HC Deb 21 November 1968 vol 773 cc1520-2
15. Mr. Ashley

asked the Postmaster-General if he will give an assurance that he will not alter his decision to terminate the pay television experiment; and if he will make a statement on the representations he has received from the pay television company since he announced his decision in the House.

27. Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a further statement on the future of pay television.

28. Mr. Blenkinsop

asked the Postmaster-General if he will make a further statement on the Government's future plans for pay television.

31. Mr. Ian Gilmour

asked the Postmaster-General why he decided to terminate the pay television experiment; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stonehouse

As I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson), on 25th October, in the light of experience of the experimental service and bearing in mind wider economic and social considerations, I have decided not to accede to Pay-TV Ltd's request that I should authorise a service for up to 250,000 homes in London. Pay-TV Ltd. informed me on 6th November of their decision to close down their experimental service forthwith.—[Vol. 770, c. 404.]

Mr. Ashley

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision to kill the experiment will be warmly welcomed, because Pay-TV discriminates against low income groups, who cannot afford to pay between 6s. and £2 per night for programmes? But in view of Lord Brabourne's statement that Pay-TV is an inevitable development and that the company will continue its efforts, will he assure the House that he will continue his opposition to the experiment and will ensure that any efforts to resuscitate it will inevitably fail?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am not sure that this did discriminate against low income groups, and I must make it clear that there was no question of the Government's discontinuing the experiment. If the company had agreed to a further experiment in 150,000 homes the Government would have given permission for the experiment to continue on those lines.

Mr. Morris

I welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend and endorse everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). Is my right hon. Friend aware that this decision should enable the B.B.C. and I.T.V. further to improve the programmes available to the general body of television viewers?

Mr. Stonehouse

Improvements in I.T.A. and B.B.C. programmes are going on all the time.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us are still anxious that the Government should not consider a further extension, even on a limited scale, because of the danger to the development of the existing services?

Mr. Stonehouse

The experiment as conducted so far by Pay-TV, with only 10,000 subscribers, was not a sufficient basis to decide for or against the system. This is why the Government decided last July that they were in favour of an extension of the experiment. The company, however, asked for such a high number of subscribers that it would have been tantamount to agreeing to a fourth channel.

Mr. Gilmour

Was not the Government's decision arbitrary, ill-considered and retrograde? Why does the right hon. Gentleman blame the company when the Postmaster-General imposed an arbitrary ceiling on the number of sets which he must have known would be uneconomic?

Mr. Stonehouse

No, Sir, the Government's decision was fair, realistic and sensible.