HC Deb 25 July 1968 vol 769 cc958-62
16 and 17. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Postmaster-General (1) if he will now extend the viewing hours of television;

(2) if he will now make a statement about the future of the broadcasting licence fee.

22. Mr. Bryan

asked the Postmaster-General if he will undertake not to sanction an increase in the British Broadcasting Corporation licence fee until he has been informed that a report on the organisation has been received from the management consultants.

32. Mr. English

asked the Postmaster-General what alteration he proposes to make in the number of hours during which television broadcasts are permitted; and if he will make a statement.

33. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Postmaster-General whether it was with his authority that the Press were officially informed on Firday, 19th July, of the Government's intention to make an announcement on Thursday, 25th July, of a 20 per cent. increase in the annual television licence fee; why, in view of the Government's prices and incomes policy he has agreed to this increase; whether he will refer the proposed increase to the National Board for Prices and Incomes; and whether he will make a statement.

34. Dr. Gray

asked the Postmaster-General whether he will now make a statement about the British Broadcasting Corporation's licence fee.

37. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Postmaster-General how he proposes to finance an increase in the television broadcasting hours of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Mr. Stonehouse

I would refer hon. Members to my statement of 23rd July.— [Vol. 769, c. 276–84.]

Mr. Stratton Mills

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the public anger that is felt over the 20 per cent. increase in the licence fee and over his very unconvincing explanation for short circuiting the Prices and Incomes Board? Have any studies been made into the possibility of employing other methods to raise revenue for the B.B.C.?

Mr. Stonehouse

To answer the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I am not aware of any great anger because I believe that the public recognise that they are getting value for money. The cost of having a black and white T.V. is only about 4d. a day and the service received for that is very good indeed.

To answer the second part, about referring the matter to the Prices and Incomes Board, the question is not really comparable as additional services are being provided. There is no question here of a charge being increased for a similar service.

Mr. English

Is my right hon. Friend aware that most people in the United Kingdom will welcome his proposal to increase television hours? [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] Is he aware that most people would wish to have more than an average of an extra half-an-hour a week? Is he further aware that, like hon. Gentlemen opposite, many hon. Members on this side of the House would be prepared to consider other means of raising finance?

Mr. Stonehouse

I think that my hon. Friend has misunderstood the statement I made. It is not an extra half-an-hour a week but an extra half-an-hour a day.

Mr. English

It was a mis-statement.

Mr. Stonehouse

As for investigating further ways of financing the Corporation, we will in due course have to consider this subject.

Dr. Gray

Would my right hon. Friend consider introducing the principle of selectivity in charging, as with medical prescription charges, particularly for the deaf, disabled, chronic sick and old-age pensioners?

Mr. Stonehouse

I said on Tuesday that it would be very difficult indeed to introduce the principle of a benefit in kind. If my hon. Friend will write to me with any reasonable suggestions, I will, of course, consider them; but I see great problems in trying to do what has been suggested.

Mr. Bryan

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that on Tuesday the House rightly poured scorn on that part of his statement in which he said that a reference to the P.I.B. would have been, to use his word, "inappropriate"? Will he now explain what he meant by that word? Did he mean impossible, inconvenient or what?

Mr. Stonehouse

This is not a charge in the normal sense—[Interruption.] It will cover additional expenses on the part of the B.B.C., something which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends a few years ago supported when they were in power. That being so, it is ridiculous for them to agree to an extension of the services, the switching to 625 lines, the building of new stations and the improvement of broadcasting facilities and at the same time complain in this way. It would be inappropriate to refer an increase in a fee which is related to extra services and improved broadcasting facilities to the P.I.B. As I say, we are not increasing a charge for a similar service. The service is being improved.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Long answers mean fewer Questions. Mr. Yates.

Mr. Victor Yates

Since the House does not appear to have much control over the activities of the broadcasting organisations, would my right hon. Friend try to arrange for more frequent reports on the subject to be presented to Parliament so that hon. Members may thoroughly examine the activities of these organisations?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am satisfied that the degree of control which we have is sufficient. If my hon. Friend will suggest to the Leader of the House that we have a debate on the subject, I would support that.

Mr. Dudley Smith

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, rather than lengthen the hours of television, it might be better to have better quality programmes and fewer old films? Will he set his mind against the prejudice on the benches opposite about advertising so that extra revenue may be available for better programmes?

Mr. Stonehouse

I would personally favour the development of more live programmes and more up-to-date films. Both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are paying attention to this point.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the great public interest that exists in any price increase? Usually the Government are blamed for these increases. Since the great communicators now have an opportunity, to do something really constructive, if my right hon. Friend cannot instruct them, will he at least arrange for the B.B.C. and the other lot to give ample viewing time for all the problems associated with the increase to be explained?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am sure that both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. will have taken note of that comment.

Sir G. Nabarro

Can the right hon. Gentleman say if he has talked with the Minister of Social Security to arrange for this extra £1 licence fee to be taken into account in assessing admissibility for sup-plentary pensions for elderly and needy persons?

Mr. Stonehouse

That is an excellent point. I have not yet done what the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I will certainly discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Whitaker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Americans only wish that they had an advertisement-free broadcasting system like we have? Will he consider subsidising the cost of the B.B.C. with some of the very large profits made by the independent television companies so that, for example, disabled people may be given free licences?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am not particularly attracted by that suggestion.