HC Deb 07 March 1968 vol 760 cc641-3
16. Mr. Roebuck

asked the Postmaster-General if he will take proceedings against the Independent Television Authority for breach of their statutory duty under Section 3(2,d) of the Television Act, by allowing Lord Thomson of Fleet to appear in the Frost Programme broadcast on 29th November last.

Mr. Edward Short

I am informed that the Independent Television Authority has drawn the attention of the programme contractor which produced the programme, and of Lord Thomson, to the fact that there was a contravention of the Act. The Authority is satisfied that the contravention was inadvertent. This will, I think, meet the purpose of my hon. Friend's Question.

Mr. Roebuck

In view of the widespread concern in the country about the domination of most channels of communication by a tiny group of tycoons, can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will use all the powers given to him by Parliament to prevent those tycoons dominating the television screen? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the incident in question, my noble Friend Lord Wigg was enticed on to the programme by false pretences and subjected to considerable discourtesy and has there been any expression of contrition?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have the whole programme in a supplementary question.

Mr. Short

In regard to the first point, the contravention of the Act was not that Lord Thomson appeared on television. It was something he said. All of us who know him would, I think, acquit him of any desire deliberately to contravene the Act. I think that it was an inadvertent contravention. However, I.T.A. has now drawn the attention of the contract company to this contravention.

I understand that Lord Wigg has received an apology from the chairman of I.T.A. I very much regret what happened. There were two aspects of it. One was the appearance of Lord Thomson and the other was the appearance of another gentleman with whom Lord Wigg was involved in a libel action. I could not imagine any greater discourtesy than that to Lord Wigg. I am glad that I.T.A. has apologised to him.

Dr. Winstanley

While accepting the Postmaster-General's answer, may I nevertheless ask whether he is aware that many hon. Members believe that the restrictions imposed by the Television Act are too strict rather than too lax and that we would, therefore, prefer to see them relaxed rather than tightened?

Mr. Short

I should not have thought that the hon. Member would advocate that the proprietor of one of the stations should be allowed to express himself on a controversial issue of the day. This provision was deliberately put in the Act by Parliament.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Surely, the prohibition in question is footling and it is time that the whole question was looked into and restrictive provisions of this sort swept away.

Mr. Short

It is not footling at all. It is something basic and important. We do not want television to degenerate into the state in which the British Press at present finds itself.

Mr. Shinwell

Was not the trouble on the occasion referred to in the Question caused by the appearance of the editor of the Spectator, for which the hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) is completely responsible?

Mr. Gilmour

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is at least a year since I sold the Spectator, so that his right hon. Friend is totally inaccurate?