HC Deb 22 July 1969 vol 787 cc1636-44

Lords Amendment No. 10: In page 29, line 23, at the end insert or through the medium of a relay service licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949.

Mr. Stonehouse

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that we take Lords Amendment No. 11 with this Amendment.

Mr. Stonehouse

May I request that we take these two Amendments separately, Mr. Speaker? I make this request on new advice that I have received, and I should be grateful if we could deal with Amendment No. 10 on its own.

Mr. Speaker

So be it.

Mr. Stonehouse

I have given special consideration to this Amendment, and I believe that there is some value in it. An individual customer of a rediffusion service could be construed as infringing the monopoly. It was our intention to allow the rediffusion companies to issue part of the agreement that they had to the individual customers under a general indemnity, but I have on further examination decided that this Amendment No. 10 achieves the same purpose, and achieves it in a far cleaner way.

Mr. John Hay (Henley)

May I express to the right hon. Gentleman appreciation—it would be unkind to say, of his death bed repentance, but of his last-minute acceptance of the point we made on Report and which was pressed again in the Lords. As he said, this is intended to benefit the individual subscriber to a relay system and I am certain that the words, as he said, will provide a much cleaner way of dealing with this problem. He has almost redeemed himself in my eyes after refusing to accept some extremely pertinent and useful Amendments that we urged on him on Report. I cannot say that he has completely redeemed himself until I hear what he has to say about Lords Amendment No. 11, but at the moment I thank him very much for having given us this one concession.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 11: In page 29, line 26, after "reception" insert or to operate a broadcast relay service".

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Stonehouse

I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

I am sorry to upset the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) on this. But if we allowed the Amendment to go through it would undermine the Post Office monopoly, and as the House well knows I am very anxious that the monopoly as it now exists within a Department of State should be transferred to the Corporation, and should not be undermined in the way suggested in the Amendment.

Contrary to the views expressed by some hon. Members in Committee on 6th February, which also appear to be held by some noble Lords, the relay of broadcast programmes falls within the Postmaster-General's monopoly, and relay companies have had licences within the terms of the Telegraph Act, 1869 since the early days of broadcasting. Programme distribution is not technically different from any other forms of telecommunication, and exemption of the relay services from the monopoly would un- doubtedly lead to other interests seeking similar exemption. This could lead to such erosion of the monopoly that its whole purpose would be frustrated.

The House has frequently run over the ground of this question, and would not wish me to delay it any longer on this, as our point of view on this side of the House is well known.

Mr. Hay

The right hon. Gentleman has been rather cursory at this stage in dismissing the very pertinent and powerful arguments put in another place in connection with the Amendment. It is true that both in Committee and on Report in this House we have covered the ground concerning the position of the relay services at some length. But that does not make what I regard as a bad case on the Government's side a good one.

The relay services are privately-owned, in the hands of private shareholders, and since they are dependent on the Postmaster-General for the grant of a licence their situation has been fairly clear. But in recent years there has been a development by the Post Office of trying to enter this type of business in competition. The effect of the Bill is henceforth to require the privately-owned relay companies to go to the Post Office Corporation, their competitor, to obtain a licence. It is this simple and single point of principle that has been the crux of our case throughout.

The right hon. Gentleman has often said that since one of the main purposes of the Bill is to renew and extend the monopoly at present operated by the G.P.O. and confer that new and extended monopoly upon the Post Office Corporation, nothing must be done which will whittle that away and make it more difficult for the Post Office in future to operate its monopoly. Intrinsic in this situation, he says, must be the power conferred by statute upon the Post Office to licence anyone who wishes to carry on a particular activity which falls within the Post Office monopoly.

So the House is once again face to face with a single point of principle: do we consider that it is right, just and proper that if someone running a business faces competition from a powerful monopoly—an all-powerful monopoly, I might almost say—that person or company should be obliged to go to that competitor to obtain a licence to carry on business? That is the situation as it will be once this Bill has become law. I must in fairness admit what the right hon. Gentleman has already told us often—that he intends to grant a licence to existing operations covering them until 1976. But, as I said when I spoke on this subject on Report, we are writing a statute which may exist for many years and what may be the position up to 1976 will not necessarily be the position which will obtain for all time.

Therefore, it seems to us that it would be a perfectly sensible and simple matter to exclude relays altogether from the monopoly, and that, I understand, is the effect of the Amendment. This was another of those cases where the Amendment was supported not only by Conservatives but by a number of Liberal and cross-bench peers. Indeed, I believe that several Labour peers also voted for it because they saw that there was here a major issue of principle.

I am sorry to say that, even at this late stage, the right hon. Gentleman persists in believing that some form of broadcasting is involved in what a relay service does. I ask him again to accept that what a relay service does is to provide an improved method of reception and therefore one should not equate a relay service with the broadcasting authorities. I think that confusion has been at the root of the thinking of the right hon. Gentleman and his Department throughout this Bill. They have misconceived what a relay system is.

Tonight we have had a fresh argument from the right hon. Gentleman. This is the argument very familiar from the lips of Ministers—I have used it myself—that we should not do this because it would create a precedent and would open the door to all manner of difficulties. I do not accept that in this case, since the licensing powers are in the hands of the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and of the Post Office to draw the line as hard as they will.

The House is faced with a simple issue of principle. Should a relay operator be obliged to go to his competitor to obtain a licence to carry on his business? It is that which divides the two sides. What a wonderful thing it will be if, on our deciding to disagree with the Amendment, the Lords do not weary of well doing as they did yesterday on the gerrymandering Bill and decide to insist on this Amendment.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I declare what is for me, unhappily, a very minor financial interest in this matter, although no doubt in print it would be regarded as of great importance financially. I have some connection with a relay system and I am a director of a company in the far west which gives relay services. The only reason I became associated with relay was because, unhappily, the B.B.C. was not able to provide the particular service which my constituents would like to receive and, therefore, in many parts of that area the people rely upon a relay system. That is how I originally came into the picture.

What I find distressing in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was the horror with which he contemplated a situation in which there would be an erosion of monopoly. He spoke as though it would be an offence against the Holy Ghost. It would be out of order now to go into the merits of the different doctrines of this matter. I have always taken the view that where the private sector cannot provide a service, it is the duty of the State to provide it, and for that reason there are many Acts of nationalisation which my colleagues and I have supported and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman warned himself about getting out of order.

Mr. Thorpe

I shall therefore echo what I said, Mr. Speaker, so that it will penetrate to my inner ear drums and merely say that it seems a most extraordinary situation that when a service, which has existed for many years and which has involved large capital investment and has provided a service which the Post Office and the broadcasting authorities on their own admission have not been able to provide, applies for the right to continue, it should be unable to apply to some impartial authority for the right either to continue or to have its licence discontinued, but that the application must be made to those who, according to the Postmaster-General's own speech, are claiming total monopoly and who would look askance at any erosion of those monopolistic powers.

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I do not think that it is out of order to say that when the right hon. Gentleman dealt with a very similar situation, namely, the grant of the valuable franchise for independent television companies, they did not have to go to the existing independent companies or to the B.B.C., but to an independent authority for the granting or withholding or variation of the franchise. That is all that is asked in this instance, that after 1976—I understand the operative date to be 31st July—those who have provided a service if applying for a continuation of their licences shall be able to go to an impartial body, which I suggest should be the right hon. Gentleman, to ask to be allowed to continue and that they should not be expected to put their case before those who are themselves seeking monopoly and would therefore be biased against them. All we are asking is that the Corporation should not be judge and jury in its own case.

That seems to be a fairly basic doctrine which I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman, who is a good democrat, would see his way to accept. If he does not see fit to accept it, one will be able to conclude only that for him the phrase "erosion of monopoly" is a far greater spectre of horror than even his speech would lead us to believe and that what he wants to do is not only to create a monopoly, but to give that monopoly power to decide whether any potential competitor should have the right to survive. That is a very wrong concept.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

The case has been made extremely well by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), as well it should have been, for he has often made it, as have the rest of us who were on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill. Not only do I support my hon. Friend, but I advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to vote against the Government Motion.

The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) showed some surprise at the rigidity of the attitude of the Postmaster-General towards monopoly. We are certainly not surprised, because that has been his attitude all through our consideration of the Bill and this just happens to be the most glaring and spectacular illustration of this rigidity.

I was not surprised that the Postmaster-General made so short a speech, because he has made this case so often and it is so bad that by now he is presumably slightly sensitive about it. It must be an embarrassing speech for him to have to make.

Our case still remains utterly unanswerable. We shall still have the ludicrous position in which a company will be asked to apply to its competitor for a licence, without appeal. How anything could be more wrong that that I do not know and I am amazed that we have not made any progress in this case.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 178, Noes 129.

Division No. 342.] AYES [10.44 p.m.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Conlan, Bernard Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)
Anderson, Donald Dalyell, Tam Ford, Ben
Archer, Peter Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Forrester, John
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Freeson, Reginald
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Ginsburg, David
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Beaney, Alan Dempsey, James Gregory, Arnold
Bence, Cyril Dewar, Donald Grey, Charles (Durham)
Benn, Rt. Hn Anthony Wedgwood Dobson, Ray Griffiths, Will (Exchange)
Bidwell, Sydney Doig, Peter Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Bishop, E. S. Dunnett, Jack Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Blackburn, F. Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Hannan, William
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Harper, Joseph
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Eadie, Alex Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Booth, Albert Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Haseldine, Norman
Boston, Terence Edwards, William (Merioneth) Heffer, Eric S.
Boyden, James Ellis, John Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Brooks, Edwin Ennals, David Hilton, W. S.
Broughton, Sir Alfred Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Hooley, Frank
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
Brown, Bob(N 'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Faulds, Andrew Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
Buchan, Norman Fernyhough, E. Howie, W.
Cant, R. B. Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Hoy, Rt. Hn. James
Carmichael, Neil Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Coleman, Donald Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Hunter, Adam
Hynd, John Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.) Rodgers, William (Stockton)
Janner, Sir Barnett Manuel, Archie Rose, Paul
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Marks, Kenneth Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Jeger, George (Goole) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Silverman, Julius
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Mendelson, John Slater, Joseph
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Mikardo, Ian Small, William
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Millan, Bruce Spriggs, Leslie
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Miller, Dr. M. S. Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Milne, Edward (Blyth) Taverne, Dick
Judd, Frank Molloy, William Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Kelley, Richard Moonman, Eric Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Kenyon, Clifford Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Tinn, James
Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Tuck, Raphael
Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Morris, John (Aberavon) Urwin, T. W.
Lawson, George Murray, Albert Varley, Eric G.
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Neal, Harold Wallace, George
Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold (Cheetham) Newens, Stan Watkins, David (Consett)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip Wellbeloved, James
Loughlin, Charles Norwood, Christopher Whitaker, Ben
Luard, Evan Ogden, Eric White, Mrs. Eirene
Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Oswald, Thomas Wilkins, W. A.
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Paget, R. T. Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
McBride, Neil Palmer, Arthur Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
McCann, John Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
MacColl, James Pavitt, Laurence Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
MacDermot, Niall Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Macdonald, A. H. Pentland, Norman Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
McGuire, Michael Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Mackie, John Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Maclennan, Robert Price, William (Rugby) Woof, Robert
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Probert, Arthur
McNamara, J. Kevin Rankin, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Rhodes, Geoffrey Mr. J. D. Concannon and
Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Mr. Ernest Armstrong.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Glover, Sir Douglas Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Goodhart, Philip Osborn, John (Hallam)
Astor, John Goodhew, Victor Page, Graham (Crosby)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Gower, Raymond Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Grant, Anthony Peel, John
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Gurden, Harold Percival, Ian
Balniel, Lord Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Pike, Miss Mervyn
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Harris, Reader (Heston) Pink, R. Bonner
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Bessell, Peter Hastings, Stephen Pym, Francis
Biffen, John Hawkins, Paul Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Biggs-Davison, John Hay, John Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Black, Sir Cyril Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Heseltine, Michael Ridsdale, Julian
Bossom, Sir Clive Hill, J. E. B. Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Holland, Philip Russell, Sir Ronald
Brains, Bernard Hooson, Emlyn Scott, Nicholas
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hunt, John Scott-Hopkins, James
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Hutchison, Michael Clark Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Bryan, Paul Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Silvester, Frederick
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Kimball, Marcus Speed, Keith
Burden, F. A. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Stainton, Keith
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Kirk, Peter Stodart, Anthony
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Kitson, Timothy Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Carlisle, Mark Langford-Holt, Sir John Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Chichester-Clark, R. Lawler, Wallace Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Clark, Henry Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Temple, John M.
Cooke, Robert Longden, Gilbert Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Corfield, F. V. Lubbock, Eric Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) MacArthur, Ian Waddington, David
Dean, Paul Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) McMaster, Stanley Wall, Patrick
Digby, Simon Wingfield McNair-Wilson, Michael Whitelaw. Rt. Hn. William
Drayson, G. B. Marten, Neil Wiggin, A. W.
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Maude, Angus Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Eden, Sir John Mawby, Ray Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Eyre, Reginald Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Farr, John Monro, Hector Wright, Esmond
Fisher, Nigel Montgomery, Fergus Wylie, N. R.
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles More, Jasper Younger, Hn. George
Fortescue, Tim Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. Murton, Oscar TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Neave, Airey Mr. Anthony Royle and
Nott, John Mr. Bernard Weatherill.
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