§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
The object of this short debate is to discuss the fate of a film made by the Anglia Television Company at the end of 1971 and beginning of 1972. As far as I know, this film has not been shown publicly. In fact, it has now been virtually impounded by the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked to see the film on a number of occasions and been refused.
It will be recalled that on 12th March the matter was brought to the attention of the House at Question Time, but this had no effect on the IBA. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer) asked whether the Minister was allowed to see this film, and he replied that this was entirely a matter for the IBA. That reply caused a certain amount of surprise.
As a result of these exchanges Motion No. 244 was placed on the Order Paper, the terms of which are:That this House resents the refusal by the Chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority to allow Members of Parliament to see the film made by Anglia Television which illustrates the strength of public opinion against the decision of the IBA to deprive Anglia of the Belmont Transmitter; and calls upon Lord Aylestone to reconsider this decision.In the past Parliament has had to exercise its authority against wicked barons, unscrupulous landlords or greedy industrialists. I suggest that today it must use its influence against State boards or their equivalent when they tend to act in a dictatorial fashion. I shall attempt to show that liberty of the subject is involved in this matter, as well as the rights of Members of Parliament to carry out their duties towards their constituents.
Why all this fuss about a film? The key to the film is the future of the Belmont transmitter, located in North Lincolnshire. This transmitter was allocated by the ITA to Anglia Television in 1965 and re-allocated to it in 1967 when the switch was made to colour television.
In 1969, Lord Aylestone, who then became Chairman of the ITA, allocated the new Bilsdale transmitter to the Tyne-Tees Television Company, as it was then 672 in financial difficulties. Yorkshire Television was to be compensated by transferring Belmont from Anglia to Yorkshire. Anglia naturally protested and, after a certain amount of discussion, offered joint operation of Belmont with Yorkshire. This was refused by the ITA.
Then came the merger of Yorkshire Television with Tyne-Tees Television, creating Trident Television, which is now a very successful company.
In 1972 the new UHF transmitters of Trident Television at Emley Moor and Bilsdale became operational, and both proved to have a better range than was expected. They were able to include in their reception area most of the East Riding and Humberside. I suggest, therefore, that the argument for transferring Belmont from Anglia to Yorkshire has been considerably weakened.
Anglia made this film to illustrate its point of view. It was not an impartial film. Indeed, it was not supposed to be. It was a film by Anglia representing the view of the public in the area, particularly the Humberside area, which is covered by both Yorkshire and Anglia.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) and my hon. Friends the Members for King's Lynn (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler) and Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) participated in this film, as did Sir Leo Shultz, the Labour Leader of the Hull Council, Mr. Haydon Glen, the Town Clerk of Hull, Mr. Jim Gordon, the chairman of the Hull Chamber of Commerce, Alderman Petchell, the Leader of the Grimsby Council, Alderman Foster, the Mayor of Barton, and many others in all walks of life. I understand that every speaker in this film opposed the transfer of Belmont.
There were a number of meetings between my right hon. and hon. Friends and Lord Aylestone to try to persuade him to modify the decision that he took in 1969. But they met a brick wall. No concessions were made, and it was firmly stated that no concessions would be made whatever the weight of public opinion or the opinion of all Members of Parliament in the area concerned, which was completely unanimous and nothing to do with party politics.
It was suggested to Lord Aylestone that the problem could be solved by the erection of a booster station to the west 673 of Hull. However, we were told that this could not be considered as it would form a bad precedent. It was also suggested that there was a moral obligation to Trident Television. But what about the obligation that any public board, such as the IBA, has to public opinion and to local inhabitants who are strongly opposed to the transfer?
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to intervene in the debate. Therefore, I want to keep my remarks as short as possible. However, I must refer to the area—part of which I represent—Humberside. I emphasise straight away—I am sure I shall be supported by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North—that this is not a contest between Yorkshire and Anglia. Both are excellent companies. Both produce excellent programmes. Indeed, both are needed and welcomed on Humberside. However, Lord Aylestone's decision, if implemented, will deprive Humberside of 50 per cent. of its ITV viewing by completely cutting out Anglia.
As I said earlier, the problem could be solved by a booster station to the west of Hull which could relay Emley Moor transmissions for Yorkshire, which could be seen throughout Humberside. As there are areas in my constituency which cannot yet receive Yorkshire Television, this would help Yorkshire and would leave Belmont to Anglia, so that both programmes could be seen throughout Humberside. This is clearly what Humberside wants. Having looked at all the evidence and discussed the matter with Lord Aylestone and my colleagues, I see no real argument against this suggestion, except the administrative convenience of the IBA.
I now come to the responsibility of my right hon. Friend. I hope that I have said enough—I am sure other hon. Members will follow me—to show that public and parliamentary opinion has been overruled by the IBA. This is surely a matter of concern for the Minister.
I have suggested that the whole matter could be resolved by the erection of a booster station at comparatively small cost—I understand about £250,000. I believe that my right hon. Friend has authority to make a direction under Section 18(5) of the Television Act 1964, which provides that 674The Postmaster-General may at any time, after consultation with the Authority, by notice in writing require the Authority—(b) to install, establish, maintain or use any such additional station, stations or apparatus as may be so specified, situate in such places and complying with such requirements as may be so specified … and it shall be the duty of the Authority to comply with the notice.I hope that my right hon. Friend will do just that. It would solve the problem of Humberside.
It will be recalled that both my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister have stated that there will be an independent study which can consider this dispute. The point I wish to make to my right hon. Friend is one of timing. Studies or inquiries always take time. It may be that the IBA will decide to issue its contracts for the extension of franchise from July 1974 to 1976 either this month or next month. I should like an assurance that my right hon. Friend will see to it that the IBA does not issue a franchise allocating Belmont until the inquiry has been completed and has reported.
We believe that whatever may have been the justification for the ITA's original decision about Belmont, circumstances have altered, and this decision is no longer justified. I emphasise again that there is no quarrel between Yorkshire and Anglia Television. Humberside wants to retain both, and has a high admiration for both companies and their programmes. We believe, however, that the obstinacy of Lord Aylestone and his senior colleagues will deprive Humberside of a choice of programmes and that this can easily be avoided.
I therefore ask the Minister to intervene and to insist that Members of Parliament should be allowed to see the film, which I believe to be their right, to take action under Section 18 of the Television Act 1964 to ensure that the booster station is set up, and to see that no definite action is taken about Belmont by the IBA until the independent study is completed.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. Hon. Members will have noticed the number of speakers who hope to take part in the debate, and the 675 Minister will wish to make some comments. I remind hon. Members that the debate has only 55 minutes to go.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. George Wallace (Norwich, North)
I wish to speak in support of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and to emphasise that there is no party division on this matter.
In East Anglia as a whole, and particularly in the centre of East Anglia in Norfolk, there is strong local feeling, in spite of what the Chairman of the IBA seems to believe. He may have received one or two letters from old-age pensioners who regretted the transfer of Coronation Street, but the main case has been put by public opinion. One of the latest bodies to support this general plea is the Norfolk County Council. In addition to industrial and trades council interests in the area, the Eastern branch of the Conservative Party came out strongly in support last weekend, and there is a cross-section of support throughout the area.
I am one of the two hon. Members who represent Norwich constituencies, and the Anglia headquarters are in that city. Many years ago I was completely against independent television, but I admit now that Anglia Television has become part of the East Anglian scene, which cannot be said for the BBC.
There has been a great deal of cynical amusement that a film prepared by Anglia Television should be confined to the strongholds of the IBA. I do not understand why. Does the film offend against public decency? If so, Mrs. Whitehouse would be strongly in favour of the film not being shown. But that is not the reason. It was Anglia Television that found the Andy Warhol film and was eventually forced to show it. The standards of Anglia Television are very high and I see no logical reason why the IBA should not give way and at least allow Members of Parliament to see the film.
I understand that an IBA Press officer made some rough references to the standards of Members of Parliament and their responsibilities. But we have the responsibility to look at both sides and to consider the case that has been put forward by Anglia Television. The IBA has committed a ridiculous act of internal 676 discipline which is contrary to democratic opinion. We are discussing a television company with an extremely fine record. It is the company that produced the Survival films and led the way in cultural television.
There is one angle of the dispute that affects Humberside, but I confine myself to the centre of East Anglia and West Norfolk. A vital part of the East Anglian scene will be thrown into the Yorkshire television area. Yorkshire accents and Yorkshire weather are different. Our local farmers and smallholders will have to look to Yorkshire for their weather forecasts and will not be told anything about the weather in East Anglia. The proportion of local programmes at present is small, but they are vital, personal and well produced.
For West Norfolk a solution is available. I was informed yesterday on the highest authority, namely, the Chairman of IBA, that if the Minister gave instructions for a booster transmitter to enable Anglia programmes to be received in West Norfolk the Authority would be able to carry out those instructions, but that the Minister must take responsibility for allowing West Norfolk to see Yorkshire Television programmes as well as Anglia programmes. What difference does that make? There are not many people in East Anglia who would prefer to see the Yorkshire programmes, apart from one or two exiled Yorkshire people, and there is no reason why this should be insisted upon. The IBA is at the feet of the Minister, and I ask him to consider this case and give us a positive answer today.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler (King's Lynn)
The House will join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for bringing up this important issue. As one of the people who were in the film, I should like to say how much I regret not having an opportunity to see it, and also—and far more important—how much I regret that other people have been unable to see it. My contribution to the film was to attempt, in a short space of time, to put over the tremendous depth of feeling that exists in my constituency about the proposal to remove the Belmont transmitter from 677 Anglia and so to deprive my constituents of their regional programmes.
The work that hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent Norfolk constituencies have been doing to try to get this decision reversed and to secure alternative arrangements to take account of local interest has been backed up by the tremendous response in my constituency to a campaign run by our local newspaper—the Lynn News and Advertiser—which, with considerable imagination, has been the catalyst in causing the IBA to accept that there is immense local opposition.
I will mention some of the organisations which have criticised the IBA's decision. There are many parish councils and district councils, the Norfolk County Council, several branches of the Women's Institute, several branches of the Towns-women's Guild, the county and local branch of the National Farmers' Union, the old people's homes, the Norfolk County Association of Women Teachers, the Norfolk Youth and Community Service, the Society of Arts and Sciences, branches of the Royal British Legion, branches of the Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, and so on.
There is no doubt that there is total opposition in my constituency to the proposal to deprive it of its most valued regional programmes. It is a matter of great public concern that all these protests made by Members of Parliament, members of the public writing direct, and leaders of local government, industry and commerce, have fallen on deaf ears.
What price now the statement attributed to the Chairman of the IBA yesterday, "Let the viewers decide"? That was a particularly inept remark. He went on to say,But make no mistake: every day that passes, more and more power is attributed to television and stronger and stronger will be the temptation to Governments and MPs to try and intervene when so many individual decisions are bound to be decisions that particular individual politicians would not themselves take.As politicians acting in the interests of our constituents on this issue, we do not seek to persuade the IBA to do anything that it is not bound to do by 678 its statutory obligations. I suppose one might say that the answerability of the IBA to the public is inadequate, partly because of insufficient definition of that responsibility, and partly due to the arrogance of the present Chairman of the IBA in dismissing as unimportat the views of so many members of the public.
In these circumstances, I welcome the Minister's decision to set up an independent study of coverage problems. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Haltem-price in asking the Minister to press the Chairman of the IBA to take no further action to implement changes until that committee has reported and its report has been published, and decisions have been made on future regional requirements.
I hope that the noble Lord will cooperate with this suggestion, not least in view of his speech, reported in the Evening Standard last night, but also because, unless proper arrangements are made by the IBA to accommodate the legitimate wish of all East Anglians to enjoy a regional service which reflects the special qualities of East Anglian life, Parliament may consider that the IBA is in breach of Section 3(1)(d) of the Television Act and call upon my right hon. Friend to replace the Chairman and members of the Authority.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)
I speak as one who did not appear in this film, largely because I was not invited. I suggest that the reason I was not invited is that I might have destroyed the unanimity which seems to have been shown in it—
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It must be clear that if everyone is to have his opportunity to express an opinion we will not be helped by interruptions.
§ Mr. Cohen
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I emphasise that point. Hon. 679 Members may not like it, but it is a point which strikes forcibly those of us who were not invited, and who know the reasons why.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) for his persistence. Both he and those who support his point of view have obviously been very persistent over a period, as was clearly shown by the historical outline of the situation that he gave us. But may I suggest that persistence in itself is a very poor substitute for common sense? I may well be accused—I will probably be guilty; the same would be true of most of us— of being biased. I am biased in favour of Yorkshire Television, just as those who take the point of view of the hon. Member for Haltemprice are biased in favour of Anglia. It would be wrong to go into the pros and cons, because of the threat of this accusation of bias.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice has requested an independent inquiry. I would argue that an independent inquiry took place and an independent assessment was made by the noble Lord the Chairman of the IBA. Because that assessment and its outcome did not fit in with the views of the hon. Member and those who support him, another independent inquiry is requested.
It is interesting to hear the views of hon. Members representing East Anglia. I am sympathetic to their view, but they will appreciate that I, and some of my colleagues on both sides of the House who represent Yorkshire constituencies, have just as strong a view. I agree entirely about the need for locally-based programmes, but we have talked very much of Humberside and East Anglia, totally ignoring the effect of this suggestion on Yorkshire itself.
Although we started by discussing a film, the discussion has been developed much more widely. If the Belmont transmitter was transferred to Anglia Television instead of Yorkshire, about a third of those who view television in Yorkshire would not be able to get their own local programmes—
§ Mr. Cohen
I know that it is based in Anglia, but if it became part of Anglia Television instead of being transferred to Yorkshire, a third of the people who live in Yorkshire would receive their transmissions from Norwich. [An HON. MEMBER: "It may be good for them."] That is a parochial attitude.
I am prepared to support those who feel that by the introduction of a booster we may be able to help the situation, but it would be wrong if the Minister and the Chairman of the IBA, who has been un-justifiabily attacked and criticised today in a disgraceful manner, were left with the impression that the majority of people here or outside were in favour of the suggestion of the hon. Member for Haltemprice.
Therefore, I must make it clear to the Minister and to the noble Lord that if the issue comes to the crunch, many of us here and many more people outside are prepared to stand up and be counted and fight as strongly for what we believe to be right as are the hon. Member and his friends.
§ 12.37 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Hall (Keighley)
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) said that this would not be a party political subject, but it is certainly an emotional one. He made an interesting remark about the liberty of the subject. But, if we follow through that principle, everyone in the country should be able to receive every programme put out by independent television companies. That is neither practicable nor financially viable, so decisions have to be made. There is always someone just outside who does not agree with a decision.
If one is to receive the broadcasts of another company in one's area, there would be a far stronger case for my Keighley constituents receiving Granada than there is for North Humberside receiving Anglia from Norwich. The West Riding has more in common with industrial Lancashire than Humberside has with Norwich. But I am not saying that we should have that facility—just that a case could be made for many areas on the same basis.
But the weakest point of my hon. Friend's argument was the question of the 681 film which is not being allowed to be shown. As the hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) said, Yorkshire Television could have made that film by including people from the same area putting the case for Yorkshire Television in the same way as leading citizens of my hon. Friend's constituency and from Hull were used to put the case for Norwich. I am sure that there are many leading citizens and even more non-leading citizens who prefer Yorkshire Television to Anglia.
§ Miss Hall
All I would say to my hon. Friend is, "That is not practicable, and, anyway, please do not be so greedy".
The Chairman of the IBA has made a decision. In this age of waffle, it is a definite decision. I can understand that some hon. Members do not agree with it, but when a decision is made, some always fall outside and do not agree with it. I think that this is the right decision and I hope that the Minister will continue to back up the Chairman's decision.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
There are two points at issue here. The first is the question of the banning of the film, the subject of the debate. The second is about the decision taken.
Dealing briefly with the latter point, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) and the hon. Member for Keighley (Miss Joan Hall) said that they could have got other people on the programme to have said what they wanted to say. I was asked to appear, and I said what I wanted to say. I said that my argument was purely and simply one of selfishness. I said that I wanted a choice and that I wanted both programmes, which I could receive and which it was technically possible to maintain in my area.
On my rented television set I am able to receive Yorkshire Television and Anglia Television, and both BBC programmes. Coming from the hon. Member for Keighley, the suggestion that we should have a rejection of choice 682 seems contrary to the whole of her political philosophy, and it is a foolish premise.
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East was not asked to appear on the programme because his constituency is not covered by Anglia Television. That is the relevant point. No one is seeking to take anything from anyone which he does not already have. No one is seeking to take one little thing from Yorkshire Television.
§ Mr. McNamara
They are seeking to take from Anglia something that it has had in the past and has used well and wisely. It is all right to talk about one-third of the people of the area being deprived, but that is humbug. In my home now, and in fact the whole of North Humberside, we can switch on and receive Yorkshire Television from Emley Moor on both transmitters. That is the crux of the matter, and Yorkshire fails on that point.
I say that as a person who loves Yorkshire and Anglia Television. We switch from channel to channel, using all four channels. Sometimes I want to put my boot through the screen when the children misbehave. But we are able to receive Yorkshire and Anglia. That is the important point. The House is being misled if it believes the suggestion being made that by the Belmont transmitter being transferred to Anglia, one-third of Yorkshire will miss its programmes. That is a terrible deception.
I first raised this matter in the House in July 1970, when the issue was first mooted. We have had nothing but shillyshallying and evasion by the IBA since then.
The film is the crux of the issue. There is a moral point at issue. That is whether the IBA is entitled to say that because it does not agree with the contents of this film, which is not morally reprehensible— no hon. Member on the Government side of the House did anything in the film which would make even the tender conscience of the IBA seek to censor it, and nor did I—and does not agree with the arguments about the IBA and the decision, there should be an inhibition on one of the companies involved to prevent it from campaigning against the IBA 683 decision being altered. Yet the other company is free to campaign. Yorkshire Television did so in my constituency last week. Yorkshire Television campaigned in favour of the decision.
What sort of public accountability of a public corporation is this? This is partiality both ways. It is not a question whether it is right or wrong, but a question of equity. Or is it, as many of us suspect, that because of the strength of the arguments involved in the film and the strength of popular feeling, whether in East Anglia, which is being deprived of a regional programme, or in my area, because we wish to maintain our present freedom of choice, the IBA is afraid to oppose the arguments head on? Somehow or other Lord Aylestone has become holier than the Pope and has introduced his new edict about what can or cannot be right and seen by the public at large, by hon. Members and even the Minister.
As the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler), the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) and myself said in our letter to The Times, this is not only censorship but arrogant cowardice.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. Five hon. Members have the opportunity of sharing 15 minutes.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)
I believe it to be improper for a contracting company in television to seek by means of a publicity film to lobby and to put pressure on the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which is meant independently to adjudicate on behalf of the public what is the best allocation of transmitters. That is the fundamental point at issue over this film.
Whatever the rights and wrong of the case about coverage, I am certain that the whole of Yorkshire can be covered by Yorkshire only television if Yorkshire Television continues to be able to have the Belmont transmitter.
The Humberside area embraces both sides of the River Humber. Yorkshire and Humberside are economic units. They are a regional planning unit.
I served in the Royal Air Force for almost five years in Lincolnshire. I know 684 Lincolnshire very well. I believe that Lincolnshire has much more to do with Yorkshire than it has with the northern part of East Anglia. For that reason as well, it is right that the Belmont transmitter should be allocated to Yorkshire Television, as the IBA intends.
Economically, Humberside serves South and West Yorkshire. By that, I mean industrial South Yorkshire, and the industrial West Riding. With our entry to the European Economic Community, this will become increasingly evident. It will be the outlet for industrial Yorkshire. Culturally and economically it is part of it. Therefore, I believe that the IBA's decision is absolutely right.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Torney (Bradford, South)
I was very pleased to hear the hon. Member for Keighley (Miss Joan Hall) and the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) refer to the industrial position of the whole of the Humberside area. Far be it from me to dare to say this, but it is necessary to remind hon. Members on both sides of the House who have purely a local interest in this matter that, after all, that area is part of Yorkshire. It will be fed by the industrial regions of Yorkshire, particularly with our entry to the EEC. My constituency forms a part of those industrial regions. In regard to television, those regions are very much a part of Yorkshire.
I have listened carefully to the debate. I was very surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) talking as he did and denying that Yorkshire will not suffer if it does not have the Belmont transmitter. I have received information from experts on this subject. The use of colour television is growing in this country. Thousands of colour sets are produced in my constituency.
I am not a technical man. I shall not attempt to explain technical matters of UHF and VHF. But I am told that in Hull and right up the coast to Scarborough—which is definitely in Yorkshire—we shall have great problems if we do not have the Belmont transmitter to use for colour transmissions. It would mean that one-third of Yorkshire would be served by Norwich. That is the argument in reverse of the way in which it has been advanced by hon. Members who support 685 the idea that the Belmont transmitter should be given to the Norwich company.
In my few minutes—
§ Mr. Torney
—I should like to appeal to the Minister to take account of the situation in which the IBA finds itself. The Minister must surely agree that the task of the IBA is not to deal only with the problems of Anglia or only with those of Yorkshire. It surely must deal with independent broadcasting for the nation as a whole. That is what is behind the decision of the noble Lord, who has to look at the country as a whole.
Because of a freak situation, the people in the Humberside area, who are represented by hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been very vocal, have been in a more fortunate position than the remainder of the country. I am under the impression that broadcasting policy generally is to give the great mass of the country coverage by one independent network, to give it an independent showing on people's television screens if they want it, and to give people the choice of the two BBC channels. That is the present position. We are promised a second independent channel for the future. The mass of the country is getting two BBC channels and one independent channel. One or two freak areas such as this is are sufficiently fortunate to be able to pick up somebody else's channel.
That is precisely the position about which hon. Members are complaining. Yorkshire does not want to transmit to the Anglia area. It does not want to steal anything from the Anglia area. I understand that the booster station could easily be arranged the other way round. It could be arranged at Massingham, thus ensuring that the people of Anglia received Anglia Television. However, the people of Yorkshire want to maintain their television for the whole of Yorkshire, not for two-thirds of it.
Finally, Yorkshire has a fine record in making excellent films and programmes. It not only makes programmes which are sold and used in Yorkshire or seen inadvertently in Anglia. It also makes excellent international award-winning programmes which are sold to all the 686 other networks in the IBA and are, therefore, seen all over the country.
In Bradford, of which my constituency is part, 56 per cent. of the people with television watch Yorkshire Television. That leaves only 44 per cent. shared between the two BBC channels. When there is talk of public support—
§ Mr. Torney
I am about to conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker. So much has been said to show Yorkshire up in a bad light that I thought it had to be refuted. I appeal to the Minister to take into account very carefully all the points that have been made by the few of us who have spoken in defence of Yorkshire, before any wild decision is taken.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)
We all agree with the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney), but it has nothing to do with our fight. Those in Yorkshire can have their Yorkshire Television. We shall be delighted to let them have it. We would rather have Anglia. Our argument is about choice.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Miss Joan Hall) had the nerve to say that we are greedy. We do not want Yorkshire in our part of the world. We will have Anglia and be satisfied— [Interruption.] We are not greedy. We want a choice. We want the choice of Anglia. We do not want Yorkshire.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) said that he served in the Royal Air Force in my area. He must know that a poll was held in my area. If he had had the courtesy to study it before coming to the House he would have known that 93 per cent. of my constituents decided that they would rather have Anglia than Yorkshire.
My hon. Friend talked about other parts of my constituency. It is no secret that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) would totally support our case if he were here. He represents the most northerly point of North Lincolnshire.
The main point is that we want to see the film. We want to know whether 687 we can see the film and whether the Minister can see it. If Mary Whitehouse were to say that she did not want to see the film, or if Norris McWhirter were to take out a writ against the Government to ensure that the film could not be shown, it would be shown on every television screen throughout the country next week.
I suggest that we get Lord Longford— [Interruption.] Lord Aylestone is not here—to hear our arguments. The hon. Member for Leeds. South-East (Mr. Cohen) said that we have been very rude about Lord Aylestone, but Lord Aylestone has never had the courtesy to attend one of our debates. He has not come to the lower House to hear our point of view. We should get Lord Longford to say that there are no circumstances in which we can see the film. Then we should have to be able to see it.
We want one question answered by the Minister. Can he see this film? When he has seen it, will he allow us to see it? We will watch a Yorkshire propaganda film as well. We are willing to watch it—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that it is propaganda. I accept that. The names have been read out. But whose propaganda is it? Should not the head of every council, every Member of Parliament, and all the constituents, be allowed to conduct propaganda for what they truly want, on behalf of 3 million people and 57 Members of Parliament? Of course they should. Is the Minister allowed to see the film? Will he ensure that we can see it?
§ 12.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Spence (Sheffield, Heeley)
I want to get the House into smoother water for a few minutes. I shall not delay it for long.
I have two points to make. First, I accept the decision of the Chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority in relation to the transmitter. In support of that, I want to put before my right hon. Friend two points—one in connection with the decision and the other in connection with the film.
The Authority's responsibility is to ensure the most efficient, effective, and economical coverage of the whole country. Except on the margin, it is not 688 part of the Authority's responsibility to consider the activities of pressure groups or to take a narrow view in relation to the implementation of its policies. Nothing that has been said in the debate causes me to believe that the Chairman of the Independent Television Authority was wrong in his decision.
My second point concerns the film. My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) may, indeed, have said at the beginning, and intended to say, that this would not be an Anglia versus Yorkshire debate, but it has developed along those lines. I do not think that anyone listening objectively to the debate could truly say that it has not done so.
In view of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Jeffrey Archer), I am horrified to hear that this is a blatant propaganda film. I had suspected it, but I have now been assured that it is. It is a propaganda film from a pressure group which has been named. Such pressure groups are statistically of no consequence. If we are to have a pressure group and are to put forward a film that truly reflects public opinion in the area, let us at least have it statistically accurate, and let it be put forward on the basis that it propertly represents the views of those concerned.
Early Day Motion No. 244 is no more or less than an attack on the independence of the Chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and his ability to decide. It should be rejected. I ask my right hon. Friend to support the chairman and reject the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice that an inquiry be made into the decision.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)
There are one or two misunderstandings. This is no pressure group. This is every elected Member of Parliament for the whole of the Anglia area.
§ Dr. Stuttaford
We have very little preference when it comes to getting on "the box'. It must be understood that this is not a large area. It is one area in England which is still based on a rural economy. It has not got 689 the great industrial riches of Yorkshire. It cannot easily afford to lose a large part of its viewing public and to continue to present to the general public —not only in Anglia, but throughout the country—the way of life which is based on a rural economy. To destroy it would be anti-social, and would take no account of those factors which have made this country great.
That is one point which people have been discussing. The other is this matter of censorship. Our areas has been tied to a regional Press. The purpose of the Press is not only to give but to accept views and, having accepted them, to allow them to be broadcast to the public, whether in print, by word of mouth or on television. We should have no part of censorship. Let us consider what happens when one looks at the South African Press and finds that bits are cut out of the newspapers. There is uproar on both sides of the House. Yet in this country a complete film may be withheld because the views expressed in it do not happen to coincide with the views of the Chairman of the Authority.
The Chairman has been complimented on his powers as a decision maker, but when a decision is taken in total disregard of the views of the local public, the locally represented organisations and local councils, it is no longer the decision of a chairman; it is the decision of a dictator, a man who disregards all the views of those—
§ Dr. Stuttaford
We did not include Leeds, South-East, because Leeds, South-East does not happen to be in the Anglia television area. Nor did we include Orkney, because Orkney, too, has little interest in Anglia. This film was prepared fairly by a group of people who were not propagandists. They showed no propaganda on their screen, in news items or any other form of television programme. They have played this game in so gentlemanly and easy going a manner that I am absolutely astounded that it received any publicity at all. I hope that the Minister will heed the views of the general public, and that if he cannot change the opinion of the Chairman, the Chairman will be removed.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Sir John Eden)
It is evident that, even though we have debated this subject before, there is still a degree of interest in it among hon. Members in all parts of the House who still welcome the opportunity to express views which clearly are strongly held. The House will, therefore, be grateful for the enterprise of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) in raising the matter again today.
The House, I suspect, will not be surprised when I say at the outset that the constitutional position remains unchanged. It was explained at length by my predecessor in the debate in July 1970, and it has been repeated many times since. The decision that the use of the Belmont transmitter after 1974 should be allocated to Yorkshire rather than to Anglia Television was made by the Independent Broadcasting Authority and is wholly and solely a matter for the authority.
Under the terms of the Television Act 1964 it is the Authority's duty to provide television services, and to do so through the agency of programme companies acting under contract to the Authority. The terms and conditions of such contracts, including the station or stations which are to transmit the programme provided by each company, are for the Authority to determine, subject, of course, to the various requirements of the Act.
The contracts are not a matter for the Minister, and it would be wrong for the Minister to intervene. I make no apology for that. There is a long tradition in this country that broadcasting is independent of government and, as my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Posts and Telecommunications explained in the debate three years ago, it is important that no Minister should have a direct influence on the way that these contracts are allocated. That is why he and I have been careful not to express views on this decision by the IBA, and that is why I will not express views on this matter today.
I have been asked about the film that was made by Anglia Television to set out the company's case against the Authority's decision. This again is not a matter for me. It is a matter between 691 the Authority and its contractor. I have not seen the film. If I were to see it, it would imply that contractual arrangements were my concern, which they are not. But it may be helpful to hon. Members if I explain in a little more detail the history of this problem and of the film which Anglia made.
In the summer of 1970 the Authority announced its decision to transfer the use of the Belmont transmitter from Anglia to Yorkshire Television. The transfer was not due to take place for four years, but the Authority considered that this early declaration of intent would help both companies and their audiences to prepare for the change. I think it is fair to say that neither Lord Aylestone nor his colleagues expected such opposition to their proposals. The Chairman of the IBA, of course, has listened to all points of view on this issue. He met deputations which, on at least two occasions, have been led by the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), and I am sure that Lord Aylestone will have given careful thought to all that was said to him.
In October 1971—that is, more than a year after the declaration of intent, if I can call it that—and after considerable public debate of the issue, including a debate in this House, the Authority discussed the Belmont question again. The Authority as a whole reviewed the arguments which had been made against its original decision, but concluded that it should be confirmed. Further consultations between the Authority and Anglia were followed by correspondence between their respective chairmen which led to a decision by the board of Anglia Television not to campaign publicly against the Authority's decision and not to encourage others to do so. As a result of this decision, the film and other material in support of Anglia's case for continued use of the Belmont transmitter were handed over to the Authority.
At this stage only Lord Aylestone and the Director-General had seen the film. Anglia's undertaking not to campaign publicly against the IBA's decision was given on the basis that all members of the Authority would see the film. This they have done. The Authority did not ask for it to be surrendered. The deci- 692 sion to put the film into the custody of the IBA was made by the Anglia board on its own initiative. The IBA remains in possession of the film in accordance with Anglia's own decision to ask the Authority to keep it and to refrain from any further campaign on this issue. This, and this alone, is why the Authority refuses to allow the film to be seen by a wider audience, even including those who have taken part in the making of the film.
§ Mr. McNamara
If Anglia were to ask for that film back in order that Members of Parliament could see it, would the IBA accede to that request?
§ Sir J. Eden
That is entirely a matter between Anglia and the Authority. I have stated exactly how the film now comes to be in the possession of the Authority.
One or two hon. Members have referred to the study of the independent study group which is to be set up. It is quite clear that, although I have not yet published the full terms of reference, the study group, which will begin its work, I hope, before very long, will certainly be able to take into account the various aspects of coverage. I am not quite ready to announce the terms of reference, but I shall do so very soon, and I assure hon. Members that they will not preclude the study group from receiving representations from people in the Belmont area. The group will be able to consider the decision of the IBA and say what it thinks about it.
This is part of the more general problems created by the change from VHF to UHF transmission, to which the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) referred. These problems, which include that of extending UHF coverage as quickly as possible, will be one of the major topics considered by the study group. It is to be an independent group able to make up its own mind and to recommend accordingly. Obviously, I cannot anticipate what it will say. and I have no power to direct the Authority to defer entering into contracts for the period after 1974 until the study group has reported. However, knowing that it is more than likely that this issue will be looked into, I have little doubt that the Authority will be keen to know the study group's conclusions.
693 My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice suggested that I should use the powers given to me under Section 18(5)(b) of the Television Act to direct the Authority to build a booster station at Hull. In this way, Hull would be able to receive Yorkshire Television, while Belmont would revert to Anglia. A similar proposal has been made by other hon. Members for the building of a station to provide the Anglia service in North Norfolk.
I have two comments to make on these suggestions. First, although I have the power to direct the IBA to build an additional station, I have no power to direct it to broadcast any particular company's programmes from it. Second, although it is not written into the statute, these powers were given to the Minister to enable him to extend coverage or improve reception. They were not given to enable him to interfere with the allocation of contracts, which Parliament clearly intended to be solely in the hands of the IBA. I conclude, therefore, that it would be wrong for me to use my powers under Section 18 in the way my hon. Friend suggests.
§ Mr. Wallace
One important point arises from my conversation with Lord Aylestone yesterday. If a direction were given by the Minister to provide the necessary facilities to allow Anglia to be received in West Norfolk in the areas where it will not be received on the removal of the Belmont transmitter, that could be done, could it not?
§ Sir J. Eden
That would be to give effect to what I should regard as a use of powers, in an issue of this kind, which were provided for a different reason. In other words, they were provided specifically to enable facilities to be established which would extend coverage and improve reception. There is this further point which I make in response to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, and it is of considerable relevance to the task of the study group. It is virtually impossible to look at one section of the country's problems in a matter of this kind in isolation from the total scene. It is an extremely complex matter, similar to the fitting of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together. If one starts moving one piece in one part of the board, there are repercussive effects in other parts. The study group must, therefore, be allowed to carry 694 out its work, and the Government have specifically said in the White Paper that it will be looking into all aspects of coverage.
§ Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
Does it not follow from what my right hon. Friend has been saying that, quite apart from the question of contracts and which company may or may not be the tenant for the moment of the franchise in a particular area, the question of suitable areas in the long term is not restricted by the Television Act to the IBA and should properly be a matter for the Government to decide?
§ Sir J. Eden
The question of the extent to which areas receive broadcasting facilities is certainly of direct concern to the Minister, but what then flows from that and the implications which arise for contracts or companies are specifically reserved for the Authority.
I must emphasise—this is well known to all hon. Members—that it is fundamental to the organisation of broadcasting in this country that the Authority, although independent in the day-to-day conduct of its business, is ultimately answerable to Parliament. For this reason, I welcome debates in the House, for they provide a valuable means of conveying to the Authority the views of the public for whose benefit services are provided, and I am sure that the Authority will wish to take fully into account all that has been said today. I am sure that it will be the wish of all hon. Members who have had opportunity to take part in this short debate to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice raising the matter.