HL Deb 12 June 1972 vol 331 cc542-57

2.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill he now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.


My Lords, I think there is an Amendment down. I was about to call it.

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved the following Amendment: After Clause 10, insert the following new clause:

Condition as to programme contracts for purposes of local sound broadcasting

. Notwithstanding anything in this Act the Authority shall not enter into any contract for the provision of local sound radio until the Minister has presented to Parliament firm proposals on the character of the services and the areas of transmission of the station proposed.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the speed with which the Minister appeared to be anxious to pass the Bill seems to bear out the announcement on television one evening last week, in a trailer to a particular documentary, that "We are soon to have commercial sound broadcasting in this country." It therefore seems that whatever we attempt to do, the matter has aleady been decided and that we are to have commercial sound broadcasting. Nevertheless, even at this stage, we put in a plea for time to be taken to think a little more about this matter.

The particular film to which I am referring showed clips of what happens in other countries which have the "blessing" of commercial sound broadcasting. We were shown a gentleman in his car in which there seemed to be constant noise and chatter which, when added to the already profound cacophony of sound through which most people drive, represented the addition of one more trial in this over-pressurised life in which we live.

We have tried throughout the stages of this Bill to have some Amendments made which would ensure that the Minister, when presenting the facts about this matter to Parliament, would be compelled to show the criteria on which programme contractors received their contracts and for these issues to be heard in public. We now come to a request on a much more minor point and I feel that the Minister may, in his enthusiasm to see the Bill on the Statute Book, be prepared to accept it, We are here asking that before contracts are given the Minister shall present to Parliament some idea of the character of the services that the programme contractors will provide.

I have again consulted some people in Australia who have had the advantage, if that is the word to use, of commercial sound broadcasting. I particularly asked them whether advertisements were interspersed at intervals throughout the programmes and I was told that while this is sometimes the procedure, the method of having concentrated times for advertisements is also used. In other words, instead of having one minute advertisements interspersed at 15 minute intervals, there is a concentration of advertisements for perhaps five minutes. One can imagine the horror of this. One can also visualise the Minister saying that this will not happen in this country. But we do not know that it will not happen here. We do not know the character of the services that will be provided. We do not even know the areas of transmission, although there have been leaks and certain stations have been mentioned in this House.

I emphasise that once this Bill becomes an Act any Question asked in this House will probably receive the reply that the matter is not the concern of the Minister but of the newly created Authority. I urge your Lordships to give us the opportunity, by accepting this Amendment, of seeing that before the Bill becomes a reality, some of these minor provisions are made public knowledge. My Lords, I beg to move.


My Lords, I support the Amendment. I am glad to see the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, in his place today. On Second Reading, when asked to give some information about how the Bill would operate, he kept referring to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, would be able to deal with such matters as the question of the quality of commercial sound broadcasting and other issues which had frequently been raised.

In our last deliberations on Second Reading I made a mistake for which I apologise. I said I understood that Lord Aylestone's term of office would expire in October. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Cuirass, did not mention that fact. It was my mistake. I gather that his term of office, for some reason of overlapping, is to go on till June. But although we have been told that Lord Aylestone will protect us from our fears and doubts, it is questionable whether he will be in office when commercial sound broadcasting starts.

Time and again in Committee in the other place more information was sought. The then Minister was unable to give any answers. Even when his supporters pleaded with him for more information they were not given any. I therefore hope that this Amendment will prove acceptable because it would allow, among others, those in the other place who are keen on knowing the areas of transmissions and the character of the services to be satisfied. A number of Amendments were proposed in Committee on the Bill. It is interesting and rather surprising to note that 86 Life Peers supported the Amendments and 349 Hereditary Peers voted against them. I support the Amendment.


My Lords, I suspect that there is a certain amount of double counting in that calculation. I apologise to noble Lords opposite if I was thought to jump the gun once, if not twice. I thought I detected a certain marked reluctance on the part of noble Lords opposite to move the Amendment—


Not at all.

3.2 p.m.


In which case I am proved entirely wrong. I will deal first with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, about his noble friend Lord Aylestone. I think it is not an unacceptable debating habit in this House to address other noble Lords who are sitting on the Benches even if they are, as that noble Lord was in that previous discussion, muzzled by the Addison Rules. I do not somehow think that if the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, sets out to undertake the setting up of local sound broadcasting under this Bill and there comes in the course of events to be a new Chairman, there will be such a total lack of continuity that policy began will not be continued. It was legitimate to refer to the Chairman of the I.T.A. as he sat and listened to this debate, because I feel that he would have been influenced and guided by what noble Lords said. That is all I have to say about that matter, and I should have thought the House would have welcomed it.

My Lords, I am afraid that I have not seen the noble Baroness's film and, therefore, I find it difficult to comment on a visual film talking about sound broadcasting. I find the whole concept a little trying. I do not think the question of car radios depends entirely upon the implementation of this Bill. I have heard a few car radios in my time and they seem to do quite nicely on the existing material. They cannot, after all, be tuned in to more than one station at a time.


My Lords, may I interrupt the Minister? I think he will agree with me that the statistics which have been produced to support a station of this kind are based on the assumption that a great deal of listening takes place on car radios. That is in all the factual research that has been done.


My Lords, I think a great deal of listening takes place on car radios now and probably the answer is that some people will switch their stations. I do not think this is central to the Amendment now before the House. I should like to look at what the Amendment says in a little detail because the noble Baroness moved it very persuasively and I know that it relates back to previous discussions. Although I was not here on the Report stage, I hasten to say that I have read the OFFICIAL REPORT. There are a number of difficulties about this Amendment and the first one (the noble Baroness herself adverted to it) is that it is not, under the present constitutional arrangements for any broadcasting, the Minister who makes the prime approach to Parliament. The noble Baroness said that one tended to be told that it was either for the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. to make the decisions. It would be therefore a constitutional curiosity if the Minister was required under this Bill to present to Parliament the draft of the detailed methods of implementation which had been prepared by the I.B.A. It would not fit at all comfortably into the pattern of legislation we have, or with the rest of the Bill. I will come back to how Parliament can deal with it in a minute.

I am afraid that I find also a certain difficulty with the proposal to put the phrase "character of the services" into a Statute and give its words the force of law. I do know what the noble Baroness means; it is perfectly plain that she is talking about the sort of things like the amount of advertising time and the type of programme that a station shall put out. But I suggest to her again that there are practical difficulties about this. If the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein, with all his knowledge of Independent Television, were to cast his mind back over the years and consider the time when his station first went into the business of independent television, I wonder whether at that stage he would have been able to say exactly what the character of his programmes were going to be, with the idea not only that it would be valid at the time he made the statement about character but that it would continue to be valid over the whole period of the licence he was seeking or which, indeed, he might have been given?

Similarly, when the contracts came to be renewed (or in some cases not to be renewed but applications were invited towards the end of the 1960s) I wonder again whether the applicants, or those who succeeded, would have been able to make a valid long-term forecast of the sort of character of the service they were proposing to put out. They might have been able to do so but then what would have happened? I have a nasty suspicion that the statement about the character of the services would then have ossified the whole of the development of that station for the next period of time. It would have been terribly difficult for the programme contractor, having once put down a categoric assurance of the type of service that he was going to put out, to say to his producers and his directors, "Go ahead and experiment; find new types of programme; go into new fields, innovate and produce other kinds of novelties", because all the time nagging at the back of his mind would be the statement that he had made of the character, and in this case the character that had been presented to Parliament, and. impliedly in the noble Baroness's Amendment, approved by Parliament. I believe that would be extremely bad and very petrifying to the whole structure and growth of the medium as we see it.

There is also a technical difficulty about the area of transmission. I quite see that the noble Baroness is complaining—and, of course, this has been current throughout the course of the debates on this Bill—that nobody knows exactly what the area covered by the transmissions will be. But that is not surprising, because the sites for the aerials have not been decided yet, and you cannot possibly tell what the area will be until you have the site for the aerial and decided what are the particular geographical features that go with it. There will be, of course, a stage at which the I.B.A. will be inviting applicants for the various licences and at that stage I see no reason to suppose that they will not pin down pretty accurately what the area for transmission will be. It will be a matter that the applicants will want to have in mind as well as everybody else, because it will give them some idea of the revenue, the number of homes covered and various factors about the viability of the station. At that stage it will be made public because it will form part no doubt of the material on which the applications are sought and there will always be room for question and comment at that time. I would expect it to be raised in either House by any noble Lord or Lady or honourable Member who wished to do so.

But for the general question that underlies the noble Baroness's Amendment, probably the best recourse really is the opportunity that the annual reports will give for debate and indeed any other Question or Motion that is put down from to time. I suspect it is perfectly true, as the noble Baroness said, that if one says, "I do not think, and I ask the Government to agree, that that programme should have been put out last Thursday night", she will be given the answer that that is a matter for the I.B.A. and not for the Government. But if one wishes to raise a broad question about the character of local broadcasting in general, or if one wants to raise any other broad question about the standard of broadcasting or of any other more general feature of it in Britain, I should not have thought that Parliament was an inappropriate forum or that there would have been anything but an extremely interesting and well-informed debate upon it. That is really the proper check to give. We have in addition, of course, the fact that the applications will be public, a matter which was much discussed again on Report, and I think there will be a good deal of background on which to go. I suspect, therefore and hope that the House will agree, that we have some practical and one constitutional snag in this Amendment. In fact, the checks and balances will be there for noble Lords to exploit, and I do not think that they will be fobbed off with the sort of answer that the noble Baroness feared. I would advise the House, therefore, that this is not really an Amendment which I can suggest should be accepted for the kind of reasons that I have given, and I hope that I have said something to comfort the noble Baroness and persuade her to withdraw it.

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend, Baroness Phillips, in moving this Amendment was not in any way subject to reluctance. She does know the rules of this House and seeks to conform to them. It is, of course, impossible to move an Amendment until it has been called, either by the noble Lord who sits on the Woolsack or by the Chairman or Deputy Chairman of Committees. The noble Viscount needs to be a little careful. The noble Viscount then spoke about the Amendment and questioned the use of the words, the character of the services". The word, "character" is the very word that I took out of Clause 10 of this Bill where it talks about "the character of the local sound broadcasts". We are using the word, "services" here in place of "local sound broadcasts" because we felt that, since we were using that term one line above, there was no point in having repetition. Therefore, there is no variance at all in this Amendment from what is to be found in Clause 10, about which the noble Viscount himself spoke in Committee.

The area of transmissions is a very important issue. I do not know yet whether the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing is satisfied about what we are going to get in commercial sound radio. Are we going to get genuine local radio stations, as was originally promised, or have we moved to regional sound commercial broadcasts? The noble Viscount shakes his head I am glad. But there were undoubtedly substantiated rumours at the very beginning, before even the White Paper had been issued, that the Minister of the time had been thinking that even with local sound broadcasts there ought to be a national network of regional commercial radio. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, went some way to meet me in terms of London. He said I was exaggerating when I said transmissions could touch Dover and Guildford, perhaps Harlow, Basildon and other areas. I do not know whether the noble Viscount can confirm that it is the intention of the Government that the London stations should be directed to provide a service for the community of the Greater London authority—in other words, the area of London as we understand it—and that it is certainly not the intention that these broadcasts should go out to places like Guildford. The noble Viscount nods his head; so I have his confirmation. It is to be hoped that if there are to be local broadcasts, towns like Guildford and Dover should have an opportunity of having their own service if they so wish.


My Lords, I do not want the noble Lord to read too much into a nod. I do not think one can guarantee that there will never be the possibility of the London station being picked up in Guildford. I do not think it is the idea that it should cover Guildford, but there may be exceptional conditions, possibly, when it does get as far as that. Therefore one cannot be absolutely 100 per cent. certain that it will never occur; but it is not the intention.


My Lords, I understand the noble Viscount's fear of taking a nod. I think somewhere in the earlier part of the Bill the words "ordinary service" are used. Could the noble Viscount confirm that it is not the intention of the Government that the London service should beam its transmissions to places outside the G.L.C. area? We recognise that, from time to time, due to atmospheric conditions this service may be heard further afield; but will he confirm that it is not the intention that these stations should go outside what is the known London area?


That is right—Clause 2(3).


Then we are to that extent in agreement. The difficulty, as we on this side of the House see it, is that these local stations may not be economic; they may not be all that profitable. What worries us is that if this is the case many small local newspapers are going to be permanently damaged as a consequence of loss of advertising revenue, and these stations being so unprofitable they will not be in a position to help the newspaper. Therefore the whole question of the public media, the transmission of local news, is clearly jeopardised.

We on this side of the House, I suppose instinctively, are opposed to the disposing of a scarce national asset to a few for the sole purpose of profit. We do not like it. But to deal with that is not the purpose of this Amendment. It is that Parliament by 1976 will need to look at television and radio as a whole, whether it is the State service of the B.B.C. or the commercial service through the I.T.A. or the I.B.A. We believe that there must be a Commission to look into this matter and to report to Parliament in order that Parliament may make up its mind about new legislation, and it is wrong that we should have the position pre-empted by this Bill. I must say—the noble Viscount must agree here—that there is no clamour to-day for these commercial sound radio stations, no clamour whatsoever. The Bill is preempting the position, because the Commission are bound to take a view when they look at this matter. Certainly they will not be able to judge whether the service does any good or any harm, because the stations will have been in operation at most for two years and in most cases in distant localities maybe for only a question of months. We feel that this is wrong. We do not think the Government have their priorities right. We on this side are opposed to this Bill, but if the Government wish to go ahead with it I think Parliament is entitled to know what sort of service is going to be provided, because the noble Viscount himself said in Committee on numerous occasions that the Government are leaving it to the I.B.A. What finally comes out of this Bill will be the decision of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. This is something on which Parliament should have a view before it agrees to it, and therefore I hope my noble friend will press this Amendment to a Division.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I hope my noble friend will resist this Amendment. The House knows from my earlier speeches that I am not a great enthusiast for this Bill, but it would be made worse if, in my noble friends words, the pattern of local broadcasting were ossified in the manner this Amendment suggests. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, in introducing this Amendment, was referring to a T.V. film she had seen on B.B.C., because, if so, she must understand that the B.B.C. are understandably apprehensive about competition for their broadcasting monopoly. I think the noble Baroness indicates that it was an I.T.A. programme. One has read recently that the B.B.C. have felt it necessary to make an announcement to their staff that if they apply for jobs with the local broadcasting stations they must instantly resign their appointment with the B.B.C., which suggests to me that they are apprehensive of the competition which may arise.

I wonder whether the Opposition have considered what would have happened if these particular limitations had been written into the B.B.C. sound licence. We should have ossified the Home, Light and Third programmes as originally suggested. I do not think that would have been a good thing. I think the B.B.C. has been right to modify the programmes to Programmes 1, 2, 3 and 4. I think the pattern of broadcasting will change over the next few years, and therefore it would be wrong to set out in writing the exact character of the programmes these stations are to broadcast and to make it firm and frozen, because that would mean that it would not be adapted, as tastes change, to the needs of the customers they are endeavouring to entertain.

I can visualise, too, that if it had been put down in the B.B.C.'s licence we should have had something like "No knocking of Concorde". This might well have been put in the licence. Every programme I see now on the B.B.C., whether or not it is the news, says that Concorde has been grounded somewhere, as happened this morning. On television programmes the anti-Concorde lobby is always very much more vociferous and numerous than the pro-Concorde lobby. If conditions are going to be put down I should put, "Don't knock potential British exports". That might well have gone into a licence some years ago.

I do not like the idea that one clearly and exactly defines the area which one is seeking to cover, partly because it will be a different area day and night, partly because it will be a different area according to the atmospheric conditions, and partly because there will be a change in population as other sound broadcasting stations come in. It may be that the I.B.A. would wish to suggest to a station that it should beam its aerials in a different way in order to cover, say, a developing town or a satellite town which previously was not in existence. For all these reasons I should not wish to see this Amendment made. I do not believe the Bill to be a very good one, but I consider it would be made worse if the Government accepted this Amendment.


My Lords, hitherto I have failed to take part in the debate on this Bill. I apologise for my intervention, which will be very brief. Its purpose is to have sonic clarification in what appears to be the main objection raised by the noble Viscount speaking on behalf of the Government. As I understand his case, it runs something like this. If the Executive decide to introduce legislation, as a result of which a service is transferred or handed over to an outside body or corporation, there is no reason why clear indication should be furnished as to the character of its operations after the legislation has been passed and implemented. This is where I should like to have some clarification. Can the noble Viscount, by leave of the House—I understand that would be the proper course—tell us of any other legislation that has been passed where an industry or a service of any sort, through the medium of legislation for which a Government have been responsible, has been transferred or handed over to an outside corporation or body without there being an indication, almost with the utmost detail, of the character of the service to be provided? I can furnish two instances which are uppermost in my mind because I was responsible for piloting through in another place legislation which subsequently came to this House. It was concerned with the coal mining industry and also with electricity supplies. In both instances the Bill which was presented in another place and which subsequently came to this House gave a clear indication, almost in detail, of what the character of the service was to be. Will the noble Viscount be kind enough to indicate what other kind of legislation has been passed where there was no indication or provision of detail as to the character of the service to be provided?


My Lords, with your Lordships' leave, I can only do the best I can out of my own head. I do not think that the legislation which nationalised the railways said anything about inter-city trains or advance passenger trains.


I think the noble Viscount is wrong. If he looks at the Transport Act which relates to the nationalisation of railways he will find not only an enormous amount of detail as to the service to be provided in relation to fares, schedules and everything of that sort, but also that the general character of the service is implicitly stated in the legislation.


I do not think the legislation mentions closing down a very large number of branch lines, either.


I am very interested that Lord Orr-Ewing and also the Minister attempted to reply to the word I used—character. It is in the Act itself—or, rather, the Bill. It is obviously going to be an Act—"over our dead bodies", as one might say. The Bill specifically uses the phrase: the character of the local sound broadcasts.… This is in relation to anybody who requests this piece of information. This is what I take it to be—the description of being made public that the noble Viscount referred to in Clause 10. Should I want to know this then I have the right to ask. It is not really my idea of something being made public, but I take the point that it can be public to me if I should make this request. Here we have the very words: the character of the local sound broadcasts.… There must be a way of determining this. We now have the suggestion that this would cause the matter to be too inflexible. No one is asking for a specification that pop music will be played at x hours and that there will be sound broadcasting of Parliament at another hour. This is not what we are asking.

It is not unreasonable to hand over such a great measure of power. This is what communications are all about. Communications are power. One is handing over a measure of communication to a group of contractors. There has been some play during the discussion on the Bill with the point that nobody is going to make a lot of money out of commercial radio, the suggestion being, therefore, that the contractors will be rather dedicated souls who seek to serve the community. It is interesting to me that so many people—if we can believe

the stories—are anxious to get in on this. I am delighted to know there are so many dedicated people in the communications industry. Nevertheless, this being so, surely these would be the kind of people who would not hesitate to reveal the character of the local broadcasting they wish us to enjoy. I did not actually see this programme, which is coming on this week; this was a trailer. It looked so frightening that I am only sorry that it was not shown last week. Perhaps it would have influenced some of your Lordships. I have no intention of withdrawing this Amendment.

3.27 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided, Contents 49; Not-Contents, 108.

Archibald, L. Garnsworthy, L. Royle, L.
Arwyn, L. Granville-West, L. Sainsbury, L.
Avebury, L. Hale, L. Samuel, V.
Bacon, Bs. Henderson, L. Segal, L.
Bernstein, L. Hoy, L. Shackleton, L.
Beswick, L. Hughes, L. Shepherd, L.
Blackett, L. Hurcomb, L. Shinwell, L.
Brockway, L. Leatherland, L. Slater, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. [Teller.] Snow, L.
Champion, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Chorley, L. McLeavy, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Diamond, L. Moyle, L. Watkins, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Nunburnholme, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Phillips, Bs. [Teller.] Williamson, L.
Faringdon, L. Platt, L. Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.
Foot, L. Popplewell, L.
Gardiner, L. Rathcreedan, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Derwent, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs.
Ailwyn, L. Digby, L. Ilford, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Drumalbyn, L. Ironside, L.
Allerton, L. Effingham, E. Killearn, L.
Amory, V. Ellenborough, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Balfour, E. Elles, Bs. Latymer, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Lauderdale, E.
Barnby, L. Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Limerick, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Ferrers, E. Long, V.
Belstead, L. Fisher, L. Lothian, M.
Blackford, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Loudoun, C.
Bledisloe, V. Gainford, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Brock, L. Geddes, L. MacAndrew, L.
Burton, L. Goschen, V. Macleod of Borve, Bs.
Caccia, L. Gowrie, E. Mancroft, L.
Camoys, L. Greenway, L. Mar, E.
Clwyd, L. Grenfell, L. Margadale, L.
Coleraine, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Colgrain, L. Hailes, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Merrivale, L.
Cowley, E. Milverton, L.
Craigavon, V. Harvey of Prestbury, L. Monck, V.
Cromartie, E. Harvey of Tasburgh, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Daventry, V. Hatherton, L. Morrison, L.
de Clifford, L. Hawke, L. Mottistone, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Howard of Glossop, L. Mountevans, L.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Redesdale, L. Sudeley, L.
Reigate, L. Swaythling, L.
Napier and Ettrick, L. Rothes, E. Teviot, L.
Nelson of Stafford, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly. Thomas, L.
Northchurch, Bs. Sandford, L. Trefgarne, L.
Oakshott, L. Selkirk, E. Tweedsmuir, L.
Orr-Ewing, L. Sempill, Ly. Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, Bs
Penrhyn, L. Somers, L. Vivian, L.
Rathcavan, L. Stonehaven, V. Wolverton, L.
Reay, L. Strathclyde, L. Wrottesley, L.
Redcliffe-Maud, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L. Young, Bs.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (Viscount Colville of Culross.)

On Question, Bill passed.

Back to