HC Deb 12 May 1969 vol 783 cc1086-111
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

The next Amendment is No. 91, with which it might be for the convenience of the House to discuss Amendment No. 92, in page 31, line 18, after 'reception', insert: 'or to operate a broadcast relay service,' and Amendment No. 94, in Clause 27, page 31, line 33, at end insert: (3) If any person who has applied for a licence to operate a relay service under subsection (1) of this section is aggrieved at the refusal of the Post Office to grant such a licence or at the attachment by the Post Office to the grant of such a licence of terms and conditions which to that person seem unduly onerous or unfair or in restraint of any business carried on or proposed to be carried on by him, he may within such time as may be limited in that behalf by rules made by the Minister regulating the procedure relating to such appeals, appeal to the Minister for the grant of such a licence or for the deletion, alteration or modification of those terms and conditions, and the Minister shall within such time as may be prescribed by such rules determine those questions and if the Minister decides that a licence ought to be granted the Post Office shall forthwith grant a licence upon such terms and conditions as may be indicated in the Minister's decision.

Mr. Hay

If it is to the convenience of the Chair and of the House, and if it is necessary to press the Government on the matter which I now wish to discuss, may we have, as Mr. Speaker has indicated that he would be prepared to allow, a Division? He indicated it would be on Amendment No. 92 rather than on No. 91, since the second Amendment I have mentioned has to do with a somewhat technical point, which I shall come to in due course.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand that that is the case.

Mr. Hay

I beg to move Amendment No. 91, in page 31, line 15, at end insert: 'or through the medium of a relay service licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949'.

Mr. Joseph Slater

Do I take it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are now taking Amendments No. 91, No. 92 and No. 94 together?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We are discussing Amendments No. 91, 92 and 94, and the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) is moving Amendment No. 91. A Division will be allowed on Amendment No. 92.

Mr. Hay

That I understand to be the case.

I make no apology to the House for returning once more to the subject of relay operations, because there is a very substantial matter of principle involved here. I must begin by declaring an interest which I have. I am a member of the boards of several companies which are involved in providing television and radio relay services in different parts of the country; I am also a member of the council of the Relay Services Association, which is the trade association which looks after the interests of relay operators. It may be thought that this is not so much a disqualification in the context of this discussion, but an advantage, because being in the position I am I have some special knowledge of the effect of the Bill upon relay operators: The toad beneath the harrow knows Exactly where each tooth-point goes". Believe me, some of these tooth points go rather deep.

Many hon. Members appear to have little idea as to what exactly relay is. Unless an hon. Member happens to have a relay system operating in his constituency, or unless he is served by a relay system himself, he may know very little about it. I should then explain to the House that the whole basis of relay operations is to provide an improved method of receiving television and broadcast signals.

A relay operator erects, at some convenient and carefully chosen point in a town, or, often, outside it, a mast with a very sophisticated type of aerial which enables signals to be brought in and sent by wire to a large number of houses in the locality. The signals are received at the best possible site. They are, if I may use the expression, cleaned up of all kinds of interference and other problems by highly professional equipment, and the signal which is then passed down a cable to the subscriber in his house is as perfect as it would be possible to make it. A relay operator also has some element of public service in what he does, in that he enables this mess of television aerials on the skyline to be got rid of.

I come back to the point I made a moment ago, because I believe it is fundamental to an understanding of what we are talking about tonight, and it is this point which, I believe, with all respect, the Postmaster-General has not understood, that relay is not broadcasting; it is an improved method of reception. Sometimes it is the only method of reception, and it is particularly the case with what are called ultra high frequency transmissions which, I remind the House and the right hon. Gentleman, will be the normal type of transmission in a year or two's time, because we are moving into the u.h.f. system of broadcasting.

The industry that we are discussing is not an insubstantial industry. About £100 million worth of capital has been invested in the industry since 1924. Relay operators operate in about 600 towns, and are currently serving about 1¼ million homes. There are 280 separate companies, many of them competing with each other, and they often obtain contracts with local authorities as a result of open tender. Many local authorities themselves operate relay systems. They buy the equipment, install it and provide the service for the benefit of their tenants.

The present position is briefly this. The Postmaster-General has certain licensing powers. He has powers to license the "head end" equipment as it is called, which is roughly equivalent to the ordinary domestic receiver but used by a relay operator. Those powers are under the Wireless Telegraphy Acts. Under the Telegraph Act, 1869, the Postmaster-General has the power to license the operation of a telegraph. So under the existing law the Postmaster-General grants a licence under the Wireless Telegraphy Act so that the operator of the relay system can receive the signal, and a licence under the Telegraph Act, 1869, for him to operate the equivalent of a telegraph, that is to say, to pass signals from his receiving station down the wires to the houses of the subscribers. Often a joint licence is issued.

Under the Bill these powers are to be split. The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications will be the licensing authority for the wireless telegraphy side; that is in Clause 3. The Post Office Corporation will be the body which will authorise the operation of the telegraph, and that is in Clause 27. It may be asked, what is the trouble; what is this all about?

The main point that I wish to bring to the attention of the House is this. The General Post Office presided over by the right hon. Gentleman has in recent months begun to move actively into the business of relay operation, and the Postmaster-General has made no bones about it. It is the intention that the Post Office Corporation will do so to an increasing extent in the future.

The history of this matter is quite interesting. In 1964 and 1965 various Post Office officials hinted at plans that were being developed inside the Post Office for combining telephone, sound and television services. As far back as December, 1966, in answer to a Parliamentary Question by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), the then Postmaster-General, who is now the Secretary of State for Education and Science, said that the Post Office was studying a common cable for broadcast distribution and individual wires for telephones. He went on to say that one lead would serve for sound broadcasting, television, telephone, the reading of meters and so on.

On Second Reading of the Post Office (Borrowing Powers) Bill the same right hon. Gentleman gave further news of this and stated that a common cable was in prospect. He said this: … we are also carrying out a costing exercise in a new town for a comprehensive cable which will carry telephone, television, sound radio, the reading of electricity meters and so on."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th January, 1967; Vol. 739, c. 835.] On 14th February, 1967, the right hon. Gentleman's Department issued a Press notice about an experiment to be conducted in Washington new town in County Durham. It was written in advertising man's language. In the most glowing terms it described a revolutionary system, "a maid-of-all-work communications system, that would revolutionise British home and business life"—so said the Press notice. The world was agog waiting to see what it was all about.

But then we discovered, in answer to a number of Questions which I put down, that the system to be provided in Washington was nothing like the description which had been given. This was despite the fact that, in the meantime, the right hon. Gentleman, the present Postmaster-General, in November 1968, in the somewhat inappropriate forum of the annual luncheon of the Relay Services Association, chose to speak of very exciting possibilities, announced that the Washington new town experiment was to be extended, and that the G.P.O. proposed to tender for further installations at Craigavon, Northern Ireland, Irvine, Scotland, and the Milton Keynes new towns.

Incidentally, it has now emerged, in answer to certain Parliamentary Questions which I put down on 16th April, that this is not to be a single cable system, that the relay cable to be used is of a kind which has given a great deal of trouble to relay companies in the past, and that the line repeaters which are to be used are of an obsolescent pattern, with a distressing propensity to blow the fuses when there is a thunderstorm in the vicinity.

The right hon. Gentleman might look into this matter, because this is the space age system which he has described. There is nothing in the design of the systems for Washington, and so on, which differs from conventional systems. It will be a difficult problem for the Minister within a short time for the systems to carry television signals on u.h.f. bands without modifying the receivers which they are intended to serve.

Some of my hon. Friends, when raising this matter in Standing Committee, referred to the situation in the Irvine new town. I mention these matters because they are highly relevant to the prospect of the Post Office getting into this business and taking the powers in this Bill to enable them to do so without any kind of appeal against their decision.

The case of Irvine new town is interesting, but it has been difficult to discover, despite a good deal of probing by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby), exactly what it is the Post Office is doing. But there are grounds for considerable suspicion that undue influence and pressure was put upon the new town development corporation in Irvine to persuade it not to sign a contract with an operator only 100 or 200 yards away from the area of the new town and, instead, to give it to the Post Office. It is incidents of this kind which cause us to worry, and this is the reason for the Amendment.

Those of us who are concerned with relay operations—and I am a director of relay companies—do not in any way fear competition. If the Post Office wants to compete, let it have a go. But there are two pre-conditions which any fair-minded person must insist upon. The first is that the competition is fair and is not subsidised by the taxpayer. This is something about which we worry considerably, in the context of the Post Office getting into this business. The second pre-condition, which is even more important, is that it does not have to get a licence to operate from its own competitors.

The Bill, if unamended, will require the relay operator, in future, to go to the Post Office Corporation for a licence to enable him to carry on. He will also have to go to the corporation to obtain a licence to serve any new business he may acquire. But the corporation itself is actively engaged, and intends even more actively to engage, in this very kind of business. Even to pronounce the situation must show the House that there is a serious matter of principle.

What has the right hon. Gentleman said? This matter has been raised on several occasions and there have been flaws in the Minister's replies. I will analyse some of the answers the right hon. Gentleman has given. He said that at some time before 1976, when the B.B.C. Charter and the licences of the independent television companies come to be renewed, there will be a review of broadcasting.

When the licences of the relay companies expired a year or two ago they were renewed, but deliberately only until the end of the present year. In a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), who is President of the Relay Services Association, dated 16th April, the right hon. Gentleman undertook that while he held the office of Postmaster-General he would grant new dual licences under both of his existing powers, which I described, until the end of 1976. However, he said that he would not grant them for a longer period because of the review of broadcasting. At least, he said that the new licences which would be granted would bind the new Minister of Posts and Telecommunications and the new Post Office Corporation until 1976.

In Committee usptairs, on 13th February, the right hon. Gentleman gave an assurance—I am sure that he gave it genuinely, believing that it would be helpful—that, in his view, the Post Office Corporation would act in a responsible way in future. Throughout the debates on the Bill the right hon. Gentleman has, for these reasons, been unwilling to amend the Bill; because, he says, any amendment would breach the Post Office monopoly.

There are certain major criticisms that one can make of the right hon. Gentleman's case. The first is that he completely ignores the position which will exist after 1976. After that date, if the Bill goes through unamended, the Post Office will be free to cancel or refuse to renew the existing licences that he, as Postmaster-General, would have granted. We cannot be certain that there will be legislation to amend this legislation after 1976. There will be a review of broadcasting, but no hon. Member can lay his hand on his heart and say, "There is bound to be amending legislation, amending this Bill, before 1976, or shortly after that date".

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman's assurance, which he has given as Postmaster-General, that the Post Office will act reasonably cannot bind the Post Office Corporation. He has been at pains to remind the House that the whole purpose of the Bill is to separate the two functions of the Post Office as it stands and to set up the new Corporation with the least possible interference by the Minister. Any assurance that the right hon. Gentleman gives—I will not be unkind and say that it cannot be worth the paper on which it is written—cannot bind the Corporation.

Thirdly, everything that the right hon. Gentleman has said about this matter so far, including the fact that he is prepared to grant new licences until 1976, relates only to the existing business of relay companies. It does not relate to any new business that they may get between now and 1976. In other words, the right hon. Gentleman is saying, "I am prepared to protect your situation until 1976, but if you have a company which wishes to go into a new area or to extend into an adjacent area, the Bill will at once come into operation and immediately the operator will be obliged to go to the Post Office—its own competitor, which may be competing against it for the same piece of business—and obtain a licence." This cannot be right.

9.30 p.m.

Finally, I again urge the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late stage, to free his mind of his completely false analogy with broadcasting. I say again that the relay operator is not a broadcaster. He provides an improved method of reception better than one can get by an aerial in or on top of one's house. But he does not engage in broadcasting. For example, the Copyright Act makes it clear that the relay operation does not involve any breach of copyright. The Act was designed with that point very much in mind.

If the Postmaster-General insists on equating relay with broadcasting for his own purposes of refusing to look beyond 1976, we should equally insist that, since Clause 26 exempts broadcasting from infringing the telecommunications monopoly relay should be embraced in the definition of "broadcasting authority" in subsection (2). In other words, if it is sauce for the goose, it is sauce for the gander. If the right hon. Gentleman claims it as a broadcasting operation, it should be in the same area of "broadcasting authority" as defined in subsection (2). That is the purpose of the main Amendment, No. 92.

I now briefly mention Amendment No. 91. Clause 26 says that the telecommunications privilege is not infringed by two things: first, a direct wireless telegraphy transmission and, secondly, a direct wireless telegraphy reception, which means over one's own aerial. But if the reception is not direct—that is, if it is reception by a subscriber to a relay system who gets his signal over a wire—I am advised that, as the Bill is drafted, the privilege would apparently be infringed. Therefore, Amendment No. 91 is intended to put this right. Indeed, it stands entirely on its own, apart from the main point that I have been discussing.

I return briefly to the main problem remaining: that relay, as a business operation, should not have to be licensed by its competitor. That is the simple, clear matter of principle to which the right hon. Gentleman, even at this late stage, must address his mind and his remarks to the House. It is a matter of principle. So we give him a choice of alternatives in the two Amendments. On the one hand, Amendment No. 92, which excludes the privately owned relay companies altogether from the obligation of a licence from their own competitor or, on the other hand, if he prefers it, Amendment No. 94, which institutes the right of appeal against refusal to grant a licence by the Post Office or the attaching thereto of unreasonable conditions.

The simple point is that relay should not be obliged to obtain a licence from its competitor. This is wrong; this is unfair.

Captain Orr

My hon Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) and I, in dealing with the then extensions of the monopoly in Committee, dealt with the position of the relay stations. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that neither of us was able to make so powerful a case as that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) with his immense experience.

It would not be unreasonable for me, as someone who, so far as I know, has no financial interest in the matter whatever, to add a few words. Of course, not having that interest, I cannot claim the expertise of my hon. Friend, whose case I thought absolutely cogent.

In our earlier proceedings on Report, we discussed a new Clause of mine which sought to set up a Postal and Telecommunications Board. One of the objects of that Board was to deal with the kind of case which my hon. Friend has put forward where the new Corporation is, under the Bill as drafted, to be judge and jury in a case against its own competitors.

My hon. Friend's Amendment is designed to remedy that in relation to relay services. I would have liked to see it remedied in all cases. Nevertheless, I support the Amendment. I thought that my hon. Friend's strongest argument was one which was not all that apparent to people who have studied the matter cursorily, namely, the fact that relay services are not broadcasting services; they are receivers.

That is why I found it difficult to accept the Postmaster-General's argument in Committee that this was one of the questions which would be dealt with by the review of broadcasting to be carried out in 1976. That review is to be a review of broadcasting services—presumably like the Pilkington Committee, which examined the existing services of the B.B.C., I.T.A., sound radio, commercial broadcasting, local broadcasting, and so on.

I cannot see why a certain method of reception is germane to such a review. My hon. Friend makes a very good point when he says that the Post Office cannot have it both ways. If it wants to consider this as a method of broadcasting, why not accept Amendment No. 92? The Post Office seems to be trying to have it both ways. I think that my hon. Friend is right—the evidence suggests that he is—in saying that the Post Office wants to go into this business itself. It is afraid to say so so early.

The Postmaster-General is not saying, "From now on we shall nationalise the relay services. In future all these services will be provided by the new Corporation", but it is obvious from what has happened in the various new towns—Craigavon, near my constituency, was mentioned just now—that the new Corporation will follow what the Post Office is now doing and will feel its way forward into this field. Every form of pressure will be used.

My hon. Friend said that in the case of one of the new towns he thought that improper pressure had been exercised—

Mr. Hay

I never said anything as specific as that. I think that I said that the circumstances which surrounded the Irvine new town transaction gave rise to some degree of suspicion that there had been some improper influence.

Captain Orr

I accept my hon. Friend's elegant amendment. I think that we know what he is after. I think that it gave ground for suspicion that the Post Office may well have used methods which we might not like. My point is not whether or not it occurred, but the fact that under the Bill it will not be necessary for the new Corporation to exert any pressure; it will merely use the law of the land. Under the Bill we shall give it authority to suppress all its competitors. It need only withdraw the licence of a competitor. Suppose that the new corporation wants to provide relay services in the new town of Craigavon and suppose that the Post Office decides that it will provide those services. It can see whether it can get a tender in open competition. If it finds that it cannot do so, there is nothing to prevent the new corporation from saying, "We will not license the competitors; we will do it ourselves".

Mr. Hay

It could, if it chose, say to the new town development corporation—or the commission, as I believe it is called in Northern Ireland—"It is no use your thinking that you can have an open tender, and it is no use your thinking that you can award the contract to a private operator. If you do so, he will not get a licence".

Captain Orr

That is so. Without invoking the power, the very fact that the monopoly power exists in the legislation is a sufficient weapon to enable the Corporation to get the business if it wants it. The Postmaster-General may say that this is not the intention. If the Postmaster-General says that, I am ready to accept that he believes it. I do not necessarily believe that between now and 1976 a new Corporation setting itself up, particularly with a review of broadcasting hanging over its head, will not invoke the power.

The Postmaster-General may give us understandings about the existing business, but, as my hon. Friend says, that understanding does not extend to any future business for which relay companies may tender between now and 1976. The new Corporation, in order to try to pre-empt any decision of the review of broadcasting, may well try to get as much of the market as it possibly can in the mean time. Who is to say that any understanding that the Postmaster-General may give us now will prevent the Corporation from doing so if the House of Commons gives it the unqualified power so to do?

I do not like this at all. I think this is an extension of monopoly service on a par with some of the others, but it is a particularly bad one because it is an attack—not like so many of the other things that we were talking about, an attack on future developments, but an attack on existing considerable private enterprise investment which has been entirely successful with the general public. More and more people want to rent those sets because it is a good service.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that he cannot say that the private bodies have been entirely successful? In my area, for example, there have been innumerable complaints about the operation of the relay services. Would not the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that the individual householder already pays to a monopoly if he lives in a large council estate where the local authority provides a relay service?

Captain Orr

He is not faced with a monopoly. He has got other choices. He can erect an aerial and receive direct. He does not have to deal with a relay company. Even in a private home a man can put up an aerial at any time and receive direct from the broadcasting authority. He can put an aerial on top of his set or on the top of his house.

There is another sanction. If the local authority concerned is not satisfied with the kind of reception enjoyed by the people in its area, it can change its company. The local authority can go out to tender. If the hon. Gentleman opposes this Amendment and if the new Corporation has the sole right to install these services, the hon. Gentleman's constituents will have no choice whatever in the future and no protection from a monopoly which will be as bad as we have ever seen.

My hon. Friend made an excellent case. The Postmaster-General must deal with it. As my hon. Friend said, if we do not have some such provision as Amendment No. 91 or Amendment No. 92, we shall need legislation when we come to 1976 unless, by then, the Government of the day seek to destroy the present relay companies. That also is a powerful argument, because on of the things that Governments do not like to do, after a review of broadcasting, is to bring in legislation. They avoid it if they possibly can. Therefore, those who will have to defend the private companies in the future will be faced with a picture between now and 1976 of the new Corporation entering into the business, and then, by 1976, when the review has taken place, they will, whatever may be reported in the review, have to fight for legislation. Anyone who knows anything about business knows that one of the worst positions to be in is one in which one has to fight for legislation.

The Postmaster-General ought to think seriously on this matter again. I hope that he will accept at least one of the Amendments. If he does not, I shall strongly urge my hon. Friend not to withdraw his Amendment, and I hope that we shall press it to a Division.

9.45 p.m.

Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)

I support the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay). He has already on my behalf declared my interest in the matter under discussion as President of the Relay Services Association of Great Britain. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend tell the House as much as he did about the nature of relay operations, about which some hon. Members are still under a misapprehension. I was glad, also, that he told the House something of their extent and importance.

At all stages of our discussions on the Bill, the Minister has repeatedly made clear his determination to uphold at all costs the principle of monopoly operation for the new Post Office. He has also made clear that the new Post Office Corporation itself proposes to go into the relay business in a big way. As my hon. Friend said, the relay operators do not fear fair competition. How far competition from any State-subsidised public corporation is likely to be fair is a matter for debate. We have had some examples recently in the airline business. But, in this case, what relay operators find particularly disturbing is that, under the proposed new system, the power to issue or withhold licences will reside in a direct and very powerful competitor, namely, the Post Office. The Post Office will be judge and jury. If it chooses, it will be able to suppress competition and put awkward rivals out of the way altogether by simply not issuing them with licences.

It is true that for the immediate future this state of affairs is mitigated to some extent by assurances the Minister gave me recently in a letter all that he was doing was to give effect to the assurances he and his predecessor had given at one time or another on the subject of the licences. But this mitigation does not give the industry any security after 1976, when the licences are due to expire, nor does it affect the principle involved and its unfairness, which is what my hon. Friends and I object to so much.

For all these reasons, I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will reconsider the position and accept the Amendments.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

As the Bill goes through the House it becomes more curious, and if the Amendments are not accepted it will be more curious still.

The arguments advanced have made me think of new possibilities that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General and his advisers have presumably not thought about. The whole question turns on whether the service concerned is a broadcasting service and whether the Post Office as a monopoly has the right to issue licences to its competitors or deny them. The service is not now classified as a broadcasting service as such, especially by the unions operating in the industry, of which mine is a very powerful union. We regard it as a service industry. If it were not, we should have no right to organise the labour in it. It would be organised by A.C.T.A.T. or the National Association of Broadcasting Staffs.

Is my right hon. Friend telling us that in the operation of the licence system after 1976 he will deny my union the right to organise membership in any setup that the Post Office wants to operate, or is he telling us that my members will have no right to enter into new contracts and will have to condense their operations and business? If so, many will be put out of work, and our membership will decline. It means no more and no less than that. My right hon. Friend or a future Postmaster-General will apparently sit as judge and jury and tell the existing relay companies that after 1976 he may or may not complete their execution. That is not good enough.

I ask my right hon. Friend to take more advice on the matter and see where this will lead us. As the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said, it is an established industry. It has had £100 million of capital invested in it over about 40 years. It has grown up slowly. It does not register huge profits, but it provides a vital service. If it is to be denied the opportunity to tender for marginal business it may as well not go on, because no firm can live unless it progresses in active competition for business which is available to it and open to tender. But one cannot obtain a tender certificate if the Postmaster-General refuses to issue a licence. That is the kernel of the matter. If he or any future Postmaster-General refuses to issue a licence, that creates a grievous situation for my members in the industry. They, too, have to consider their future and their pension rights.

I cannot add more to what was admirably said by the hon. Member for Henley, but I ask the Postmaster-General to look at the matter again—and to look at it very seriously. He should consider where it might lead us in seven years. We should not invite chaos in an established industry. The acceptance of either of these Amendments will safeguard the position.

Mr. Mawby

The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) made some interesting and telling points. He was in error when he said that a future Postmaster-General may say, "We shall not give you a licence". It will not be the Postmaster-General. In future it will be a public Corporation, quite remote from the Minister and from this House. I know that the hon. Member is aware of that, and that what he said was a slip of the tongue, but the issue is important. While we have a Minister at that Box in whose hands the power is placed, the position may not be too bad.

Mr. Tomney

I was trying to tell the Postmaster-General that I am aware of the other authority which may be set up and that I believe that the residual power should rest in the House with the Minister on such issues, despite the establishment of the new Post Office.

Mr. Mawby

This is an important point and the hon. Member has pointed to one of the difficult problems that we have existing organisations which are performing a service. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) said, these organisations do not fear competition as long as it is fair. If the power resided with a Minister in this House, many of us would not complain. We are complaining that the new Corporation, who obviously will go into this business, will have the right to tell any applicant, any company, even if it has obtained a franchise from a local authority area, "We will not issue you with a licence". That company will have a suspicion—I will put it no higher—that the fact that it had to apply for a licence to its main competitor meant that its main competitor was not fair in deciding whether to issue a licence.

If the Postmaster-General believes that these are broadcasting authorities, then one of these Amendments will cover the point. If, on the other hand, he agrees with my hon. Friend the Member for Henley, as I do, that they are only an extension, only a large receiving set which is then providing a service to a large number of customers, the other Amendment will suit. If neither will suit, at least Amendment 94 should be accepted, providing a right of appeal to an independent person in the guise of the new Minister of Posts; at least that would give some satisfaction to the company so that if it felt that it had not been properly treated by its main competitor, it would be able to appeal to the Minister who, the firm would consider, would be reasonably impartial and would take into account all the circumstances surrounding the case.

If none of these Amendments is accepted, we are creating a situation which is not equitable and which certainly will not meet the normal wishes of the House. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should accept one of these Amendments.

Mr. Stonehouse

The House has heard a well-informed debate on the subject of the relay companies. In Standing Committee we went over this ground assisted by observations from the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). Tonight, we have had the additional advice of the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) and the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Sir F. Maclean), both of whom speak from deep personal interest in and connection with the relay companies, and the House has been grateful for their observations.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That the proceedings on the Post Office Bill may be entered upon and proceeded with at this day's sitting at any hour, though opposed.—[Mr. Stonehouse.]

Question again proposed, That the Amendment be made.

Mr. Stonehouse

The House will be particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Henley for the expertise which he brought to our deliberations. I agreed with many of his comments.

I was particularly pleased that he paid tribute to the work which the companies are doing in relay radio and T.V. broadcasting. There is no doubt that they perform a valuable service. I have especially in mind the valleys in South Wales, where it would be impossible for many ordinary households to receive T.V. by the ordinary means and where for many years the relay companies have been providing an important service.

We have also had the advantage of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), who has connections with the union organising employees in these firms. I recognise the force of his argument on behalf of the members of his union.

However, I am unable to go much further than my previous observations on this subject. I refer the House to my observations in Committee on 30th April, c. 1510 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, when I explained that I had already given an assurance that the companies would be protected until 1976. I have spelt this out in a communication to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire. There will be a guarantee before the appointed day that licences required will be provided for the companies concerned to continue their operations until 1976.

I recognise that this relates to the existing businesses. I think that the relay companies will find that the corporation will be very reasonable about dealing with applications for new businesses, but it would be wrong to go beyond 1976 because, as I have explained, it would be unfortunate to pre-empt the fundamental review of broadcasting which is to be conducted before that date. I said on 13th February that the relay companies in effect were in no different a situation from that of the programme companies under the I.T.A. These were not given any guarantee that they would be able to continue after that date because the whole of broadcasting was to be subject to a fundamental review, and it would not be right if the relay companies were given any exemption from that.

I recognise that the relay companies are not broadcasting companies in the sense that the I.T.A. companies are, and I recognise that they are not in the same position as the B.B.C., because they do not originate material. But we should not try to anticipate the fundamental review which may consider the relevance of relay systems the technology of which is increasing and improving every week and, in a mere three or four years, may provide a new break-through and a new opportunity for broadcasting by wire not now open to us.

If we were to give guarantees to the relay companies that they were to have a continuation of their business after 1976, an absolute blank cheque to continue, the Royal Commission, or whatever form of review it is considered expedient to appoint, would obviously be handicapped in its consideration of the future of broadcasting for many years.

It would be wrong to pre-empt the field in this way—

Mr. Hay

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, but I must put this alternative to him. Clause 26(2) exempts broadcasting authorities from infringing upon the telecommunications privilege of the Post Office. Why is there no such rule about the termination of that power in 1976? If the broadcasting authorities are to be fundamentally reviewed, surely they also ought to have some terminal date for their power of exemption from the infringement of the monopoly of the Post Office.

Mr. Stonehouse

The House is aware, if the hon. Gentleman is not, that the I.T.V. companies have a licence to operate until 1976. I have had many complaints in my sponsorship responsibilities for broadcasting from I.T.V. companies who believe this to be a restriction on them. Relay companies are in a different position altogether from the broadcasting authorities.

Mr. Hay

The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I am not talking about the independent television contractors. The I.T.A. and B.B.C. are broadcasting authorities within the meaning of subsection (2), not the programme contractors. What I am saying is that if there is to be a fundamental review of the whole of broadcasting, so wide as to embrace the relay companies, why should not the functions of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. be limited to 1976?

Mr. Stonehouse

Because it is known that this fundamental review is to take place. They know perfectly well that the mandate for their responsibilities will be subject to revision. It would be misleading to these 218 companies to give them the impression that they would be allowed to carry on their business after 1976, notwithstanding the review.

I appreciate that there is another factor in the debate. I hark back to the discussion we had on another Amendment, when we were discussing the fundamental monopoly that the Post Office Corporation is taking over from the Post Office as a Department of State. I know that this is not acceptable to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I must tell them that the corporation is being given a telecommunications monopoly. If I may state a simple fact, a monopoly is a monopoly is a monopoly. When they say that the Post Office Corporation is to be judge and jury of its own case, they are absolutely correct. I entirely agree. This is because the corporation is to have a telecommunications monopoly.

It would be quite wrong for the telecommunications monopoly to be eroded by giving relay companies who operate in an area of telecommunications some special dispensation to operate a system which is outwith the monopoly which is to be given to the corporation. This is why I have objections to the Amendments.

Mr. Stratton Mills

The right hon. Gentleman has introduced a new point. Would he clear up the kind of criteria which the Post Office Corporation would have for refusing some other person or company a licence to operate in this field? Would it be purely on commercial considerations that it wanted to keep a company out or would there be other reasons as to suitability?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am sure that the corporation would be very reasonable about the way in which it dealt with this business, but it must bear in mind its long-term responsibility as the holder of a telecommunications monopoly and therefore it would not want the operations of the relay companies to erode that monopoly. I emphasise the long-term responsibility of the corporation in this respect.

Sir F. Maclean

Is not the right hon. Gentleman saying, in effect, that in pursuance of its monopoly the Post Office would simply suppress all competition?

Mr. Stonehouse

I am not suggesting that. I am suggesting that the Post Office will allow competition. I said in Committee that when a relay company is successful in competition in tendering for a new term contract the Post Office will not stand in its way in obtaining that business.

The Post Office will be very reasonable but we are through this Bill establishing a position, not just until 1976, but for a very long time indeed. There will be technological developments which could be extremely important and which would give perhaps the opportunity to the relay companies to infringe the monopoly which it is the intention of the House in passing the Bill to give to the Post Office Corporation.

The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South referred to Amendment No. 94, which allows for an appeal procedure to the Minister. As usual, he has been extremely helpful to me. Every time he speaks in these debates he clarifies the issue so well that he helps me enormously. He indicated that the Amendment, if accepted, would allow the Minister to infringe the telecommunications monopoly of the Post Office. This was his intention in an earlier Amendment rejected by the House. He now suggests that this Amendment will achieve the same sort of objective.

Captain Orr

Not quite.

Mr. Stonehouse

Not quite, but the objective is similar. I am glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman concedes my point. It helps to clarify my objection. I am against a future Minister being able to allow a piecemeal dismantling of the telecommunications monopoly of the Post Office. I want the telecommunications monopoly of the Post Office to be secure. I do not want a Minister to have the right to allow appeals against the monopoly. I am for a monopoly, and I believe that I carry this side of the House with me in that. We want the Post Office to be able to operate as a national institution without having the profitable part of its business given to competitive interests who cream it off and undermine the monopoly.

I am referring to Amendment No. 94, which would give the Minister the opportunity of allowing appeals, which is tantamount to achieving the sort of object which was detailed in an earlier Amendment which was rejected by the House, which would allow the monopoly to be broken up in a piecemeal way.

I appreciate that I have not met the points made by the hon. Member for Henley, who has been anxious from the point of view of the relay companies to have a guarantee that they would be able to continue their operations well after 1976. I have said that it is impossible to concede his point on two grounds: first, because the whole of broadcasting will be subjected to review before that time, and, secondly, because such a long-term guarantee would be a fundamental infringement of the very monopoly which we want the Post Office to enjoy.

For these reasons, I ask the House to reject the Amendments.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I appreciate that the House is impatient to come to a decision, but this is a major point in the Bill and the most important with which we have dealt today. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Hay), who is a great authority in these matters, has put very persuasively the arguments for his Amendment, which I will not repeat. There seem, however, still to be two essential points to the debate, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) has acknowledged.

First, why are the relay services being included in the review of broadcasting? As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley said, relay services are not broadcasting but a form of reception. The Postmaster-General's answer tonight has not in any way dealt with the point made by my hon. Friend.

I believe, however, that the major issue is the second point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Henley made clear, under the new system it will be necessary for two licences to be acquired by the relay systems, one from the new Minister of Posts and Telegraphs—to which we take no exception—but the other will be from the Corporation, which will be the main competitor of these companies.

Although we are opposed on grounds of political philosophy to the points put by the right hon. Gentleman, I do not feel that his arguments have been reason-and fair. It seems to me to be totally wrong by every practice of the House that the monopoly which is being dispensed should be dispensed by the main competitor without any right of appeal.

The Minister said in Committee that he believed that the Corporation would act in a reasonable way and he said today that it would act reasonably. The logical consequence of his speech tonight, however, was that it would act in such a responsible and reasonable way that it would corner the market.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Hear, hear.

Mr. Mills

The hon. Member says, "Hear, hear". Why, therefore, are we going through this form of farce of pretending to give power to issue licences if it is the intention of the doctrinaire Government opposite that the new Corporation should collar the market and do it in such a way that the share of the companies is whittled down little by little?

Surely, it is right that where the Post Office refuses a licence to a company, it should be asked to give its reasons and not simply send back a printed form saying, "We have considered your application and it has been refused"—no reason, no appeal. Surely, the Post Office should give the reason why it has turned down the appeal. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider some form of publication of reasons.

This is an issue on which we on this side of the House are deeply opposed to the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman. We have argued the point at length this evening and in Committee; we have been unable to shift him; he is clear in his doctrinaire Socialism on this point. I advise my hon. and right hon. Friends to express our viewpoint and dissatisfaction in the Lobby.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) has said he would rather divide on Amendment No. 92 than on Amendment No. 91. That being so, perhaps he will now withdraw Amendment No. 91.

Mr. Hay

I prefer that it be negatived.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 92, in page 31, line 18, after 'reception', insert

'or to operate a broadcast relay service'.—[Mr. Hay.]

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 154, Noes 232.

Division No. 211.] AYES [10.21 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Harris, Reader (Heston) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Osborn, John (Hallam)
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Hawkins, Paul Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Awdry, Daniel Hay, John Page, Graham (Crosby)
Balniel, Lord Holland, Philip Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm) Hornby, Richard Percival, Ian
Biffen, John Hunt, John Peyton, John
Black, Sir Cyril Hutchison, Michael Clark Pike, Miss Mervyn
Blaker, Peter Iremonger, T. L. Pink, R. Bonner
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pounder, Rafton
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Braine, Bernard Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Price, David (Eastleigh)
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Jopling, Michael Prior, J. M. L.
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Kerby, Capt. Henry Pym, Francis
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Kershaw, Anthony Quennell, Miss J. M.
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Kimball, Marcus Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Bullus, Sir Eric King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Kitson, Timothy Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Knight, Mrs. Jill Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Carlisle, Mark Lambton, Viscount Ridsdale, Julian
Channon, H. P. C. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Russell, Sir Ronald
Chichester-Clark, R. Lane, David Scott-Hopkins, James
Clark, Henry Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Sharples, Richard
Clegg, Walter Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Cooke, Robert Longden, Gilbert Silvester, Frederick
Costain, A. P. MacArthur, Ian Sinclair, Sir George
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Crouch, David McMaster, Stanley Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Speed, Keith
Dalkeith, Earl of McNair-Wilson, Michael Stodart, Anthony
Dance, James McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Maddan, Martin Summers, Sir Spencer
Dean, Paul Marten, Neil Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Maude, Angus Temple, John M.
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Mawby, Ray Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Drayson, G. B. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Errington, Sir Eric Mills, Peter (Torrington) Waddington, David
Eyre, Reginald Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Farr, John Miscampbell, Norman Wall, Patrick
Fisher, Nigel Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Walters, Dennis
Foster, Sir John Monro, Hector Ward, Dame Irene
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Weatherill, Bernard
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Wiggin, A. W.
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Glover, Sir Douglas Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Woodnutt, Mark
Gower, Raymond Murton, Oscar Wright, Esmond
Grant, Anthony Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Grant-Ferris, R. Neave, Airey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gresham Cooke, R. Nott, John Mr. R. W. Elliott and
Hall, John (Wycombe) Onslow, Cranley Mr. Jasper More.
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Albu, Austen Bidwell, Sydney Buchan, Norman
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Binns, John Cant, R. B.
Alldritt, Walter Bishop, E. S. Carmichael, Neil
Ashley, Jack Blackburn, F. Carter-Jones, Lewis
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Boardman, H. (Leigh) Conlan, Bernard
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Booth, Albert Crawshaw, Richard
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Boston, Terence Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Boyden, James Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)
Barnes, Michael Bray, Dr. Jeremy Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)
Barnett, Joel Brooks, Edwin Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)
Baxter, William Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)
Beaney, Alan Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)
Bence, Cyril Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek)
Bessell, Peter Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Delargy, Hugh Judd, Frank Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Dell, Edmund Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Pentland, Norman
Dempsey, James Lawson, George Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Dewar, Donald Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Dunnett, Jack Lee, John (Reading) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Lestor, Miss Joan Price, William (Rugby)
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Probert, Arthur
Eadie, Alex Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Rankin, John
Ellis, John Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Richard, Ivor
English, Michael Loughlin, Charles Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Ennals, David Luard, Evan Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy
Ensor, David Lubbock, Eric Roberts, Gwilym (Bdefordshire, S.)
Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Roebuck, Roy
Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen) McBride, Neil Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Ewing, Mrs. Winifred McCann, John Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Faulds, Andrew MacColl, James Rowlands, E.
Fernyhough, E. MacDermot, Niall Ryan, John
Finch, Harold Macdonald, A. H. Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.) McGuire, Michael Sheldon, Robert
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McKay, Mrs. Margaret Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Foley, Maurice Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Forrester, John Mackie, John Silverman, Julius
Fowler, Gerry MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles) Skeffington, Arthur
Fraser, John (Norwood) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Slater, Joseph
Freeson, Reginald McNamara, J. Kevin Small, William
Gardner, Tony MacPherson, Malcolm Spriggs, Leslie
Garrett, W. E. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Ginsburg, David Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Mapp, Charles Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Marquand, David Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Gregory, Arnold Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Taverne, Dick
Grey, Charles (Durham) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Urwin, T. W.
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mendelson, John Varley, Eric G.
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mikardo, Ian Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Millan, Bruce Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Miller, Dr. M. S. Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Hamling, William Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Wallace, George
Hannan, William Molloy, William Watkins, David (Consett)
Harper, Joseph Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Wellbeloved, James
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Murray, Albert Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Hazell, Bert Neal, Harold Whitaker, Ben
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Newens, Stan White, Mrs. Eirene
Henig, Stanley Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip Whitlock, William
Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Oakes, Gordon Wilkins, W. A.
Hooley, Frank Ogden, Eric Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hooson, Emlyn Oram, Albert E. Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Horner, John Orbach, Maurice Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Orme, Stanley Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Oswald, Thomas Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Hoy, James Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Huckfield, Leslie
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Padley, Walter Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Hunter, Adam Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Winnick, David
Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Paget, R. T. Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Janner, Sir Barnett Palmer, Arthur Woof, Robert
Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Park, Trevor Wyatt, Woodrow
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Pavitt, Laurence Mr. Ernest C. Perry and
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Mr. Ioan L. Evans.
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)
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