HL Deb 01 May 1967 vol 282 cc725-38

3.55 p.m.

House again in Committee.


I hope that the Government will carefully consider this Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Denham, because I think it merits much consideration and I would support it from this side of the House. After all, this is a non-Party matter. The noble Lord opposite has made a good case for postponing the Bill, and I hope that the Government will go into it rather more carefully before it becomes law. As the noble Lord has pointed out, the suppression of these radio pirates will leave a considerable void. I entirely agree with him when he says that Radio 247 will by no means fill that void.

The noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, said earlier that many members of the public seem to be under a misconception in thinking that the Government are trying to suppress popular radio. One knows that the Government have no such intention. But I would say to the Government that I think it would be as well if they were to consider more carefully what popular radio is. I suggest that if they took some time to listen to popular radio and then compared it with the kind of programmes put out by the B.B.C. they would see a marked difference. It is clear that popular radio appeals largely to the younger generation—as the noble Lord, Lord Denham, so rightly said, to nearly 20 million. The B.B.C. Light Programme or Radio 247 will by no means fill that void. As has been said, it will be a so-called mixed programme. No doubt there will be some popular programmes. There will be "Palm Court", "Old Time Dancing", popular classics, Tchaikovsky—that sort of thing; and that is all people are going to get. The further alternative of local sound radio which the Government White Paper put forward, for operation under the auspices of the B.B.C., is to be supported by subventions from the local art gallery, the university, local bodies and so on. As I pointed out on Second Reading, that is a non-starter from the word "Go".

From all these points of view, I think that the Government should consider far more carefully what they are going to do to fill this void. May I give a comparison from a period before the war, when I was young and when many members of the Government were no doubt listening more to popular music than they do now? It is as if you forbade people to listen to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and put in their place Henry Hall. That is the kind of thing you are doing when you suppress the popular music programmes as transmitted by the pirates. Therefore, I hope that the Government will consider this matter and will accept the noble Lord's Amendment.


In supporting the Amendment, I would say that when the noble Lord says it is popular he can see just how popular it is—that is, just now. I would say, as I said before, that this Bill is entirely unnecessary, and what is going to come in the fight ahead is entirely unnecessary. All the Government have to do is to fulfil their promise to the legal Manx Radio Station, to give them increased powers. The pirates agree, the Manx want it and the Government have already promised it. When they do that, the whole argument comes to an end. I hope to speak in another thrilling instalment on this subject if I get another chance.

3.59 p.m.


Both the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, have referred to what has been described as a "void" left in listening time. This strikes a tragic note, as if the whole ten million people who would be listening have suddenly been jilted or are suffering a grievous loss. After all, what is it they are losing? I understand it is likely that in the late summer this alternative service will be available. So, on the one hand, between the passing of the Bill and its coming into law, and, on the other hand, the availability of the new service, about six weeks will elapse. In that time we have to assume that, somehow or other, ten million young people, or those who think they are young, or who pretend they are young, or behave as if they are young, are going to feel a desolation in their hearts that they never felt before. I wonder how they got on before pirate ships started. Were they walking about the world miserable and dejected, in anticipation one day of the joy that would suddenly come to them to fill their lives and fill the void? Surely that is going a little too far.

Moreover, I would remind the noble Lord that on June 2, 1964, the then Postmaster General, Mr. Bevins, stated that the Government were very concerned at the pirate ships, and he went on to say that the Government therefore proposed to await the conclusion of the Convention and then to consider legislation on the lines proposed by that Convention. That meant that they themselves, although deeply concerned, as I am sure are all noble Lords in this House, about the advent of marine anarchy and piracy, nevertheless felt that they would have to wait a while before legislation could be proposed. In the event of the return of a Conservative Government at that time it was highly likely that they would have taken as long as the present Government have taken before actually introducing legislation. I would emphasise the fact that there were what was called "Radio Caroline"—a very ambiguous term, and I must confess that a great deal of this terminology transcends my own very, limited spirits—and others operating during the time of the Conservative Government. What the Labour Government did was to continue from where they left off; and in view of the very narrow majority of the Labour Government for some months, and also the pressure for much more urgent legislation, one can understand why we had to wait until some more general agreement or consensus of opinion existed, not only in this country but in other countries as well. Therefore I do not think the noble Lord is over-just in chiding the Labour Government for delaying so long.

On the other hand, I would also ask again: what is the gap during which this dreadful, tragic void will exist among these alleged millions of listeners? It is a matter of some six or seven weeks. if there is a delay in the provision of this alternative service, or indeed if during this six, seven or eight weeks there is this terrible void, is he saying that we should connive at illegality? I cannot think that noble Lords, respecting as they do law and order, will justify taking that line. Members of this House, whether we are Members as Life Peers who have brought life to the House or whether as hereditary Peers, are conscious of the attempt constantly made to preserve the dignity of this House. Why? Because we want to preserve the dignity of law. if that be so, it seems to me, however regrettable it may be that there is this sad and lamentable gap during which the quantity of pabulum supplied to large numbers of people would not be available, nevertheless we must insist on respect for the law.

I am sure that many noble Lords here, including the noble Lord, Lord Denham, would agree with me that the intention of these pirates is not art altruistic one. They did not acquire these structures or ships and then broadcast for some noble, altruistic or patriotic purpose. That was not their intention at all. They are not concerned about freedom and liberty and such noble sentiments. They are concerned with profit, and therefore their motives are mercenary. Mercenary motives undoubtedly operate in the minds of all of us to a greater or less degree, but it seems to me to be their exclusive note.

Noble Lords might like to read some of the letters that have poured into this Assembly in the last few days. Some 500 letters have been addressed to noble Lords in this House, most of them in courteous language, protesting against the possibility of the suppression of the pirates. If noble Lords would care to read these, they can do so, and I will add a dozen addressed personally to me. The rest have been sent to your Lordships collectively. On that basis we could say we have had two apiece, and get through them that way. These letters are from a small fraction of the ten million who are supposed to listen. If, in spite of all the attempts which have been made by interested parties who evoke a response from their listeners into sending letters to this House, only 500 in fact been received, it would seem to me evident that the great majority of listeners are not so concerned after all. Again, I would say, let them strengthen themselves with fortitude, for it is only a question of a few weeks.

Meanwhile, the point of the Bill is not so much concerned with commercial broadcasting; the simple point is whether we should connive at continued attempts unscrupulously to avoid the law. Again I would ask the Committee to appreciate that it is not only we ourselves as a nation or a Government who are concerned, but there are many other Governments, a dozen or more in all, which have intimated their sense of dismay that their own broadcasts are constantly being interfered with, that they cannot transmit as they would wish to do because of the interference, by design or otherwise, on the part of these illegal, unscrupulous piratical broadcasts. Surely, for the sake of international amity, for the sake of encouraging the development of International Law in this respect into something more comprehensive than it is, it is necessary that we ourselves should do something in this direction.

It may be that some of the forebodings of the noble Lord will be fulfilled and justified—I do not know; nor does he. His borebodings have been expressed, and it may be that these ingenious gentlemen will find loopholes. This is constantly the effort of those who are not over-scrupulous about the public weal, and no doubt they will do their best. But we will wait and see. Nevertheless, it is our hope that this Bill will go some way towards suppressing the pirates. Difficulties may arise. We can then take other steps, and it will encourage other nations which are waiting upon us to follow suit until we have much more comprehensive international regulations than is the case at present.

On the other hand, it may well be that there are points raised by the noble Lord which we have not considered as we should consider them. I hope most earnestly that he will not divide the Committee on this matter. If necessary, we will consider the matter yet again, though the Postmaster General has made it very clear that he would take early action. He has been pressed to take early action. Nevertheless, if it is any comfort to the noble Lord and any inducement to him not to press this Amendment to a Division, I can assure him that the matter can be reconsidered between now and the next stage of the Bill, although I say in advance that this is not to commit the Government in any way whatever, but simply to assure him that we are most anxious that this Bill shall be supported by all Parties in the House. It is a matter of deep concern to ourselves and the whole world.

May I utter one final plea? We are all most anxious, whatever our own personal tastes may be, to give to any section of the public what it feels it wants, even if it does not need it. There are those, for instance, who are provided with opportunities for seeing all-in wrestling. I have watched it once or twice myself and have realised how strong is the atavistic tendency among a large section of our community. Nevertheless, all-in wrestling is there for those who like it. So there is no attempt to try to impose puritanical or other ideas on the rest of the community. But surely one has not all the time to be dictated to by the tastes of one small section of the community.

"Pop" music may be beneficial; it may be a nourishment to the soul as well as the mind to large numbers of people. But surely we are not going to be intimidated or dominated merely by that section, for they seem to put on one side all other matters. We are led to assume by some of the letters we have received that questions of war and peace, of social services, of education, are all of no concern and must stand aside when it is a matter of the provision of "pop" music. If we ever come to the stage where we have to be subjugated to the transient tastes of one section of the community, it will be a bad day for this country. But this is all by the way. I say again that I hope the noble Lord will not press the point. I give the assurance that it will be considered, but at the same time we can give no guarantee that we shall depart from the decision which we have already made.

4.10 p.m.


Before we part with this Amendment, I feel compelled to say a few words after the speech to which we have just listened. The noble Lord (and he and I have known each other for many years) attempted to dispose of the arguments of my noble friend, and of his noble friends behind him, in what I thought was a rather facetious manner. We had, of course, the usual bit about the profit motive—that we understand. But then, of course, we had another hit about this terrible void—


May I say, again, that I made no attack at all on the profit motive? I accepted that it is a factor which operates all our lives; and I said so quite deliberately.


Noble Lords will remember what the noble Lord said. I think I can leave it at that. But he went on to say that there would be this terrible void left. He asked what these people did before these programmes existed, and said that they never felt a void. Let me put this to him. If somebody came along and said: "We are going to abolish television in this country", would he say, "I shouldn't mind, because before we had television we never knew what it was like"? It is exactly the same argument, and the minute one puts it one sees that it is quite absurd.

I do not want to detain your Lordships. The noble Lord says that the matter will be considered again between now and Report stage. I have no doubt that it will be; but after listening to the case that he put up and hearing what he himself evidently feels, I have no great hopes that the Government will change their minds. From the speech to which we have just listened it seems to be pretty obvious that the Government have made up their minds about this matter. Therefore I would urge my noble friend to press this Amendment to a Division now. In view of the opinions which have been expressed and, as I say, the manner in which the Government's decision was defended, I feel that we should have a decision on this matter. Speaking purely as a Party politician, I would almost say, "Let the Bill go through", but I think we must consider it on rather different motives from that.


May I just say one word? In exactly like manner to my noble friend Lord Grimston of Westbury, I should not have dreamed of intervening but for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, which, if I may say so without causing offence, was one of the most superior things I have ever heard in my life. It was just that, "The man on the Government Front Bench knows best".

I rise only to ask two questions. First, the noble Lord seemed to me to base his entire case on the fact that there was to be a gap of only a few weeks; and he said that everybody must be brave and gird up his loins and not worry too much, because in a few weeks it would be all right. All my noble friend is asking is that the date when the Bill comes into operation should be postponed for a few weeks. if the gap is to be for only a few weeks what is wrong with postponing it? We have had this position for some time, and the Government have put up with it for two and a half years or more. What is so important about a few weeks? The other point is that the noble Lord said he would take back the Amendment and reconsider it. He made no commitment, and we understand that he cannot make any commitment. So what exactly is the value of that offer? The noble Lord has heard my noble friend's arguments—he heard them on Second Reading—and presumably both he and his advisers and other Ministers in the Government have considered them. Does he really mean that he has been so impressed by the additional things my noble friend has said to-day that he is going to tell his right honourable friend that he feels the matter should be considered again; or is that just an empty phrase in order to avoid a Division?


There are two points I should like to make. First of all, I ask the noble Lord to absolve me from any sense of superiority in this matter. I am no more superior in this matter than any noble Lords who desire to support this Bill in purpose. If they are supporting this Bill in purpose, then they are as anxious as I am to suppress the pirates; and therefore to that extent they are superior, and at least as superior as I am. I appreciate—and I have said so more than once—that there are a variety of tastes in the public mind. One recognises that. The last thing I want to do is to try to impose my taste on others. The issue which I put again to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is that either we connive at the continuation of what is admitted to be an illegality, or we take some action. Does the noble Lord really wish, as a Member of this House, to connive at the continuation of an illegality for some six weeks? Perhaps he would consider that, as much as I said I would reconsider the points which the noble Lord, Lord Denham, raised.

Secondly, I said that we would think over this matter again, simply because I am most anxious that we should respect all points of view in this House. I have said that I can give no guarantee; nor can I. I am but the representative of the Postmaster General in a very minor capacity. It is not within my capacity to say that I can guarantee this, that or the other. All I can say on my own responsibility is that I will get this matter considered. I can give no guarantee, and my desire is simply to show a willingness to consider so far as we can everything that is said in this House, so that from all quarters we can wholeheartedly support the intention of this Bill. That is my only intention. In those circumstances, noble Lords must decide to do what they think best, and we must do the same.


I am very much puzzled by all this, because I am so out of it all and so unbelievably "square" that of the 500 letters that have come to Members of the House I have not received one. I have never heard any of these programmes and know little about the subject, but I have looked at the Amendment. That is the only matter on which I am at all competent to speak. The Amendment, whether it is good or bad, does only one thing: it gives an additional power to Her Majesty's Government. That is all it does. If we do not have the Amendment, the Act will in any event not come into operation for one month. The Amendment says that after that it will come into operation whenever the Government decide to advise Her Majesty to make an Order in Council. Whatever your Lordships may think about it, the Government ought not to be so terrified at having an additional power. I really cannot understand it. I do not feel any enormous enthusiasm for the Amendment, but how anybody can feel any enthusiasm against the Amendment passes my understanding.


I should like to thank my noble friends, and other noble Lords, who have supported me on this Amendment—even those who have supported me half-heartedly. My noble friends who have agreed with me have suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, made a very bad case against the Amendment. I agree with them. He has made an extremely bad case against it, but in saying that I hope he will take it for the compliment that is implied, because to have made any sort of case against this Amendment is extremely clever. The Government have no case against it.

The noble Lord talked at great length about "pop". He does not like "pop". Well, he may not, but quite a number of people do. He may think that people should be able to wait for the Government's substitute. We think that the effectiveness of this Bill should wait. But what the noble Lord has not begun to explain to the Committee, and what I think they ought to know, is why there has been no hurry at all for over two years for this legislation to be put on the Statute Book, yet there is now this desperate rush so that it cannot possibly wait even a few more weeks.

The noble Lord spoke of the dignity of the law, and he thinks that by leaving the Bill as it is we will support the dignity of the law. If you are making a law that is easily evadable, purely by the timing of the Bill which brings it in, is it more dignified to support the Bill as it is and not achieve the object, or to support my Amendment and strengthen the law, and give the Postmaster General a chance of achieving the object of the Bill. I am afraid that I cannot withdraw this Amendment, and I must ask your Lordships to support me in the Lobby.


I hope the noble Lord will be prepared to reconsider this. It was not so apparent to the Government what the object of this Amendment was going to be. The noble Lord made a long speech—not, of course, a minute too long, but a long, carefully prepared, written speech. It is not unreasonable, I should have thought—particularly when, as I say, the Amendment is not of itself self-explanatory—that the Government should have an opportunity of considering what the noble Lord has said.


I had rather hoped that Her Majesty's Government might have taken some account of my Second Reading speech, in which I explained the kind of Amendment that I was intending to move. Her Majesty's Government have had (I am not quite sure what it is) ten days, possibly, to consider the form of the Amendment I was going to move. Admittedly I have put it down in a slightly different form of words. I have made it subject to an Order in Council rather than to an order of the Postmaster General, because I understood that the Postmaster General's jurisdiction was rather more limited than the jurisdiction of the Bill, and I was therefore advised

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

On Question, Whether Clause 11, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?


Your Lordships have just carried an Amendment to this

to word the Amendment in this way. But I cannot see why, if Her Majesty's Government are now going to consider my Amendment, they could not have been considering it all this time. What disadvantage is it going to be to them it they take the opinion of the Committee now to help them to make up their minds on whether this Amendment is a good one?

4.23 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 12) shall he agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 44.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Effingham, E. Lovat, L.
Ailwyn, L. Ellenborough, L. MacAndrew, L.
Albemarle, E. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Macpherson of Drumochter, L.
Arran, E. Falkland, V. Mersey, V.
Auckland, L. Fraser of North Cape, L. Milverton, L.
Audley, Bs. Glasgow, E. Monsell, V.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Goschen, V. [Teller.] Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Blackford, L. Greenway, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Grenfell, L. Reay, L.
Carrington, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Redesdale, L.
Clwyd, L. Hacking, L. St. Helens, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Hawke, L. St. Oswald, L.
Conesford, L. Hereford, V. Sempill, Ly.
Cottesloe, L. Horsbrugh, Bs. Sinha, L.
Craigavon, V. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Strange, L.
Daventry, V. Iddesleigh, E. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Ilford, L. Teynham, L.
Derwent, L. Inglewood, L. Thurlow, L.
Dilhorne, V. Ironside, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Jellicoe, E. Vivian, L.
Dudley, L. Jessel, L. Willingdon, M.
Ebbisham, L. Kinnoull, E.
Addison, V. Gardiner, L. (L. Chancellor.) Popplewell. L.
Airedale, L. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Archibald, L. Hilton of Upton. L. [Teller.] Rowley, L.
Asquith of Yarnbury, Bs. Hunt, L. St. Davids, V.
Beswick. L. Latham, L. Segal, L.
Blyton, L. Leatherland, L. Shackleton, L.
Bowles, L. [Teller.] Lindgren, L. Silkin, L.
Brockway, L. Listowel, E. Sorensen, L.
Brown, L. Longford. E. (L. Privy Seal.) Stocks, Bs.
Burden, L. Maelor, L. Stow Hill, L.
Chalfont, L. Mitchison, L. Strang, L.
Champion, L. Moyle, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L
Chorley, L. Peddie, L. Walston, L.
Collison, L. Phillips, Bs. Williamson, L.
Crook, L. Piercy, L.

clause. So that there shall be no dubiety in the minds of those who are operating pirate radio stations, I think it is right to inform your Lordships' Committee, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that it will be their intention, if the Bill is enacted in this form, to advise Her Majesty to make an Order bringing the Act into operation on the day after the expiry of one month from the date on which the Bill receives the Royal Assent.


I think this really is treating the Committee with contempt. Her Majesty's Government offered to go away and consider my speech. The fact that they have now said this shows that they had no intention whatsoever of carrying out that undertaking. I have never heard anything so—what is the Parliamentary expression for it? Words fail me.


I am glad that words have failed the noble Lord, because he was clearly talking in a very wild fashion. My noble friend Lord Sorensen made a most conciliatory offer—and what did the noble Lords do? They began accusing him of being superior. They turned down the most conciliatory offer he could possibly make; and, now that they have forced an issue, the Government are making it plain that they do not intend to delay longer than is necessary. That is their decision. May I just say that I hope the noble Lord will not use the word "contempt" just because he happens to find that he has not succeeded in being quite so clever as he thought he was going to be.




Unfortunately, my noble Leader was not in the House. I am sure that the noble Earl the Leader of the House when he thinks it over, will regret almost every word that he has just spoken.


May I just say that noble Lords cannot throw words like contempt" about without being treated quite roughly in return.


But usually, in this House, with good manners.


Will the noble Earl the Leader of the House, when we return to this Bill at the next stage, make a carefully prepared statement to the House explaining just why it was that the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, felt able to advise the Committee that there was a possibility of this Amendment being accepted, in view of what the noble Lord said just now about the coming into force of the Bill?


I will certainly consider anything which falls from any noble Lord in this House, but I should not like noble Lords to imagine that the Government are going to alter their attitude.

Remaining clause, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendment.