on more about that, but I must not.

Most of the things I have said to the House today were said years ago in my party's evidence to the Pilkington Committee. We thought they were right then, and I hope that the passage of time and events which have taken place during that time will have led others to the conclusion that they are right today. I look forward to the contributions of other hon. Members on this subject. I believe they will be put forward with the intention of providing the best possible television, the best and widest range of choice of television, providing adequate protection—and they need some protection or reassurance—for those who work in television and serving the public interest along the lines I have indicated. In that spirit we selected this important subject for debate and discussion by the House today.

10.40 a.m.

Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), whose researches, I understand, prompted this morning's debate, thereby, incidentally, ensuring such a large turn-out of Irish Nationalists on the benches opposite.

I congratulate the Independent Television Authority on the broad balance of decisions which it has recently announced. Before the decisions were announced, it was said in many quarters that it would be difficult for the I.T.A. to alter the structure of the programme companies; that it would be impossible for newcomers to prove their ability in advance; that if any change were made it would, in effect, be self-criticism by the I.T.A.; and that it would be difficult to disturb the established commercial concerns. Lord Hill and his colleagues have shown that they have not been frightened by such considerations.

I turn now to what I regard as the good points of the decisions which have been announced. First, they have shown the authority of the Independent Television Authority. The Authority has asserted its rights. It has shown that it is interested primarily in programmes and only secondarily in the question of profits. I shall return later to defend that order of importance.

Second, the Authority's decisions on balance will have a salutary effect on the future of commercial television in this country, because any sensible television operator from now on will regard the retention of his franchise as one of the crucial factors in his operations over the next six years. There may have been some doubt about whether he needed to look very carefully at this during the past six years, but there will be no doubt about it in future.

Third—here I take issue with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley)—I believe that it is very good that the Authority's decisions were reached in absolute secrecy and confidence. In my view, there are no possibilities of corruption. But I am inclined to think that only in this country could an operation of this kind be done, and it is precisely because there is not corruption in our public life that this kind of thing can be done in secrecy anti confidence. I am sure that to do it in any other way, for instance, by throwing the matter over to a Parliamentary Committee, as is occasionally suggested, would be quite impossible.

I applaud the decisions announced, also, because Lord Hill has indicated that the Authority will set up a trust fund to assist those arts and sciences which support broadcasting, a trust fund drawn from the profits of the independent television companies. I hope that this will be the thin end of, perhaps, a very broad wedge. Roughly speaking, the position at present is that the independent television companies have an income of about £100 million a year, out of which they have to provide one national network, and the B.B.C. has an income of about £64 million a year, out of which it provides two national networks and three radio services. Clearly, there is a large amount of money in independent television which could be used by the I.T.A. in its trust fund scheme to support all sorts of worthy enterprises.

Another reason why, on balance, I congratulate the I.T.A.—here again, to some extent, I take issue with the hon. Member for Cheadle—is that I think that it has been good to involve the Press in the way it has been done. I am inclined to share the hon. Gentleman's view that this has been an attempt to compensate the Press for a loss of advertising revenue, but I take the view that, if a small stake in commercial television is of great benefit to, say, the Observer or the Spectator, this is a desirable development, so long as it is kept within bounds. The small size of the stakes which have been given keeps it within bounds.

In this connection, one must bear in mind that the I.T.A. has at the same time severely cut down the stake of the Thomson Organisation in Scottish Television. In other words, although no one would defend a situation in which one organisation could have a controlling interest in the Press and in television, which is what the I.T.A. attacked in the Scottish instance, if the Press can have a small stake, this can be a useful and, perhaps, crucial factor in the finances of newspapers, including the provincial Press as well. On balance, therefore, I regard this as a move to be defended.

I come now to certain points of concern. Although I believe that the decisions should be reached in secrecy by the members of the Independent Television Authority—I congratulate them on the extraordinary confidentiality which they managed to maintain—I consider that, once the decisions have been reached, the applications of the successful applicants and a resume of the evidence which they put to the I.T.A. should be published. This is desirable so that not only the House but the public in general may know what assurances were given about, example, the new programming scheme for the London weekend, about the invigoration of Welsh culture and about the increased identification of programmes with the Midlands, to be undertaken by Thames Television, the Harlech consortium and A.T.V. respectively. This should be on the record once they have been successful in their applications.

My second point of concern is inherent in what has happened, that is, the possible effect on the programme standards and operations of the contractors who now have only the fag-end of a lease—in other words, what one might call the T.W.W. problem. It is rather like the old situation in the United States when there was a "lame duck" President elected in November and not to be inaugurated until the following March. The Americans have cut that four months down to some six weeks.

In commercial television, we have a "lame duck" contractor with 12 months to go. It might be worth suggesting to the Independent Television Authority that the period could be cut down when it makes the next allocation of contracts. Although this would mean that the new successful contractor would have a correspondingly shorter period to get ready, some consideration should be given to the question whether the 12 months' period could be shortened.

The third point of concern is that, now that it has been shown that a contractor can lose his licence, there will be pressure in some quarters to maximise profits during the secured period of his licence. This goes against the argument which I put earlier, that a sensible contractor will try to make sure that his programme standards will ensure renewal of his licence, but within any programme operator there will always be two forces at work, one taking what I regard as the sensible view and the other saying perhaps, "We may lose our licence in any case, so let us make as much as we can while the going is good". The I.T.A. will have to spell out in the next two or three years that it will be bad business if purely business interests determine the programme standards of a contractor. But there may well be pressure in the other direction, particularly from the financial elements involved in the programme companies.

Other points of concern have been expressed which, to some extent, I would play down. First, there is the question of the involvement of Members of the House. Second, there is the size of potential profits. I know that you will correct me, Mr. Speaker, if I go out of order, but I should like to say, speaking as one with no interest whatever to declare in commercial television, that I see no reason why Members of Parliament should not be not only directors but chairmen of commercial television companies. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I say that for the very good reason that I cannot distinguish between being chairman of an independent television company and being chairman of any other private commercial organisation.

Any such distinction would be very difficult to establish. If it is decided that chairmen of private commercial companies ought not to be Members of the House, we shall exclude a great many right hon. and hon. Members, not merely the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Crawley) and, in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Harlech. I do not think that it is the function of the I.T.A. to decide who shall and who shall not be a Member of the House of Commons. If the House takes this view—and clearly some hon. Members do—it is for the House of Commons to decide and not the I.T.A. Far too much fuss has been made of this, not least in the leader columns of The Times. I doubt if there is any suggestion from that quarter that Lord Thomson should have to give up his seat in the House of Lords.

I strongly take the view that the question of profits is not the most important point to watch. Throughout broadcasting, the most important thing is the programmes and their quality and standard. If large profits are made, that is a secondary consideration with which we should deal in its own right. We should not regard dealing with the profits as the first function, because in trying to do so it is possible to end up by adversely affecting programme standards. Any solution applied to the profit problem must apply the cutting edge of programme standards.

One of the currently fashionable theories, which was not advanced by the hon. Gentleman but which I expect to hear later in the debate, is that the way to deal with the problem of excess profits is to have a second commercial channel; in other words, that sheer competition and competition for advertising revenue will make profits more difficult to earn. I am sure that that is true both in theory and in practice, but we must consider its effect on programme standards. I have no doubt that two commercial channels competing for roughly the same amount of advertising revenue would have a damaging effect on programme standards. The competition—competition to survive in some cases—would be so intense that it would probably produce forces that the I.T.A. could not contain, however well-intentioned it was.

I, therefore, support the statement by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General in the White Paper, Broadcasting, Cmnd. 3169, that no fourth television channel is contemplated for at least the next three years. I hope that under this Government there will be no second commercial channel. I believe that the key point in broadcasting is that structure determines programme standards. In effect, the present structure is of two monopolies—a monopoly of public service broadcasting by the B.B.C. and a monopoly of commercial broadcasting by the I.T.A. I believe that monopoly in this sphere has produced good broadcasting and altering the structure in order to deal with the profits problem would reduce programme standards. In other words, one would be looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

Having said that, and having tried to make clear that programmes come first and that structure affects their standards, I agree that there is a problem about profits. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have doubts and reservations about the large sums of money which can be made in television and which are in effect allocated by the I.T.A. in giving out the contracts. There are various solutions. It has been suggested that there should be tendering for contracts, and that they should go to the highest bidder. I am against that. It would be difficult in some cases even for the applicants to know what figure to tender. For instance, the cost of colour television may be greater than is realised, and on a tendering basis a licence could be given to contractors who end up by losing money.

The hon. Member for Cheadle, who has considered the allocation of contracts for motorway service stations, knows the kind of problem one can get into with that system. Another way of dealing with the problem, which I hope will be used to some extent, is for the I.T.A. to insist on high programme standards, because there is no doubt that they mean that less money will be made. I hope that the I.T.A. will carry on doing this. A third possibility is the trust fund, which I have mentioned, and which I said could be the thin end of a broad wedge. The fourth possibility is a higher rental charge by the I.T.A., and the fifth is a higher levy, by the Government. I tend to share the view of the hon. Member for Cheadle that it will be desirable if, in the light of recent and current events, the Government once again look at the Pilkington Recommendations.

I am interested in a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General recently to the Association of Broadcasting Staff. Referring to the present broadcasting system, he said that one of its defects is the dichotomy between the public and private sectors", which … creates a financial problem of such dimensions that it is difficult to see the present arrangements continuing for more than the next decade. He added: Some Government with time on its hands in the future"— I do not know which Government that will be— is going to put the two institutions"— that is, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A.— into the melting pot and create a new structure which does not have an intractable financial problem built into it. In other words, the financial problem of public service broadcasting is that when it does anything more it loses money, and that of commercial broadcasting when it does anything more it makes money.

I hope that in his intervention today my right hon. Friend may elaborate a little on what he said then. For example, perhaps he can say whether it would be possible to bring into effect the Pilkington proposal that the I.T.A. took all the advertising revenue and then gave contracts to programme producers. This would leave the I.T.A. with large sums of money which could perhaps be used to nourish an extension of public service broadcasting. Those are ways of dealing with what I think everyone agrees is the problem, but the secondary problem, of excess profits.

I conclude by, on the whole, congratulating Lord Hill and his colleagues on the way they have shown that they have power. They have given the commercial television world a desirable and salutary shake-up, and have shown that their main concern is to produce good programme standards, so far as they can accomplish it, and that everything else must be secondary to that.

10.58 a.m.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

I am not sure whether this is a Liberal Supply Day or a Liberal Private Members' Day. Certainly, it is an historic day for the Liberal Party aid, like the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland), I congratulate them on securing it.

The whole political world has been agog to know exactly what subject would be chosen. I was a little surprised that they chose this. Important as it is, and though it is a subject in which both the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) and I take particular interest, I had not judged it as the most critical problem facing the country today.

Some uncharitable people have said that possibly this is the only subject on which the whole party can agree. I do not think that that is quite fair. Reading an article in the Sun last week, it seemed to me that this was yet another subject on which they disagreed. It was an article that might fairly be entitled, "How to bite the hand that failed to feed you."

The hon. Member for Cheadle mainly concentrated, as did the hon. Member for Meriden, on the consequences of the 1964 Act as they have shown themselves in the recent allocation of programme companies. But the 1964 Act is a consolidation of the Acts of 1954 and 1963, so before we discuss the explosion of 17 days ago. May I say a word or two about the 13 long years which led up to that event.

The Socialists opposed the 1954 Act which gave birth to independent television. They acquiesced in the 1963 Act, which acknowledged it as a permanent feature of our broadcasting system. The right hon. Gentleman chosen to perform the somersault on behalf of the party in 1963 was the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). He must be their special somersault man, for once again he was selected for a similar act in the debate last week on the Leasehold Reform Bill. This volte face was a faithful reflection of the acceptance by the community of independent television. Its pioneers, both political and creative, can now take credit for what it has achieved, despite all the doubts and fears that were expressed in the early days.

As the hon. Member for Cheadle pointed out, its first achievement is undoubtedly the elimination of the B.B.C. monopoly and all the benefits that have gone with that elimination. The B.B.C. has been vastly stimulated. The public has had a better and wider choice. Competition has produced results. In the early days it was assumed that I.T.V. would excel in light entertainment and the B.B.C. in more serious subjects. Competition has forced comparative standards to fluctuate over the years. At this moment the B.B.C. certainly leads in sport, music and comedy. I should say that it is about equal with Independent Television in drama and light entertainment, and that Independent Television is rather ahead in current affairs.

If one wants to see what competition has done to current affairs, one has only to consider the coverage of something like the Middle East crisis in the past few weeks, and how well it was done by both channels. The public was much better and more vividly informed than it would have been 12 years ago. Independent Television took the lead in education, and it has been successful in identifying itself with local regions than the B.B.C. Competition has given people a choice of employer and an increase in rewards, while more promising career opportunities have attracted a much wider range of talent, especially from the theatre and journalism, to television. The number and variety in character of the programme companies has generated competition between themselves—not so much commercially, because there is only one channel—but in ideas.

The success of the television companies is reflected in their success in the difficult American export market and in the many international awards they have won—ironically enough, including a number won by companies now to be relegated. Very high standards have been achieved by the best programmes. There are of course bad and mediocre programmes as well. But I think that, taken with the B.B.C. programmes, the British viewer is probably offered the best television in the world.

Now I come to the allocation of the new I.T.A. contracts. I wish that this part of the debate had been put off a little longer until some more dust had settled and passions had cooled. We would have seen rather more clearly what has happened and possibly what ought to happen. The extent of the changes has shocked the industry. The programme contractors argued, consciously or unconsciously, that the I.T.A. was responsible for programme quality; that the lack of excessive complaint from the Authority about their programmes must indicate approval and, therefore, a moral obligation to reappoint. But Lord Hill says: Must the doors of independent television remain for ever closed to new applicants however good they are? If the answer is yes then those companies already appointed are there for all time. And the authortiy's answer must, of course, be 'No'. It follows that the choice may well be not between a good applicant and a bad applicant but between a good applicant and one which after full consideration the Authority believes will be a better one. According to the Act, Lord Hill is certainly right. If the interest of the viewer is paramount, as it must be, he is probably right. I think that there is general agreement that this wide-scale churn-up and general post on talent will reinvigorate programmes. Lord Hill can truthfully say that this policy has been clearly announced a number of times and, in particular, when the contracts were last reallocated in 1964.

With equal truth, Lord Hill can say that the procedure for the appointment of companies seemed to have worked without public or Parliamentary criticism for 12 years. We in this House, during the debates on the 1963 Act, made no suggestions that the procedure should be changed. By that procedure, many applications have been judged and 14 companies have been appointed without, as far as I know, any great complaint either from those successful or otherwise.

Had no new companies been accepted among the recent appointments the criticism would have been that the I.T.A. was a closed ring; that if a company with the potential of the London consortium could not get an innings no one would ever try again.

So the I.T.A. has an unanswerable case. And yet nobody, including myself, is entirely happy about the settlement or thinks that the allocation should be done in precisely the same way next time. I fancy that some members even of the Authority itself are secretly somewhat aghast at how bold they have been and what they have done apparently in unison. Whatever the logic, one cannot help feeling sorry for T.W.W., its smaller shareholders, the executives who have to make a dying company continue to produce good programmes for the next year. They have no right of appeal and, under the Act, cannot have.

More serious in national terms is how A.B.C. and Rediffusion, as they contract and merge and while doing so probably lose staff, can continue to produce network programmes on which the system depends right up to the night of 30th July, 1968.

What about the mechanics of the system? There is something disquieting about fortune making or breaking decisions being made in secret. The Times tells us that the winners are making too much money, and it is not alone in saying so. The position of Members of Parliament and that of the Press has also been questioned. No other independent authority has such huge powers of patronage, and one is bound to ask whether this new demonstration of those powers is going to restrict initiative of companies. Will they be constantly looking over their shoulders, especially during the last two years of their contracts? I shall not try to deal with all these points, but I certainly want to deal with one or two.

First, should the I.T.A. judge behind closed doors? One's instinctive reply, "No". If a system of public hearings could he shown to work, I would support it. Several of the companies I have spoken to would prefer it. In the United States, the F.C.C. holds public hearings, hut, of course, in different circumstances. There is little thought there of displacing any companies and certainly no re-allocation every six years. I think that one has to get down to detail before one can decide whether it could be done here or not.

What would public hearings here entail? Presumably publication not merely of applications but of evidence and findings. Applicants would wish to be represented by counsel with rights to cross-examine competing applicants. Proceedings would have to be fully reported in the Press and on television. With a part-time Authority and 15 companies to appoint, it would take a very long time.

The position of the Press, with its large holdings in television companies would be difficult. Would it not be exposed to the charge that it was trying to influence the outcome of the hearings? The position of television executives who had promised their services but were working for another company would be difficult. The whole situation would inevitably be sensational. Television is a colourful world. Lew Grade fighting David Frost in open court for the London concession would be in news value quite irresistible, but it would not be the appropriate atmosphere in which to make balanced judgments.

The open court procedure is probably more effective in discovering facts, but when it comes to considering outlook and television policies the interview system seems better. Certainly tougher questions can be asked in private than in public. Whether the case is herd in private or in public, I agree with the previous two speakers that it should be possible for instance, to publish far clearer and more detailed indications of the criteria on which present companies and applicants will be judged and that these should be made public.

On the latest occasion, a document called "Particulars of Programme Contract" and marked "Confidential", was sent to each of the applicants for their sole use. I should have thought that a popular edition of this detailed and technical document could have been issued to the Press for the enlightenment of the public. Possibly the I.T.A. Review might be used as a way of keeping the public up to date on changes and progress in I.T.A. policy.

I think that after the allocation of contracts the written applications of the competing companies might be published, as the hon. Member has said. I find companies very much in favour of that. Most of them are proud of the applications that they put in and it would make very interesting reading. One would be able to follow to what extent performance followed promise.

The second issue, which has preoccupied many papers—in particular The Times—is whether winners make too much money.

Before discussing this further and to get it in perspective, there are two points which escaped or nearly escaped The Times. The first is Capital Gains Tax, so that all their sums can be divided by three. Secondly, when they compare the situation today with the so-called Ferranti scandal, this is not comparing like with like. If Ferranti did over-charge it overcharged at the expense of the public. Any money being made this time by incoming I.T.V. companies is made at the expense of the outgoing I.T.V. companies. If that is doubted one has only to look at T.W.W. shares. The amount of money made by companies is to a large extent governed by the Government of the day. The 1964 Act provides for a levy to be imposed on the contracting companies. The level of that levy is decide by the Postmaster-General. As a guide to what it should be, Mr. Bevins said that it should be an economic rent for the monopoly enjoyed by the company. The Times seemed completely to miss this point. It advocated some sort of financial tendering by applicants. But the Government already lays down the price for a concession. It is geared so that the large companies pay proportionately more than the small.

The levy is one way of controlling profit, though not a very good one. It already takes a quarter of Independent Television's income. Unlike Corporation Tax, it is subtracted from income before programme expenditure is settled, so its incidence involves the temptation, as has been pointed out, to cut that particular expenditure. A better way—and here I clash with the last speaker—would be the introduction of a second I.T.V. channel, as has often been advocated from this side.

Over these last months wild miscalculations were made in the value of some T.V. shares, because, despite warnings, everybody—City and television world alike—ignored the possibility of any major changes. In the future similarly wild miscalculations can be made by ignoring the chance of any increase in levy or the establishment of a second channel. Both are probabilities. I can think of nobody more temperamentally likely to raise the levy than the present Postmaster-General. As the Conservatives will win the next election there is likely to be a second channel.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

Will the hon. Gentleman try to explain to the House how it is technically possible to have a second commercial transmission?

Mr. Bryan

That would be a very long explanation. I can only say that no Postmaster-General has yet said that it is technically impossible. In the last statement in the White Paper we were told that we would not be having one within the next three years, but not because it is technically impossible.

So important are these as factors in the assessment and management of I.T.V. that I consider that the Postmaster-General ought to lay down his policy with regard to the levy for the period covered by the concession. This would remove one of the unknowns in what, since 11th June, has become one of the most speculative of all investments.

I am not inviting the Postmaster-General to make some dramatic increase in the levy, for in a business as speculative as I.T.V. has now become, rewards must be high. On the other hand, I see no reason why they should be exceptionally high, except for those actively engaged in a company as directors, executives, or creative staff. I do not consider that indiscriminately offering outsize windfalls to the Press, to individuals and fortunate pension funds, is a good system for financing new television companies in recent conditions when investment money for television was not hard to attract. These conditions may not recur. At the present time I think that those active in the companies must have a chance of an attractive pay-off, but the remaining money could be raised more cheaply through a local public issue made after the concession was awarded.

I should be interested to hear the Postmaster-General's view on the length of contracts, because this is very important. The original 1963 Bill proposed a three-year contract. This was amended in Committee to six years. Once we have the rewards right and two channels established, I think a period of 10 years would be more sensible. A three-year contract is so short that it really makes a concession permanent. In other words, nobody would ever take such a contract unless it was virtually certain to be renewed. A six-year contract is too short in a high investment industry of this sort. There must be a tendency to limit investment during the last two years. Had the companies known the danger in which they have been living, there would certainly have been less money invested in colour T.V. over the last two years.

I agree with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) on the Press. On this matter the views of this House have changed a good deal over the last three years. Pilkington actually came out against the Press having any holdings at all. In the 1963 debate a lot of Amendments were put down to try and prevent the Press coming in. However, some of our views have changed, because we are worried about the Press—we do not like seeing the death-rate among newspapers.

The Press is still losing advertising to television. Its holdings in television are therefore becoming comparatively more important. I fancy that the Guardian's 21 per cent. holding in Anglia probably means a lot to it. There is a danger of the Press becoming an appendage to that as the years go on.

One thing which I would ask the Postmaster-General to enlighten me upon is the position of the small papers that these regional I.T.A. companies run. I have had one or two worried queries whether the I.T.A. is to centralise a sort of I.T.A. Times and put out of work some of the people who are running the televisicn papers for the regional companies.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) has referred to the position of Members of Parliament who may be directors of television companies. I agree with nearly everything he said. The Television Act actually defines the categories of persons who are disqualified from directing contracting companies. Parliament has therefore already considered and ruled on the subject. It is to those categories that it is presuming to add Members of Parliament if they are chairmen of companies. It is a pity that the I.T.A. has trespassed into a field which is surely the freehold of Parliament or a matter for M.P.s' personal decision. Presumably, the I.T.A. thinks that the position of chairman of a company is incompatible with the life of an active Member of Parliament, although not of a Peer, however politically active.

The Times says that no hon. Member should be a director. We in the House have a certain amount of experience of this. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were the deputy chairman of A.B.C., and I am sure that that in no way detracted from your duties in the House. I do not think that if the chairman of A.B.C. had been a Member of Parliament the position would have been markedly different. I do not agree about this incompatibility. Perhaps I should show my own interest. I was myself a director of Granada Television, but I resigned when I became the party spokesman on broadcasting matters. I should have thought that this was just the sort of decision which hon. Members should be left to settle for themselves.

The hon. Member for Cheadle has given us a brief look at the Liberal blueprint for Independent Television. He advocates the continuation of the independent companies, but only after stripping them of the profit motive and handing over to I.T.A. the task of selling advertising. The hon. Member will not be surprised to hear that, as a Conservative, I am fervently in favour of the profit motive and violently opposed to his idea, both ideologically and practically.

I doubt whether he will be impressed by my ideology, but in practice his proposition is about as promising and similar in conception as the idea of turning Marks and Spencers into a co-operative store. While some of the expertise in buying and selling for which Marks and Spencers is famous would linger for a while, once the profit motive was removed the store would level down to the standard of any other co-op which matches private enterprise in nothing except for some strange reason the sale of milk. It should be recognised that at least one reason why Mr. Peacock, for instance, left the B.B.C. for the London consortium was presumably that he will have all the creative opportunity and fun which he had at the B.B.C. and make some money, too.

Section 17 of the 1964 Act empowers the Postmaster-General to lay down the number of hours of television which the companies can put on the air. Past Postmasters-General, including those of my own party, have limited this number of hours to the number which the B.B.C. can afford to put on the air. I have never agreed with this, but in those days there was some superficial force in the argument that Independent Television should not be allowed more showing hours than the B.B.C. Since then, advantages have piled up on the side of the B.B.C. to such an extent that it has become quite ludicrous to argue that more hours for Independent Television would be unfair to the B.B.C.

The B.B.C. has been given the enormous advantage of a second channel. That in itself gives the B.B.C. 80 hours against 50 for the I.T.A. companies. The B.B.C. maintains the monopoly of radio which, perfectly sensibly, it uses to advertise programmes on both its T.V. channels. For two years B.B.C.2 has had the monopoly of colour. It has the great advantage of being self-contained. It shows all, or almost all, it produces, whereas, owing to the nature of the independent television organisation, only 55 hours of the 125 which are produced each week are shown in one service area. The new instructions going out from the Authority about the new network arrangements will accentuate this difficulty.

It is therefore farcical to say that the B.B.C. operates at a disadvantage and must therefore in some way be placated by the restriction of hours of independent television. Independent television companies are perfectly willing to put on television from eight in the morning to midnight and if the public can have this choice without any charge, it is surely wrong that it should be denied it. Industry is being organised more and more towards shift work and shift workers would greatly appreciate the opportunity of more day-time viewing and of repeat performances of programmes which they had missed.

I want finally and briefly to ask the right hon. Gentleman exactly the same question which was put to him by the hon. Member for Meriden. I also have here that quotation about putting television into the melting pot, but I will not read it all again. Nevertheless, those words, left in that form, certainly introduce yet another unknown factor into what has already shown itself to be a risky business. As one of the leaders of the party of planning, the right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, want to make his plans for the future of the industry known for as far ahead as possible. I look forward now to hearing them.

11.25 a.m.

The Postmaster-General (Mr. Edward Short)

It may be for the convenience of the House if I intervene at this stage. I should like, first, to thank the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) for raising this subject and to congratulate him on the fair, objective and constructive way in which he put his arguments, in striking contrast to some of the speeches which we have heard on the subject of broadcasting from the Opposition benches during recent months.

This controversy has arisen out of the recent award of contracts by the Independent Television Authority. Before I deal with all the many issues which have been raised, I should like to make two things perfectly clear. First, the Postmaster-General is not in any way involved in the allocation of contracts.

I did not intervene and I did not even ask for any information while the process was going on.

Secondly, I agree with the hon. Member for Cheadle that the Independent Television Authority is simply working the machine created by the House, discharging a duty laid upon it by Parliament, and it has done so quite properly. Having said those things, I shall not in any way comment on the merits of the decisions about the contracts, but I will as far as I can deal with the many issues which have been raised.

As the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) said, the law in this matter is contained in the Television Act, 1964, which merely consolidated the 1963 Act, which renewed, extended and amended the 1954 Act. It seems clear that in passing the 1963 Act Parliament had two things in mind as a result of ten years' experience of commercial television. The first was to strengthen the Authority itself in relation to the companies.

In the words of the 1962 White Paper, Parliament wanted to give it a commanding position in the affairs of independent television.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

indicated assent.

Mr. Short

I see the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) nodding assent.

The first objective, therefore, was to shift the centre of gravity, to shift the power solely from the programme companies, to the Authority itself.

The second objective was to syphon off some of the excessive profits which had been made during the first 10 years by the companies exploiting a public asset—the frequencies. There was a shift of profit to the Exchequer from the companies as well as a shift of power from the companies to the Authority itself. Those purposes of Parliament should be borne in mind when considering the events of the past few weeks.

I pass very quickly to consider some of the procedural matters which have arisen in the allocation of the contracts. The point which is most frequently put and which has been discussed today is whether I.T.A.'s consideration of the bids and its reaching decisions should be done in public. The hon. Member for Howden referred to the Federal Communications Commission in the United States hearing applications for transmitting licences, and this point has been made by many newspaper commentators. There are many variants of this idea. Some newspapers and some hon. Members advocate publishing merely the bids while some advocate publishing the judgments. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) put another point of view.

When a body like the Independent Television Authority, which has such wide powers of patronage, exercises those powers, this idea has a great deal of attraction, but, as the hon. Member for Howden said, there is another side to the argument There is a great deal to be said for and against this idea of open adjudication. The present system has operated since Independent Television was created and as far as I know the first word of criticism has been when one of the sitting tenants is not reappointed. The people who advocate open adjudication should say exactly what they mean. As my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden said, if it means anything, it means that the Press would have to be present and then, clearly, television could not be excluded.

Certainly, if this happened in the full glare of publicity, legal representatives would be involved and we in the House know from experience that they would see that it was a very long-drawn-out process. The Stock Exchange would also watch the applicants' progress and would respond accordingly. The Press would take sides. Of course, the majority of the Press—the major newspapers—are involved either as sitting tenants or as applicants and one wonders how this would affect their attitude. The consequence of open adjudication, therefore, would seem to be the exclusion of the Press from the programme companies. I can see no other way, if this is to be done in public.

One hon. Member and many newspapers have suggested that the I.T.A. should state its reasons, but I disagree, because it chooses applications whom it honestly believes best in terms of television capacity. If detailed reasons had to be given, the Act would have to be amended to set out the criteria. The only criterion now is that it must interview the applicants and, exercising its judgment, pick out the one whom it thinks would produce the best television.

Another aspect is that, with open adjudication, Parliament would have to give the Authority the same kind of protection as the courts or Parliament enjoy. This would have to be faced as well. Another variant is the right of appeal. The hon. Member for Cheadle mentioned this. The question is, appeal to whom? I hope never to the Postmaster-General. Would a committee of lawyers be better able to judge than the 12 people engaged in the Authority's day-to-day work? In another context, I do not think that they would be any more likely to be right than three Privy Councillors were to be right and the whole Government and their advisers wrong on another issue. I see nothing to be gained here.

My conception of a public corporation in this country is that we should either back it up or sack it, but not muck it about. We should sack it or get rid of it or change it but not mess about with it. Many bodies award huge contracts. I myself, as the Chairman of the Post Office Board, each year award contracts of hundreds of millions of pounds to quite a small number of telecommunications firms. It would be logical, therefore, for those who advocate open adjudication for the I.T.A. to say also that this process of awarding contracts, for example, in the Post Office should be done in public and that the bids should be made public.

Another idea which has been raised today and by a number of commentators is that the companies should be told on a continuing basis how they are doing, that there should be a sort of mid-term report to them by I.T.A. In effect, this would mean I.T.A. or someone else saying, "Do this or do not do that, or at the end of the term, you will not get the contract." I should have thought it highly undesirable for anyone to say anything of the kind to one of the contract companies. If a company is not doing its job, it could and should be replaced if a better applicant appears.

Under the Act—this is not often appreciated—the services are provided by the Authority as principal and not by the companies. The companies in law are the Authority's agents and the Authority is answerable—

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

The right hon. Gentleman drew a comparison between I.T.A. contracts and his own, but surely he accepts that there is a basic difference, in that he, as Postmaster-General, does not say to one manufacturer, "You may manufacture for 10 years anything you like and make as much money as you like," and to another, "You must cease manufacturing for the next 10 years."

Mr. Short

This is not strictly true. We do award contracts to companies, at the end of which we may change the company. There is not a great deal of difference.

The hon. Member for Cheadle mentioned the composition of the Authority. It has 12 members, who are appointed by Order in Council on the advice of the Government, which means, in effect, selected by the Postmaster-General. They are a balanced body of people with a wide range of opinion and experience, and I would hesitate before bringing in a large element of expertise to television. It is much better to have people who can absorb, weigh and analyse the expert opinion which is always available to them and reach decisions objectively. This is much more sensible. However, vacancies frequently arise and I will bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden and the hon. Member for Howden also raised the question which has now arisen for the first time, of a "lame duck" company. Of course, there are dangers here, and I do not know the answer. This problem is inherent in the present system. If it is possible to change one of the sitting tenants, there is always the possibility of a lame duck company, but I do not know how to deal with it, given the present system. I should have thought that one year was enough for a new company starting from scratch with nothing more than a brochure and a number of attractive young men to get the thing off the ground, but I think that they will bear the point in mind.

I now turn to the case of T.W.W. As I understand, the I.T.A.'s decision was not because T.W.W. was regarded by I.T.A. as having failed to make the grade, but because the new consortium convinced I.T.A. that it could do better. The decision has aroused controversy. First, as to the position of the shareholders, I think that, to get this in perspective, it should be remembered that there has been a great deal of diversification in the activities of television companies and that 30 per cent. of T.W.W.'s profits comes from sources other than television. This should be borne in mind. The I.T.A.'s decision has certainly reduced the value of the shareholders' investment, but the Act does not say that the sitting tenant must have any preference or that no speculator should ever lose.

Because of this certainty, there is a higher degree of risk in this type of investment. There is risk, of course, in any equity investment, but the higher the profit, the greater the risk and the greater the risk the higher the dividend. This is recognised. This risk here is very high, but the profits have also been high and capital appreciation has been considerable. I saw Lord Hill's letter to Lord Derby in the Press, in which he pointed out that, on an original investment of £1,000, the value today would be £10,000. In addition, £10,000 of dividend after tax would have been received. Having had the profits and this very large capital appreciation, the investor cannot now be heard to say that he does not want the risk as well. He has accepted the high profits and the risk, and that is as it should be.

Parliament has entrusted the Authority with the task of deciding how best to serve the public interest, and if it decides that the best way is to change the tenant it has a duty so to decide. I believe that it has sought to protect the shareholders of T.W.W. T.W.W. will be able to acquire 40 per cent. of the non-voting stock in the new company, and, again, Lord Hill has suggested in his letter to Lord Derby that, perhaps, he would consider giving some kind of preferential allocation of these shares to investors who stand to lose the most.

On the question of staff, it is a condition that all companies taking on staff should give prior consideration to people already employed in independent television. I understand that discussions are going on with the trade unions to give effect to this ruling. As regards studios and television assets, T.W.W. may, if it wishes, sell them to the new consortium.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

What happens if the new consortium decides that it does not need the Bristol studio, which has been a "white elephant" since it was built?

Mr. Short

That is one of the facts of life in the present system. It is something which must be faced.

I turn now to what the hon. Member for Cheadle regarded as one of the most important questions—I agree with him—the question of Press participation in the programme companies. The policy of the I.T.A. emerged and became public at the Press conference given by the chairman on 11th June. Lord Hill referred to the reduction of the Thomson Organisation's holding in Scottish Television from 55 per cent. to 25 per cent., and he made it clear that he regarded the ownership of shares by representative newspapers as extremely valuable, but not to the extent of control by a single newspaper or Press interest.

As I see the matter, there are two points here. Television is growing in importance as a news medium, and a good newspaper—there are some good newspapers, of course—can bring great qualities to this development. Another point concerns the economics of the Press. The survival of a diversity of newspapers is essential to the survival of Parliamentary democracy. If democracy is not informed, it cannot survive. During recent years, the Press has encountered many economic problems, and there is no doubt that these have been greatly accentuated by the diversion of advertising to television.

It is a sensible approach to say that another source of income should be made available to the Press, to the more responsible newspapers. I think that there is a good deal to be said for this view. The position of the Press now is that it has interests in 12 out of 15 companies, compared with 10 out of 14 companies before the reallocation of contracts, but no newspaper and no Press interest has control of any company. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised this matter, because I regard it as one on which there should be public discussion, and I shall welcome the views of others on it.

I realise that there is another point of view. There are two sides to the question, as there are about almost every question concerned with broadcasting. The function of the Press is vigilance over the exercise of power and patronage and over such extremely powerful organs of mass communication as television. If the Press is too deeply involved in the companies, one may wonder whether it would be willing to bite, whether the watchdog would bite itself. This must be borne in mind. It is good to debate this question which has emerged from the recent controversy.

Now, a word about what has been called, in the famous phrase, the licence to print money. The award of a contract presents a company with the chance to make an awful lot of money. The value of this consideration is realised from what I described earlier in my speech as public property, that is, the frequencies. But this is inherent in the pattern created by Parliament.

The existing companies are always at risk and the new ones will always gain. Excessive profits characterised the first decade of independent television, and, as I explained, it was for this reason that the 1964 Act provided for the levy or, as it was called, additional payments. Hon. Members who are interested will see the scale set out in Section 13(4) of the Act. The levy is calculated on net advertising receipts, that is, net after deducting advertising agents' commission.

It is not always realised that the levy plus Corporation Tax takes three-quarters of the surplus of advertising receipts over expenditure. The Section of the Act dealing with this matter, Section 13(4), also enables me to increase or reduce the levy by Order. I assure the House that the rates are always under review, and that I should not hesitate to place an Order before Parliament if I thought it necessary to do so.

The hon. Member for Howden raised the question of a second commercial channel. The decision on the allocation of the fourth channel, or second commercial channel, must not turn on the need to solve a particular difficulty which stems from the structure of Independent Television as provided by the Act—this was how he put it—but should turn on an overall appraisal of the national interest. As the Government's White Paper said, very large developments in broadcasting are already in train.

We are beginning the colossal operation of changing over to 625 lines and colour on all channels. It is not enough to say that further developments would be desirable in themselves. The over-riding consideration is whether the country can afford it, to put the matter bluntly, and whether, in any event, we should be ready at this stage to commit the last set of frequencies which will be available for years to come.

I come now to the position of active politicians as chairmen of contracting companies. It was made a condition of the allocation of the London weekend contract that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Crawley) should choose between relinquishing either his membership of the House or his chairmanship of the company.

I remind the House, as others have done, that there is no legal bar to a Member being either chairman or a member of a board. What the House did in the House of Commons Disqualification Act, 1957, was to debar a Member from being a member of the Authority. It did not do the same for a Member of the House of Lords, apparently taking the view that there is a difference in political nature between Peers and Members of Parliament. It laid down nothing about membership of a programme company.

I have not discussed this question with the I.T.A., but I imagine that it looks to its duty to ensure impartiality in matters of controversy, industrial matters, political matters and current public policy and also its obligation to present news with accuracy. No one knowing the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West would doubt for a moment that he would observe these requirements in both the letter and the spirit—of course, he would—but I imagine that the I.T.A. takes a more general view, that it is not enough to rely on the argument that one has complete confidence in one individual.

I imagine that it takes the view that public confidence and public belief in actual absolute impartiality requires that the chairman should not have so active a commitment in a particular party. On the whole, this is a responsible conclusion to reach. I know that there is another point of view, but, on balance, I think that that is a fairly responsible position.

I have, of necessity, devoted the whole of my speech so far to answering specific points which have arisen in the debate and in the Press in recent weeks. There remains beyond all this the question of the longer-term organisation of broadcasting in Britain. The recently awarded contracts will run from next July to 1974. Two years later, in 1976, the franchise of the I.T.A. and the B.B.C.'s charter, Licence and Agreement will end together. Recently, I have taken steps to ensure that the licences of the relay companies, which make up a very important element in our broadcasting system, will end at the same time. So, nine years from now, an opportunity will arise for a fundamental review of the whole system, because I.T.A., the B.B.C. and the relay companies' licences will all terminate at the same time.

As I have said on a number of occasions since I became involved in the subject, I cannot see the present kind of organisation lasting for very more than the decade which we have ahead of us before those changes take place. In 1969, the Post Office becomes a public corporation. The residual Minister will then have under his wing the two broadcasting authorities, the Post Office Corporation and a number of other residual activities, but he will be freed of all the day-to-day administrative work of the Post Office—that great mass of administrative work which weighs down the Postmaster-General. From that time, the residual Minister will be able to devote a great deal more of his time to broadcasting, and I hope that, in the spring of 1969, a long, cool look will begin at the whole system of broadcasting in this country.

In the past year, we have solved the two major outstanding technical problems of how to change over to 625 lines and how to give all channels colour. We have started both processes. However, the major organisational problems will become increasingly acute. What the final solution will be, I do not know. As Mr. Speaker has already reminded us, the rules of the House preclude us from discussing future legislation in a debate of this kind, but I believe that it is a matter for all of us in this House and in the country.

The hon. Member for Cheadle referred to Pilkington. I believe that a much more original solution than Pilkington will be required. I regard it as a supremely suitable topic for this House to rise above party politics and try to find a consensus. It is the kind of topic on which we can do this, and we have time to do it.

The debate today will have contributed to a clarification of many of the problems involved, and, once more, I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving us the opportunity of debating this subject.

Mr. E. Rowlands (Cardiff, North)

Before my right hon. Friend sits down—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. Mr. Robert Cooke.

11.53 a.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

My contribution will be singularly brief. I have sat listening with great interest to the debate, but it has not really brought out anything very new.

Naturally, this subject of the I.T.A. contracts or, to give it its broader description, the working of the Act, on which the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) hung his speech, is a matter of public interest, but I am not sure that very much of what has been said today can help, because the I.T.A. has made its decision. It has produced a welcome shake-up, and we must wait and see whether the public benefit in the way that we hope. We have got the pattern of the programme companies in the single independent channel for the next six years, and the Government have apparently set their faces against any expansion into another commercial channel.

One hon. Member challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) about whether it was technically possible to have a second commercial channel. The Postmaster-General told us that, although he set his face against having one, it is certainly technically possible. In dressing up their reasons for not having a second channel, the Government have talked about the scarcity of these great resources and said that we must be careful before committing another channel to commercial television. We on this side of the House have made it clear that we hold a different point of view.

However, I give the House one new thought, and it is the only point which I want to make today. We could have a greater element of competition than we shall get even with the new companies if the I.T.A. gave a little more thought to the subject of overlapping. There are many fortunate viewers at present who can receive a choice of independent television because they happen to be geographically placed on the border between one company and another. In some cases, the I.T.A. is happy that that should happen. In others, it does all that it can to stop it happening. I understand that there are even transmitters which are shrouded so that they do not cover the area which they could. The reason is that a company is given an area which is meant to be viable, and obviously must be protected from unfair competition.

That was all very well in the early days, but we see today that most of the programme companies are in a thoroughly viable state, and an increasing measure of competition would do them no harm. I hope that, with the agreement of the companies, we shall see a conscious effort for more overlapping. If a contract has been let and the company concerned is not to find itself with more competition than it expected at the outset, obviously adjustments will have to be made, but I hope that that will be done.

I come now to what is perhaps for me a rather parochial matter, but I know that the House is interested in the West Country, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and make a contribution. In the West Country, we have a very unhappy alliance with Bristol linked with South Wales, apparently indefinitely. I am glad to have the united support of the Liberal Party on this, because its members regard this link as an unhappy one.

I believe that the Harlech consortium did not want to have to take on Bristol, and one of the reasons why it got the contract was because it was prepared to give more emphasis to the Welsh content of programmes. Although there are various views about the merits of that, I hope that the Welsh will get a splendid television service, but I do not see why they should get it at the expense of a link with Bristol which is not wanted by all true West Country men.

There is a very simple way to get out of the difficulty. Even if we cannot have a situation in which Bristol is taken away from Wales, we can have an overlap and so produce competition in the Bristol area. Westward Television, which operates from Plymouth, could be allowed to infiltrate a little further into the area of T.W.W. There is already an overlap. Why should we not have an organised overlap? It could be a gradual process and, if it was seen that the Bristol advertising revenue was going to Westward Television, which was doing better, the I.T.A. could watch the situation. But at least we could have free competition, and it might result in a genuine West Country television service instead of the unhappy link with Wales.

This is not just a West Country matter, because there are other regions where the same sort of thing could work by means of a conscious overlap rather than a mere accidental one, and, while the Postmaster-General will not interfere in this, I am sure that our views will not go unheard by the I.T.A. In fact, I have felt its presence with us this morning. I hope that it will bear in mind these suggestions and that we shall see not just a static state of affairs, saying that the book is written for the six years which follow, and that, even if the Government will not let us have a second channel, at least we shall have more competition.

11.59 a.m.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party wants time to reply to the debate, which his party has so usefully initiated. I am sure that he should have it. As a consequence, I shall have to restrict the time which I had intended to devote to this subject.

There are one or two comments which ought to be made. We are discussing this morning the consequences of the breakdown or destruction of the assumption of permanence which has existed among the programme companies and I.T.V. All have acted on this assumption. They have offered their shares on the assumption that the goodwill would exist forever. Employees have been engaged on this basis and taken into pension schemes. Suddenly, everybody has woken up to the fact that it is an assumption, and is surprised that the Authority has done what it is entitled to do.

The action which has been taken raises two points. First, is the whole system right? If the answer is "No", what can be done to put it right? Secondly, assuming, as I think we must, that no immediate changes are to be made in the whole system, what can we do within the context of the present system to mitigate what has been happening during recent weeks? It is to these points that I would like to address myself.

It raises the question whether it is right that the public should be invited to subscribe to programme companies who hold out to their shareholders and staff an assumption of permanence which they have no right to offer. Is this proper for the operation of the equity market? My conclusion is "No". I do not draw the conclusion that advertising as a source of revenue for television is wrong, certainly not. I do not draw the conclusion that the programme companies should not exist, and that the diversification and independence which they enjoy—they do not enjoy enough, they ought to enjoy much more—are not right, but I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether they should be the sort of companies which advertise their equity and exchange their equity on the Stock Exchange. I suggest that the programme companies, while continuing to operate in the same manner as they do at the moment, should become trust bodies, and I hope that when my right hon. Friend is considering the longer-term future of television he will pay a little attention to this.

One of the things to which insufficient consideration has been given is the rather unique position whereby this House indirectly grants a public monopoly. With respect to my right hon. Friend, this is not the same thing as offering for tender among a number of companies something which they can take if they succeed, and which they continue to offer. The situation is sharpened by the fact that the Chairman of the Authority, who was appointed by the party opposite some years ago, now in turn grants a licence to programme companies which have as members of their boards other hon. Members on the benches opposite.

No one is suggesting, I think, that this in itself is prohibited under the present system. What I question is whether a system should exist which permits it to happen. This is something which we ought to question. In other words, not only should there be no corruption, but it should be seen that there is none. It should be obvious that there cannot be any. This is one of the things which I hope my right hon. Friend will consider in the long term.

I come now to the shorter term. What can be done immediately, within the present system? One of the most important things which ought to be done is not to change the amount of the levy taken by the Government, but to change the incidence of its application. At the moment the levy is taken from the gross receipts of the company. It should be taken from the gross receipts less certified programme expenditure. It could be a larger percentage of that smaller sum so the Government would receive no less money than at present. They could even receive more.

If the levy were operated after programme expenditure, the consequence would be that the money would not be taken at the expense of the programme, and thus at the expense of the viewer. No one should lose touch with the fact that the object of the programme companies is to produce television programmes for the entertainment of the public. They are not there to enrich themselves and their shareholders, or for the benefit of their employees, although their employees ought to be considered. One of the consequences of the breakdown of the assumption of permanence is that the employees find themselves in the position that the careers to which they have looked forward have suddenly been cut off, and life is very uncertain for them.

What we have to ask the Authority to do if we are to assume the continuation of the existing set-up is to accept greater responsibility for the permanence of the employment. This must be the responsibility of the Authority, and I hope that it will accept it. Just as my right hon. Friend has said that it has a direct responsibility for the programmes themselves, so also does it have a more direct responsibility than it is accepting at the moment for the continuity of employment of the people in the various companies. If performance is to break down, if there is to be no real permanence, the only permanent organisation, the Independent Television Authority, must be responsible for maintaining the continuity which the programme companies can no longer offer.

Those are one or two of the points that I wanted to make. It is not only a question of continuity of employment. There are also questions of status, of preferment, of the possibility of a career, and of promotion. These are some of the things to which some of the people in the programme companies are no longer able to look forward with the certainty which they thought they had before these changes were made.

The fact that the Authority has shown that it does not intend to be a mere cypher may have a damaging, rather than a beneficial, effect on programmes unless the actions which I have suggested are taken. If companies are to have only six years of life, and they are to remain profit-seeking organisations, they will have an extremely strong temptation to salt away as much as possible, and to minimise programme expenditure, and, secondly, to diversify their activities so that when the licence goes they can still tick over in other enterprises. These are things to which insufficient attention has been paid. It could be seen by a programme company that in these circumstances its duty to its shareholders is to spend as little as possible on programmes, to protect their future interests. This is something to which the Authority should pay attention.

The change needed to remove this temptation, or at least to minimise it, is to be found in Section 13 of the Act, which is the one to which I have referred, and that is to change the incidence of the levy. The consequence of applying the levy after programme expenditure would be quite profound, and would do much to remove some of the difficulties which have brought to a head by the decision of the Authority—I think the right decision in principle—given the present system under which it works which I think is fundamentally wrong—that permanence is not a feature of the monopoly enjoyed by programme companies.

I come back to the point that I made earlier. I gravely question whether even a temporary monopoly in public information and entertainment should be granted to profit-making private companies. I suggest that the House would do well to consider this matter.

12.9 p.m.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) for having restricted his remarks. I hope that he did not exclude other matters he wanted to raise. If I may say so, he raised some extremely valuable points. I agree with many of them and hope to deal with some of them a little later. I also thank the Postmaster-General for speaking here this morning on what we believe to be an important subject. I hope that the House will feel that it is a useful subject for debate. I was a little surprised that the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) should have thought that there were possibly more vitally significant matters for debate.

I take the view that we are dealing with a very great concentration of power; that it is a power bestowed by Statute; that Parliament therefore has a responsibility; that there is grave public disquiet, and that the record of my party has been to try to stimulate debate, on those rare occasions when we have been afforded those opportunities, on matters that either might not otherwise be debated or for which it might be difficult to find time.

Before the war, the Liberal Supply Days were conspicuous as occasions when we drew attention to the need to rearm, and it was then that Sir Winston Churchill made some of his most famous speeches. I must say that I had expected the hon. Member for Howden, whose interest in broadcasting is so great that he has concerned himself not only with legal but with other forms of broadcasting—and has even boarded a "pirate" radio ship—to be just a little more enthusiastic.

I approach this subject with some nostalgia. Those of us who were actually performing in the early days of Independent Television, when one almost expected, I know that I did, to have a pneumatic drill come through the ceiling just as one was about to start an interview, feel saddened that some of our old friends are either going or are being restricted. I shall not comment on any particular company, because I am more concerned that the system should be examined.

Whether we like it or not, there is no doubt that Parliament has conferred a tremendous power of profit making. The Authority is allowed to say, "You will no longer make a profit" or, "You may now start to make a profit" or, "You are the people who can invest in shares to a percentage that we will lay down." Financially, this is to us almost a South Sea Bubble, with the attendant financial hazards removed.

If one thinks of 275 per cent. capital gains, which The Times has suggested for one consortium, or 650 per cent. capital gains, as the Economist suggests, and shares that are worth £1,200,000 million more than at the time of purchase, there is no doubt that these are tremendous profits and capital appreciation, and if they had been made by any other industry it would have been before the Monopolies Commission months ago. Perhaps the most out of place programme to put on Independent Television would be "Double Your Money", because the multiplier is so much greater that it is almost impossible to assess.

I believe that Parliament did not intend good television programmes to have to depend on vast profits guaranteed for the benefit of some and to the exclusion of others. This is not a Marks and Spencer case, as the hon. Member said of the present system. Marks and Spencer make a profit out of selling merchandise, but if it were to be equated with Independent Television we would be giving it the statutory monopolistic right to go into the bookmaking business as well to the exclusion of everyone else. We are in favour of the profit motive, but we are not in favour of the excessive profit motive. Therein lies the difference.

What is the solution? Let us, first, consider profit. One suggestion is monopoly value in rather the same way that when people used to apply for the licence of a public house the monopoly value of the area would be assessed and that would be the figure to be paid. I agree with the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) that this would be a bad innovation as it would mean that financial considerations, the price which the consortium was prepared to pay, might well outweigh the artistic merit of the group concerned. To act on that basis is dangerous.

I disagreed with him when he said that better programmes mean lower profits. On the contrary, I think that most bad programmes are those on which too much has been spent. For instance, I believe that the trouble with party political broadcasts is that far too much money is spent on them. There are so many diagrams, shots and films that the public is bemused. One of these broadcasts that I was fortunate to be allowed to produce and which got a very good Press was produced for £87—although, of course, its value was in inverse ratio.

If monopoly value is out, there is the possibility of using the levy in order to have a limitation based on a fixed percentage return on capital. Here, I agree with the hon. Member for Putney that this should not be a percentage on gross receipts, but on net receipts—receipts after having taken account of the genuine certified costs of the contracting company.

Then there is the Pilkington suggestion that the Authority should be the purveyor of advertising and that—and this is where the hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me to say so, rather went wrong—the commercial competition and expertise should be on the side of the production and sale of programmes. If we do that we have to change the present network system, with which I want also to deal, and which I believe to be harshly restrictive.

Logically, if we take the Pilkington proposal it seems that we would then have to lay down the sort of emolument one would expect the chairman of a company to receive, or a programme controller, as one does in the B.B.C. In the B.B.C., the Governor is paid X thousands of pounds and the Director-General is paid Z thousands of pounds so that a man knows the reward he will get. If his prime concern is to make money—capital, profit and a "killing"—he probably will not want the job, but if he is concerned to make good television programmes there will not be too much opposition on that basis.

The financial structure of the companies is odd. It is a rather bastard form of capitalism to say who shall buy shares and in what percentages—a very arbitrary figure. Though T.W.W. share- holders will be allowed to buy up to, I think, 40 per cent. of the non-voting shares in the Harlech consortium, it still rather smacks of the American idea of the winner taking the spoils. Here the winner takes all and the loser loses all. I cannot see why, if one wants to uproot the management it should be necessary to uproot the shareholders. After all, one can uproot a Front Bench without uprooting its back benches. It seems to me that the 8,000 or more shareholders in T.W.W., whose average shareholding is small, might have been dealt with in a better way.

I congratulate the London consortium on saying that it will give 30 per cent. of the equity to executives and talent. This is a good co-partnership proposal of which I approve. At the same time, it will be interesting to see how much the executives have and how much the talent. I do not say that they are necessarily self-contradictory, but sometimes one does get that impression.

Therefore, on the question of profit, it is not good enough for the Postmaster-General to talk of high profits because of high risks. There is grave disquiet in the public mind because of the monopolistic powers that Parliament has conferred on the Independent Television Authority.

I agree that because Parliament has in the ultimate to assess the powers of the I.T.A. it is not right that executives should be Members of this House. The position is rather similar to that at the Parliamentary Bar, where one cannot be a Member of Parliament because, technically speaking, one might have to appear before oneself. I would say in the case of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Crawley) that he has probably been persuaded by Mr. David Frost that what is involved is not so much a programme, but more a way of life, and he has, therefore, changed it. It might also be said that the hon. Gentleman has put a new interpretation on what is meant by "office of profit under the Crown".

I thought that the Postmaster-General was rather timid and conservative in what he said about the secrecy of the hearings and the appeal procedure. I take his point that public hearings will mean fluctuations on the Stock Exchange and that it might be suggested that Mr. Lew Grade was one up and that Mr. Bernstein had a better counsel and had made Mr. Peter Cadbury look very stupid in the box, or vice versa, but I see no reason why a broad prospectus should not be published in advance. It may be necessary to omit certain financial details, but I cannot see why, at the end of the day, the I.T.A. should not give some indication of the reasons for its award. It is wrong to give this enormous power without asking for any indication about the criteria on which the I.T.A. bases its judgment.

On the appeal procedure, the right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot say, on the one hand, "We do not necessarily need more people with television expertise on the I.T.A.; what is wanted is men who can assess and judge", and on the other that he wonders why the Privy Council or some other body which has no television expertise should be any better than any other organisation. The same criteria apply in both cases; what is wanted is an evaluation. The Privy Council, when sitting in its judicial capacity—the Prime Minister has certain feelings about when it is judicial and when it is not—has heard appeals from the medical profession and on ecclesiastical matters, on which they are highly experienced.

My hon. Friend had in mind not an automatic right of appeal, but the case of a decision being regarded as ultra vires the Act and which was in any way felt to have been a wholly wrongful exercise of discretion. Rather like a case stated in court, if the right hon. Gentleman thought that a prima facie case had been made out, it would be possible for that body to consider it. There would seldom be appeals of this kind, but it would be a protection for the I.T.A. to know that there was a safety valve. When we are anxious to protect the public, we always do one of two things—either appoint a Royal Commission and then do nothing or have an appeal procedure which works quite well. Some sort of appellate body would be useful in this case.

I agree that it is unsatisfactory that sudden death should be able to overtake a commercial company and the Postmaster-General was rather timid in saying that he did not think that judgments could be periodically passed by the I.T.A. In a different context, this is exactly what the Press Council does. It is true that it receives complaints from the public, but it passes judgment on whether a report was in bad taste or an invasion of privacy or unbalanced and slanted in the wrong way.

I see no reason why the I.T.A. should not be able from time to time to indicate what it regarded as the better programmes of the year and what it hoped might be considered in years to come, rather like the discussion programmes which the B.B.C. has at lunchtime, which are published and sent to many hon. Members.

The Postmaster-General said that newspapers bring quality to television, but I have seldom known any newspaper to have any effect on the editorial policy or the execution of any programme. With respect to the Postmaster-General, anyone with knowledge of programming knows that it is very unlikely that newspapers can greatly influence programme content. The idea seems to be thought up by one or two directors or executives, after which there are conferences and the matter reaches the drawing board. One of the very dangerous things is to allow people who know nothing about television techniques to try to produce.

The third network is a possibility and will spread the advertising revenue, but it is no answer to the present enormous powers which Parliament bestows and which calls for grave public concern. The present networking system, if it goes on until 1968, is highly restrictive. The companies are expected to take 32½ hours at a cost of between £3 million and £4 million, which they must pay whether or not they take the time. They do not even know whether it is economic, because the major companies have never put out the cost of this, and they should be made to do so. This is, therefore, a great disincentive to local firms to increase their 15 per cent. of locally originated programmes. This is a bad thing.

The hon. Member for Meriden made an interesting point, that the delay of a year was bad, as one company would be running down and probably tempted to diversify and salt away still more and perhaps skim more and more—I do not say that it will happen, but it is a danger—while others were getting tuned up to take over. This is a great problem and should be investigated.

We are dealing with what is basically an industry of great importance, not only of executives, but of artists and technicians, people who can make a great contribution to our cultural life and, indeed, our balance of payments. They should have security, but not too much. On the other hand, we are dealing with a power cornferred by Statute of enormous proportions in its effect not only on the lives of people closely concerned and influenced but upon the ability to say who shall be and shall not be allowed to control this medium, to make vast profits into the bargain and to benefit from enormous capital appreciation.

It is not right that Parliament should continue to say, "Perhaps this power is unfortunate and greater than that in any other industry, but, after all, there are risks; let us leave it at that." There are not risks, not the sort of risks which there were at the beginning of commercial television, when a company like Rediffusion would lose up to £3 million and still keep pretty cool heads and carry on. The Daily Mail and the Daily Express both scurried out from their various interests, but companies like that initially bore the brunt of commercial television.

Therefore, Parliament should from time to time "take the pulse" to see whether we really intended, in granting a monopoly to make it one of such enormous value. Lord Thomson's remark about it being a licence to print money does not apply today. Now, the I.T.A. provides the printing presses and the ink and all that the consortia have to provide is the paper. There is, therefore, real disquiet and I do not think that the Postmaster-General has recognised it in the way he should.

However, I hope that by initiating this debate, which was ably opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), we have provided a useful occasion and that Parliament will have realised its responsibilities in this matter.

Mr. Alan Fitch (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.