HL Deb 25 April 1978 vol 390 cc1607-10

Lord TORPHICHEN: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to allocate radio frequencies for citizen's band use in this country, and whether this is to be included in the brief for United Kingdom delegates to the World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC) in Geneva in 1979.


My Lords, we have no plans to introduce Citizen's Band radio in this country. The World Administrative Radio Conference to be held in Geneva in 1979 is concerned with the allocation of frequency bands in broad terms. International radio regulations do not distinguish Citizen's Band radio as such; it is just one of the services coming under the general category of mobile radio, and the allocation of frequencies for such a service is therefore a matter for national action.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that he has given a rather depressing Answer? May I ask the noble Lord whether he would not agree that Citizen's Band frequencies that could be made available are lying unused already in this country? Secondly, would the noble Lord not agree that Citizen's Band radio could make a great contribution to civil defence in times of national emergency?


My Lords, my understanding is that there are no bands which are available. Some of the bands that noble Lords may well think available are used, I am informed, for important and essential Government purposes. Perhaps I had better leave it at that. With regard to the other comment made by the noble Lord, it is a matter of opinion whether Citizen's Band radios would serve the useful purpose they are alleged to serve. If one looks at what is happening in the United States of America, one can recall that not so very long ago one of their major motorways was held up and all the traffic diverted because somebody using a Citizen's Band radio gave an instruction that it was dangerous to go along there. It could be used for all sorts of purposes. His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent was responsible for a committee which has sent a report to the Government. The Government are looking at that report, and if it has anything to say that will be helpful they will say so in due course.


My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the United States. Is he also aware that the chief of police in the State of Ohio admitted publicly that through the use of Citizen's Band radio at least 500 lives were saved during the great blizzard?


My Lords, we are a much smaller country and there is no reason to suppose for one moment that the facilities we have at present and those which we use in times of national disasters are not adequate. We think they are.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that certain wavelengths were being reserved for essential Government purposes. Are they being reserved unused, or are they being used? Are they used for rehearsals or for practice in case an emergency arises, or are they being just left and not used at all?


My Lords, I would not say thay are used for 24 hours a day, but they are in fairly continuous use.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the problems in parts of Scotland this last winter was lack of communications? Some farmers were reduced to making signs in the snow in order to attract the attention of helicopter police, because the telephones were down and they had no other means of communication.


My Lords, may I support my noble friend on this—

Several noble Lords

Order, order!


My Lords, would the noble Earl be good enough to give way? I have to follow the Rules of the House, which means that I have to reply to one noble Lord at a time. What the noble Lord said may well be so, but I think we have seriously to consider the enormous disadvantages of having a vast army of people who can communicate with each other very easily, given perhaps the hoaxes which are known to exist in America and on the Continent in regard to all sorts of other things. We have to compare those disadvantages with the advantages to which the noble Lord has made reference.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that during the recent blizzard British Rail lost two trains? Luckily, there was no loss of life, but had they had these communications they would have been found. The second train was sent out to look for the first.


My Lords, if British Rail with its vast network of stations can lose two trains, I do not think anything can help them.

Viscount ST. DAVIDS

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is a point of liberty in this and that there ought to be freedom to communicate? Is it not better to go into the matter and see what happens and then, if there are some evil results, to do something about them, rather than stopping our liberty now?


My Lords, I do not think that society takes very kindly to people who feel that they have liberty to rob, plunder, rape and do all kinds of things.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that British Rail have very considerable experience in losing trains?

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