HC Deb 12 May 1969 vol 783 cc1059-86

7.45 p.m

Mr. Iain Gilmour

I beg to move Amendment No. 86, in page 30, line 7, at end insert: (d) the provision of equipment, other than by the Post Office, for receiving telephone signals within the premises of a person. The object of the Amendment is to add to the number of exceptions under Clause 25 that would not infringe the privilege of the Post Office. In other words, it is an attempt slightly to restrict the Post Office's monopoly, and it would have the effect of allowing manufacturers to instal receiving equipment, Post Office receivers, in the house of the consumer. The arguments for stopping the monopoly at the front door of the consumer were rehearsed at length upstairs, and I will speak only briefly about them.

The first argument is that such a system would almost certainly be good for the export trade. Our manufacturers in this country, as the hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Orbach) pointed out in Committee, have been restricted in the past because they manufacture purely for the Post Office. Because the Post Office is not subject to direct consumer pressure, the Post Office requirements are often rather narrowly put, and it is, therefore, more difficult than it otherwise would be for manufacturers to get export orders abroad.

The second argument is that it would be good for the consumer. The consumer would have a wider range of choice than he now has, and consumer pressure would be brought to bear upon the supplier rather more directly and economically than at present.

The third argument is that the Post Office would be freed from a heavy capital outlay. About £300 million of capital is tied up in consumer apparatus. The Post Office already has a vast capital outlay, the whole burden of which falls on the taxpayer because the Government does not borrow, and, therefore, the taxpayer has to finance the whole of the Post Office expansion. We say that it would be far more logical and far more efficient for some of that expansion to be financed by the consumer and not by the taxpayer. The final argument is that monopoly should be as flexible as possible, and this is an area where it could be made flexible.

In Committee, the Postmaster-General deployed several arguments which boiled down to two. One was that the Post Office was a natural monopoly. I am not sure what a natural monopoly is, but the contention that it is a natural monopoly is not borne out by experience overseas, either in Canada or in the United States. In the United States, the Bell telephone monopoly has been loosened at this point, as it has in Canada. Just as the Gas and Electricity Councils have the monopoly supply of gas and electricity and considerable freedom in the appliances that may be installed by the consumer, so we believe should the Post Office.

The Postmaster-General says that this would endanger the entire telecommunications system, but that is not so. Such equipment has already been installed in foreign embassies and a fuse at the exchange prevents any great disaster taking place. Moreover, we do not suggest that the Post Office should not be able to prescribe standards; indeed, we made many suggestions in Committee on how this could be done.

The other main argument relied on by the Postmaster-General was that of staff security. He said this: The other reason for the need for monopoly is to enable the excellent staff, who have played such a part in developing the system up to date, and the new staff who are being recruited to assist this development, to have a feeling of security."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 11th February 1969; c. 696.] I do not think that that is a very strong argument. There is no particular security in being employed in a nationalised industry, as coalminers or members of the steel industry will testify. The argument does not stand up.

Although the Post Office should always be a good employer, and give its staff the maximum amount of feasible security, it would be wrong for it to give such a great amount of security that its operations became inefficient. Therefore, the staff security argument does not apply.

The Minister said that he was considering a little flexibility in this matter. We hope that the non-possumus line which he took upstairs in Committee will soften here on the Floor of the House. We hope that his natural obduracy will be tempered by his natural courtesy and desire to meet the legitimate expectations of those on this side of the House.

I have made only a short speech because we have heard many of the arguments before, but this is an important point and we hope that the Postmaster-General will make some concession to us.

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour) has already indicated that this problem has been debated several times in Standing Committee and also on the Floor of the House during the Report stage. Therefore, I will follow his example and not go through all the arguments against the proposal which he put forward.

He suggested that the Amendment would be good for manufacturers, good for the consumer, and would help the Post Office in that it would ease the burden on the investment programme. I beg to disagree with him. The idea that manufacturers would be assisted by having this sort of freedom is somewhat thin. The Post Office is providing an immense investment programme. In the current five years it is double the figure for the previous five years, and that figure in turn was double the amount spent in the five years before that. The investment programme is increasing at an enormous rate.

Manufacturers are hard put to meet the various demands put upon them by the Post Office. To suggest that it would be of great assistance to manufacturers to give them the freedom which has been suggested is not a tenable argument, particularly when the hon. Gentleman says that the Post Office should be able to lay down strict specifications for the manufacturers. I believe that this invalidates the point he made—

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I did not specifically use the argument that it would help the manufacturers. I said that it would help the export trade.

Mr. Stonehouse

The export trade is better helped by having close co-ordination between the Post Office as a principal customer and the supplying firms. We have several means of ensuring this close co-operation with a view to identifying specifications for our own domestic demands which will assist in the export trade. That is the best way to do it.

I feel that consumers would not welcome this provision. Consumers at present are satisfied, and indeed they get a very good service indeed. The maintenance service provided by the Post Office is extremely good. Complaints about the reception of signals on domestic equipment are followed up and put right within a short space of time.

The hon. Gentleman again used the argument that the Gas Council and Electricity Council allow customers to buy and fit, or have fitted, their own appliances. The argument does not hold water. Gas and electricity supply is all in one direction, whereas a telephone is linked to a highly complex telecommunication network. It would be most unwise to allow equipment to be fitted to that network unless it were fully consistent with the network. I insist that the points which I have already made in Standing Committee and on the Floor of the House must stand and that it would be unwise to make the concession as suggested in the Amendment.

Mr. Tom Boardman

This point was debated at length in Committee, and I shall refrain from going over all the arguments which were then put quite forcibly. The Postmaster-General in his speech repeated the boast that success is measured by the amount of money which has been spent. I am not concerned with the amount of money spent. I am concerned that one should get the best value from any expenditure.

In this Amendment we seek to bring about a flexibility and value for money which is not being achieved under the present system. Equipment supplied by the G.P.O. in this country falls well below the standard of equipment provided by, for example, the Bell Telephone Company. The Postmaster-General may shake his head; perhaps he is thinking of equipment which is in the pipeline.

There was an exhibition, not so very long ago, which displayed equipment of the new Post Office age. Some of it was reasonably sophisticated, but not as sophisticated as the sort of equipment which is in general use in many other countries. When one inquired about when any of these items could be supplied, one was told that they were prototypes in course of development and that the prospect of getting any of them was remote indeed for many years.

If private enterprise were given a licence to develop and fit these types of equipment, I cannot imagine that consumers would be treated in a similar way. Development prototypes would have been tested, marketed and proved.

Instead of that situation, many hon. Members, as I myself, are still using telephones of exactly the same types as those I remember as a youth—which is all too long ago—except that the present receiver rattles even more. This is the sort of evil at which the Amendment is aimed.

We seek to end the Post Office monopoly at the front door. I appreciate the argument of the Postmaster-General that the supply of equipment must conform with the standard since it links with the communication system. But cannot a standard be set, cannot the ordinary routine specifications for the essential safety precautions of the network be complied with by those who are developing Post Office equipment, in a similar way to the specifications which are complied with by those who fit electrical installations?

The Minister displayed a good deal of willingness to consider these matters in Committee, and it was understood that the position was being reviewed. Therefore, I hope that he will assure us that something will be done to allow the benefits of private research and development and the dynamic efforts which come from that quarter to be added to the telephone system in order to bring it up to date. I support the Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 223.

Division No. 209.] AYES [8.0 p.m.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Costain, A. P. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Awdry, Daniel Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Harris, Reader (Heston)
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Crouch, David Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)
Balniel, Lord Cunningham, Sir Knox Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere
Bell, Ronald Dalkeith, Earl of Hay, John
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward
Bessell, Peter Dean, Paul Hill, J. E. B.
Biffen, John Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Holland, Philip
Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel Dodds-Parker, Douglas Hornby, Richard
Black, Sir Cyril Doughty, Charles Hunt, John
Blaker, Peter Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Hutchison, Michael Clark
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Iremonger, T. L.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Errington, Sir Eric Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Braine, Bernard Eyre, Reginald Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Farr, John Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Fisher, Nigel Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Foster, Sir John Jopling, Michael
Bullus, Sir Eric Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Kerby, Capt. Henry
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Kimball, Marcus
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Kitson, Timothy
Carlisle, Mark Glover, Sir Douglas Knight, Mrs. Jill
Channon, H. P. G. Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Lambton, Viscount
Chichester-Clark, R. Gower, Raymond Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Clegg, Walter Grant, Anthony Longden, Gilbert
Cooke, Robert Grant-Ferris, R. MacArthur, Ian
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Osborn, John (Hallam) Sinclair, Sir George
McMaster, Stanley Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
McNair-Wilson, Michael Page, Graham (Crosby) Smith, John (London & W'minster)
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Page, John (Harrow, W.) Speed, Keith
Marten, Neil Percival, Ian Stodart, Anthony
Maude, Angus Peyton, John Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Mawby, Ray Pike, Miss Mervyn Summers, Sir Spencer
Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Pink, R. Bonner Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Pounder, Rafton Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch van Straubenzee, W. R.
Miscampbell, Norman Prior, J. M. L. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Pym, Francis Waddington, David
Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Quennell, Miss J. M. Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Walters, Dennis
Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Rees-Davies, W. R. Ward, Dame Irene
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Weatherill, Bernard
Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Murton, Oscar Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Ridsdale, Julian Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Neave, Airey Russell, Sir Ronald Wright, Esmond
Nott, John Scott-Hopkins, James
Onslow, Cranley Sharples, Richard TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Mr. Jasper More and
Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian Silvester, Frederick Mr. Hector Monro.
Albu, Austen Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lubbock, Eric
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Alldritt, Walter Faulds, Andrew Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Anderson, Donald Fernyhough, E. McBride, Neil
Ashley, Jack Finch, Harold McCann, John
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.) MacColl, James
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) MacDermot, Niall
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Macdonald, A. H.
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ford, Ben McGuire, Michael
Barnes, Michael Forrester, John McKay, Mrs. Margaret
Barnett, Joel Fowler, Gerry Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty)
Baxter, William Fraser, John (Norwood) Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)
Beaney, Alan Freeson, Reginald MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)
Bence, Cyril Gardner, Tony McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Bidwell, Sydney Garrett, W. E. McNamara, J. Kevin
Binns, John Ginsburg, David MacPherson, Malcolm
Bishop, E. S. Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Blackburn, F. Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Gregory, Arnold Manuel, Archie
Booth, Albert Grey, Charles (Durham) Marquand, David
Boston, Terence Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Boyden, James Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Maxwell, Robert
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Brooks, Edwin Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mendelson, John
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mikardo, Ian
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Millan, Bruce
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hamling, William Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Buchan, Norman Hannan, William Molloy, William
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Cant, R. B. Hazell, Bert Murray, Albert
Carter-Jones, Lewis Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Neal, Harold
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Henig, Stanley Newens, Stan
Conlan, Bernard Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Hooley, Frank Oakes, Gordon
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hooson, Emlyn Ogden, Eric
Crawshaw, Richard Horner, John Oram, Albert E.
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Orbach, Maurice
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Orme, Stanley
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Oswald, Thomas
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Hunter, Adam Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Padley, Walter
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Paget, R. T.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Palmer, Arthur
Delargy, Hugh Judd, Frank Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Dell, Edmund Kelley, Richard Park, Trevor
Dempsey, James Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Dewar, Donald Lawson, George Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Dunnett, Jack Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Lee, John (Reading) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Lestor, Miss Joan Pentland, Norman
Eadie, Alex Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Ellis, John Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
English, Michael Lipton, Marcus Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Ennals, David Loughlin, Charles Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Ensor, David Luard, Evan Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Price, William (Rugby) Spriggs, Leslie Whitaker, Ben
Probert, Arthur Steel, David (Roxburgh) White, Mrs. Eirene
Rankin, John Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael Whitlock, William
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Wilkins, W. A.
Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Robertson, John (Paisley) Taverne, Dick Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Roebuck, Roy Thomas, Rt. Hn. George Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Tomney, Frank Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Ross, Rt. Hn. William Tuck, Raphael Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Rowlands, E. Urwin, T. W. Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.) Varley, Eric G. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Sheldon, Robert Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley) Winnick, David
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Wallace, George Woof, Robert
Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.) Watkins, David (Consett) Wyatt, Woodrow
Silverman, Julius Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Skeffington, Arthur Weitzman, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Slater, Joseph Wellbeloved, James Mr. Joseph Harper and
Small, William Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Dr. M. S. Miller.
Mr. Ridley

I beg to move Amendment No. 87, in page 30, line 7, at end insert: (d) the running of a system for the conveyance of sounds or visual images by means of electromagnetic radiation of frequency exceeding three terahertz propagated freely through the atmosphere for the purpose that the sounds or visual images should be generally received by the public. These words are necessary to exempt from the monopoly the new phenomenon known as optical broadcasting. We had a debate on this subject in Committee, but the Postmaster-General's answer was remarkably unsatisfactory. He said that technological developments in future will make it extremely difficult to know what will happen in optical broadcasting, that it may well become a major form of communication, and that it would be wrong to allow anybody else to practise in this sphere without a licence from the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman was very firm, harsh and uncompromising in his attitude to this new form of communication.

I do not know much about it. I am not technically qualified to know the potential of optical broadcasting. I understand that the operation of "Radio Love" is simply people watching signals either with the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. Large numbers of people can watch one single display of symbols or pictures broadcast optically.

Nor do I know what a terahertz is. However, I believe this to be a good Amendment, because it makes it possible for people to indulge in optical broadcasting which, as far as I can see, is a perfectly harmless sport.

The Postmaster-General has to make out his case for bringing this within the monopoly of the Post Office. It is no good him saying that this might be important in future and, therefore, he will include it. He might just as well have included computers or nuclear physics or some subject as wide as that. We have to be convinced that it is right to prevent people indulging in optical broadcasting.

Unlike me, the Postmaster-General has to give a technical, or even a technological, explanation. It is no good saying that he is assured on the best advice that this is important and that it could infringe the monopoly of the Post Office. He must convince the House that it is right to prevent people indulging in this apparently simple sport of watching signals through binoculars or with the naked eye. I am not convinced that this is so from what the right hon. Gentleman said in Committee.

I believe that it is very important to keep the monopoly as restricted and limited as possible. In slight conflict with some of my hon. Friends, I acknowledge the need for a monopoly for the Post Office. If an area of industry is nationalised—I am against that—and if the State is to administer telecommunications, it is pointless for the State to compete with others and to have a pseudo bogus competitive situation set-up. The quid pro quo is that the monopoly should be defined as minutely and exactly as possible.

I will not weary the House by quoting what the Postmaster-General said on the two occasions on which he referred to it, but nothing that he said was in any sense a justification for including optical broadcasting in the monopoly, other than that he had been advised that it was a good thing to do. He must tell us what he expects in future may happen which will mean that this is in some way an essential sphere over which the Post Office should have control.

There may be an explanation. It is possible that he will be able to tell the House what he is frightened of and what the reason is. But I do not think that the House would be wise to accept a bland assurance. If he were to say, "These are complicated scientific matters which hon. Gentlemen opposite do not understand", that would not be enough. We want to know what is wrong with optical broadcasting which makes it necessary to bring it within the ambit of the monopoly.

I believe that this is an important Amendment. Once these developments are frustrated and interfered with by civil servants, licences, and all the paraphernalia of bureaucracy, there is not doubt that will have a withering effect on enterprise and initiative. I submit that to include optical broadcasting in the monopoly requires justification.

8.15 p.m.

Captain Orr

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has once again drawn attention to a point which we raised in Committee, namely, the extension of the monopoly.

The Postmaster-General shakes his head. I heard him muttering earlier that this was not an extension of the monopoly. In Committee, he said that it was not, but I still beg to differ with him. On the best legal advice that I can obtain, this is, in fact, an extension of the monopoly.

My hon. Friend is right when he asks the Postmaster-General to tell us why it is necessary to extend the ambit of the monopoly. I draw his attention again to what I quoted in Committee from Section 10(3) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, which is the Act upon which the right hon. Gentleman's monopoly in this sphere is at present based. The apparatus to which this section applies shall be such apparatus as may be specified in the regulations made thereunder, being apparatus generating, or designed to generate, or liable to generate fortuitously, electromagnetic energy at frequencies of not more than 3 million megacycles per second, and not being wireless telegraphy apparatus. This answers my hon. Friend's question about terahertz.

The Postmaster-General, throughout our discussions on the Bill, has said that it simply transfers the present powers of the Post Office to a new corporation. It does not. It is extending the powers throughout, as we have argued on many occasions. But certainly on this occasion it is extending the powers, because, under the 1949 Act, there is an upper limit in the frequency spectrum above which the Post Office monopoly does not apply. The Amendment merely seeks to retain that limit so that the powers of Parliament shall be reserved in future above 3 million megacycles.

My hon. Friend should know that much more is involved than optical broadcasting, because above 3 million megacycles lies a whole area of possible future development in cosmic rays. We do not know what our present state of scientific advance may be, but it is possible that many forms of telecommunications may be opened up in the area of the spectrum above 3 million megacycles.

I see that the Postmaster-General agrees with me. My hon. Friend is not only concerned with communications taking place at the speed of light, but with communications taking place at perhaps many times the speed of light at frequencies in areas of the spectrum as yet unexplored.

I have often said, in relation to the Bill, that it is nationalising things which have not yet been invented. It is nationalising without reserving the rights of Parliament. In future, Parliament will not be able to apply its mind to a new field of telecommunications which has not yet been developed and say, "This ought to be part of a State monopoly", or, "This should be free for development by private enterprise". Our argument is that even before it has been invented every conceivable kind of communication is going to be controlled by the new corporation as a form of monopoly.

The only answer made by the Postmaster-General in Committee was to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, Central (Mr. Ian Gilmour), who had said that the Postmaster-General was doing away with the restriction on the monopoly and thus extending it and not merely transferring it. The Postmaster-General said: No, that is not correct. It can be argued that the transmission on frequencies over 3 million—that is, by infra-red or ultra-violet rays, or by X-rays or cosmic rays—is within the existing monopoly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th February, 1969; c. 720–1.] The right hon. Gentleman did not go any further. He said it could be argued, but he did not argue it. I am trying to argue it, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will argue it, because if he puts forward a good argument we can have some kind of meaningful discussion. It is no use his telling Parliament that we shall take all these extra powers and, at the same time, say "It can be argued that we have them already", unless he proceeds to argue upon what legal basis he already has the powers which he is now proposing to transfer to the new corporation.

Even if the Postmaster-General did have the powers I would still argue that it is wrong to hand them to a new public corporation. It is one thing to have powers vested in a Minister of the Crown, who can be questioned from time to time in the House, and whose exercise of powers is subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and quite another thing to hand these powers to a public corporation with no direct responsibility to Parliament in this sense. If the people who originally passed the Telegraph Acts could have foreseen that what they were doing was nationalising the telephone in advance they would not necessarily have given this blanket power—that is, if they could have conceived such a thing as a telephone.

We are not only being asked to give the new corporation power over all the existing forms of communication; we are now saying, "We shall extend these powers into realms as yet impossible to imagine." Those are intolerable powers to hand to a public corporation. I hope that the Postmaster-General will give us a very much better answer than he has given so far. We await it with great interest.

Mr. Mawby

I remind the House that we are dealing with matters which do not infringe the telecommunications privilege. In Committee and again in the House the right hon. Gentleman referred quite often to breaching the monopoly, which is saying the same thing in different words. In Committee, he talked about a monopoly so much that he reminded me of a pop singer singing, "Me and my Monopoly"

I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) that if the Clause is not amended it will give the new corporation powers in excess of those which the Postmaster-General enjoys at present. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, in Committee the right hon. Gentleman said that other arguments could be put forward, but he never put them forward himself.

I can understand any Postmaster-General upholding a system which will make certain that we are not in breach of international agreements at some time in the future. The agreements reached at Copenhagen and elsewhere on wavelength allocation are important and it is probably right that the Post Office should have a monopoly of the use of normal wavelengths. But we are talking about wavelengths which exceed 3 million megacycles. We are entering a range which at present involves cosmic rays and X-rays, which have never normally been used for communications systems.

I submit that we ought not to leave the Clause without a good argument being put forward by the Postmaster-General showing why the monopoly should be extended to cover matters which have not been covered up to now.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. The hon. Member must relate his argument more specifically to Amendment No. 87. It is not a question of a monopoly being extended but a question why it should be curbed by the Amendment.

Mr. Mawby

I am sorry if you feel that I am out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am dealing with messages that could be transmitted and received at over 3 million megacycles. They are covered by the Amendment. I probably misled you and the House when I pointed out that the Amendment seeks to prevent complete monopoly powers being transferred. The Amendment would breach the exclusive monopoly powers designed for the corporation. I am very doubtful whether powers to control services over 3 million megacycles are already enjoyed by the Postmaster-General. I should like to hear his argument proving that he already enjoys those powers. He has never exercised them. Perhaps he can tell us that progress has been made in this matter to such an extent that many lessons have been learned. In Standing Committee, the right hon. Gentleman told us: A great deal of research is going ahead into optical transmission. The Post Office is conducting a great deal of research. It could become extremely important in the future, and it would be an unnecessary invasion of the Post Office monopoly"— there is that word again— if we allowed these new systems to be developed by a competitor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Commitee D, 18th February, 1969; c. 770.] If these services were still allowed to be outside the monopoly of the Post Office, which the Amendment calls for, it would not cause any embarrassment either to the new Minister of Posts and Telecommunications or to the Corporation because neither the Corporation nor the Postmaster-General have entered into any international agreement on the allocation of these particular wavelengths, whereas on other wavelengths they have.

I accept that they are committed to international agreements on wavelength allocations and that it is quite proper that the Corporation should retain the power to make certain that there will be no allocation of wavelengths already allocated. We do not have to go into the reasons why we banned the private broadcasters. We did it because they were using wavelengths which were already allocated by international agreement of which the Post Office was a signatory. I make no complaint of that at all.

8.30 p.m.

All we are dealing with at the moment are the broadcasting services which could be operated over 3 million megacycles. Neither the Postmaster-General nor the corporation are committed to any international agreements on the allocation of these wavelengths, and in those circumstances I can see no reason why this House should extend the monopoly which the Post Office already has to an area in which many lessons still have to be learned, because the Postmaster-General says that research is still continuing in this matter.

On the other hand, I am open to argument from the Postmaster-General, as I know my hon. Friends are, being fair-minded persons, so long as he does not again merely say that if the Amendment were accepted it would breach the monopoly, because this is a new field and we ought to have a really good reason for extending a monopoly into this field which could include optical broadcasting in the future.

Mr. Stonehouse

I think it has become clear in the course of our debates on the Bill that there is a big philosophical gap between the two sides of the House. We on this side of the House believe that it is important that the Post Office Corporation should continue to have the full monopoly powers of the Post Office as a Department of State, and hon. Members opposite believe, on the other hand, that it is right that the monopoly of the Post Office should be breached in certain ways in order that the Post Office should be subject to some competition in these fields in which it has a traditional monopoly.

I congratulate hon. Members opposite upon their ingenuity in putting down an Amendment which, I think, is another example of the attempts from that side of the House to breach the existing monopoly. I appreciate that there is some doubt on that side of the House as to whether optical broadcasting comes within the existing monopoly. I believe that it does.

I was much encouraged by the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), who speaks with a great deal of experience on this matter. He knows the history. He knows how the Telegraph Act, 1869, laid down a certain monopoly and it was afterwards interpreted by the courts to extend to a great many more things that were not even invented at that time, including the telephone. That is how it all started.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he thought that hon. Members who made the decision in those days would very much regret that it had developed in the way that it has. I believe that they would be delighted at learning they had made this decision and that it had been possible, as a result of the passing of that Act in 1869, for this great telecommunications monopoly to have been established, which has been shown to have been such an enormous advantage to our economy and such a wonderful example of public enterprise in Britain.

I was strengthened in my point of view by the observations that were made from the benches opposite on the subject of optical broadcasting, which is a convenient way of referring to broadcasting at the upper frequency limit of 3 terahertz or over. This is, as the hon. and gallant Gentleman pointed out, equivalent to 3 megacycles per second in the old terminology. I believe that the monopoly extends to this upper frequency limit. I acknowledge that it has not been tested in the courts, but I believe that, if it were so tested, as was the question of the telephone following the Telegraph Act, 1869, it would be accepted by the courts as falling within the monopoly.

The Bill is drafted as it is in order to make clear beyond any shadow of doubt that upper-frequency broadcasting falls within the monopoly. It is important that that be made clear, so that the Post Office Corporation knows exactly that it enjoys a real monopoly and is not being given a pig in a poke. It must have a real monopoly to do its job. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South, who knows a good deal about these things, said that it is possible that new methods of telecommunication may be developed at the higher frequencies. He is quite right. Experiments are going on which may prove that in a short time. That being so, it may be possible, within a few years, that the Post Office, which the House of Commons generally now wishes to have a monopoly of telecommunications in Britain, will find its monopoly being infringed by a completely new development of that sort.

I believe that the situation under the original Telegraph Act developed into a worthwhile monopoly covering new developments. I believe that the House wants—

Captain Orr

The country has suffered

Mr. Stonehouse

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has his own philosophy. He knows that I do not agree.

Captain Orr

All I said was that we have suffered from it.

Mr. Stonehouse

No, I do not agree that we have suffered from this monopoly. We have benefited from it. I believe that it is the view of the House generally that the monopoly should continue. I understand the wish of hon. Members opposite to find every possible way to breach the monopoly. I believe that they are genuine and sincere in their objections. All I want them to understand is that I do not agree.

I want the Post Office Corporation to continue to have the monopoly powers which the existing Post Office as a Department of State enjoys. It is my submission that the Post Office has the right of optical broadcasting monopoly, although I acknowledge that it has not been through the courts. I hope that, in the light of those observations—

Mr. Ridley

Even given the right hon. Gentleman's Socialist standpoint in looking at the matter, has it occurred to him that it might be a good idea to put higher frequency broadcasting into a separate and different State corporation altogether? He would be precluded from so doing by the terms of the Bill as drafted. Would it not be better to keep this monopoly himself and then arrange for it to be put out to whomever he thought right?

Mr. Stonehouse

No, that would not be a good idea. We can trust the Post Office Corporation to take the fullest advantage of these new developments. After all, it is in the Dollis Hill Research Station that much of the research work is going on. The Post Office Corporation, I am sure, will be fully anxious to take advantage of all the new opportunities which technology will give. There is no question of stifling The Post Office Corporation will be dynamic, only too anxious to take advantage of innovations. For all those reasons, I ask the House to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

The right hon. Gentleman said that he believed that there was a big philosophical gap between the two sides of the House. Having heard his speech, I am glad to think that that is so. I should not like to be anywhere near the right hon. Gentleman philosophically. His attitude is, "We must have a monopoly. We do not know what we have the monopoly over, and we do not very much care. So long as we have a monopoly, that is all right by us."

The whole history of technological innovation is against the right hon. Gentleman. In Committee, I brought up the example of the stage coach, but I shall not repeat that here. The right hon. Gentleman must know that that is the way to stifle innovation and not to encourage it.

At the same time, he goes on saying that we wish to breach the existing monopoly. As I think he really knows in his heart of hearts, that is not what we seek to do At present the best view is that the Postmaster-General does not have a monopoly over 3 million megacycles. In Committee he was very tentative in his assertions about this. He said on 11th February: It can be argued …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 11th February 1969; c. 704.] He then went out of his way not to argue the case. On 13th February he said: … it could be so construed …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D, 13th February, 1969; c. 750.] But almost anything could be construed, and that was a very tentative way of saying it. Today he said, "I believe it does …", so he is very much in two minds on the point. Our view that it is extending the monopoly here rather than that we are seeking to breach it is the right one.

The right hon. Gentleman made no attempt to answer the arguments of my

hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) about optical broadcasting. The whole case is that optical broadcasting is no danger to anyone and does not interfere with anyone. It is impossible for it to interfere with anyone, and it is impossible for it to be clandestine.

Therefore, the only argument for the right hon. Gentleman's case is that somehow these technical developments will be embarrassing if they are carried out by a private individual rather than the dead hand of the monopoly. He used the word "embarrassing" in Committee. There is no case for curbing this very brilliant inventor, Mr. Williams, because the right hon. Gentleman does not wish him to have the credit for the invention or the freedom to develop it. There are no social reasons for curbing optical broadcasting. The right hon. Gentleman was least convincing on this point in Committee and again tonight. I hope that my hon. Friends will support the Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 143, Noes 221.

Division No. 210.] AYES [8.43 p.m.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Errington, Sir Eric Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Awdry, Daniel Eyre, Reginald McMaster, Stanley
Balniel, Lord Farr, John Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Bell, Ronald Fisher, Nigel McNair-Wilson, Michael
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm) Foster, Sir John McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Bessell, Peter Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Marten, Neil
Biffen, John Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Maude, Angus
Black, Sir Cyril Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Mawby, Ray
Blaker, Peter Glover, Sir Douglas Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Gower, Raymond Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Braine, Bernard Grant-Ferris, R. Miscampbell, Norman
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hall, John (Wycombe) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Monro, Hector
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Hawkins, Paul Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Bullus, Sir Eric Hay, John Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Holland, Philip Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Carlisle, Mark Hooson, Emlyn Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Channon, H. P. G. Hornby, Richard Murton, Oscar
Chichester-Clark, R. Hunt, John Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Clegg, Walter Hutchison, Michael Clark Neave, Airey
Cooke, Robert Iremonger, T. L. Nott, John
Costain, A. P. Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Onslow, Cranley
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Crouch, David Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian
Cunningham, Sir Knox Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Osborn, John (Hallam)
Dalkeith, Earl of Jopling, Michael Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Dance, James Kerby, Capt. Henry Page, Graham (Crosby)
Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.) Kimball, Marcus Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Dean, Paul Knight, Mrs. Jill Percival, Ian
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Lambton, Viscount Peyton, John
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Longden, Gilbert Pike, Miss Mervyn
Doughty, Charles Lubbock, Eric Pink, R. Bonner
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) MacArthur, Ian Pounder, Rafton
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Prior, J. M. L. Sinclair, Sir George Waddington, David
Pym, Francis Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Quennell, Miss J. M. Smith, John (London & W'minster) Walters, Dennis
Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Speed, Keith Ward, Dame Irene
Rees-Davies, W. R. Steel, David (Roxburgh) Weatherill, Bernard
Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Stodart, Anthony Wiggin, A. W.
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Summers, Sir Spencer Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Russell, Sir Ronald Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Wright, Esmond
Scott-Hopkins, James Temple, John M.
Sharples, Richard Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) van Straubenzee, W. R. Mr. Jasper More and
Silvester, Frederick Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John Mr. Anthony Grant.
Albu, Austen Forrester, John Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Fowler, Gerry Mendelson, John
Alldritt, Walter Freeson, Reginald Millan, Bruce
Anderson, Donald Gardner, Tony Miller, Dr. M. S.
Garrett, W. E. Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)
Ashley, Jack Ginsburg, David Molloy, William
Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw) Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Gregory, Arnold Murray, Albert
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Grey, Charles (Durham) Neal, Harold
Barnes, Michael Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Newens, Stan
Barnett, Joel Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Oakes, Gordon
Baxter, William Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Ogden, Eric
Beaney, Alan Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Oram, Albert E.
Bence, Cyril Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Orbach, Maurice
Bidwell, Sydney Hamling, William Oswald, Thomas
Binns, John Hannan, William Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)
Bishop, E. S. Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Padley, Walter
Blackburn, F. Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Hazell, Bert Palmer, Arthur
Booth, Albert Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Boston, Terence Henig, Stanley Park, Trevor
Boyden, James Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hooley, Frank Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)
Brooks, Edwin Horner, John Pavitt, Laurence
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Pentland, Norman
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Hunter, Adam Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Buchan, Norman Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Janner, Sir Barnett Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Cant, R. B. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Price, William (Rugby)
Carmichael, Neil Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Probert, Arthur
Carter-Jones, Lewis Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Rankin, John
Castle, Rt. Kn. Barbara Judd, Frank Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Conlan, Bernard Kelley, Richard Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Crawshaw, Richard Lawson, George Roebuck, Roy
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Lee, John (Reading) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Lestor, Miss Joan Rowlands, E.
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Sheldon, Robert
Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek) Lipton, Marcus Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Loughlin, Charles Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Delargy, Hugh Luard, Evan Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Dell, Edmund Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Silverman, Julius
Dempsey, James Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Skeffington, Arthur
Dewar, Donald McBride, Neil Slater, Joseph
Dunnett, Jack McCann, John Small, William
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) MacColl, James Spriggs, Leslie
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) MacDermot, Niall Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael
Eadie, Alex Macdonald, A. H. Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Ellis, John McGuire, Michael Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
English, Michael McKay, Mrs. Margaret Taverne, Dick
Ennals, David Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Ensor, David MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles) Tomney, Frank
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Tuck, Raphael
Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) McNamara, J. Kevin Urwin, T. W.
Ewing, Mrs. Winifred MacPherson, Malcolm Varley, Eric G.
Faulds, Andrew Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Fernyhough, E. Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Finch, Harold Mapp, Charles Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.) Marquand, David Wallace, George
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Watkins, David (Consett)
Foley, Maurice Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Ford, Ben Maxwell, Robert Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Weitzman, David Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Wellbeloved, James Williams, Clifford (Abertillery) Woof, Robert
Wells, William (Walsall, N.) Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin) Wyatt, Woodrow
Whitaker, Ben Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
White, Mrs. Eirene Willis, Rt. Hn. George TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Whitlock, William Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton) Mr. Joseph Harper and
Wilkins, W. A. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.) Mr. Ernest G. Perry.
Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick Winnick, David
Captain Orr

I beg to move Amendment No. 88, in page 30, line 22, at end insert: 'person who is not a tenant or occupier of premises owned by him'. My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) told me that he conceded that the Amendment was not perfectly drafted, but its purpose is clear.

In Committee, we discussed the whole problem of common services in blocks of flats. My hon. Friend intended by this Amendment to deal with the mischief whereby the monopoly extends to inside a block of flats. The purpose of the Amendment is to make it plain that when the owner of a block of flats provides all the kinds of common services mentioned in Committee, he will not thereby infringe the G.P.O. monopoly.

I do not think that it goes far enough. I believe that if my hon. Friend had considered it further he would have sought to draw the Amendment wider, because it does not meet the present mischief whereby when there is a block of flats individually owned, the provision of common services is caught by the Bill's extension of the monopoly. Thus, I am not entirely satisfied with the Amendment. However, I should like the right hon. Gentleman's observations. Is he able to accept the Amendment in its present form? Is he willing to consider this matter between now and the later stages of the Bill? At least he could meet the principle, even if he could not deal with the position of individual flats in one block.

The problem goes beyond blocks of flats. For example, many common services are sometimes provided to buildings in a factory complex when the buildings are not necessarily a single set of premises. In spite of his adamantine appearance at the Box in our last discussion, I think that the Postmaster-General will probably agree with our view that some Amendment is needed here.

The right hon. Gentleman gave us some assurances in Committee about blocks of flats. Perhaps he could write something into the Bill in another place along the lines which my hon. Friend has in mind?

Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)

On a point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to a matter upon which I should like to have your guidance? There are several hon. Members who will have to sit here until a late hour. Unfortunately, owing to the withdrawal of labour by the restaurant staff, hon. Members cannot obtain refreshments. Would it be possible to summon the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee here so that this matter could be examined and this strife healed, to enable us to proceed with our work?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I appreciate the difficulty in which the hon. Gentleman and others may find themselves, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Mawby

I wish to support this Amendment, the point of which was argued in Committee. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is completely happy about the situation in which this widespread monopoly extends to common services enjoyed in blocks of flats. I do not believe that such installations as the thermostat operating a central heating system, the common services enjoyed by residents such as the microphone receiver at the front door whereby a person in the flat can communicate with someone outside and operate a button to unlock the front door are intended to be caught by the Act. They are systems of communication in which the corporation would not normally be interested.

The Amendment may not be correctly drafted, but I would ask the Postmaster-General to give us his views. If there is no amendment there will be widespread breaches of the law by those who consider that this would be too stupid an Act to abide by. It would be wrong for the House to pass legislation which could lead to widespread technical evasion.

Mr. Stonehouse

I appreciate the intentions of hon. Members. I agree that there may be occasions when certain services which are provided in blocks of flats which could be caught by the monopoly, but with which the Post Office Corporation would not wish to interfere, in the sense of having to provide the service itself. In that case, the Corporation would let out the common service system in flats by general licence, but it would specifically exclude the suggestion of developing telephone communications between flats, which would be an obvious infringement of the monopoly, which the House is anxious should be protected for the Post Office.

Captain Orr

Would this apply to an exchange serving a block of flats? Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he would not permit competition with the monopoly from the exchange in the provision of internal telephones?

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Stonehouse

I would not permit competition with the Post Office monopoly in telephonic communication between separate flats. It is acknowledged in the Bill that telephone installations within a single business or a single house are not caught by the monopoly. However, installations which go outside the individual business or household would be caught by the monopoly. There would be no intention of giving a licence for a system which involved telephonic communication between separate flats. In the event of the need for communication of another form, such as the opening of doors, the Post Office will willingly give a licence to enable this sort of service to be provided.

I emphasise that in the Bill we are transferring the existing monopoly to the Post Office Corporation. These systems are operated at present. There are automatic systems which open the front doors of blocks of flats. They operate very successfully, and I see no reason why similar systems should not operate in future.

Captain Orr

Is the Postmaster-General saying that none of these systems can operate at present without a licence from him?

Mr. Stonehouse

Yes, I am. The danger is that a liberal interpretation of some of these systems, leading for instance, to telephonic communication between flats, would be an open and obvious infringement of the monopoly. Therefore, power must be maintained to ensure that there are no such infringements.

Mr. Mawby

The right hon. Gentleman is saying many things which I hoped he would say, but would telephonic communication between the front door of the block of flats and the resident of the flats to enable him to operate the front door and to talk to the person on the doorstep be excluded?

Mr. Stonehouse

That would not be excluded. There must be some means of identification of the caller at the front door of a block of flats. It is not the Post Office's intention to prevent that sort of simple communication.

The Amendment is defective in a number of respects. Its wording is very wide. It would extend to systems run by a landlord as a service for tenants at widely separated parts of a large landed estate or even tenants on different estates owned by the same landlord. As it is defective, and as I do not think it is required to achieve the objectives I have described, I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) will not press it.

Captain Orr

We have conceded that the Amendment is defective. May I reiterate my point? Between now and the Bill's going to another place, would the right hon. Gentleman consider giving effect to the general desire of the Post Office to exempt the services which he mentioned? The licensing procedure which would follow will be exceedingly cumbersome and difficult. Many people operating these services have not a clue that they must have a licence.

Mr. Stonehouse

It would be better to proceed on the lines which I have suggested rather than to put in the Bill a provision which would be or could be subject to misinterpretation. Clearly, it would be better for the Post Office to have the monopoly and then issue licences in the way that I have described.

Mr. Tom Boardman

It is very disturbing to hear that there will be a large number of applications for licences for so many harmless but essential devices. I wish to take up one point made by the Postmaster-General about telephone systems between premises which are in separate occupation. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a telephone system between blocks of flats which under the Bill would clearly infringe the monopoly and for which no licence would be granted. I ask him to take account of the quite common practice in offices of the office-sharing arrangement whereby rooms are let to individual tenants or small professional firms and the like, who tend to have a centralised reception office with an internal telephone system running from the reception office to the various separate firms occupying their one or two rooms in the adjacent parts of the building.

If I understood the Postmaster-General correctly, that would be an infringement of the monopoly and a system for which he would not give a licence. It would be most unfortunate if, under the Clause without the Amendment, people operating that type of system were to be deprived of the services of an internal telephone which they can at present operate through private telephone services. If the Amendment is not to be pressed, I hope that the Postmaster-General will consider whether an Amendment can be made in another place.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I join my hon. Friends in pressing the right hon. Gentleman to have another look at this. He has gone a long way to conceding the general principle of the point made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) when he admitted that some systems in blocks of flats are caught by the general wording of the Clause.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Post Office did not wish to interfere with those arrangements and that, therefore, a general licence would be issued. That is not a very satisfactory way of doing it. The better way would be to specify the things that the Post Office wants to have covered or to make certain exceptions, such as, for example, door systems. It seems crazy that thousands of flats throughout the country must have licences to operate a door telephone communication system to somebody upstairs.

Mr. Stonehouse

This has to be done at the moment.

Mr. Mills

I should be surprised if the right hon. Gentleman could prove to the satisfaction of the House that those powers which he claims to have are widely enforced. My experience is that although the Post Office may have those powers, very few people have licences for that kind of thing.

There is a lot to be said for taking the opportunity of a major piece of legislation like this for a tidying-up operation and for the Post Office to exempt pointless acts of crazy bureaucracy from the Clause. I hope that the Postmaster-General will give some words of encouragement to indicate that he will have another look at this before the Bill is considered in another place.

Mr. Stonehouse

I am always willing to consider points again and I will consider the special case which was raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman). The hon. Member may well have a valid point and I will look at it It is the anxiety of the Post Office and, I believe, the Post Office Corporation in the future to have a fairly sensible approach to this question.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a similar assurance concerning door communication systems?

Mr. Stonehouse

I have already said that I do not think that I can concede a point in that direction. It would be better to deal with it in the way I have suggested.

Captain Orr

Will the right hon. Gentleman include also burglar alarms?

Mr. Stonehouse


Captain Orr

As the Postmaster-General has met us in some way about this matter, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to