§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thompson.]6.53 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)
The House will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I made a statement on 4 March about direct broadcasting by satellite. On 19 March my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced the publication of the report on cable systems by the information technology advisory panel. On 22 March I announced that an independent inquiry under the chairmanship of Lord Hunt of Tanworth was to consider the broadcasting aspects of the possible expansion of cable.
In my statement on 4 March I said that the Government intended to find time for an early debate on DBS. I believe that the House will welcome this opportunity to discuss both DBS and cable. Not all of the issues they raise are identical. Nor is it true that one could not work without the other. However, some of the issues they raise, particularly their implications for broadcasting in this country, are the same, and it is clear that DBS and cable could each benefit from the development of the other.
As a Government we believe that it is vital that our industries should be in a position to reap the benefits that new technology can bring and on which the future economic health of our country will in part depend. The pace of change, particularly in the field of telecomrnunications and broadcasting technology, has increased greatly over the past few years, and it is already clear that the measured procedures of two and three year inquiries to consider the use to which new broadcasting outlets should be put need to be adapted and modified if the opportunities which are offered are not to be missed.
I propose to concentrate my remarks this evening on the broadcasting policy aspects of DBS and cable. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology will, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, towards the end of the debate, want to say more about the industrial side.
I think that it would be right for me at this point to remind the House of the essential features--recently endorsed by Parliament—of our broadcasting arrangements. These form the background against which the possibilities which DBS and cable offer need to be considered. The principal feature of our existing broadcasting services is their public service character. This stems partly from the fact that broadcasting needs radio frequencies and these are a limited resource. We in this country have sought to use the frequencies available for broadcasting to secure that the public at large, including so far as possible those living in the more remote areas, receive services which cater for a wide variety of needs and interests.
A central feature of public service broadcasting is that it has been entrusted, not to particular interest groups, but to public authorities which are accountable to Parliament for their trusteeship of the public interest.
The broadcasting authorities have the responsibility for providing programming of wide range and high quality. They are required to maintain certain programme standards concerning matters such as good taste, political impartiality and the treatment of violence.
175 I am well aware of the view that is held in some quarters that the prospect of an abundance of broadcasting outlets will sweep away the need for regulation in these areas. However, the justification for a number of these rules derives not simply from the scarcity of broadcasting frequencies but from the powerful nature of the medium—from the fact that broadcasting has the unique capacity to address millions of people in their homes simultaneously and in the most direct way in vision and sound. Therefore, I would suggest that there are some ground rules that Parliament has devised or approved for broadcasting which do not automatically fall with an increase in the number of broadcasting outlets.
I have sought briefly to describe the essential features of our existing broadcasting arrangements, partly as background for our consideration of DBS and cable and partly because we have a duty to ensure that public service broadcasting is safeguarded for the future. The nature of public service broadcasting, both in terms of content and geographical coverage, has been established over many years. For many years to come a large proportion of the population is likely to continue to rely on these services for much of their entertainment, information and education. If, by our decisions, we diminish their range and quality we shall harm the interests of very large numbers of people. That consideration has been very much in my mind in relation to DBS and cable and it is one of the reasons why we set up the Hunt inquiry.
It would be possible, of course, to say that the risks to the existing order are too great and that many of the developments that new technology renders possible are for this reason undesirable. That is not the Government's approach. Down that road lies not only economic and industrial stagnation but stagnation in terms of broadcasting. Broadcasting has never stood still. The services we now enjoy are the product of years of change, development and evolution. Indeed, by the end of this year new services on the fourth television channel service will have begun and I have little doubt but that they will enrich broadcasting in this country in much the same way as commercial television and more recently local radio have done. I would suggest, however, that that enrichment was not inevitable: it has been achieved in part because of the care that Parliament has taken in providing the right framework for the development of broadcasting. New developments always raise difficult questions. Our task must surely be to face those questions and to come up with durable answers that will provide a solid foundation for the exploration of new opportunities.
I turn now to DBS and there are two preliminary points that I should like to make. First, DBS offers us only a limited number of extra television channels. They have been allocated under an internationally agreed plan and this country has five at its disposal. Secondly, the question how far one country's satellite services will be received in other countries is more complicated than is sometimes suggested. Inevitably, our near neighbours will be able to receive signals from our satellite and people in some parts of England will be able to receive foreign DBS services. Reception from authorised foreign broadcasting stations would be lawful in this country under the terms of the existing television licence. But for technical reasons the receiving equipment would have to be somewhat more 176 sophisticated and more expensive than the basic equipment needed for receiving the United Kingdom service.
Thus, although the possibility exists, it seems doubtful whether large numbers of people will go to the trouble of being able to receive foreign stations, at least in the early days. A number of European neighbours are concerned about the effect that foreign services, particularly those financed by advertising, might have on their own broadcasting arrangements. Discussions are in progress within the Council of Europe and my Department is represented on a working group that is examining the scope for international agreement on such matters as programme standards and advertising.
DBS does raise new issues. But there are many similarities between DBS and traditional broadcasting. It is because of these that the Government concluded that any British satellite channels should be subject to essentially the same sort of supervisory framework as our existing services and the same requirements on programme standards.
We have, moreover, decided that the BBC should be responsible for operating the first two channels and it might be helpful to the House if I set out in rather more detail than I was able to on 4 March why we reached that conclusion.
The first imperative has been to get ahead as quickly as possible so that our industries can take the best advantage from the expertise that they have already developed in the satellite communications field. That means that contracts need to be signed for the satellite package over the next few months so that a service can be in operation in about 1986. This country is very likely to have a fully operational DBS service well in advance of our European neighbours.
The Government have made it clear all along, however, that they are not prepared to underwrite the cost of the satellite system. Therefore, the broadcasting organisation wishing to negotiate capacity on a satellite with the provider of the hardware has to be in a position to discuss terms and enter into commitments without further delay. The BBC's charter and licence and agreement already give it the necessary power to do so, subject to my consent. It has, moreover, given a good deal of thought to the prospect of satellite broadcasting and has been developing detailed proposals for some time.
I believe that there has been widespread support for our decision to allow the BBC to go ahead with DBS, but I know that some still wonder why we did not at the same time decide to authorise a commercial DBS channel. Let me repeat what I said on 4 March. The Government attach importance to involvement of the private sector in DBS. There are five satellite channels at our disposal and while it would not be practicable to start with fewer than two, we are certainly prepared to move up from two as and when the demand justifies it. At this stage, however, only the BBC is in a position to enter into the formal commitment that is needed if a start with DBS is to be made.
I promised the House in my statement that I would be as forthcoming as possible about the financial arrangements for the BBC's two satellite channels. Figures can, I am afraid, be only very approximate, partly because we are talking about a service that will not be in operation for another four years, and partly because while commercial negotiations are taking place the parties naturally wish 177 certain information to remain confidential. For the BBC there will be two costs to meet—first, the annual rental for each of the two satellite channels and, secondly, the costs of the programme material that they broadcast.
The Home Office study suggested last year that the annual leasing cost per channel might be between £10 and £16 million at 1980 prices depending on the size and specification of the satellite. That estimate still seems to be valid. The study also considered that programming costs could be anything between £10 million a year for a channel that relied entirely on existing material to £100 million for a channel comparable in content with BBC 1 or ITV. Since rights payments are related to the size of the audience, the costs will of course be reduced while the satellite audience is building up.
The BBC believes that its subscription service can be entirely self-financing within about four years and that, thereafter, it will make a profit, which will eventually benefit the licence fee payer. It may need to borrow to cover the start-up costs. The "window on the world" service will be financed out of the licence fee revenue, which might be boosted by a special supplemental licence fee in much the same way as a special rate now applies to colour. The BBC's DBS proposals were not part of its application to me for the recent licence fee increase and the new services will not be in operation until some time after the end of this licence fee period.
There is one further matter that I should like to touch on briefly before I turn to the subject of cable. This concerns the technical transmission standards for DBS which my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) and Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Wilson) raised after my statement on 4 March. The BBC and IBA have developed proposals for taking the opportunity which DBS offers of achieving higher quality pictures and sound. The BBC's proposal is for an enhanced version of the PAL system used for existing colour transmissions while the IBA has developed a new system called multiplexed analogue components. Work on satellite transmission standards is going on in the European Broadcasting Union and we shall obviously need to take that into account. We shall also need to act in the best interests of the British electronics industry and of the viewing public. Before the Government reach any final decisions on the standards to be adopted for our first two channels we shall wish to have the benefit of independent, expert assessment of both the BBC and the IBA proposals.
I have devoted the greater part of my speech to satellite broadcasting. For many people, the choice for the foreseeable future will be between having their own receiving equipment and not getting the service at all. But there is no doubt that DBS services will have a better chance of securing a fast growth in the size of their audience if they are also available by cable. This point was made by the information technology advisory panel in its recent report on cable systems. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear the Government's determination to secure the advantages that cable technology can bring to this country.
Before the Government can take final decisions there are a number of matters that need further consideration, some of which are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. I am thinking here of questions such as the telecommunications policy aspects of cable, for 178 cable can, of course, provide a variety of telecommunications services as well as services analagous with broadcasting services as we know them. These are areas that the Government are now examining. It is widely acknowledged, however, that cable will not grow in this country unless companies are able to provide a wide range of entertainment services. Various other services, such as teleshopping and telebanking, become possible once the cable is there, but the key to the lock is some modification of the existing rules governing what cable operators may distribute to the public.
It was because we recognised that such a modification would be needed that I decided as long ago as November 1980 to authorise a number of pilot schemes of subscription television by cable. Part of the purpose of these schemes was to enable us to determine the appropriate regulatory framework within which cable might develop. We have recognised, however, that the two-year time scale for these schemes was too long and it was for this reason that I decided to establish an inquiry into the broadcasting aspects of the possible expansion of cable.
I am delighted that we have managed to secure the help of Lord Hunt of Tanworth, Sir Maurice Hodgson and Professor Ring to conduct this inquiry. They have a lot to do in a short time, but they have already started work and a copy of the consultative document which they issued on 7 April has been placed in the Library of the House.
The inquiry is anxious to receive views from a wide range of sources and I hope that all those who take an interest in broadcasting matters will take the opportunity to submit comments to it. The inquiry's consultative document sets out a number of particular questions which it has already identified as among the most important. I should like to mention some of these, not because I intend to deal with them now, but because they show, I think, just how fundamental the issues are.
First, should there be special rules because of the local monopoly that a cable operator might, in effect, have? Secondly, how should cable television be financed and in particular should advertising be permitted? Thirdly, what rules should apply on good taste, decency, due impartiality, the portrayal of sex and violence and so on? Fourthly, how could the rules be supervised and enforced? Fifthly, should political and religious groups be allowed to run channels? Sixthly, what should the relationship be between the cable industry and the press and the film industries?
I believe that we shall have, in the light of the Hunt inquiry's report, to come up with the durable answers to these basic questions if investors are to have the confidence they need to put large sums of money into new cable.
Finally, I should like to return to the fundamental issue I have already mentioned concerning the future relationship between cable television and traditional broadcasting. Whereas DBS offers a few more national services, cable could provide a multiplicity of channels over local networks. No one has yet suggested that it will be possible to reach anything like the 99 per cent. of the population who can now recieve television. I believe that we have a duty to the majority of people in this country who are going to continue to rely on BBC and IBA services for the foreseeable future. They are entitled to expect that 179 the range of quality of those services should not be diminished by cable services siphoning off the best sport, the best films and the best entertainment.
With the BBC's satellite subscription service I am confident that the general interests of the licence fee payer will remain paramount. In the last resort the BBC is accountable to this House for what it does. With cable there are, as yet, no natural safeguards and no natural mechanisms of accountability and we shall need to consider in the light of the Hunt inquiry's report what safeguards and mechanisms of supervision and accountability there should be.
I have tried this evening to set out the background to the broadcasting policy questions which the new technologies of direct broadcasting by satellite and cable raise. The Government's approach to these matters is a positive one. As a country we cannot afford to miss the opportunities which these technologies offer. Equally we cannot afford to ignore the policy questions that the new technology raises, particularly in relation to broadcasting. These questions deserve full consideration in their own right. Moreover, as I have indicated, if we fail to provide durable answers to them we shall fail to provide the solid foundation which is needed for the opportunities to be seized. I commend this approach, and the policies that the Government are pursuing in this exciting field, to the House.
§ Dr. Shirley Summerskill (Halifax)
This debate provides a welcome opportunity to discuss satellite and cable broadcasting. Because of the immeasurable influence and immense power exercised by television and the fact that it can determine the way people look at the world, these developments must be subjected to constant and vigilant review by the House. Unlike our previous broadcasting debates, in this case the Home Office is not the only Government Department involved. In fact, according to a recent report by the Cabinet Office on the impact of cable systems, broadcasting will come to be of secondary importance to information technology. The report says:The initial attraction for home subscribers will be the extra television entertainment channels. However, the main role of cable systems eventually will be the delivery of many information, financial and other services to the home.The Minister of State who will wind up the debate for the Department of Industry personifies those who preach with almost missionary zeal and enthusiasm that computers and cables can bring only a new, better and richer life for us all. They see their task as one of informing the ignorant and converting the disbelievers.
One of the more controversial and endearing characteristics of the Home Office is that it never allows itself to be carried away by anything. It sees every issue as a matter for quiet, calm deliberation, which is one reason why it should continue to have the prime responsibility within Government for broadcasting matters. The other reason is that broadcasting is and should continue to be primarily an art, not a science or an industry, although it relies on science and industry for its practical implementation.
The Home Secretary has drawn attention to several important implications of these new, revolutionary forms 180 of broadcasting. He referred to the cost of the satellite proposals. I hope that when he has further information and estimates from the BBC about the impact upon the individual licence fee payer he will make this information known to the House, because the BBC complains that it is chronically short of funds and asks for the licence fee to be put up even higher than it is now. This is an important factor in assessing the cost of the satellite proposals.
The report of the Government's advisory panel on cable is less impressive than the report on satellite from the Home Office. The six men on the panel all hold top positions in technology. They are natural disciples of the cable cause. Only 20 organisations submitted their views. Although the IBA is listed as one of them, I am authorised by its chairman to say that its views were not asked for nor were they submitted. The same applies to the views of the Post Office Engineering Union.
The arguments in the report are mainly commercial and industrial, and its conclusions are dogmatic. The message is that there are huge profits to be made, that there are jobs to be created, and that there must be no delay. The report says that planning for new cable services should start no later than 1983, and preferably earlier. Nobody wants this country to lose on this technology, but we should not rush like lemmings towards it. We should not be railroaded into agreeing to a development programme of £25,000 million, involving more than 30 new televison channels. So Lord Hunt's commission of inquiry is to be welcomed. It will allow consideration of the social consequences and implications of cable broadcasting, the needs, wishes and interests of the public and the effects upon broadcasting standards.
As we wait for channel 4 there is no great evidence of enormous public demand for more and more television. I have not received one letter asking for more television. But new channels can bring with them certain advantages. We can expect a greater freedom of choice and we hope that on each channel minority interests will be catered for. I think, for example, of adult education, local programmes and programmes for the ethnic minorities. There will be the opportunity for a more comprehensive, balanced and less superficial coverage of news and current affairs, and, in the longer term, the isolated and developing areas of the Third world would benefit from a global communications network involving cable and satellite.
In the more immediate future there is a prospect in this country, not of universality but of our being divided into two nations—the half of the population in the larger urban areas having access to cable and the other half in the rural areas being permanently deprived of it, whether they wish to pay or not. The BBC has predicted that only 60 per cent. of the population will ever be covered by cable, because it will not be an economic proposition for the whole country.
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
Should we decline to proceed on the basis that not everybody will have the benefit of cable at once? If that reasoning had been applied to the introduction of gas and the telephone we should still be using oil lamps and the carrier pigeon. Because not everyone can have cable at once, are we to lose the greatest industrial and technological opportunity of the century?
§ Dr. Summerskill
The hon. Gentleman is putting words into my mouth. I did not say that we should not 181 proceed with cable. I am simply pointing out some of the repercussions of this development, which is what we are here to debate.
There could be another division into two nations, a division of the BBC's licence holders. For the first time inequality in public service viewing will be created. There will be BBC licence holders who can afford the extra money for the satellite subscription service and those who cannot, so not every BBC programme will be available to everybody, as the charter says it should be. That division would be less important if we could be assured that it would not lead to a first-class and a second-class service, with the basic services available to everybody being run down in favour of special services available to a minority.
Lord Hunt's committee will ask whether there should be advertisements on the new channels. If there are, there could be an unprecedented advertising boom. A profusion of channels financed by commercial interests could lead to a serious weakening of public service broadcasting. There is great concern that this should not be allowed to happen.
I am sure that I speak for all my right hon. and hon. Friends when I say that the BBC must continue to be the United Kingdom's major broadcasting authority. Unrestricted, uncontrolled competition from a powerful commercial element would present a serious threat to the quality and range of both the BBC's and the IBA's existing services.
To what extent should the new space age television be regulated, and by what type of body? At one extreme of the argument we have the de-regulators. Mr. Peter Jay,head of the IBA's breakfast television franchise, has said:Theoretically there could be as many programmes as there are viewers. Every politician, busybody and self-appointed cultural and moral nanny who wants to lay down what other people may and may not communicate to one another will wish to combat this.Presumably he is in favour of a free-for-all. One cannot compare, as some do, television programmes and channels to the proliferation of newspapers and magazines which are allowed to come and go uncontrolled. Television is a far more powerful, more intrusive form of communication available at the touch of a button and with a huge influence on the viewers, especially children.
Thirty or more channels of entertainment and information are not simply a small extension of the present system. The new services should maintain the high standards, both technically and in content, that we have come to expect from our existing broadcasting system. There must be a proper programme balance and a wide range in subject matter. It follows that in order to achieve those objectives all satellite and cable broadcasting will need to be subject to some system of public control—that is, by a regulatory authority, and in my view preferably a new separate public body.
The cable operators and programme providers have suggested voluntary self-regulation, but an internal code of conduct or gentleman's agreement would be inadequate as a substitute for an authority with public accountability. The public should be responsible for broadcasting, and they must have confidence in it. Therefore, the cable operators should not be given complete control over the programme services, which is what they are asking for.
There is no advantage in increasing the quantity of programmes available if in the process the general standard and quality deteriorate. This is a matter of 182 concern to all those who want to see preserved the traditions and high reputation of our broadcasting services, which are superior to those in any other country.
Programmes from satellite and cable should as far as possible conform to decency and good taste. They should not encourage violence or crime or lead to disorder. There is increasing research evidence from this country and abroad that social behaviour can be influenced by what has been seen on television.
Every effort should be made to preserve impartiality and political balance in the presentation of news and in the treatment of controversial matters. Advertisements should also be subject to control in the same way as advertisements on independent television are at the moment.
The Home Secretary referred to international agreements on standards, and I was encouraged by what he said. But, on 4 March, in reply to a question from his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn) he said:If we were to wait for the various matters concerning joint European standards to be drawn up, we might very easily miss industrial opportunities. "—[Official Report, 4 March 1981; Vol. 19, c. 419.]I realise that since 4 March he has had the benefit of a great deal of Home Office advice on this matter. I hope now that he will be less precipitous.
I gained the impression from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that he now supports the very careful efforts that are being made to join in a contract of European standards for broadcasting which has been drawn up by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, both of which are aware of the significance of cable and satellite television. As well as live soccer from Brazil and live circus from Moscow we are promised foreign feature films and plays. This means that an important cultural, linguistic and educational link will be forged between different countries and between viewers in different countries which can be to the good but, if it is riot carefully watched, could be for the bad. So I was glad to hear what the Home Secretary said on that point.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I am riot clear what my hon. Friend meant by her last remarks. Did she mean that the French should scrap their television system, which is different from the systems in the rest of Europe, or did she mean that we should have a common European standard, reconciling the French with the rest of Europe?
§ Dr. Summerskill
My hon. Friend is referring to technicalities. I was referring to the cultural invasion that will occur when programmes from European and other countries are freely available in Britain for the first time. As I said, this could be a good or a bad thing. It is clear that general standards should be arrived at, if not throughout the world, at least in Europe. Both the Council of Europe and the European Parliament are working on this point.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The question with which we are faced is not whether we accept the challenge of satellite and cable broadcasting. I believe that every hon. Member would answer "Yes" to that. The vitally important question is when and how do we proceed. We should not allow ourselves to be stampeded into ill-considered action 183 by vocal and impatient industrialists, even if one of their motives is to provide more jobs. It would be appropriate to let "festina lente" be our motto. The new era of broadcasting can be phased in and the pace of its development controlled. Its quantity and quality can be carefully regulated by a public body in the public interest.
Our main concern should be to preserve the creative freedom of the programme makers, but this must be balanced with the sensibilities and needs of the viewing audience. Above all, we must ensure that all those involved in these new powerful developments of satellite and cable maintain the highest standards of British broadcasting.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
I declare an interest as a director of Granada Television. It is from the standpoint of commercially financed broadcasting that I should like to start my speech on cable television.
For the Government, one of the main attractions of the proposed cable programme is that it can be financed from private sources. Whatever developments may emerge over the years when the cable service covers the whole country, it is clear—the Home Secretary has just told us—that its early financial fortunes will depend on entertainment programmes of more or less the type that are now broadcast over our three existing channels.
The ITV companies must know more about commercial broadcasting than do other organisations. Yet, so far, they do not appear to have to been brought in on the discussions on the future of cable television. The report by the information technology advisory board panel is a valuable and informative document, but it is a report by those concerned with cable and not broadcasting people. I very much hoped, when the other members of the Hunt committee were nominated, that we would see a name with an independent television background. That was not to be.
Independent television has great commercial and entertainment experience, but more important in solving the more significant problems of cable vision is its experience, together with the IBA, in the control of broadcasting. The Government have launched into the cable venture with admirable speed, in contrast to past Governments who could be justifiably criticised by the industry for the way in which they dragged their feet. This time, it could be said that the Government are well out in front of the industry. It is true to say that those in broadcasting are far from sure about what is happening. Having assumed after long discussions—we had the Annan committee and the broadcasting legislation—that the future of broadcasting had been settled for the next 20 years, we are now offered an immediate prospect of a revolution in broadcasting on our television screens.
The Home Secretary put six basic questions before the House. They showed that the most important problem to be solved is control. In his recent Fleming memorial speech, Paul Fox of Yorkshire Television said:In the final analysis, it seems to me that the words of Mr. Whitelaw are the decisive ones. 'While broadcasters should be independent of Government in the day to day conduct of their business, the Broadcasting Authority should continue to be responsible for the content of programmes, for ensuring that the 184 services are conducted in the general public interest and are in accordance with the requirements and objectives which Parliament places on each authority.'Mr. Fox continued:That is the way we have always done it in the United Kingdom, with the authorities answerable to Parliament and Parliament answerable to the electorate. While there have been hiccups and shortfalls, it has worked out by and large. The question is, will it continue to work in the age of satellites and cable?My answer would be "No". Under our present system the IBA has the power to bestow on a company the favour of a franchise. It follows that the company is in no position to object to fairly tight regulations. The IBA can call in a company's programmes for approval or stricture. It can tell a company what proportion of its programmes should be local or educational. It can require a company to change its board or even to change the shareholders.
Controls of this strictness would certainly not attract investors to the cable system. Yet thousands of millions of pounds must be attracted to the system if the Government's cable plans are to take off. Such restrictions would be physically impossible because, as I understand, we are expecting hundreds of cable companies. In America they have thousands. Detailed control is out of the question.
The cable television industry, as the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) said, advocates self-regulation under its own code of standards. That is the exact opposite of the IBA system, and would be unworkable for different reasons. The code hopefully states:We will not transmit anything obscene or in bad taste, and we will use careful judgment over the transmission of unduly violent or sexy material.That would severely limit the number of films.
The Hunt committee has the incredibly difficult task to find a workable control system. It has only six months to come up with suggestions. Time is not the biggest difficulty. If it had three years like the Annan committee, the problem would still be as hard to solve.
The committee's position is made no easier by the pride that most of us take in our broadcasting standards. Complain as we may that there are days when there is nothing on the box that we wish to see, most people in Britain are rightly convinced that we have the best broadcasting in the world. I believe that the Americans would agree.
A requirement to ensure that people on cable can have at least as good a choice as they enjoy now is that the cable system should carry all ITV and BBC channels. Existing cable companies, with their limited number of channels, might find that a burden, but once they have modernised cables with about 30 channels it is perfectly possible. That might not hold good when we have not only the four present ITV and BBC channels but four more coming in off satellite. That might produce a different problem.
The allocation of franchises, which we make a great toil of even under the present system, would have to be unlike anything so far attempted by the IBA. Most of us would favour small rather than large cable companies, which would mean the licensing of many scores of companies. I hope that the committee will come down in favour of the programme contractor being responsible for both cable transmission and the programme. To split the responsibility of a station between a common carrier and the programme contractor adds a further complication to an already complicated problem.
185 That leads me to ask the Minister of State for enlightenment on his idea of the relations between cable television and the telephone system. The broad band information network based on cable television can transmit electronic information in two directions but it will not carry ordinary telephone services. British Telecom's telephone wires will be able to offer many of the new services offered by cable but not a moving picture.
But the two systems cannot ignore each other. There is no need to dig up the road twice. Will British Telecom be the ally or competitor of cable? Will it be required to provide trunk routes for cable? Trunk routes are largely unnecessary in America where the cable companies are mostly served by satellite. Will British Telecom seek cable television franchises itself, providing programmes as well as cables? All those questions are pertinent for those thinking of going into the industry.
Far the best picture of the television revolution that is coming to Great Britain is the Bow Group paper written by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). He highlights, as no one else has done, the vast range of people and interests that will be affected by cable, all of whom should have a say in the formulation of its control and structure. The present broadcasting authorities—the BBC, IBA and cable companies—must be consulted, but then there are the television rental companies ——
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
The hon. Gentleman's discourse is interesting, but he casually referred to streets being dug up. I know that he is interested in the environment and he was at one time concerned about subsidence. We have so far dealt with programme content and which companies should run the system. People must also be concerned about the environment. One argument against combined heat and power is that the installation will tear up the streets. Will the hon. Gentleman address himself to the problem of the environment? Our sewers are collapsing. Will they be looked after?
§ Sir Paul Bryan
I readily concede that there are enormous environmental implications. The longer that one studies the problem the more one is convinced that we could talk well into the night and still not cover all the implications. We must give a great deal of thought to environmental considerations.
I was listing the other people who are very much concerned in the matter. The television rental companies, which were so much responsible for the phenomenal speed at which colour television spread in Britain, will almost certainly have a role in satellite and cable reception. In America local government has a key position in the allocation of franchises. Should it have a role here?
What about the effect of cable on local papers, local radio and ITV advertising? My advice to the Government is to be wary of protecting commercial interests against the impact of cable. We made the mistake of protecting local papers against local radio by insisting on their being granted a large shareholding in local radio. In the event, that was quite unnecessary. In America television advertising has been unaffected by advertising on cable.
The Bow Group paper to which I referred gives a striking account of what cable can do for the benefit of the arts, ballet and sport. The voices of all those interests must be heard.
The wide and almost endless implications of a cable revolution mean that the Hunt committee and the 186 Government will have to go through a lot of discussion with a lot of people before it takes off. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that all those implications also mean that yet another authority will have to be set up to supervise cable. On that authority the BBC, the IBA and the television companies should be represented, but the people who must not be forgotten, as the Home Secretary reminded us, are those in large areas which for many years will not be covered by cable. Nothing would cause greater grievance than a split between people who can and who cannot see, say, the Cup Final, Wimbledon or other programmes that they are used to having on general distribution.
Finally, there is a good deal of puzzlement in the broadcasting world not only about the shape of things to come but about the timing and the progression of the various stages in the cable build-up. The Hunt report will be published in September. What happens then? What scale of legislation will be required? When does the Minister expect it to pass through the House?
I congratulate the Government on the cable venture and wish them well.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
Following the speech of the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) and seeing my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) reminds me how many years I have been speaking on this subject on behalf of the Post Office Engineering Union, of which I am an assistant secretary.
I first raised the importance of avoiding the expensive duplication of cabling in the Easter Adjournment debate of 1970, and in the debates on local radio in the early 1970s I developed the theme to which I return this evening—the need for the provision under the control of British Telecommunications of an integrated digital, two-way telecommunications network, capable not only of carrying TV, radio and telephone signals, but also of providing capacity for the information technology explosion. If my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) refers to the Minister as a disciple, I think that I should be known as old man Moses.
That integrated network has not been provided, and that is extremely regrettable. It is clear that the development of information technology could be impeded because of the lack of such a network. The ITAP report, the orange book, came as a bitter disappointment. Because of the partiality of its authors and the lack of homework and consultation which preceded it, it is a major letdown. It is simply a rationalisation on the part of those who want to make money out of the private exploitation of an area which should be developed for the public good.
Of course, there needs to be recabling in Britain. It is obvious that the private relay companies, by skimping, on provision years ago, cannot meet known demands, never mind the needs of the future. Having provided, in some instances, for only four wires, aerials will have to be provided for some customers to receive the six TV programmes which will become available, two of them from the satellite. Satellite communication, even leaving aside the private companies, will make recabling highly desirable. It will be far better to receive signals from satellites by a dish aerial on a telephone exchange and to distribute the programmes locally by cable to individual homes, than to force customers to meet the expense of 187 having individual dish aerials. Satellite broadcasting and the growth in the number of TV channels generally demand the development of broad band cable. The experience of citizens band radio has taught us once again what a scarce resource the air waves are. Broad band cable can help to clear the air.
However, we need our cabling not only to provide a wider range of broadcasting services. Broad band cable, as the hon. Member for Howden said, can also be used for telephony. British Telecommunications must modernise and is modernising the distribution network to improve the quality and range of services which it can provide. It needs not only to modernise the network for improved telephony, including viewphone, but to make it capable of playing its part in the information technology explosion. Here we are talking, for example, about electronic mail, shopping, banking and meter reading. There is no doubt about the need to recable Britain. The question for me is "How?" It must be done by a single, two-way digital, optical fibre, broad band cable along BT ducts and other wayleaves.
Do not let us fall into the trap of doing this job piecemeal, under pressure to patch up Rediffusion and Visionhire. We do not want a botched job. Why put down copper cable which does not meet future requirements and which will need to be ripped out again? Why engage in expensive duplication? Why put more than one cable to a house? If we do not need separate cables, why provide them?
The orange book has failed to think in national terms. It misses the warning that I gave in 1970 against allowing the ownership of the physical system to be put into the same hands as that of broadcasters. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North is here, as he was in the early 1970s, to develop the case for freedom of broadcasting.
In trying to keep British Telecommunications out of the picture, the ITAP report has come forward with proposals for massive waste. If this job is to be done properly, under British control and ownership, for goodness sake let us keep the Americans and Japanese out. If it is to be done on a national scale and not just as a cream-skimming exercise in the big cities, if it is to be done without waste, it must be done under the control of BT. British Telecommunications has the experience of planning both national and local networks. It does not need to apply for wayleaves. It already possesses valuable public assets, ducts, cabinets and poles. It also possesses an excellent well-trained, skilled and qualified staff. They include outstanding planning teams, well used to working with local authorities and clerks of works. They will be badly needed if this job is to be done as smoothly as possible throughout the land.
British Telecommunications also has an outstanding record in the development of cable technology, and it is a world leader in this field. The work done by the research and development people at Martlesham has a fine international reputation. The ITAP report, in failing to acknowledge that, in falling into the trap of being prepared to under-exploit that technology, is committing the perennial British crime of wilfully neglecting British inventiveness. Had other countries the advantage of Martlesham's work, they would have exploited it even more. They would not be talking of laying an obsolescent 188 copper cable system, knowing that it would have to be ripped out again. In the interests of Britain, we cannot leave this job to be done purely for the benefit of private profit. It must be done by BT, in partnership with British companies, with BT having the major role, which obviously must include provision and maintenance of the physical network.
There is no time this evening for me to deal adequately with financing. However, I must make two points. First, the Post Office Engineering Union is utterly opposed to the sale of any of BT's assets. Secondly, we believe that BT cabling should be financed from borrowing which should be regarded as outside the public sector borrowing requirement.
I conclude my remarks by appealing to the Government to think in broader national terms than has their handpicked prejudiced panel about recabling Britain. Recabling is badly needed, but it should be done in the best possible way.
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesend)
As I have listened to this interesting debate, I have reflected, as a Member who voted enthusiastically against the televising of Parliament, that once we got multi-channel cable television, I would vote for that very thing, because it would have a place in that system.
I shall not follow the somewhat technical speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). Rather, I shall come directly to my main argument. So far, every speech in the debate, which has been interesting and sometimes exciting, has mentioned cable television in the same breath as broadcasting as we know it today. Right hon. and hon. Members have pointed to the differences, but they look at the matter from the point of view of broadcasting in the Reithian sense and everything that has developed since then. I submit that once we are in the cable television age the difference will be as great as, for instance, between the live theatre and cinema theatre or the cinema theatre and television. Therefore, we must examine much more thoroughly the implications of what cable television will offer to Britain, how it will offer it and how it should be regulated.
The assumption that what we have offered in the past on television screens will be repeated in the cable exercise is wrong. The BBC and ITV stations will for some time have their place on the cable mechanisms in people's homes, but quite soon there will be so many other developments, apart from the inevitable entertainment channels which will be required to make the process viable, and so many other uses—videophones, conference facilities, shopping and banking—that the emphasis of broadcasting as we know it will fade into the background.
Broadcasting will continue to be transmitted by satellite into the ether and received by licence holders. Just as, when colour television came in, the black and white set remained—many of us still have the old black and white set—cable broadcasting will not cause a division in terms of a diminished audience for broadcast television and thereby deprive the 40 per cent. of the population which it is estimated will not receive cable television for a long time. I cannot go down the BBC road and say "never", because progress is so fast in such processes that "never" is too strong a word to use.
If I make that submission, I wonder whether the sort of regulation that we have presupposed in television as we 189 know it is in any way suitable for the cable exercise. A different system of regulation is self-imposed in the film industry and works quite satisfactorily. There is a different system for the theatre called the law of the land. There is a law against obscene telephone calls, so there must be a law against obscenity on cable television, but why cannot a process such as the law of the land be developed to simplify matters?
The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) said that we do not wish to be stampeded into something that we might regret. Of course that is true, but there is great urgency in this matter. If we do not hurry the technology will leave Britain and the Americans, the Canadians and many other people might sweep in and do it for us. Our firms will not be in a position to plan and meet their orders. I plead with the House not to delay for the sake of the ponderous way in which we have legislated for regulation in broadcasting. We must become streamlined and efficient and ensure that the law of the land is upheld, but we must allow maximum freedom of operation to the cable operators.
The opportunities that this will give to local television news are huge. One contender for IBA franchise in the South of England had a main plan that was 10 years ahead of its time when it emerged two years ago. The idea was to sub-divide into small community television news areas. It could not have been done economically under the present system, but it is the sort of thing that we can do with cable television, right down to parish pump news. Many people are crying out for that. It would be a great help if we could keep the operation simple and leave it to the local authorities to look after the system. We should allow the free market and the cable operator to plan programmes with the same freedom that we give the cinema or the theatre. What is so offensive about that?
It is sad that we could not take our courage in both hands and put up the satellite that carried five channels at the beginning. That satellite must be launched very soon—perhaps much sooner than some people realise—so that we can have genuine competition on satellite programmes. As an old BBC man, I am pleased that the BBC now has the opportunity that it wanted so much, but as an old ITV employee I am sorry that it seems that that network was not quite as alive to the opportunities as it might have been.
Let us have free competition in this age of multi-channel television. Let us also think of another word for cable television. It is not television and it is certainly not broadcasting. Above all, let us create the new technology and the jobs that come with it and become alive and excited again about the future.
§ 8.6 pm
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I follow the line of the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) in welcoming the debate and the way in which the Home Secretary, with other weighty matters on his mind today, introduced it. I am less enthusiastic about some of the things that have been said by those who would welcome with open arms all of the new technology simply because it is new or because it provides an entrepreneurial impetus for some sections of British industry. I accept that that is important, but other matters should be laid before the House today.
I am one of those who regret the contrast between the two documents that are the working papers of this debate. 190 The study on DBS is a considerably important paper on which the Home Office should be congratulated. However, the ITAP report, or orange paper, is an essentially shoddy document because nowhere does it examine the considerations of the spread of cable television in this country that go beyond the purely commercial. I hope to show that there are considerations that go beyond the purely commercial. There is the question of the uses to which we put the new technology as well as the question of whether we welcome it.
As the hon. Member for Gravesend said, we are already on the edge of the breakdown of the mass audience, the limited off-air systems and, probably, of the considerable constraint and regulation that went with them. The signpost now inevitably points down the road of deregulation. However, the pace at which we go is still an important question. The restraints that we can insert, when constraint must be abandoned, are important.
Anyone who has bought a video recorder and who is suddenly aware of the video culture, which relates not so much to the recording of programmes off air but to the buying in shops of video films, will know where the market is and how the existing system of off-air broadcasting stands to be broken down. When my children go to the local video store to hire a film for an hour they are, although they do not know it, striking a death blow at the British cinema industry. They are also showing, with their preferences and their purchases, exactly how the main thrust of cable and satellite broadcasting may go.
I shall consider how the systems have developed in the United States of America, which is perhaps the best analogy for us. It is true that penetration by cable systems is more extended in Belgium than in America, but Belgium is a special case because it is open to many different cultures and languages and is bilingual itself. In the United States of America we can see how the pattern of both satellite and cable broadcasting has developed and we can draw some conclusions from it.
In Britain and in other smaller European countries, we have the prospect not merely of greatly increasing the amount of national broadcasting services available to us, not merely of the two services that will come from the BBC, three possible additional ones and perhaps another five from Ireland, which will be easily viewed over much of the United Kingdom, but the possibility that some of the European services will be seen in this country, as the Home Secretary said. We may think that that is a matter of no importance. The English language is dominant in Europe. The mid-Atlantic Anglo-Saxon culture in electronic entertainment is so dominant that we do not have to face the threats and real fears faced by the Norwegians and the Swedes. However, it has not been mentioned so far in the debate that an experiment is already proceeding with a commercial satellite, which has already been launched and is in operation. Its programmes will be seen soon in this country.
I should like to ask the Home Secretary about the regulation of satellite broadcasting. How close are we, through the Council of Europe or any other international agency, to an agreement about the degree to which those satellite services operating in the footprint of one country and extending to another shall be deemed to be within the regulatory powers of the second country? There is the use of advertising. One country may wish to have satellite services that operate by some form of additional subscription. In another country an advertiser may wish to 191 have services that are shown and marketed in the second country. There have been legal cases in Belgium relating to the services on cable between Luxembourg and Belgian cable television which have led to a judgment in the courts. Something will have to be worked out quickly with regard to satellites. I should like to hear from the Government more than we have about progress towards an international convention on those matters.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
There was a debate in the Council of Europe on that matter last September arising from a report in the science and technology committee of the Council of Europe by Mr. Langslet, a Norwegian. That debate was about legal aspects of those matters, and has been referred to Ministers in the Council of Europe. As a Member of Parliament and as a member of the Council of Europe, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a much greater need for urgency in resolving the differences between the various countries.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As a former member of the Council of Europe, I know of the concern that the Norwegians have, as a small country of about 4 million people, that their language and culture might be submerged in future by dominant satellite progammes coming from another source, with all the resources that are available to it. I hope that we shall hear more from the Government on that point.
With regard to satellite broadcasting, there has been a decision to give to the BBC the two initial services. There is some force in what the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) said about that decision. I accept that the Annan committee, of which I was a member, recommended that the BBC should have charge of satellite broadcasting. That was the right initial decision. The national broadcasting system should initiate this great experiment.
However, I have one qualm. It seems that once one allows the BBC to have one of its two services on the satellite financed by a subscription service, one is a part of the way towards first and second-class viewing. It is one of the great glories of the public service broadcasting system that the little old lady on the top of Snowdon—if she exists—and the metropolitan viewer sitting in the middle of a lavishly provided viewing area that has a high profile for advertising and is easily penetrated by every form of electronic communication receive the same service. That may no longer be so in the future with the dual system of satellite broadcasting. The satellite services, if we consider the parallel example of the United States, have tended to look most of all for their initial penetration to the box office. They have wanted to go for the big exclusive services and for the international boxing match. They have probably already signed up for the next Olympic Games. They will go for the first runs of the major feature films.
If most of those services are siphoned off to a satellite system, even if it is in the ultimately respectable and worthy hands of the BBC, there will be first and second-class broadcasting. Therefore, I am much more in favour of allowing the BBC to charge a supplementary licence fee for the receiver rather than charging for one set of services available to one set of viewers as against the second-class services that might be available to another set of viewers.
192 Some right hon. and hon. Members have been slightly starry-eyed about cable television. The hon. Member for Gravesend referred to the little local services that will put out all the newsy and worthy women's institute sort of programmes, which would be the life blood of the localities. The reality is not like that.
I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). I remember the debates in the early 1970s about the need for a common carrier. One of the distressing aspects of the report is that nowhere does it accept the argument, which should have been one of the six arguments put forward by the Home Secretary, that there should be a single common carrier. The Home Secretary did not refer to that. We should consider it seriously.
If we are to embark on the expenditure of £2.5 billion, we will want to wire up the country properly with the best fibre optic system. If we do that, there should not be a random growth as in the United States, however strongly certain commercial interests will press for that. They are already entrenched. They can pray in aid the increase in employment that would follow if they were allowed to go ahead by themselves. However far the investment eventually takes us down the road of deregulation and to the global village, we should use a single common carrier system and divorce that common carrier from the purveyors of programming and other services as far as possible. That would go part of the way towards meeting the question of regulation.
The report says that the industry will be able to set up an effective means of self-regulation after the manner of the advertising or newspaper industries. I am not happy about the self-regulation of the newspaper industry. Extensive criticism has been made of the way in which self-regulation has worked in that industry. There have been three Royal Commissions of inquiry in the past 30 years. At the moment there is considerable public criticism of that degree of self-regulation.
The United States examples are the most developed. To borrow a phrase of J. K. Galbraith, trust in the hidden hand can be replaced by the hidden handshake. That is one of the problems of allowing the market to deal with the system by itself.
I am in favour of a regulatory agency. There will have to be one, whether or not it is linked with the common carrier. I agree with the hon. Member for Howden on that point. I also agree that it will have to see that the grandiose proposals and promises that are made by the cable operators are carried into effect when various systems are licensed.
I draw the attention of the House to a long article earlier this year in The Listener by Brian Winston, entitled "America's cable caper". Mr. Winston looks at the reality of services in the United States as against the promises. He was able to show that whereas many people believe that the United States is now festooned with hundred channel systems offering two-way capacity and allowing one to do everything from checking a bank statement to changing the baby's nappy by TV, in fact no such systems exist anywhere in the United States. The major profitable services in that country come from the popular box office services to which I have already referred. They are the services pulling in the money.
Those who are in favour of deregulation should note that those systems rely largely not on ordinary movies but on what are euphemistically called adult movies. If one 193 wants round the clock soft pornography it can be obtained on these systems in the United States. It is interesting to note that space on one of the satellites is shared between Playboy magazine and the National Christian network. I am not sure what common interest on this common carrier is shared by them.
Turning to the alleged local services—the local access services—mentioned by the hon. Member for Gravesend, the reality in the United States is that as regards information they are often no more than a revolving cable drum which shows how many planes are late at the local airport. To refer again to Mr. Winston's article, there are access programmes that include the Ugly George Show, where an interviewer roams the streets dressed in a silver suit asking ladies to take off their clothes, a nude chat show, and an endless parade of egomaniacs doing party turns and excruciating interiews. We saw some of those shows in the small hours on the night of the last American presidential election when Granada Television ran three hours of them.
One might feel that the Ugly George Show or its equivalent—the Ugly Willie show, or whatever one wants in this country—would be a great asset for British television, but I doubt it.
§ Mr. Brinton
I accept that cable television is in its early days, even in the United States. However, can the hon. Gentleman project his mind forward a decade to see this local development more seriously than he does now? I believe that it could be.
§ Mr. Whitehead
I accept that is a possibility. However, it is now 34 years since the first aerial was run up in the holy city and a good 15 years since the first multi-channel system with all the promises involved—we met some of the people from Columbus and Dayton and other places who were installing them—were first introduced in the United States. Although there is a demand for some of these services, I am not sure that they have the worthy objectives or that they result in the end product suggested by the hon. Gentleman. The implication for a long time to come is that the entertainment considerations will dominate, to refer again to the report on cable systems.
If entertainment considerations dominate, they will be mass entertainment considerations and it will not matter whether there are 3, 23 or 103 channels. There is the danger that British viewers who at the moment have a good system of broadcasting—not perhaps the best in the world, but a good system—will be locked into the phoney non-choice of a number of channels that constrict their choice by simply replaying the fetish of the day over and over again. Hon. Members who have read E. M. Forster's story "The Machine Stops" will remember what happened in that story. The people who had been locked into the video city eventually found that watching what they liked, piped through to their apartment, was more interesting than the real world. They failed to talk to each other. That is one of the problems of the global village. People might not talk to each other any more. I want to connect one with another in our society. I am not sure that uncritically embracing the new technology will do that.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). He made an interesting and well-informed 194 speech. However, I could not help feeling that as he pointed to the path of deregulation he appeared to be appalled at the prospect. Perhaps his American examples would not automatically be transferred to this country. I accept there is a possibility, but we start from a certain basic standard of quality and if we consider the way that the two systems compare today there is some hope for us.
The hon. Gentleman did the House a service in addressing his mind to some of the immediate realities. Indeed, I am in that slightly aggrieved situation of seeing one or two of my own bull points disappearing fast. For example, his remarks on video were absolutely right.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) is about to enjoy a well-earned break and leave the Chamber, because I want to be critical of her later. The hon. Member for Derby, North presented a much more realistic view than the somewhat Roundhead approach expressed by the hon. Lady. In suggesting that video was already establishing the market norm the hon. Gentleman was absolutely right. If we add the decision on DBS, within a short time—by 1986—people in this country will have a choice of six channels and four years later another three channels. As the hon. Gentleman also rightly said, with the five Irish channels and, I would add, the possibilities of Luxembourg with access to DBS, the viewer will have freedom of choice of a wide range of programmes and material, quite apart from what might happen on cable. Inevitably, people will seek to use those systems—the footprint in Europe—to transmit programmes to this country. No one has yet mentioned that simultaneous translation means that the whole economic basis of much of this broadcasting will be to spread its footprint as widely as possible.
In looking at one or two of the realities and in seeing how we should go down the road of deregulation—which I firmly support—we must take account of the continuing quantum leap forward in technology. Those of us who try to follow these matters may speak with care and attention but recent history shows that one is facing a constant acceleration in the growth of new technology. For example, until recently it was said that direct broadcasting by satellite was not viable. But as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) will be aware more than most, the very viability of this broadcasting has itself been assisted by the intermix of the business and telephone service which will be part of the Halley 1 United Satellites development, in which I declare an interest. That mixed payload is of great importance in showing how the technology and economics are changing at a remarkable pace. It is confidently predicted that we shall soon see the small dish, that we may even have a plate in the wall. If it comes to that development, the low cost adoption of DBS will follow through the whole country and therefore bring with it the range of programming that will follow.
That must set the framework when we talk about cable. We must, therefore, assume a wide range of programme material, some of which we have no hope of controlling, whether we like it or not. Just as in the case of sound broadcasting and independent radio, so we must assume that the move will be towards freedom.
If we were not to take into account the realities of the situation, we would still be arguing about whether the BBC should have been given this opportunity. Had the BBC not been given this opportunity, we would have been considerably behind in the competitive situation that we 195 face with the emergence of the TV Sat from the French-German consortia. It was, therefore, a wise move to give the go-ahead. I certainly welcome the prospect of ITV taking an interest in this and I believe that that will be possible by 1990 in view of extra channel capacity.
I revert to the interests of both the consumer and industry, in which I have a joint interest. As to the consumer, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that unfulfilled demand will be met. I was a little surprised that the hon. Member for Halifax set store on the fact that she had not received any letters about feature films personally. She was well answered by her hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. The video explosion shows exactly what current demands are.
In addition to the film side, there has been the sale of about 500,000 video recorders. It is, therefore, wise to remember that there is a tremendous capacity, either by hiring or purchase, to get deep into the heart of the home entertainment industry.
There are also opportunities in respect of interactive television. There is the opportunity to move away from what has been called passive television viewing to active television viewing. That is of the greatest importance. It is not just a question of demand for a sports channel, feature films or specialist interests. It is also of the greatest social importance that there are now opportunities to see the way ahead for the alarm call, fire prevention and so on, which will have enormous implications for our social infrastructure. Whatever the move towards some kind of regulatory restraint, one would hope that that aspect will be assured of its development. I strongly support the move towards deregulation, but I recognise that important social consequences and opportunities open up, particularly with cable.
We perhaps tend to take a somewhat insular view about the opportunities that will be available for our own people. Obviously, I welcome the opportunities not just for the viewer but also for our technicians, performers, writers and so on. I declare an interest as a part-time writer for television, but I am managing only one programme or series a year and I do not suppose that that will rock the entire system.
The opportunities are considerable. I do not agree with those who try to suggest that creaming off will be a one-way process. For example, it has been suggested that the prestige, or high budget, programme will be diluted. I think that it will work the other way. I think that the high budget programme, be it for entertainment, drama or whatever, will probably be used in the first instance on a subscription channel, but surely the logical progression is to make it available on the general channel to get more overall coverage. One expects that to be the approach of the BBC on DBS before reverting to general broadcasting.
The industrial prospects are indeed glittering prizes. Some hon. Members should not pooh-pooh these, because for many years we have been looking for real, long-term, new industrial openings. My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology has played a notable part in advocating the rewiring of the country. Those of us who support him do so because we genuinely believe that the opportunities are for real, long-term jobs on a massive scale. I am sure that my hon. Friend will say something about that when he replies.
196 If we are to exploit that situation, it is not just a matter of broadcasting opportunity. It means achieving real skills in this technology that are transferable in the world at large. I advise British Aerospace on the space side of its activities. I know that it is fully confident that within the new consortia, United Satellites, the technology is now fully available to exploit systems through the European footprint and to provide, via the business channel side, a possible link with the United States. That is, perhaps, an even more glittering prize, which I am sure the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme would warmly welcome.
If we relate that to the way in which our capability on satellites has at one fell swoop been strongly increased by the domestic building programme, relate it to the United Kingdom defence satellite and other domestic developments, and relate that to Britain's lead in communication satellites, with L-Sat which incorporates the television service for Italy, we can reasonably hope in the next few years to go into world markets and play an increasing role in selling our technology. I see great opportunities for the sale of British skills and the arts of our television programme producers. This entire British package is an immensely exciting opportunity.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stevenage)
My hon. Friend has mentioned the expansion of our ability to produce satellites. Does he recognise that in Stevenage the sale of satellites has increased five times each year compounded? This represents a major diversion from defence spending to the civilian use of our expertise and technology, which is a prize we should not give away.
§ Mr. Marshall
I know of my hon. Friend's constituency interest in ensuring that this should be a continuing process. He intimates that, so far as British Aerospace is concerned, there has been the opportunity to take up within space development many of the shifts from traditional defence capability where engineering skills are transferable. From my constituency's viewpoint, the Marconi interest in payload, which is leading to the recruitment of engineers and so on for that company, is to be welcomed as an offset against some of the changes in defence budgeting.
I do not intend to detain the House long in a most interesting and important debate because many hon. Members wish to speak. The House has a specially important role to play in the future and continuity of this development. It can be said of successive Governments that there has been a lack of continuity in policy and thinking about these matters. It is slightly depressing to hear from the hon. Member for Halifax that there shall be no more cakes and ale in her Cromwellian relish. When we have a great opportunity, we should move in a consistent way. The vagaries of Government life being what they are, I do not suggest that that is an immediate or major concern. However, in trying to ensure that there is consistency in the way in which we approach matters such as deregulation and the way in which we encourage what is undoubtedly a major industrial opportunity, the House has a big part to play. Therefore, I conclude by touching upon one or two impediments, which I hope the House will help remove and use its judgment to see ways through.
There are those who try to turn every major industrial opportunity in this country into a cry for protection, saying 197 that we may be swamped by imports. I do not believe that. As I said earlier, this country has a very strong technological base. Its software undoubtedly leads the world. If, to that, we increasingly harness the kind of hardware that stems not just from satellite broadcasting but from cable and a whole range of interactive television, we shall open up considerable opportunities. It may well be a two-way trade, but we should regard it in that light and not in a defensive way.
Similarly, in view of the opportunities before us, if one of our worries is programmes and material imported to this country, we should recognise that as a two-way process with which, with our track record and proven ability, we can cope. British film making and British television programming, which are recognised world-wide, will be given far greater opportunities when the viewing of British television or film products becomes more widely available through the kind of international links of which I have spoken.
The hon. Member for Halifax, who spoke for the Opposition, gave something of a plug for the Home Office and its traditional attitudes. I recognise her past service in that Department. However, it is wise to remember that the Home Office has not always been in the vanguard of progress. It was the Home Office in the 1920s which opposed the extension of BBC broadcasts overseas because they would interfere with ships' distress signals. I hope that in these more enlightened times those who urge the case for deregulation will ensure that we do not become caught up with technical discussions that are constantly overtaken by events.
A great opportunity has opened up before us. I am heartened to find that there are so many in the House, including my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who see it in those terms. We may yet live to see the day when this debate will be regarded as something of a major milestone.
§ Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth (Thornaby)
I agree with much that the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) has said. I welcome the Government's decision to go ahead with DBS and, I hope, to proceed with the laying of a new cable network for the entire country. I give that welcome from an industrial point of view. I hope that it will lead to the development of new technologies, new wealth and new employment.
Direct broadcasting by satellite and cable television are inextricably linked. It appears that one will use the other and provide services for the entire community. The services that the new cable system could provide lie not only on the entertainment side, on which we have tended to concentrate during the debate, but, much more importantly, will go to the core of our industrial and commercial life in future. I hope that it will lead to a multi-channel interactive network which may be used for business, industrial and commercial purposes as well as for entertainment.
We are talking about an opportunity that should be grasped with both hands. I do not say that it should be grasped uncritically. We should not throw off all the shackles and go for it hell for leather. None the less, it should be grasped with both hands and welcomed. I am pleased that the Government have proceeded. I share the feelings about the Home Office expressed by previous 198 speakers. In the past, if one wanted to kill a proposal it was necessary only to send it to the dustbin of Whitehall in the knowledge that it would rest there for many years.
Many areas of our public life which need reform are the responsibility of the Home Office. The Home Office has not acted with alacrity in the past. However, I am pleased that the Home Secretary and his ministerial colleagues have been able to press ahead with CB radio. A great battle had gone on for many years. I am pleased also that they are now pressing ahead with direct broadcasting by satellite.
The future that direct broadcasting by satellite will provide is difficult to predict at this stage. Immediately ahead the two channels will come under the control of the BBC. I do not expect that that will cause great difficulty. The control of the BBC is clearly laid down in its charter and the BBC has long experience in providing current services.
The introduction of this service may also have an important impact on the finances of the BBC—a point which has not so far been mentioned. If, as the Home Secretary suggested, the service becomes profitable after four years, if it continues to be successful and if the BBC obtains a further channel out of the five that will become available, this may provide a major new source of revenue which will make the BBC less reliant on the licence fee.
There seemed to be some doubt in the Home Secretary's opening speech as to whether a supplementary licence fee, as had been previously mentioned, was a firm proposition at this stage. I believe that at times the BElC's independence has been severely threatened as a result of its reliance on the licence fee, so an alternative source of revenue would be most welcome. It would also help to overcome some of the anomalies arising out of the licence system, which we have debated many times in the past.
If we are to have a new cable system throughout the country, which I greatly favour, who will lay and control the cable network? This raises the question of the whole future role of British Telecom. I generally agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) about the good sense of using the facilities, the experience and the systems—the wayleaves and the cable network—that British Telecom already has available, and not duplicating them unnecessarily, but that must depend to a large extent on how British Telecom develops. At present, a number of large questions hang over its future—not least, in recent weeks, that of whether private capital is to be introduced not just in the form of Buzby bonds but through a far more substantial inflow of private funds—that is, a form of BP solution for that organisation. That and the development of the Mercury cable system now being planned raise substantial questions about who will be responsible for the various cable networks in this country.
Again, there has been talk in the press about the establishment of a communications commission. which I assume would be similar to the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, to regulate the various bodies responsible for the cable network and the transmission network in this country. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Industry and Information Technology is to reply to the debate. I hope that he will continent on the role of British Telecom and of the new Mercury consortium, as well as on the possibility of other contractors being responsible for laying and running the 199 cable network for cable television. If we are to have a whole new network of cablevision available, I believe that this will transform television services in this country.
I shall deal briefly with regulation of standards, although it is not principally my area. I do not wish to see any decline in the standards of broadcasting services in this country, but I think that we must look ahead to a time when a multitude of television services will be possible. I see neither the possibility of nor the necessity for the kind of close regulation of that system which exists for the present channels. The present system of regulation was established when television was a new medium, which was perhaps rather feared by many people, and when it was far more of a monopoly—that is the important point—than will be the case in the future.
However, if cable companies are to have a monopoly in their areas and if we are to get the whole of the cable network off to a good start, I am sure that we should consider carefully the necessity of having a regulatory body, at least in the initial stages. I would go for the minimum necessary to sustain standards. But we must ensure that it does not in any way kill initiative and restrict the development of these services. There is the demand in the country for them. They provide tremendous opportunities not only for entertainment but for communications in many parts of the community.
Cable television provides an opportunity for new industries and developing technologies. This country has a great lead and it is one that we should maintain and develop for the benefit of the whole community. It is even more important for jobs and prosperity and for the manufacturers of cable and the equipment that will be added to the system such as receivers and other equipment, when the cable network is laid. I welcome what the Government have done so far. I hope that they will press ahead. I welcome the developments. They are for the benefit of the community and will help employment and industry.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I welcome the constructive tone of the speech by the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth). I share his views about control, to which I shall return later.
In the past three years I note, with some surprise, that we spent more time in the House discussing the use of the Welsh language on channel 4 than on the development of DBS and cable and the introduction of the new methods of communication that can have an immense impact on the lives of many people in this country within the next decade.
Therefore, I do not find it surprising that we should be having our first important debate on the DBS and cable on a day that is dominated by the Falkland Islands dispute and when the debate has in its turn been pushed back three hours by the necessity for the timetable motion on the Employment Bill. It is a pity, because while I applaud the speed with which the Government have appointed Lord Hunt and other advisers there is, I am sure, a limit to the scale of decision that can be left to these advisers.
Let us examine for a moment the central issue of franchise areas and control. In this country commercial television licences have been allocated by a central body and local authorities have had little or no control over what 200 was happening in their areas. In America, effective control over the nearly 5,000 cable networks that exist has been shared between the Federal Communications Commission and the local cities, towns and counties of America. In recent years under both Democratic and Republican Governments the federal role has been diminished and the local one enhanced.
§ Mr. John Spence (Thirsk and Malton)
In the United States the general law also helps, because of the ability to bring private prosecutions in the event of infringement of the general law. That must be mentioned in addition to the other agencies of control. It is a line that we could develop in this country as well.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I would welcome, if I was a lawyer, the vast litigation that has developed in the United States during the last 10 years involving cable companies. I am not sure that it has been wholly helpful in the development of cable systems. I suspect that the role of the local authorities in cable television in this country will be much greater than we expect. The impact on local democracy can be important. The relationship between central and local control of the development of cable is worth a day's debate itself in Parliament. It is not an issue that can be decided by Lord Hunt and his advisers alone.
Every hon. Member in this debate has alluded to central control. This is basically a political question on which advisers can make interesting comments but where a decision has to be taken by hon. Members. We insist on a high degree of party political balance from the BBC and ITV, especially at election times. Ought there to be similar rules for cable television? Surely not—but can we dispense at this stage with rules of political balance altogether?
There is also the question of religion. Religious broadcasting has been tightly controlled on the BBC and ITV. With cable television, we can have in our living rooms every Sunday and, indeed, every day of the week the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, Billy Graham, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the Moonies and, for that matter, the Ayatollah Khomeini. American experience suggests that religious television has an enormous impact. Do we mind if the American experience of no controls is duplicated here?
Another question is that of pornography. Mary Whitehouse is well aware that soft pornography has been a feature of many cable systems in America. I suspect that fear of Mrs. Whitehouse's wrath has, in the last few years, had an even more delaying effect on the Home Office's approach to cable television than might otherwise have been the case. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) argued the need for European standards on these matters. I am not sure how one can produce European standards in this sphere. Does one, after long international debate, decide that between the hours of six and nine it is proper for a female to appear on the screen with one bosom uncloaked, but that two would be too many? It is exceedingly difficult to produce relevant European standards in this field. I suspect that efforts to produce such detailed controls will result in absurdity.
Then there is the question of ownership. Do we care if the Americans own cable systems in Britain? Do we care if the Arabs, Australians or even Argentines own them? We do not care if American, Arab, Australian or Argentine books, magazines or newspapers come into Britain. In 201 other words, should we now treat cable television as another form of traditional television which is tightly controlled, or should we look upon it as a different form of publishing, where we take pride in the fact that there is almost total freedom in the production of newspapers, magazines and books?
I am sure that the Government will want to consult the House freely on this point before making up their mind. I happen to believe that there is a case for some control at the moment, but that that case will grow weaker as the potential for wide competition becomes a reality.
It is plain that the introduction of multi-channel television will give a new twist to the increasingly urgent problem of copyright. Tapes and video tapes have already produced problems for the music and film producing industries. The legal complexities of copyright problems arising from cable television are likely to keep all the lawyers who come to the British Bar in the next 10 years fully employed. The American Government have given cable networks special copyright protection which is now being challenged in Congress. What do the Government intend to do about this problem, which is of substantial importance in the development of this new industry?
I support the new urgency which the Secretary of State for the Home Department has brought to this issue. I am delighted to hear that the Government are now treating the matter urgently. I hope that this will only be the first of many debates that we shall have in the House on this subject in the coming months.
§ 9.4 pm
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
I agree with much that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) said, especially about the need for deregulation. I hope that this debate is intended to lend impetus in Britain to a branch of technology that is the fastest growing industry in the United States of America.
The industry is capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive, yet it employs 35,000 people directly and another 70,000 in related services. One of the major companies in America increased profits over 10 years by 3,650 per cent; it has a projected revenue of $3.6 billion this year_ The prediction shows that by the end of the decade 30 million more households will be linked by cable, which is 30 million more than the 28 million who can currently receive cable television.
The Japanese Government actually allocate a substantial sum—a specific percentage of gross national product—to growth industries of the future. I suppose that there are Ministers who would argue that we do the same here, in that unemployment is our growth industry. However, the Japanese invested heavily in telecommunications in the last decade, while we talked. While one deplores the years of wasted opportunity—for which we are all to blame—let us welcome the current resolve to make all speed.
Let us welcome the fact that in the Minister—who is my London Member of Parliament—we have an expert among a majority of journeymen. Some eight years ago I argued about the foolishness of giving responsibility for broadcasting to the Home Office. I suggested then that the Milk Marketing Board was just as capable and as proper an authority to look after broadcasting, and I want to resume that theme tonight.
The Home Office was given responsibility for broadcasting to safeguard programme standards—what in 202 Halifax Latin might be called "in loco nanny". Although that may be important, the Home Office is actually the last place in Whitehall from which a bright vision of the future is likely to emerge. The Home Office's job has always been to stop rather than to create. It is a negative Department. It is anti crime, anti illegal immigration —it is currently anti all immigration—anti CB radio on wavelengths that give decent reception, and it brings a negative approach to information technology. I hope that the most earnest consideration will be given to transferring all responsibility for broadcasting to the Department of Industry, which is forward looking. I am convinced that if the Department of Industry had had responsibility, we would now be a few years further ahead and would be looking towards the American example from a position of pride rather than envy.
I should like the Minister to give practical thought to two areas. Like the hon. Member for Beckenham, I turn to the subject of copyright. Since the days of Caxton we have led the world in protecting the inventor, artist, writer and musician. The easier we make it for people to receive programmes, the greater will be the abuse of copyright. I am not so much concerned about single copies made among friends for their own use on films or cassettes, although that leads to the loss of vast royalties for those who have risked their capital and lent their skill. The serious villains are those who poach, publish and sell and do immense harm to a hard-pressed industry. It is a theft of creativity, no less; it is just that.
In their latest survey, the independent management accountants, Ernst and Whinney, estimate that the loss to rights owners amounts to about 35 per cent. of the retail price of a lost sale. Last year sales amounted to £283 million and the loss to rights owners as a result of the in-home taping of programmes was therefore £99 million.
Secondly, I turn to the environmental problem and to the sheer size and ugliness of the dishes. One is bemused at technocrats who find ways of sending men to the moon and of putting huge laboratories into space, but who are still unable to create a bottle of milk that can be opened and closed with any hope of success in not getting milk on one's Chelsea boot. Let an aesthetically acceptable dish aerial be their priority. Something must be done to stop the countryside becoming uglier than is absolutely necessary. I know that aerial dishes can be put into the roof rather than on top of the roof, but might there not be an argument for planning permission for exposed dishes?
The siren voice of the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) who seeks to set up yet another authority is the last point to which I wish to refer. We have too many authorities. If we set up yet another, even if we say that it is only for the beginning, to guide us into the future, I do not think that we will ever get rid of it.
I welcome the debate. I welcome the presence of the Minister, and I wish him godspeed and success.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
I feel that I should come to the aid of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) who has been described by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) as a Cromwellian figure. This is clearly not so. I have always looked upon her as the spirit of Merry England. She has been prepared to look at the whole cable lobby as if it were a gift horse. There is a great deal to be said for looking at it in that way.
203 This debate is in the nature of a hors d'oeuvre before the debate that we shall have after the publication of the report of Lord Hunt's committee. If there are as few Members in the House for that debate as on this occasion, it will only prove that an aperitif followed by an aperient is no substitute for a good meal. I am an agnostic on cable television as on much else. Before I leave the hon. Member for Halifax, may I say that she is one of the few girls in this place who has a sense of humour? She ought to be cherished for that reason.
We should ask one or two questions about the cable lobby. I suspect that the cost of cable television will be much closer to £5,000 million than some of the more optimistic and modest figures that are put forward. It will also take much longer to build and construct than its advocates pretend. At the end of the day 40 per cent. of our viewers will be disfranchised.
There is also the problem of feature films and sports programmes. Are we to face a future in which rich Americans deny the British working man free access to his sport, remembering that it is only football that is capable of moving the British? It is no good for my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), the "knight from the suburbs", to suggest in his pamphlet, published by the Bow Group, that the Sports Council, which I believe consists of former rugby footballers, will be in a position to adjudicate between all these competing interests.
Surely all one has to do for DBS is to buy a dish. The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) is wrong in suggesting that they are so large. I am told that they are 1½ feet square and it might be possible to place the dish in one's garden. Once a subscription has been paid and the dish is bought, the service would be available throughout the United Kingdom not just for the 40 per cent. who would pay for the cable.
The final and most important point is the problem of regulation. This is the shorthand term for the debate between Hobbes and Locke. I should explain to members of the Whips Office who are present that these are not cricketers nor golfers but philosophers. They stand for two completely different viewpoints as to political philosophy.
It is always difficult for a Conservative to decide whether he is in favour of Hobbes or Locke, but in this instance I prefer the Hobbesian view of the State and the importance of the State's being in a position to safeguard standards and therefore to safeguard society as a whole from the jungle effect of Lockean philosophy. Were I asked to choose between Mrs. Mary Whitehouse and Sir Larry Lamb I would choose Mary Whitehouse.
Therefore, I think that in the last analysis what we shall need is a CBA—a cable broadcasting authority—which will dispose and expose the operators within cable, that will license them, so that the programmes that they are licensed to show are decent, truthful, honest, unbiased and reasonable. In those circumstances we can lie back and enjoy the inevitability of rape by the cable operators.
§ Mr. John Spence (Thirsk and Malton)
I am greatly facilitated in making my brief contribution by the speech of my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Howden 204 (Sir P. Bryan), who rightly drew attention to the fact that the commercial companies had not been consulted about cable. I find that extraordinary.
I wish to emphasise the scale of the operation that will be involved if we wish to continue with anything like licensing and surveillance in the form now exercised by the IBA in its detailed control and franchise allocation. The detail into which it would have to go in the cable operation would be beyond its scope, and there must be diversification.
In the early stages of commercial television we provided protective barriers in favour of local financial interests, such as the press. Although I was in favour of that at the time, I had certain reservations. Looking back on our experience over the years, I believe that it was unnecessary. I now believe that local financial interests would not wish to be protected in the way that they first thought necessary in the early days of independent television and advertising.
There have been many interesting speeches in the debate. One of the most interesting observations was made by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who said with great feeling that the Home Office never got excited about anything. I have not had many dealings with the Home Office, but in those that I have had it has not got excited about anything, and I wonder whether it is capable of getting excited about the future of cable and satellite broadcasting.
We have spent a great deal of time discussing standards. It is right and proper that we should, but we do ourselves a disservice in making them the centre of gravity, when we have very good equipment for overseeing and looking after them. All that we need is the will to see that the future developments in cable and satellite are knitted into our existing structures. I realise how important supervision of standards and surveillance over them are but we can overdo the matter.
I prefer to turn to the development of the new technologies and what it will mean for the country, job opportunities, industry and the projection of ourselves abroad, for we shall be able to exert influence abroad, too, as never before. The pace of development within these new technologies has been almost breathtaking.
About eight years ago, in Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Philips of Holland were tendering for the cabling of the city of Fort Lauderdale—quite a large city—and were offering a comprehensive cable service by open tender. I believe that they were successful. They had reached the stage where they were internationally in the top slot but there were half a dozen others which were equally internationally in the top slot. That is important. In Britain, we have not even started thinking about it.
About five years ago, in Canada, I met officials of the state broadcasting company in Alberta who told me that they welcomed satellite broadcasting and that they hoped that it would come forward quickly. They said that satellite broadcasting would open up a much greater dimension for the ethnic minorities, because information, entertainment and specialist programmes could be provided at a level and on a scale that the state could not afford to provide. If we are to catch up on the new technologies to the full, we must take certain steps. First, we must recognise that we are starting internationally—perhaps not in relation to Europe—somewhat behind the mark. I would leave the Home Office with its present responsibilities in relation to 205 the BBC and the IBA transmissions. I would make no change there at all. On the other hand, I would hope to see the new developments in the cable and satellite areas becoming the responsibility of the Department of Trade with, of course, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Trade in charge. The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) wished to see them under the responsibility of the Department of Industry. I agree with him that they should be under a Department other than the Home Office.
The Department of Trade would be responsible for the allocation of frequencies and for the conduct of negotiations on the allocation of frequencies both nationally and internationally. That is important in connection with the satellites. My hon. Friend would also be the sponsoring Minister for a new self-funding authority. I realise that there is antagonism towards any new authority but this would be a self-funding authority which, by way of descriptive illustration, I would call the satellite and cable development authority. My emphasis would be on the development of the technology as distinct from other matters which have been raised in the debate. The Department of Trade would also be responsible for licensing.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) made a plea for British Telecommunications, for British industry and for the advancement of cable technology. I agree with that. I am trying to show how one can find a way of doing so. I could find only two faults in the hon. Gentleman's presentation of the technical case in favour of British Telecommunications. First, he is regarding the present state of knowledge about the means of transmission—whether by cable or fibre optics—as the end of the road. But if we are going to cable nationally, the obligation on us is to ensure that we are doing so in a definite form rather than in a multiple form where there is the possibility of change. If it is done nationally we must get it right first time and for good.
We are using one method here, another there and a repeat method elsewhere. We are bringing in technique, knowledge and experience from outside and applying it to our country. I prefer that to a national canal or railway system, all 4 ft 8¼ in, all tied to one standard.
If my hon. Friend is prepared to undertake the great responsibility of his Department sponsoring the cable and satellite development authority, it would open the way to bring in private capital, private entrepreneurs and private and diverse knowledge, which is extremely important. Knowledge and experience are as important as money. Technical sources must be tapped for innovation and future development.
Armed with the equipment and the departmental force, my hon. Friend should lay down at least three main objectives. I am dealing mainly with the technology and its development. The first would be as widespread a liberalisation in the broadcasting centres as possible. It should not be limited to a national scheme. The second would be to encourage development by increasing the catchment area for enterprising organisations to participate. As I said, Fort Lauderdale, as a major city, was able to invite tenders from a range of people who were capable of putting in bids. I should like to see the same here.
I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme that to do the operation on a national basis could 206 take a long time and many people would have to do without the system. We should do it on a fractionaliied basis.
The third objective should be to adopt a structure to create job opportunities in communications. Proportionally, four times as many people are employed in communications in Canada and the United States as in this country. Reduced and corrected for population, for every 100,000 people employed in communications in Britain, 400,000 are employed over there. That is a staggering figure. Communications is an enormously important job generator. The career structures are attractive. For instance, the university of St. Louis gives an excellent communications degree. Graduates can travel throughout the world and are not limited to journalism, television or radio. They can follow a range of activities, such as industrial relations. I hope that we give people the same opportunities.
None of the proposals would affect standards. If there is a risk that they will, our existing equipment to control standards is capable of coping. I ask my hon. Friend to consider them.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I do not want to go too deeply into the new sport, not of Cabinet-making, which is a perennial one, but of shuffling ministerial responsibilities, which is generally frivolous and less interesting.
It is time that someone cast not a crumb of comfort but a modicum of kindness to the Home Office, which has, believe it or not, had a lot to do with what we are discussing and the pace of the development. It should, perhaps, receive an even greater tribute. We have willingly shared the difficulties and responsibilities in the past in the House. We shall have to face others in the future. The Home Office has pointed them out. One organisation or Minister may put what some people might describe as road blocks in the way. Others may say that they are pointing to the practicalities and trying to maintain in an era of new and exciting technology some of the best traditions of the past.
Frankly, if we chucked all broadcasting out of the Home Office and put it into the hands of any old Department—for instance, Trade or Industry—I bet that one thing would happen. The experts who are used to dealing with some of the social and moral problems involved in broadcasting who are now at the Home Office would move en masse to the new Department.
The type of broadcasting that we have depends on which Department has overall control. In the end, it depends on us here in the House of Commons, arid especially on the will and guts of Ministers. Fortunately, in my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology we have two Ministers who have managed to combine successfully the skills of two Departments. In facing the problems of modern technology, there are bound to be some frustrations for those who regard broadcasting as eminently an exercise in technology. To a large extent, it is. That is what is thrilling about it. That is why it is more than an art form. That is one reason why it has attracted so many people of skill. However, essentially, it is an expression of human values, and technology extends our ability to use our discretion and discrimination. As such, it provides the public with 207 sources of education, information and entertainment. Technology plays its part in all that, because it has extended the art form.
However, if I had to make a choice, I would not leave broadcasting to the technologists. Every Government need, within their broad embrace of legislation, a Department that acts as a kind of moral or legislative conscience of the nation. In my view, we are much more likely to find that in the Department that has to exercise its skills over a wide area of Government responsibility, the Home Office, than in a specialist Department. Having said that, I recognise the skills that are brought to bear by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology.
§ Mr. Golding
Is it not logical to leave human values to the Home Office and technology to the Department of Industry?
§ Mr. Johnson-Smith
Yes, but technology in broadcasting involves the arts and technology. If history is anything to judge by, if we are right to claim that broadcasting in this country has achieved some pretty high standards, we should not then chuck out the system which has generated them.
I do not say that there are no problems in the advancement of information technology. There are the problems associated with cable television. The cable industry, I know, feels particularly hard done by. The cable companies have been remarkably patient. They feel that they have been held back too much by the Home Office, which has insufficiently appreciated the technology aspects of their craft. That is why they look towards the Department of Industry.
I believe that what I have said is fair, and we should not rush too easily into changing responsibilities in the hope of achieving a great new millenium, opening up new and exciting prospects, and achieving higher standards than we have ever achieved before.
I have gone much further down the road than I intended, but I thought that it was time to check one or two of the more fanciful propositions that have been put forward, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence), to move responsibility to the Department of Trade.
I wish to declare an interest in that I am a non-executive director of London Weekend Holdings Ltd., the group which contains London Weekend Television. It is absolutely right that speaker after speaker on both sides has urged the Government to maintain the dynamism that they have shown in recent months. Here I shall part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) who, as an agnostic, I thought came down too firmly on the side of Hobbes, when he asked for more protection, nasty and brutish though it may be. If we are to maintain dynamism we must not be over-protective. Some funny questions are asked in the ITAP report—enough to make me wonder whether we can ever get over the hump. For example, it asks:What classes of persons or firms should be allowed to (a) operate cable systems, (b) supply programmes? Should overseas companies be permitted?My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) gave short shrift to that question. If people wish to enter Britain and publish books or make films, why 208 should they not be allowed to provide material for cable companies or even operate a cable company? We are not talking about a large monopoly, although that question is also raised in the report. The report asks:What should be the policy towards monopoly or quasi-monopoly situations—would it matter if, say one firm operated (or provided programmes for) half the cable systems in the country?I believe that it would matter because we would not have sufficient competition. It misjudges the application of this technology, which is not to set up large companies but to make diversity more possible. That means more opportunities for more companies.
I hope that those questions, if they have not already been answered, will be put to the Hunt committee and subsequently thrashed out so that we can have another go at them. Some questions can be answered simply, but where there is likely to be difficulty we should have the Government's view after the Hunt committee has dealt with it.
As the new technology—I may not carry every hon. Member with me on this—ushers in a new era for broadcasting and for the television services, which will have a much more important and radical effect on our lives, we cannot run away from the fact that what has been achieved is of a high standard. We must be able to give to the existing broadcasting companies—the BBC and the independent companies—a chance to adapt to new conditions. That will not come naturally. The House must set some guidelines. The development of our broadcasting services during the past 30 years has been an achievement of which we are justifiably proud.
I do not believe for one moment that the public will be at all impressed if the new technology destroys our best standards and reduces choice, as can and does happen in the United States of America. Many of us have visited American cities where they boast of five, 10 or more channels, but when one analyses the choice they do not have five or 10 different sorts of programmes. As often as not there are three murder stories, three cowboy stories and three or more chat programmes. That is not a genuine choice.
That does not mean that our broadcasting institutions are perfect and that there is no room for fresh competition and new ideas in providing visual entertainment and new sources. Of course there is. Although I may be critical of the lack of choice in America, there is a need for more variety here. Minority interests are not catered for. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and I share a so-called minority interest which, curiously enough, is shared by the largest number of sportsmen in Britain. I refer to those who rejoice in angling, but when we examine the media for a presentation of the fascinations, the art, the technique, the emotional and physical problems and all the rigours associated with angling, what do we find? It is a desert.
§ Mr. Johnson-Smith
I know that, when the hon. Gentleman gets his rod and dangles the fly in the river, the life of any fish is nasty, brutish and very short.
There is a need for more variety, and, compared with the written word and the output of magazines and books, the viewer is badly off. We must take some of the wraps off broadcasting. It should be no longer regarded as a 209 scarce commodity, jealously guarded and rationed by Government because the air waves were once the limiting factor. Broadcasting by cable becomes a form of electronic publishing. With our video tapes, recorders, multi-channel satellites and cable systems, it would be folly for us to enclose the development with too many questions with supposedly definitive answers, and committee after committee and debate after debate ending in legislation that stultifies development.
The task for the Government and for the Hunt committee will be to reconcile the need to create a climate that will encourage the investment that we seek, which should be private investment, and greater diversity, with the preservation of the experience that has done so much for broadcasting. For cable that will mean a regulatory mechanism. It may be a cable authority such as that favoured by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot. The IBA, with its long experience, might be a suitable organisation.
With that task of reconciliation in mind, I shall make the following points. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will not hand out monopolies to cable authorities in the big conurbations. Least of all would I advocate British Telecom as the sole carrier. British Telecom is only just about to get off its backside because it has been threatened with competition as a consequence of legislation. It is one of the stultifying factors of British life that we think that a big national corporation should do that. I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton when he said that, side by side with rejecting any concept of a national carrier, we should not think in terms of a unified system. All sorts of different technologies are flying around. If a cable operator wants to operate one, let it do so provided that it seeks to maintain certain minimum standards. There are many sorts of proposals that one can consider seriously and that would work. Otherwise, we shall get stuck in the rut and have a system that will be out of date in five or 10 years' time. We shall not want to alter it, as that would cost too much money. There should be room for more than one electronic bookshop.
The information technology advisory panel recommended that cable should not be expected to carry BBC and ITV services. I hope that the Government will examine that suggestion again carefully. The old-fashioned cable system carries only four channels. Visionhire and Rediffusion use that system. I recognise the burden of carrying the existing services of ITV and BBC. What is unattrative is that immediately the four channels will be filled. Therefore, there is no chance of anything new there.
It is unfair that those who already receive BBC and ITV programmes on cable should be deprived without something being done to help them. At any rate, new cable systems capable of carrying 30 or more channels should carry existing broadcasting services, as in the United States.
People may think that there is special pleading here, but I think not. There is a need to maintain the financial strenght of existing ITV companies. The development of satellite cable systems, whether financed partially or wholly by advertising revenue, will fragment the audiences of commercial television companies. Therefore, their financial strength will be undermined. As we move through the transitional stage, that means that there would be a number of consequences.
The Government should be prepared to reconsider the size and level of the levy. Greater freedom should be given 210 to the ITV companies to make decisions as they move further into this area and get closer to the end of their existing franchise. During the transition period some may decide to pull out of broadcasting and become independent production companies. Others may prefer to move into cable systems or share in satellite services. I hope that no barriers will be put in their way so that they, too, may have the confidence to make long-term plans.
None of us want any hasty or ill-conceived decisions. Some problems will be solved only by practical experience and not by a law made in the House. We should not demand that the Government should solve all the problems for us. If we do, we shall lose valuable time and probably get the wrong answers. Those in broadcasting are simply asking that the Government should set out a framework, and should do so soon, so that all those involved can get on with the job. After all—I believe that this is appreciated on both sides of the House—they have, on the whole, earned our trust.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
We have looked at new concepts in communications in this fascinating debate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) that this is a momentous debate. It has tended to concentrate on cable TV and direct broadcasting by satellite, but we must embrace the whole concept of information technology—that is, the communication of bits per second in both directions. All this needs bold action by Government and industry.
In my view, this is an area where, in contrast to what my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) has just said, administrative decisions by Government and industry must be sensitive to what is technically and technologically possible.
At the outset, I should make my view clear. I welcomed the Home Secretary's statement on 4 March, just as I have welcomed his elaboration of it today. I welcome the industrial aspects that have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology, particularly to the Parliamentary arid Scientific Committee, which is aware of the technical problems that he must face.
Some hon. Members have referred to direct broadcasting by satellite. When talking to others, I have found the Home Office study an excellent background document, and it has had a good input from engineers in the BBC and IBA. There is reference to the European dimension, which is an aspect that I shall cover.
More recently, we have had the second report, "Cable Systems", by the information technology advisory panel, which makes some strong recommendations with which some hon. Members disagree, but on page 51 it stresses the need for a technical working group. In a way, that is as important as Lord Hunt's committee. My second point will therefore be about what is technically possible and desirable. Perhaps we need an office of technological assessment.
Normally I do not speak in debates on the media and broadcasting. My interest in this debate was partly influenced by the fact that during the war I was in the Royal Corps of Signals. Technology has changed dramatically in the 40 years since then, but some of the basic principles remain the same. For example, I set up a radio-telephone link between Nigeria and the Gold Coast. 211 The technology was not difficult, but efforts to persuade senior officers how to use it presented more problems. That could be true of making best use of the technology now available.
My other interests are an extension of my interest in Blue Streak and Black Knight, which were debated in the House and in Committees about 20 years ago. If NASA's shuttle programme of today is relevant in terms of launching satellites tomorrow, so is the work of the European Space Agency. As a member of the Science and Technology Committee of the Council of Europe, I have attended recent meetings with the European State Agency and Arianespace. Some years ago, I even went to Kourou in French Guiana, where Ariane is being launched.
There have been immense technological developments in the past two decades. Eurovision, using conventional ground links, whether microwave or coaxial, is commonplace. It could be the programme "It's a Knockout", the Eurovision Song Contest, football or ski racing that attract people. But why has the Eurovision concept of programmes of common interest to European countries using existing technology had such a limited appeal? Will direct broadcasting by satellite or even cable television using fibre optics make any difference, or are there other constraints? Perhaps Lord Hunt's committee will look into that.
On 4 March my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said:The Government now see a need for early decisions if the industrial opportunities which DBS offers this country are to be grasped in good time".I pressed my hon. Friend about adequate standards and compatibility and he replied:If we were to wait for the various matters concerning joint European standard to be drawn up, we might easily miss industrial opportunities."—[Official Report, 4 March 1982; Vol. 19, c. 414–19.]Few people are aware of the problems of compatibility that have to be met for a Eurovision programme. The interface between different national networks demands a reconciliation of different types of signal of different standards. The microcircuit and the microchip make it easier and cheaper, but such interfaces cause attenuation. There are two PAL standards and there is SECAM, let alone NTSC. In border areas such as Strasbourg, the Saar and Luxembourg a television receiver has to have a small conversion unit to switch from German PAL to SECAM and vice versa.
There are two distinct problems with DBS. The first is the joining of national networks. The second lies with providing facilities for an individual receiver to pick up programmes from other systems. This will arise possibly out of DBS.
I do not want to be drawn into the subject raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), but I took note of the letter from Ian Rowland-Hill that appeared in The Times this weekend about putting the pirates under restraint. This involves the producers and authors of programmes, including feature films, being remunerated for the artistic works that they have created. Video cassettes, the video recorder, cable television and now direct broadcasting by satellite will for the rest of the century, if not beyond, inevitably have to exist in a jungle of competition.
212 In the Council of Europe there was a report and draft recommendation on the legal issues raised by cable television and direct satellite broadcasts. The draftsman of the report was Mr. Stoffelen. The chairman of the committee was my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve). The debate took place last September. Although the Science and Technology Committee of the Council of Europe had given a report earlier—document 896/1980—the technology and the application of new technologies was found to be changing so rapidly that I initiated a resolution—document 4799. One paragraph stated:Concerned that the work of international bodies—the Council of Europe, the European Community, the European Space Agency, the European Broadcasting Union and the International Telecommunications Unit—should reflect the aspirations of European citizens for improved services and access to the programmes of each other's countries.We have been discussing that issue to a certain extent in this debate. The recommendation that appeared in paragraph 7 wasThat the Committee of Ministers, in its future work on the mass media, give priority to the establishment of technical standards for interchangeability of services and for improved reception of European programmes at minimum cost.That is why independently and through the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee I have been in touch with engineering research teams over the past six months. These have been in the BBC, British Telecom, the European Space Agency and Arianespace. I hope to have a meeting with the European Broadcasting Union.
The House should be aware that, just as in the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, there is a need to ascertain which of the new technologies should be kept under review. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has referred to that need. It is vital that a Select Committee—perhaps the Select Committee on Science and Technology in another place—should ascertain what is possible and how it is being used so that a debate such as this may be better informed. Of course, we cannot grumble at and criticise the Government for the lack of documents.
New technologies, including information technology—the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts has touched on this in a recent report on the British Library—will in the first instance be subsidised. At the end of the day, however, the consumer will want value for money. That is all-important. Subsidy of innovation can leave a legacy of over-provision, as has been the postwar experience with railways, railroads and perhaps even air traffic facilities.
Cable systems and DBS provide competing alternatives, but if the ground rules—or rather the air rules—are not worked out, first nationally and secondly internationally, the viewer and listener will not receive value for money. Far too little thought has been given to this, not just nationally but internationally.
The consumer will relate the cost of the video recorder, the stereo system or the multi-purpose television set to the cost of food, a meal out, a car or a holiday. There is rising consumer resistance. The outcry against the £50 television licence and the demand for cheaper licences for pensioners have been but examples of this. The BBC is probably less conscious of these criteria than is the IBA.
It is necessary to ensure the best balance between cable television and DBS because of the need for technology compatibility and adequate standards. Much as I welcome 213 the pressure of market forces—this has been raised in the debate—this matter cannot be left to market forces alone. Self-regulation is important, it exists and it must be encouraged to continue, but the Government must ultimately hold the ring.
Direct broadcasting by satellite will, or could, improve radio as well as television reception. It could provide the opportunity for sound to be transferred to the digital system rather than the modulated system that we now know. It could provide for stereo sound which would greatly add to the television viewer's pleasure.
The Home Secretary referred to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price) and to Mr. Basil de Ferranti, who was a Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Aviation and is now a member of the European Parliament. The European Parliament as well as the Council of Europe is concerned with these matters, and it is interesting that we met the Home Secretary together. We referred to the possibility of MAC, which overcomes some incompatibility problems, but I do not believe that existing sets could be converted to it yet. Much has been done at Kingswood Warren by the BBC. Existing PAL transmissions are within a 5.5 Mhz band. width allowed by terrestrial broadcast channels. The planned satellite links will have a 27 Mhz band width and are intended to take a conventional composite video signal with associated sound signals. The frequency on a carrier would be about 12 Ghz. This can be shown to cut out interference and could provide six sound channels, especially if the extended PAL system is adopted.
All this means that standards must be developed between operators and users. Great Britain must make up its own mind on what is proposed. I very much hope that this will be looked at by technological working groups.
There was the Geneva world broadcasting satellite administrative radio conference in 1977, as mentioned in the Government publication. The United Kingdom was allocated an orbital position for DBS satellites with frequencies for five television channels. Throughout Europe, there are four orbital positions. As the frequencies used will be close to microwave link frequencies, I should have thought that the prospect of interference-free reception from satellites in an orbit other than that allocated to the country in question would be somewhat chancey. The Home Secretary referred to this, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology will elaborate on it. It is all to do with footprints and overlap.
Therefore, I visualise that the 1986 service will be for the United Kingdom only and I do not visualise a European dimension. My impression of what will happen rather contrasts with some other impressions, including some that we gained at media committees. There is talk of a play going out in an original language and six dubbed languages, but that will not be in 1986.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
That, at this day's sitting, the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Twelve o'clock.—[Mr. Budgen.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Budgen.]
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I feel that I must object to the suspension of the rule. The object of the House of Commons in 214 initiating a debate is to have a debate. I have in my hand a list of those hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), my hon. Friends the Members for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) and, until a few moments ago. for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) are the only hon. Members who have spoken but have had the good manners to stay and listen to what is a technical and highly specialist debate. We all——
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. The hon. Member was present and saw that: the motion was passed.
§ Mr. Wells
My point of order concerns a matter of principle. The Ten o'clock rule will be suspended on many future occasions, just as it has been tonight, and I shah not object to the suspension. What I object to is the growing ill manners of colleagues on both sides of the House. There are only two hon. Members on the Labour Benches present and, as it happens, tonight they have impeccable manners. There are only two hon. Members on the Conservative side who have the same good manners——
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is not a point of order for me. The manners of the House have been impeccable throughout.
§ Mr. Osborn
DBS and fibre optics will allow wider band width transmission, reduce interference between sound luminance and chrominance signals, could permit digital sound, stereo sound for TV if this is agreed, and, as far as the Home Secretary's proposals are concerned, reception would primarily be a United Kingdom affair. I welcome the fact that TV subscription will be a possibility.
The concept of DBS must, however, be separated from distribution channels between national networks, as I have already pointed out. They could continue to use microwave links, with adaptors at the interface but distribution by satellite would enjoy the advantages of wider band width and could improve reception. These links will be through satellites that already exist for international data, business and commercial links set up through Intelsat and Comsat, of which the United Kingdom is a member. I imagine that within Europe the ECS and OTS satellites will be used for this. Distribution still depends on ground stations in which British Telecom has vast experience.
I am interested in the fact that the consortium, whether it is "Britsat", "Unisat" or whatever it is called, will use British Telecom as the equivalent of Intelsat, or even Eutelsat, for providing and specifying Britain's first satellite. A start is being made, on the one hand, with fibre optics and cable communications, whether British Telecom or Mercury, while, on the other hand, DBS provides opportunities.
The options for the future must be examined. These include better definition, 925, 1025 or even 1250 lines, the larger screen, perhaps 2 by 1½ metres, and the use of higher frequencies, perhaps 40 Ghz. I welcome the fact that 405 line is being phased out, which gives the opportunity for new standards. I am all for Great Britain getting off the mark by 1986. It is important, however, to develop standards that are compatible with those adopted by other countries, especially in Europe. Compatibility at low cost is a priority. I hope that the vision of Ministers will be such that the dramatic improvements now possible 215 will be phased in throughout the rest of this century—perhaps in the first instance an extended PAL or MAC; in the second, the pre or post processing of mainly luminance signals to give a better picture, and, lastly, high definition standards and bigger screen. All are possible. I hope that they will be examined by the Government and the House.
§ 10.6 pm
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
I find this debate fascinating. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and especially my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology. They have seen the opportunities and have started to seize them.
I am particularly glad to hear of the scrapping of the pilot cable TV schemes. They offered too few channels. Their geographical areas and the populations they served were too small to have produced anything but failure. They would have put back by two or three years the takeoff of the industry in this country.
Videotex or the information technology industry provides this country with an enormous opportunity for high technology exports in hardware and software. This means highly paid jobs. It will have a major social impact on the country, provided we get the matter right. The impact will be felt in areas such as teaching and learning, in office work, in commuting into major cities and in shopping. The future will be greatly influenced by the subject we are discussing, especially by cable. It provides an opportunity to revamp our outdated telephone system and to bring it into a leading position in the world.
Videotex consists of two main parts. First, there is the entertainments side. This is, however, only a part of this vast potential industry. It is perhaps only a small and minor part. The biggest impact will be in information processing. This is the area that can provide, if correctly handled, the major revenue earnings of the whole system.
The key to videotex is cable, particularly interactive cable. I found the report to which reference has been made excellent. It dealt with the technologies involved and correctly highlighted, but avoided giving opinions about, the political issues. Those issues are for hon. Members and for the Government. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) about regulation and the different attitudes we should take for the regulation of cable which I term as narrow casting as opposed to air broadcasting. I urge the Government to bear this point in mind.
This brings me to control. I support the calls made in the debate for the maintenance of standards of technology. Environmental problems will increase. Aerials such as dish aerials will present a problem in major cities. I support the calls for standards of taste, particularly in satellite broadcasting. Political bias, pornography, violence and the general balance of programmes must be carefully controlled when there is a broadcast monopoly. A broadcast monopoly should be controlled. However, cable is not broadcasting. It is narrow casting. It offers the individual a vast number of alternatives. It offers an opportunity for the same freedom in television that we now enjoy in books and magazines. There is little need for the control of cable television. Certainly, there is little need for there to be more control than we now have over books and magazines.
216 Huge opportunities lie ahead, but we still hear calls for control—always control. Why should not people be free to enjoy their own selection of the opportunities with which they are being presented in the privacy of their own homes by means of cable television?
Our experience of State control is one of almost never-ending financial disaster, missed opportunities, massive import substitutions and lost jobs here at home. I support calls for standards, but I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to resist calls for old-fashioned controls over cable. I repeat, cable is not broadcasting, but narrow casting. It is like books and magazines. Why prevent this new individual freedom that is now being granted? Why reduce the wide investment in, and enjoyment of, cable?
I support the Government's policy of offering initial protection to British companies in order to prevent a repeat of what happened in the video cassette and video recorder business, where we now spend about £500 million a year as consumers, most of which goes to Japan because British industry was not competitive. I am reluctant to say it, but I believe that in this instance protection is justified. After 30 years of relative industrial decay there is an excuse for the Government to protect industry in the short term.
However, I am utterly opposed to protection against cable television. I agree that we must consider the position of the BBC and of the independent television operators who have recently been refranchised. I suggest that we abolish the levy that these independent television operators now pay. This should help to give them an opportunity to adapt to the huge new world that is breaking upon us in terms of television.
A vast amount of money is required. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) that the current estimates may be low. Cable will be expensive. It is a free enterprise investment as opposed to a political investment. Investors will therefore be looking for financial returns. At present, operators in the information technology business look to the entertainment industry in the hope that it will finance the laying of this cable. Meanwhile, the people in the entertainment industry look to those in the information technology business and hope that they will finance the laying of cable.
The Government must determine whence the investment will come and how it will be attracted. I believe that potential investors need to see the market more clearly, especially that part of the market which is influenced or even controlled by the Government.
There is also a need to make Government strategy absolutely clear to potential operators. I refer to licensing policy, types of franchise, the role of British Telecom, and the policy on the formation of consortia within the industry and to joint ventures. I also refer to such questions as whether it is possible or justifiable for obsolete Polaris rockets to be used by the private sector as launch vehicles for satellites. I agree with most of the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about direct broadcast systems.
Cable is a key information delivery system. We must think of the future and of world markets. We must aim to become world leaders in cable or videotex. There are major opportunities for jobs in exporting high technology hardware and software. We must think new and we must think big. We must not go for the horseless carriage, that is, adapting the old horse carriage by taking the horse out of the shafts and merely replacing it with an engine.
217 We must go for a new, modern, world-leading system. I suggest that our cable system should aim to be of the highest standard single cable. We should not worry whether or not it is nation-wide. We did not worry about that with gas or the introduction of the telephone. There is too much concern with treating the whole country the same when it is not the same. Some people enjoy the advantages and disadvantages of living in remote or semi-remote country areas while others take on the advantages or disadvantages of living in highly-populated urban areas. We should not restrict the explosion of such a huge potential industry because we want to see only a nationwide use.
We must allow the market to dictate investment. I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) that we should go for the digital system. I also suggest fibre optics on the truck lines. That is very important. We must ensure that, above all, the system is interactive and that cable carries freely the BBC, the independent stations, the police, fire and ambulance services and possibly other Government services. That is a legitimate demand to make on the cable operators.
We must go for modern switching gear and especially for broad band width in the cable. We should therefore go for 108 channels and not merely for 30 or 60 channels. Narrow band width is only today's concept. We must think of the future. It would be awful to have to rip the whole system out and to replace it to accept future growth. We must look to the future and to growth. In the past our calculations for road and airport use and even for the use of video recorders and cassettes have turned out to be gigantic under-estimates of the market. That lesson must be learnt by the Government. They should go for the 108-Channel system.
We must offer sophisticated switching gear and broad band to suit the differing needs. For example, the telephone system needs a lot of switching gear, but not much band width. Information technology does not need much of either. Television, however, needs very little switching gear, but a lot of band width. Therefore, we must concentrate on offering the most modern and efficient systems of switching gear and band width to allow flexibility, which in turn will encourage profits and growth.
Cable consists of two main operations. First, it consists of the laying and maintenance of cable. Secondly, it consists of the use and operation of the cable systems.
There are many powerful and diverse vested interests, including those of major corporations. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend, that the industry is new. It most certainly is. Therefore, we should look at it in a new way.
I make no apology for saying again that cable television is narrow casting which is very different from broadcasting. Therefore, the Government should resist pressure to apply old rules to this new industry. They should resist pressure for control when there is an opportunity of freedom for the individual to watch what he or she likes. They should resist pressure for a quango as a regulatory agency.
Why not allow free enterprise not only to pay for the installation of cable television but to operate and regulate it? Self-regulation has been successful in the past——
§ Mr. Browne
I can cite two examples—the Stock Exchange and Lloyd's, both highly competitive in world markets, and both highly successful and of great benefit to the country in general. Of course, they have been brought up to date. We have had new rules from the House for the Stock Exchange. We are just about to have new rules for Lloyd's. I do not object to that. They should be brought up to date, but they are basically self-regulatory free enterprise bodies and they are highly successful.
§ Mr. Browne
My hon. Friend mentions also the banking system.
Videotex is the greatest new opportunity our country is likely to see for the rest of the century in terms of earnings. The Government should not lessen the unique opportunity by over-regulation. Experience strongly suggests that the Government should aim not at control but at influence. There should be influence by means of licence rather than control by means of a quango and over-regulation.
First, the Government should establish a set of strict but simple licensing rules. Secondly, they should license a single industry consortium, including British Telecom, to co-ordinate cable laying, in the same way as was done for the gas distribution pipeline system when we transferred from wet to dry gas from the North Sea, and to co-ordinate the activities of the local cable operating companies. Thirdly, this company should be allowed to take a minority shareholding interest in the local operating companies, just as local authorities may wish to do. This would mean that a money-earning and informed think tank would co-ordinate the growth of the industry.
Finally, as I said before, the videotex industry provides a unique opportunity for us as a nation. It could be a major step in helping us in the technological revolution and therefore increasing our ability to enjoy the fruits of a high standard of living.
I agree with most of what the Government have said about their intentions with regard to direct broadcasting, but I urge them to recognise that cable is the major opportunity and that it is a completely new medium. Therefore it needs a new approach to regulation and to finance. I urge the Government to look at the world market and to go for quality, for flexibility and for profitability. This will mean a careful balance by the Government between speed and planning.
I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends. I wish them good luck in this difficult but exciting task.
§ Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I do not intend to speak for long, because many of my points have already been covered.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) on producing his excellent booklet with such superb timing, just before the debate. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Information Technology for his enthusiastic support for information technology. I am sure that without that support and his efforts we should not be in the position that we are in today. When they look back through history, the House and the country will see that they owe him a great deal for all his work. I am glad that the debate Is taking place today, but it should have taken place earlier—and not simply a year or two ago.
219 That brings me to my first point—that we have an almost desperate race against time. The Annan report came out only about five years ago. We can assume that it was a fair consensus of public opinion at the time, but if we study it again we shall find that it makes an ostrich with its head in the sand appear far-sighted. I do not wish to be disparaging about the report. I make that comment purely because I believe that the speed of change has still to be appreciated by many sectors of our industry.
The United States provides some startling figures and amazing comparisons. It is the leader in information technology and the utilisation of satellite broadcasting. Six years ago 1 million people in the United States were pay television subscribers. The figure is now over 13 million. The revenues from pay television in 1976 were about £20 million. That figure has now increased by fiftyfold. Four years ago only two television companies in the United States had satellite reception. Now such companies are dotted over the United States. That growth has created an estimated 200,000 jobs, in addition to all the other jobs that have come from the manufacture of dish aerials. That opportunity is available to this country, if we are prepared to grasp it now and not leave it too long.
I have laboured these points about the speed of change in the United States because they should ring alarm bells. If we slacken our newfound pace, the other EEC countries and the Scandinavian countries will pass us. As each country pushes forward with its development of satellite broadcasting, the footprints of satellite broadcasting will become a trifle careless where they tread. With the ability to transmit in whatever language is desired, to suit the country where a film is being received, it will be only a matter of time before advertisers—the people who will provide the necessary money—in the EEC and Scandinavia move further into promoting Euro—products with Euro-coverage, Euro-marketing and Euro-labelling.
The implications are clear. If we are first into the field, we can take advantage of that advertising revenue. If we are last, it will go elsewhere. Then we shall become consumers and not creators of information technology. Therefore, I welcome the moves made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to expand cable television and move on. It is the number of subscribers, who will provide the money, that will influence where we go.
Being first in the field will give the added advantage that we shall be in a better position to supply equipment and sets, and with them jobs in this country. We should do well to remember that the Japanese are a little short on research but very long on product development. As they have designated information technology as the area that will provide wealth and job creation for them over the next decade, I ask the House to remember that we have lost the battle for making video machines. Let us not lose the battle for providing the cable televisions, the cable equipment and all the satellite broadcasting equipment that could be made here and distributed from this country.
220 I turn to the question of control and the quality of control. Many hon. Members have voiced their views and their concerns on this matter. Again, time is not on our side. As the footprints of satellite broadcasting spread and overlap, and with voice transmission ability, households in the United Kingdom will be able soon to receive programmes from many countries. Therefore, I welcome the move mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary towards talks within the EEC to agree on the qualities and standards of decency that will be transmitted through satellite broadcasting.
However, I am concerned about the time lost in consultation, and the lack of cohesion between the various departments involved. I wonder whether this whole area will become too big for our present arrangements to stand the potential development strain. I am worried about whether British Telecom can be part of a regulating organisation and also compete effectively in the market place. To that must be added the role of the Department of Industry which will allocate licences for supply equipment and provide the telecommunications services. We must also examine the role of the Home Office in providing and allocating the frequencies and controlling the cable companies. I can see problems arising with local authorities over the handing out of franchises. We must also examine the role of the IBA, as it will be affected now within the EEC. There is also the question of finance, and whether money should come from licences or from revenue.
For all those reasons, I ask whether there will be too many organisations involved in this rapidly expanding area. I am not one for setting up new departments and new organisations, but will this development be too big? We could take a glance at the United States and see what has been done there with the Federal Communication Commission. That could be a solution for regulating the industry.
If we are tempted to delay over control for too long, our ability to find the correct solution will not be enhanced. Delay will make matters more difficult.
I recall the problems that we experienced with citizens band radio. The Government found themselves faced with many thousands of users with illegal sets on illegal frequencies. The Government were able to deal with that because it was an internal problem. But delays over satellite broadcasting where people are in receipt of broadcasts from abroad will be a much more difficult problem to solve.
I hope that thought will be given either to a new organisation or to a closer co-ordination of present controlling bodies and their methods of operation. I welcome what the Home Secretary said about control and quality. I hope that the Hunt committee will heed what I have said on this subject.
We have an exciting opportunity for development. It offers a major area of employment and wealth creation. I ask that we ensure that we do not lose out to foreign competition by delay.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I welcome the importance attached by the Government to this subject. It is recognised by the Prime Minister's appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), bearing in mind his considerable knowledge and experience.
The Government's recognition of the importance and urgency of the matter contrasts firmly with the extreme caution exhibited by the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill). It is that kind of extreme caution that has held up our progress in the 1970s and left us in several respects far behind many other countries.
The critical factor of urgency is referred to in the document on cable systems. It is recognised by most commentators. I have read of only one person who took a different view. Mr. Peter Fiddick stated in The Guardian:The truth is that the majority of people in this country will not cry out for these things in this century.There was never a great demand for any of the technical innovations of the past, yet before long people found it difficult to imagine how they had lived without them.
Most technical innovations require public expenditure, but for cable television the funding can come entirely from the private sector. The developments will generate considerable taxation revenue, provided that we give them their head. As many hon. Members have said, we must allow the market to govern the spread of the new technologies. Unless we do that, we cannot hope for the progress that is essential.
In referring to the report by the Cabinet Office committee Mr. Fiddick states that it waspart of an attempt to railroad us into a major decision before we can reflect on its full social implications; and that the broad interests of the British consumer are not in the cable advocates' minds.If that is so, the advocates of cable will not succeed, but all the signs are that they are responding to what is clearly a potential demand. We must consider carefully the social implications, but they must not hold back essential progress.
The Government must get the framework right. I agree that we should aim for the minimum necessary control. I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). We cannot leave the matter entirely to self-regulation. Cable will become important, and the Government cannot stand aside.
I agree that in the immediate future entertainment will be the mainstay of the industry. At the top of the list will be sport and films. Potential damage to the cinema industry has been referred to. We cannot ignore that. But in the United States the total market for the film industry has been greatly expanded by video developments. The number of films made each year has greatly increased. Although we have had video in Britain for a much shorter time, the speed with which it has grown in popularity has been greater than in the United States. To some extent, the popularity of films seen in the home can lend impetus to the cinema industry. The industry need not be destroyed, but it has to respond sympathetically and with speed.
Nevertheless, I support those hon. Members who say that the real advance will come with the creation of more specialised services. This qualitative change is extremely significant. If we catered for minority interests, which are 222 essentially local interests, it would be a greater advance than anything that can be achieved in the immediate future in conventional television services. It might lead to a revival of interest in local government. We have all complained for many years about lack of interest in local government, but have found few ways to put the matter right. People could see their local government representatives taking part in decisions on local matters. We know that people are interested in local matters because in this country more local newspapers are read than national papers. If that interest could be mirrored on television by seeing local representatives, it would lead to an increase in interest in local government. There might also be an electoral response.
Amenity societies could attract more members. There would perhaps be a greater interest in individual Members of Parliament. That would be a healthy development. We might perhaps move further towards the situation 'hat exists in the United States, where people vote more for individual Members of Parliament than for parties. It is a development that we should not regret in any way.
If the provision of local services could encourage the sense of community which has been lost during the recent years, it would be another advantage.
The report refers to the paradox whereby popularity would initially accrue to the widening of television services, much along the lines to which we have been used in the past, whereas ultimately the trend would be towards more sophisticated and interactive services. That would have greater long-term significance. The difficulty is to determine the time scale. Many of these developments are foreseeable. They will happen some time. The difficulty—a critical matter on the financial side—is to know the time scale over which they will happen.
However, we can foresee the time when many of the people who are interested in buying a house will insist on seeing in their own homes a video tape of potential purchases before drawing up a short list of houses that they wish to view.
The experiment that Tesco has been carrying out in Gateshead will point the way towards new shopping developments. Housewives will choose goods from their kitchens or from their lounge armchairs, and then pick up the goods from the supermarket. This will simplify and perhaps make more enjoyable what many housewives regard as a chore.
Obvious advances can be achieved in the security industry. There is also, incidentally, the effect on medical services. We shall not, of course, replace doctors and nurses, but their jobs could be made more efficient and productive if, for instance, a person at home in the middle of the night could decide from access to medical knowledge whether it was necessary to call out the doctor. I would be the first to point to the obvious dangers in that. There are other dangers with data protection, and I hope that the Home Office will give considerable priority to bringing forward the early legislation that is needed to bring us into line with other countries.
Other issues must be considered at some time. The report on cable systems referred briefly to two-way communication between home and office. As transport costs rise and energy increasingly becomes in short supply, more and more people may wish to work in their homes. That demands of all of us who are interested m such issues that we think seriously about the sort of 223 investment needed in transport. Perhaps those developments will take place more quickly than some people expect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Havant and Waterloo (Mr. Lloyd), in a previous debate, referred to the Qube experiment on opinion polling in Columbus, Ohio. We must decide how far we wish that to go. To what extent do we wish to have an instant test of people's opinions which may impose on Members of Parliament the way in which they should vote? We cannot ignore the matter and, although I would wish to see individual electors taking a greater interest in the attitudes of their Members of Parliament, and using the interactive services to make their views known, we must start thinking now about the extent to which Members of Parliament may be forced into the position of being mere delegates rather than representatives. I would wish to stop far short of that stage.
The new technology may also enable the individual at home to place bets. The pools companies are already taking an interest in the possibilities, provided by cable services, of the individual calling up a pools coupon on the screen, transmitting it down the line and having his bank account debited with the stake. However, we must be a little cautious about the way in which the compulsive gambler might be encouraged by such a system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) referred to the relationship between such developments in television and cable and the television service, which is a long-standing interactive service. Perhaps my hon. Friend can tell us how he sees that developing in the future, because many of the services will run parallel to one another and it is not too early for us to start thinking about it.
Also, as the development of interactive services grows and it becomes easier for people to communicate electronically, their use of the postal service will begin to decline. It will perhaps decline to the point where we have only a weekly service which will be used for transmitting essential documents that must be sent by post. We cannot foresee a time scale for that, but I believe that such a time may come earlier than some people believe.
This debate has shown that we are entering a period of exciting developments. There are many opportunities and many challenges. It is certainly true that there are many problems, but they can be overcome and are greatly outweighed by the opportunities. If we allow ourselves to be perplexed by the problems to the extent that we miss the opportunities, history will not forgive us.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
This has been an excellent debate. It has called forth interventions on both sides of the House that were well-informed, impartial and witty from time to time. They were made by Members who wanted to ensure that the new technologies will serve the country in the best way. I suppose that, because it has been a serious debate, it will get little reporting in the newspapers.
§ Mr. Garrett
That is something.
I wondered during the debate whether people would watch it if the House of Commons were televised and the 224 debate were sent out on, for example, channel 45 of a cable television system, which seems a reasonable speculation. I came to the conclusion that it deserved an audience if only because it acted as an offset to the widespread attitude that so many people have that hon. Members spend all the time in the House yah-booing each other.
§ Mr. Garrett
I wish to confine my remarks to the technical employment and industrial implications of the development of——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not make a running commentary from a sedentary position. If he wants to intervene, he must stand up in the proper way.
§ Mr. Garrett
I shall confine my remarks to the technical employment and industrial implications of the development of broadcasting by satellite and cable systems. Before doing so, I shall refer briefly to the constitutional points, which have come up from time to time, about the suitability of the Home Office to control broadcasting. In the absence of the Home Secretary——
§ Mr. Garrett
In the absence of the Home Secretary during the debate, most of the opprobrium has fallen on my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who has been accused of representing the slothful end of the Government machine, always holding back the thrusters of the Department of Industry who will force us through to the space age. That creative tension is essential in Government. There should be a Department whose responsibility it is to look to standards of decency and of programme content while the Department of Industry's job is to promote technological development. On the whole I dislike the uncreative tension between the Departments of Industry and of Education and Science. That is another debate that we shall come to on another occasion.
We welcomed the statement by the Home Secretary on 4 March on satellite broadcasting, in which he said thatvarious interests in the aerospace and related industries have shown that they are ready to play their part in this challenging new venture.He said that the Government would beworking closely with them and with the domestic electronics industry to ensure that the economic benefits are effectively realised for the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 4 March 1982, Vol. 19, c. 414.]Last week, British Telecom, British Aerospace and Marconi announced that their consortium, United Satellites, would be able to provide direct satellite broadcasting by the mid-1980s. That rapid response reflects credit on all three companies. Their early move towards the project definition stage with the BBC, for broadcasting, and British Telecom, for telecommunications channels, means that they should be well placed to promote British satellite systems and services in expanding world markets.
That decision is timely. As the Home Office study, "Direct Broadcasting by Satellite" stated, France and 225 Germany will have satellites in operation in 1984 funded by their Governments for furthering their national technological and industrial development. The Home Office report emphasised that satellite development was an integral part of national information technology, for which world demand is growing rapidly.
A domestic market for satellites and receiving equipment is an essential base for the British industry to participate in world markets. The Home Office study stated that there was likely to be a world market of £2 billion a year for direct broadcasting satellite systems, of which Britain could expect, on present performance, to take about one quarter.
If our industries are sufficiently alert to take advantage of them. there would clearly be new product opportunities for broadcasting, consumer electronics and the film industry, although there is a serious risk that our radio and electronics firms have been so weakened by our recession that foreign imports will take a commanding share, as they have done in respect of other products in the electronics and related industries.
I therefore assume that the Department of Industry, either directly or through NEDO, will ensure that the response of the electronics industry will be planned and coordinated in such a way as to ensure that British manufacturers will be capable of responding to demand consequent upon the introduction of direct broadcasting by satellite. If we cannot meet domestic demand, we shall clearly be left behind in this important area of information technology.
Clearly, satellite and cable broadcasting go hand in hand, as community reception rather than individual reception has many practical advantages wherever it can be used. We note that the committee under Lord Hunt of Tamworth, announced on 22 March, will be looking at broadcasting policy issues raised by cable systems and that the Departments concerned—which I take to be Industry, Employment and possibly Trade—will be carrying out urgent studies of economic, technical and telecommunications policy related to the expansion of cable networks.
These issues are, of course, of great importance for employment, innovation, investment and industrial development. The Economist has said that the decision "to wire Britain" was the most important industrial decision of this Administration, adding that nearly all Britons were unaware of the fact.
We certainly do not want committees of civil servants closeted with tame business men, tucked away in the inner recesses of the Department of Industry taking policy decisions on these issues and their findings being dropped on the House of Commons in the form of written answers to questions. We want the fullest possible discussion of these issues in the House and its Committees.
§ Mr. Garrett
I am glad to have this continual support. It was somewhat unnerving at first, but I begin to warm to it. We are developing a symbiotic relationship via satellite.
As I have said, we do no want civil servants and tame business men closeted in the Department of Industry making these decisions and telling us afterwards. We want the fullest possible discussion in the House and its Committees. In fact, I should have thought that these issues were sufficiently important to be discussed at length by Select Committees which could take evidence.
226 We welcome the publication of the report of the Information Technology Advisory Panel—which I shall refer to as ITAP—on cable systems. It should start an important public debate, and will provide the basis of informed discussion.
Let me say at the outset that the coverage of this country with a broad band cable network is to be welcomed. It is absolutely essential if we are to maintain our place in these technologies.
§ Mr. Golding
My hon. Friend has said that this report can lead to informed discussion. It is probably one of the worst reports that has ever been published by a Government on this subject.
§ Mr. Garrett
I tend to agree with my hon. Friend, but I am about to embark on an informed discussion of this document. If my hon. Friend contains himself, he will discover how I object to it.
The ITAP report glosses over some major questions. On 23 March, the Financial Times posed some of them.
It asked:Who should be laying the cable? Should the cabling of Britain coincide with the laying of a new telephone network? What should be the role of British Telecom?The Financial Times said that these questions should be part of the Hunt inquiry, but we already know that that inquiry is about broadcasting policy, and therefore we need some other forum in which to examine these crucial issues.
An article in the Financial Times on the same day pointed out that British Telecom was the only organisation authorised by law to lay cable where it chooses without having to obtain wayleaves from local authorities. It would also be much simpler to use its existing underground ducts than to dig up public highways. It said that both the ITAP report and the Home Secretary glossed over the future role of British Telecommunications. That is an issue which the Government will have to confront sooner or later.
The ITAP report posed exactly the same question. It asked:What is the role of British Telecom? Then existing wayleaves give them a large advantage over other potential operators. Would it matter if they operated most or all systems?The report failed to answer these questions except to say that cable systems offer large and profitable business opportunities and that a dominant role for British Telecom might bring the risk of "over-engineering". Perhaps the Minister will be able to construe "over-engineering" for us. I assume that it means a technical standard that is too high. It is of interest that a high technical standard, according to the authors of the ITAP report, leads to aconsequent reduction in commercial attractiveness.This is blatant special pleading, but it is not altogether surprising. As The Guardian observed, the report was written by a panel which consisted entirely of people with vested interests who stood to make hefty profits out of a privately run system. These included the managing directors of Mullard and a Rediffusion subsidiary, the directors of two private computer services companies and the Inter-Bank Research Organisation. They were all circling round a £3 billion market.
This bias led the panel to an odd technical conclusion. It deliberately played down optical fibre technology, in which British Telecom is a world leader. It said that there is no need to replace existing coaxial cable systems even if optical fibres become cheaper. The fact is that cabling Britain does not make sense except by applying optical 227 fibre technology, and Britain alone has brought this technology to the stage where it is feasible to install a national network that is based on it. In a conversation that I had with British Telecom this afternoon I was assured that within three years it could be used for a local network as well.
On 11 February the announcement was made that British Telecom had transmitted the equivalent of 2,000 telephone calls over 100 km using fibre optic technology without booster stations along the route. The Financial Times called this "a world record". The Guardian called itthe equivalent of a four minute mile".The hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) required British Telecom to get off its backside. Here is an example where the leader in cable transmission technology is British Telecom. Within three years the development will be capable of commercial application. By 1984 all new trunk routes will be in fibre optics.
With the use of fibre optics we could have a single broadband network capable of carrying all telecommunications, all broadcasting and all cable services. This is precisely the route chosen by the French in their experiment at Biarritz, by the Germans in their seven towns experiment and by the Canadians in their experimental application. If British Telecom is now reaching the stage where the country can be wired for telecommunications by optical fibre and if such a system can carry all the required broadcasting facilities, why do we need a separate cable system laid by private companies?
The ITAP proposals cover only half the country whereas British Telecom, using existing ducting and wayleaves, would cover virtually the whole country with a comprehensive system. The ITAP report insisted on a decision by mid or late 1982. The only reason for that can be to pre-empt a British Telecom solution. We surely need one integrated system involving one set of ducts and one optical fibre cable operated by British Telecom on the "common carrier" principle.
British Telecom is obviously the appropriate vehicle. It is already involved in carrying broadcasting signals. It runs a cable television scheme in Milton Keynes, for example. It could use existing equipment, facilities and cabling. It would create a system based on common technical standards and would set up a genuinely national broadband system which would eventually reach all parts of the country and would not be confined to urban centres, where the authors of the ITAP report want to see the profit creamed off. To go for a private system of outdated technology and partial coverage would be an enormous error. To deny this opportunity simply because of a peculiar definition of the PSBR would be a disaster.
The industrial opportunities in the supply of ancillary equipment are obviously enormous, involving about £2 billion-worth of decoders, sensors and interactive systems. The technical committee in the Department of Industry must ensure that these marketing opportunities are made available for British industry. There is heavy pressure in the United States to break into our potential market. The ITAP report speaks of American cable companies sniffing around this market already.
We know that in the United States there is massive overcapacity in this equipment and the Americans are 228 waiting to attack our market. The conclusion of two recent anti-trust suits in the United States has freed IBM and American Telephone and Telegraph from former restraints on their activities. Both companies dwarf any British company in innovation and marketing and cheap volume production. Both have annual revenues of about $30 billion—far in excess of the total output of the entire British electronics industry. AT and T in particular is already marketing electronic information and telecommunications systems designed to be attached to just the kind of cable networks that we are discussing today, and ours is a natural market for the American industry.
A report produced for the Cabinet and reported in The Economist of 6 March said that Britain's share of world exports of information technology equipment was falling and forecast a decline from 3.8 per cent. of the world market today to 2.4 per cent. by 1990—at which time the world market would be worth £150 billion per year. We must ensure that we develop a market for British and not for American or Japanese equipment. They certainly do the same for their own home markets.
The cabling of Britain offers great opportunities and a number of risks as well. The implications are so great that they can hardly be foreseen. In addition to extra entertainment channels, with the opportunity to bring the best in world entertainment to our homes, and the risk of a fall in standards which has been mentioned frequently in the debate, there is what the ITAP report calls the main role of cable systems:the delivery of many information, financial and other services to the home and the joining of homes and business by high capacity data links".I assume that we shall make progress down that road and not stop, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) suggested, at the level of nude chat shows, nude ice skating or whatever stage has been reached abroad rather than developing interactive systems with one's bank or shop.
These systems can revolutionise banking, shopping, home security, education and training, meter reading and many other everyday transactions. Clearly, there are massive implications for employment, which may be with us by the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Government should now be examining those implications. We could wind up with a significant fall in demand for some occupations such as retail and banking staff, meter readers and transport services, but an insatiable demand for systems analysts, cyberneticists and electronics engineers. A training and education system needs to be anticipated at least a decade in advance in terms of the skills and the retraining programmes that are needed. Office employment and technology could be revolutionised—again needing new skills, new investment and a coherent national strategy not only in industry but in education as well.
The more one considers the implications, the more a national cable system under public control becomes an obvious need. This architecture of information and entertainment technology should plainly be constructed as a national utility, much as gas, electricity and telecommunications are today. A coherent strategy inevitably leads to a national network, under public control, and not a myriad private ventures all setting up systems of their own.
§ Mr. Garrett
In British Telecom we have the expertise, the technical standards and the infrastructure to provide that national network.
§ 11.8 pm
§ The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)
I agree with the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) that this has been a good debate and an important debate. Several hon. Members have made the point that we have been discussing the framework for broadcasting and telecommunications and the wired society, which will determine these matters not only for the rest of this century but for the next century as well and which will have profound implications not only for us but for our children. It is therefore a very important debate.
It has also been a good debate in that there has been an absence of political dogma. I very much appreciated the welcome given by the hon. Member for Norwich, South to the proposal to wire up our country. I welcomed, too, the speech of the hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth), who speaks for the SDP, in which he strongly supported the drift of Government policy and spoke of the industrial advantages that would flow from it. I welcome too the speech from the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who spoke for the Liberal Party and urged us to get on with it.
I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who opened the debate for the Opposition, was a touch cool. She managed to squeeze out a little bit of enthusiasm but then said that we must take it all very slowly and gently and be guided by that dear old lady, festina lente. I do not know whether, when the hon. Lady used that phrase, she used it unwittingly, as it comes from Ovid's "Art of Love". Neither do I know whether she read it in the original or in the translation, but it seems to me that the policy that she is following is a policy of negation, that is driven on by inertia to find its fulfilment in torpor. I should not want to give any support to that sort of policy.
During the course of the debate there has been some criticism of the Home Office.
§ Mr. Baker
It has been described in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who is no doubt trying to make up for that, in various ways—as supine, immobile, unimaginative, lethargic, and, rather like the circumlocution officer in Little Dorrit, having a vested interest in the art of doing nothing. That is a travesty and an inaccurate description of the role of the Home Office. It is a great and important Department of State, but, like a great vessel, it is difficult to turn. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the enthusiasm that he has given to the policy now followed by the Home Office over the question of cable and DBS. Without his personal intervention we should not have had a policy of direct broadcasting by satellite. I speak on behalf of my Department when I say that we are content with the support that we are receiving from the Home Office.
I turn now to some points made during the debate.
When most people hear the word cable, they tend to think immediately of cable TV. I must stress to the House that what we have been discussing tonight is much more 230 than just television, as was made clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton). Cable TV is a misnomer, and I should much prefer to see the term "wide band cable systems" used to describe what we are really talking about.
The ITAP report lists a large number of potential new services that look far beyond the mass market broadcasting that one associates with the phrase "cable TV". First, wide band cable services can provide specialist subject and audience channels, such as local information services, sports programmes and programmes for ethnic minorities. By being interactive by having the power to send messages down as well as to receive them, it can provide home security services, fire alarms, home banking and shopping, electronic mail, interactive computer assisted learning, wide band business communications, and even as has been pointed out by one or two hon. Members, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Waller) instant opinion polls.
Some of these services could literally change the fabric of the society in which we shall be living in the course of the next few years. For example, the new technologies could make it possible for those who are unable easily to commute to offices to work from home. Experiments are already demonstrating that doctors could conduct initial examinations without either having to visit the patient's home or make the patient come out and wait in his surgery.
Some of us might even be able to conduct our constituency surgeries from offices in the House. I should not be one of those Members, because I like meeting my constituents, but this is an enthusiasm that is not shared by all hon. Members.
These potential services, linked to information technology, open very exciting prospects. In the long run, I believe that the revolution that they will bring about will have more far-reaching effects on our society than the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago. Not the least effect will be the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) who talked about the job opportunities that will exist not only in laying and making cable but in the ancillary activities to which the hon. Member for Norwich, South referred.
I should like to mention the technical aspects raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and also by the hon. Member for Norwich, South together with the choice of copper coaxial or fibre optic. It is not for Government to lay down in detail the nature of the cable technology that should be used in the wide band cable system envisaged in this report. Within sensible parameters, this will be primarily for the market to decide in the light of what systems are most cost-effective. But is is clear that so far as the cable itself is concerned, both optical fibre and coaxial cable are likely to have an important part to play. I must point out that it is misleading to suggest, as one article in the press recently did, that the use of coaxial cable, certainly in the initial years, would be outmoded or inferior in any way to optical fibre. It is simply a different method of providing the same service to the consumer.
We anticipate that the initial expansion of cable systems will use both coaxial and optical fibre but that, at a later stage, perhaps in five or six years, fibre will begin to dominate, at least as far as the local networks are concerned. However, different interests take different views of the relative costs of the two types of cable. We believe that commercial organisations should be left to 231 take their own decisions. BT is, of course, introducing optical fibre into its trunk networks. Initially, at least, there might be insufficient capacity for fibre production to allow its use throughout the entire system, except in experimental situations.
I wish to refer to another aspect of the technical side, the interactive services. We support the view taken in the ITAP report that the long-term potential of cable systems lies in the development of interactive services—the two-way message capacity. This will be crucial to the full development of the IT industries, and I would personally regret the development of any new system that did not have this capability. But this is an area that needs, and is already being given, further detailed study.
My Department is establishing a working group to investigate and draw up the necessary technical standards. These will cover, at the minimum, the interconnection between separate cable systems or town via the main trunk network and the output into the domestic television set. It is our intention that consumers should be able to use their existing "off-air" television sets with the new cable systems. The working group will include representatives from the industries involved, and we have already begun to consult the relevant trade associations about representatives. It is our hope that this group will be able to produce the minimum necessary standards—at least in draft—by the end of this year.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
This must be one of the most important statements made by the Government during their period in office. Is there anything more important than asserting the right of the individual to have access to the dissemination of information? Does my hon. Friend now welcome the fact that the Home Office is not only represented tonight by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary but that this is also a major and important move by the Government in identifying something of basic importance to the community?
§ Mr. Baker
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. This is the biggest industrial opportunity and the biggest industrial investment programme before our country in the next 15 to 20 years. It is as important as that.
It is our aim, in the process of consultation that we are undertaking, that various services and networks should be capable of interconnection on a national basis. I wish to make this point clear in view of the remarks of the hon. Member for Norwich, South.
I was asked whether British industry was prepared. In many ways, British industry is technically prepared for the steps forward that I have listed, although it does not necessarily have the appropriate production capability on stream at the moment. It is gearing up, as far as fibre optic cable is concerned, at a rapid rate. However, in other areas industry is less well prepared. My Department is making every effort to make companies aware of the possibilities, both directly and via the trade associations.
I was asked what it would cost to wire up a town. The capital cost of installing a modern cable system capable of producing 30 video channels and interactive cable services in a town about the size of Watford with about 26,000 households, is estimated at between £7 million and £10 million. In addition, a modest estimate of the proportion of households that would subscribe to additional interactive services showed that ancillary equipment worth 232 between another £5 million to £8 million would be required over the first five years of the system's operation. It would take about 18 months to install the system in a town the size of Watford. The total capital expenditure over the first six and a half years would be somewhere between £12 million and £18 million. If one takes the lower end of that scale, that is about £460 per household, or, if that is spread over six years, about £71 per household per year. Just to put that into perspective—because many people are a bit dazzled by the sheer amount of investment required for this service—that is less than the cost of a gallon of petrol per week. The basic system would be expected to last for about 20 years.
I was asked several questions by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn), the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and others, about interconnection with DBS. As the Home Secretary made clear in his opening speech, the aim is to have a direct broadcasting satellite service in operation in 1986. Discussions have already started between the manufacturing consortium and the BBC on the detailed proposals. They are hopeful that this time scale will be achieved.
An early start in 1986 is important for several reasons. First, it will enable British industry to exploit overseas markets. We have a real edge here in export markets. It will benefit the British space industry's work load. It will boost the information services. It also supports the willingness of the private sector to fund a high technology project. The satellite that will be launched in 1986 will be the first privately financed satellite in Europe. It will cost about £150 million to £200 million. It will be made and designed entirely in Britain.
DBS and cable systems are mutually supportive. There is not a stark choice of one or the other. We would envisage a mixed system. A mixture of individual and community reception is likely from the outset. Community reception distribution by cable could bring DBS quickly and probably more cheaply than individual reception to many urban households. About 24 per cent. of households either use television cable systems or are passed by cable and could therefore be linked fairly easily. DBS could hasten the expansion of cable should the Government decide to allow this. I was asked about the size of dishes that would be needed to receive DBS signals. First, over appreciable areas in the centre of the country it is likely that dishes will be no more than about 2 ft in diameter. Secondly, there is no advantage in having a DBS dish high up on one's roof. It will often be better to have it low down, on a wall or an outhouse, as long as it can see the satellite. Thirdly, the BBC research laboratories have developed a much more acceptable design—a flat plate that can be built into a house on the side of a wall or chimney.
As soon as DBS becomes operational it will offer immediate cover to almost all areas of the country, including remote and rural households, which cable cannot be expected to reach for many years.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
I believe that these developments will be of extraordinary importance to our society during the coming years.
Does my hon. Friend envisage that this form of information transmission will be a small area interest? Could my constituency, or the area of Birmingham, expect to have many broadcasters promulgating their views, information and advertising, in competition with the State 233 service? Is there any reason why there should not be six or seven such stations in Birmingham, advertising and disseminating information about community interests in competition with the State system? I should be grateful for some clarification.
§ Mr. Baker
In his evident enthusiasm to support me, my hon. Friend has anticipated my remarks. I shall come to that important point. The hon. Member for Derby, North asked about the overlapping footprints of the different satellites and asked how we could control that. I repeat that the reception from authorised, foreign DBS satellites would be lawful in this country under the terms of the existing British television reception licences, provided that that is within the power standards, footprints, frequencies and so on that have been internationally agreed for DBS. That means that some towns on the south coast of England can already legally receive French television signals or signals from north Germany.
There is obvious concern about intrusion into national cultures. Indeed, the hon. Member for Halifax mentioned that. There is also concern about political and religious questions and about advertising. We are glad to contribute to the discussions in the Council of Europe, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Hallam.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, the hon. Member for Thornaby and my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Johnson Smith) mentioned British Telecom's involvement in cable. The question of what role BT might play in an expansion of cable systems is one of the most important matters on which decisions will have to be reached. Modern cable technology means that cable systems are now capable of carrying interactive services, such as two-way telephone conversations, at the time time as television signals. They can therefore do all that BT's existing networks can do, and more. There are also clearly attractions in having a single cable input into the home, carrying all telecommunications services. BT has a massive, publicly financed investment in its existing national networks. These are being updated by the introduction of System X exchanges and optical fibre. BT can, and in some places already does, provide a large number of exciting new services, such as electronic mail, viewdata, and links to computing services.
BT has an extensive network of ducts, some of which might have space for new cables. BT's research laboratory at Martlesham leads the world in the techniques of using fibre optic cable. BT already provides the means by which television signals are relayed from the studio to the transmitters. BT is also, in a very small way, an operator of cable systems.
§ Mr. Baker
I shall give way in a moment. I noted the point raised by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who speaks with great knowledge of such matters.
234 I particularly noted his use of the word "partnership.' in connection with the relationship that might develop between British Telecom and other interests.
§ Mr. John Browne
I agree with everything that has been said about the participation of British Telecom. However, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that a monopoly will not be granted to British Telecom? In a potentially vast new free enterprise system we feel strongly that monopolies should not be granted.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I appreciate that this is a panegyric for British Telecom, but there is a feeling that it is a dead hand. There is a great deal of private enterprise and individual initiative that could be released if the dead hand of British Telecom's monopoly were slightly relaxed. We would like to hear the Government's further commitment—one appreciates the extraordinary role that the Minister has had in the liberalisation of this policy—so as to ensure that there is an even greater liberalisation of the Government's role.
§ Mr. Baker
My hon. Friends have both raised basically the same point. It has to be said that the British Telecommunications Act 1981 has already put this country in a much more favourable position to exploit and develop cable systems than many of its major competitors. Prior to the Act, it would have been possible only for wide band cable systems, which are in effect a form of telecommunications, to be operated by British Telecom alone. As a result of the Act, we have a structure that allows and encourages co-operation in providing services between the public and private sectors, thus harnessing more resources, and opening the market to competition. This provides a flexibility that few other countries possess. Thus, in effect, the Government have already moved in advance to create a framework that can better accommodate the developments that the ITAP report recommends.
To touch upon an important point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Howden and the hon. Member for Derby, North—the ownership of cable companies—the ITAP report also raises the question whether the cable systems should be owned by those providing the services or whether there should be a split between the two functions of the provider of the network and the provider of the network programmes. There are three separate functions, which I might relate to the printing industry—the printing, the publishing and the authorship. One of the questions that we shall have to resolve is whether the printing and the publishing should be in the same hands. I am well aware of the views of the industry that the roles should not be split entirely. Our opinion is still tentative and there are strong arguments on both sides. It would be wrong to seal off any options now on what is a very important issue. We would welcome views from as many areas as possible on this. It is a much more complicated issue than it appears at first sight.
The existing cable companies have welcomed the publication of the report. Current business prospects for existing commercial operators are not encouraging and many of them are having to close down some of their services. In discussion with my Department, they have indicated that they believe it essential that, if the Government do decide to allow an expansion of cable 235 systems, they should do so under the minimum of controls. In particular, they see two areas where the wrong decision will mean that there is no expansion.
The first of these is the so-called common carrier concept. They believe that it is essential—this comes back to the point I was making—for the system operator to control the basic tier of programming, that is, the group that lays down the cable should also control the basic tier of programming. It is these services that sell the system and from which the operators recover their basic investment. The companies see themselves as the publishers, comparable with newspaper publishers.
The second area to which the companies attach great importance is advertising. They believe that any ban on advertising or sponsorship would be unacceptable since it would cut off major sources of revenue. They argue that they would be in competition, not for national advertising of the kind most often seen on television screens, but for locally oriented advertising—a market that seems to be flourishing with the spread of "free" local, give-away newspapers. These are issues on which, again, the Government are consulting widely.
On the question of regulation, the operators argue that the imposition of any bureaucratic regulatory authority will be a serious inhibitor of their growth. This is, of course, a matter for consideration by the inquiry announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 22 March under the chairmanship of Lord Hunt. The industry will put its case for some type of self-regulation to Lord Hunt's committee. Hon. Members will recognise that there is a logic to much of what the industry says, but these are difficult matters on which decisions are not as uncomplicated as anyone, including the Government, might wish.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does not the Minister agree that even in the United States, where the cable systems developed in much the way that the cable operators wish to see here, the role of the Federal Communications Commission has never been entirely usurped, and there is still a regulatory agency?
§ Mr. Baker
The hon. Gentleman is correct. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have argued for a cable authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) argued for a cable broadcasting authority, and my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Spence) argued for a satellite and cable authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot said that in Conservative philosophy on matters of regulation and non-regulation there was a divide between Hobbes and Locke, which I suppose is a variation on that between the drys and the wets. The matter raises interesting philosophical problems, quite apart from the practical problems. There have been several requests tonight for a new quango, those requests coming also from the Conservative Benches.
The first issue to be resolved in the public debate over the next six months is what the cable system should look like technically. I have dealt with some aspects, such as the question of copper coaxial or fibre optic cable and what standards should be laid down.
The second issue is what regulatory framework there should be for cable operators and what role BT should play in the development of cabling.
236 Thirdly, there is the method of financing this great enterprise, and the vital need for full private sector participation. It must be borne in mind that in the next two to three years BT will have to spend approaching £3 billion a year in capital investment on its basic telephony services, its basic switching services. To impose a further huge amount of money would increase the burden on the public purse considerably. That is why we must think in terms of partnership between the public and private sectors in the provision of money.
§ Mr. John Garrett
Does the Minister recognise that the total cost of cabling half the country under the ITAP proposals amounts to half of BT's total capital investment programme for one year?
§ Mr. Baker
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The ITAP report estimated that the cost would be about £2½ billion for half the country and £5 billion for the whole country. Our first preliminary examination indicates that those are likely to be considerable underestimates. My point is that the amount of money involved is considerable and is in addition to the large sums that BT will have to spend anyway in the next two to three years.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd
My hon. Friend, who is well versed in these matters, will recall that Hobbes said of the Leviathan::Non est potestas super terram quae comparatur ei".Many of us on the Conservative Benches fear that the State's position is such that it dominates in the dialogue. Therefore, we want to see the assertion of individual rights, liberties and so on, and the ability of small people to have a function in the whole dialogue that my hon. Friend is providing. We hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not so easily disregard the motif of Hobbes, for instance.
§ Mr. Baker
The quotation of which my hon. Friend reminded us is ever-present in my mind. Those of us who had a classical education do not need to translate such well-known phrases as that which dropped from my hon. Friend's lips.
The fourth question concerns the relationship between the people laying the cable and the providers of the programmes. I have already touched upon that.
The fifth question is how the country should be divided up. Should the franchises extend to each town, each county, each borough, each region? In an excellent study document that he has already circulated widely—everybody in my Department, at least, seems to have got it—my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) has drawn attention to the fact that in America there are very small regions. This matter must be examined, and we shall involve as many people as we can in its consideration in the next six months.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Will the Minister confirm the BBC's estimation that 40 per cent. of the country will never be able to have cable? Do the Government agree with that?
§ Mr. Baker
The Government do not agree with that. The other common carriers for the ducts, for example, British Telecom or the other utilities that have ducts going into the houses, will be able to take the cable into those ducts even in rather remote communities. With the addition of a DBS satellite receiver a small town or village could have cable going from that satellite receiver to the 237 homes and cottages. Therefore, I do not agree with that statement, but what I have just described will take some time to develop. I do not say that it will happen overnight.
The ITAP report was published on 22 March. It represents not Government policy, but the views of the members of ITAP who had been appointed specifically to inject a market-oriented dimension into Government encouragement for the development of IT. I am glad to have the support of my hon. Friends in that. The report was intended to stimulate discussion of the issues surrounding an expansion of wide-band cable systems. Following the report's publication, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary established the inquiry chaired by Lord Hunt of Tanworth. The inquiry has been asked to report by the end of September, a much more compressed timetable than is normally allowed for a broadcasting inquiry.
Within the Government, Departments are already at work under the co-ordination of the Cabinet Office and are considering the many other aspects of the ITAP recommendations. Discussions and consultations have been held with a large number of outside interests, and, as I have already mentioned, my Department is setting up a technical working group on standards on which the industries involved will be represented.
The Government are wasting no time in pressing forward to secure the benefits of new technology for the United Kingdom. We aim to take, and announce our own policy decisions, taking account of the findings of the broadcasting inquiry, before the end of this year. Clearly, however, there are important issues of broadcasting and telecommunications policy which must be resolved.
In order to assist this process, we would welcome the views of outside bodies as quickly as possible. I very much welcome the debate today because we shall be able to take account of the views of the many hon. Members who have contributed to it. Lord Hunt has already issued a consultative document asking for comments by 31 May. I urge those preparing to put forward their views on any topics not covered directly by the inquiry to submit them 238 to the Departments concerned, which are primarily my Department, the Home Office and the Cabinet Office, by mid-summer at the latest, if they are to receive adequate consideration.
§ Mr. Michael Marshall
I ask my hon. Friend to give a brief commercial—he would be too modest to do it otherwise. My hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are to attend the parliamentary information technology committee seminar on 10 June when many hon. Members will have further opportunities to make contributions. I hope that he will fee) able to endorse its views.
§ Mr. Baker
I welcome the activities of the parliamentary all-party committee on information technology. My right hon. Friend and I will be attending the seminar. It will be yet another opportunity for Members on both sides of the House to express their views.
In addition, my Department will be holding a seminar in the summer on the industrial, technical and commercial aspects of wide-band cable systems as part of the consultative process. I stress that the Government are seeking a minimum of regulation for cable systems consistent with the considerations of policy which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed to at the beginning of the debate.
The opportunities before us as a country in this recabling enterprise are tremendous. The recabling of the country will be as important for Britain as was the laying down of the railway network in Victorian England. It will create an enormous amount of industrial, manufacturing and service activity. It will create whole new industries and activities. The will of the House is that we should get on with it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.