§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action has been taken, and what additional steps are proposed, to deal with the violations of the law by the so-called radio pirates, especially of the Wireless Telegraphy Acts, the Broadcasting Acts and the Telecommunications Act.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, I must declare a small financial interest. I shall be brief because there are a number of speakers who want to make a contribution, but I am afraid it will be necessary for me to say a few words about the legal position before I proceed to the illegal position which this Question is all about.
§ It is now some 11, or perhaps 12, years since the Government of the time gave the Independent Broadcasting Authority the right to compete in radio against the BBC's national and local radio stations. It 833 was a decision taken by the Government and at that time the Government, in their deliberations and discussions, were represented by the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Mr. Christopher Chataway. On the other side of the table sat myself, on behalf of what was then the Independent Television Authority, and as a result we became the Independent Broadcasting Authority.
§ The whole idea of independent local radio was that it should be local in character, that it should be financed locally and that, wherever possible, the directors of the companies holding the franchise should themselves be appointed from among local people or should be people who had interests in the area. The companies were to vary in size: two in London, one in Glasgow. They were very small companies, and it was the Government's view at the time that we should start off in London with two and spread in that way, and that within the first 10 or 14 we should have a number of "smalls". The Government themselves decided the frequency of the actual transmission; that is to say, the space on the dial. The Government themselves decided the strength of the station: how far the signal would reach. This was of course all agreed by the IBA and so independent local radio started.
§ The House needs no reminding from me that internationally wavebands are decided by international agreement. If it were otherwise and if every country did as it liked, then of course we would have chaos and anarchy on the air and no one would have any effective result that was worth having. Therefore, whichever wavebands we use in this country either for television or radio are used by agreement with neighbouring countries who negotiate with us.
§ The independent local radio stations are financed solely from advertising revenue. They have no part of the BBC's licence fee and are completely financed from advertisements. If they fail to gain finance, then of course they are in difficulties. One or two of the smaller ones have been in difficulties. It is true to say that only one has failed. I think I am right in saying that there are now 48 on the air, including the two large ones in London and the very small ones.
§ The licence for the legal independent local radio stations is granted by the Home Office. Today, as the office of Postmaster-General has disappeared, the Department of Trade and Industry is concerned with actual control over the IBA and the BBC in this field. The independent broadcasters pay a rental fee to the IBA, which is responsible for transmission. They pay copyright fees to cover writers and composers. The larger ones pay a secondary rental of more than £500,000 at the present moment, part of which is used to provide live music and part of which finds its way into the Government's coffers. A few have done very well; some just exist; and, as I have said, only one has failed.
§ They are required by Act of Parliament—the Broadcasting Acts—to provide a balanced service, a service in which there is some recorded music (records), some talks (documentaries), some feature programmes and so on. The time used for broadcasting records is known within the industry as 834 "needle time". There is an arrangement between the IBA and the people who represent record makers, the mechanical side, the composers and the writers that the amount of recorded music used should be limited to 50 per cent. In an independent local radio station one cannot have more than 50 per cent. and to balance this the remaining 50 per cent. of the time is made up, as one is aware, with news, current affairs and so on. All these legitimate local radio stations pay trade union rates of pay. They are all required to use as much live music as they can afford (and, in fact, they do so) and of course they provide work for musicians.
§ Every activity of these independent local radio stations is controlled and authorised by the IBA on behalf of the Government. It is of interest—perhaps of no more than interest—that the IBA and the BBC are both regarded as nationalised industries, because the Nationalised Industries Committee in another place often looks into their activities.
§ Into this field of controlled, Government-approved local radio stations have moved the so-called "pirates". My Lords, the word "pirate" like "footpad" or "highwayman" has a certain romantic connotation. We all think that there is something rather nice about it, hut, if one analyses what one means by a "pirate", a "footpad" or a "highwayman", one simply means thief. That is in fact what they are. They are radio thieves. They operate without a Home Office licence. Some of them have applied to the Home Office for a licence and have been refused. They have been refused because they do not conform to the Government's view of what is necessary to run independent local radio. Some of them are very small and simply broadcast for a few hours over the weekend—no need at all to worry about them. But there are probably 50 stations which are much larger and which are there as a business to make money by selling advertising on the air.
§ They operate for long hours—in some cases, right around the clock, for 24 hours—and they sell advertising space without any control as to the content of the advertisements or the amount of advertising. Their first illegal act, therefore, is the infringement of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949 by operating without a licence. They use any spot they can find on the dial. If they are lucky enough, they strike a spot where there is a big audience which is likely to bring them in bigger advertising revenue. They have in many cases applied for a licence but this has been refused.
§ If this continues, there is a possibility—I will put it no higher than that at this stage—of considerable interference with other legitimate users of airspace. This has already happened in the case of the offshore pirates. Here of course one immediately sees the danger to shipping and to everything else. There is a danger on land, if they get on to the wrong waveband, of interference with ambulances, taxis and other legitimate users. They regard themselves as being legitimate businesses although they are illegal in every possible respect. They seem proud of the fact that they are acting illegally. They pretend that their advertising content is controlled. It is not controlled by the Independent Broadcasting Authority, by the ASA or by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the bodies which work in unison to control the 835 advertisements that are now being broadcast on television and on legitimate independent local radio.
§ The pirates pretend to be careful about this matter but there are cases where they have been anything but careful. For example, one cannot use airspace legitimately for political propaganda but in two cases these companies have done precisely that. They pay no copyright fees and they exercise no control whatever over the amount of recorded music. It can be what is known as "back to back"—the playing of records the whole time. Their news broadcasts are stolen off air from the BBC, from Independent Radio News or from Independent Television News. They are used straight off air or are sometimes rehashed to suit their own particular convenience.
§ I would rather like to name one of the larger stations in South London, but I understand from reading The Times of a day or two ago that there are likely to be legal proceedings against it. If that is the case, the matter is in a sense sub judice and so I will not name it. From the description, many of the people who know anything about the southern part of London will recognise it immediately.
§ This particular station issues a brochure in which it boasts of its illegality. It boasts also of the fact that it has the support of a large number of Members of Parliament in its own area. I can hardly conceive it to be possible that a Member of Parliament, whatever his or her political shade or colour, would be likely to allow his or her name to be used in this respect, but I am told that it is so. If this is the case, would those Members of Parliament be prepared to advise their constituents not to pay for their BBC television licence or not to pay for a car licence? Would they be prepared to go as far as that? That is precisely what support for these illegal stations implies.
§ I do not suggest that the Government are doing nothing about it because in October of last year they did raid four of the bigger companies; but two of them have appeared again and are back on the air.
§ However, I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions before I sit down.
§ First, in respect of those companies who spend their money using illegal broadcasting as a medium, and who advertise on illegal radio stations, are they not in the same position as people who accept stolen property, knowing it to be stolen, and who either sell it or keep it? They are using an illegal system of broadcasting for what they may regard as legitimate advertising. That question is one that ought to be answered. One particular illegal station boasts of the fact that it is registered for VAT. Is it possible to be registered for VAT if one is carrying out something that is completely illegal and against four Acts of Parliament? Would the Customs and Excise register, for example, a burglar, a prostitute, or a brothel?
§ Lord Aylestone
If they would, my Lords, then presumably the authorities are in order in registering an illegal radio station for VAT. I find that amazing.
It is unfair to say that the DTI are doing nothing—but are they really doing enough? The 836 British Telecommunications Act of last year gives the Government power to enter premises without prosecution to seize transmitters and to close such stations. I do not know whether the Government are using that power or whether it is too soon for them to have used it. I myself am not opposed in any way to competition, provided it is fair and free—but competition from illegal radio stations is not fair and certainly it is not free.
These stations steal news bulletins. They pay no copyright fees. They ignore advertising standards, and they steal frequencies which are badly needed by the Home Office for many other purposes. These days, advertising revenue is somewhat limited. The Government expect rather a lot of it. The Government require advertising revenue to pay for independent television, for independent local radio, for Channel 4, for breakfast television and for cable television. And the Government expect advertising revenue to pay for direct broadcasting by satellite when that eventually arrives. There must be a limit.
Those people who are engaging in illegal activities are, apart from breaking the law, making the legitimate side of broadcasting which the Government support rather more difficult. I hope that the Government will step up their activities and use the powers contained in four Acts of Parliament, and will apply them against these law breakers.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Willis
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, for introducing this Question. It is one of absolutely vital importance. The noble Lord has covered the ground so well that all I will do—briefly, in view of the time and the inclement weather—is underline one or two of the points he has made.
The most important point that comes out of this discussion is that the Government actually made a contract with the independent local radio people. They made a contract via the IBA. Day after day and week after week, the Government are allowing that contract to be breached. As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has said, the Government have the power to close down pirate radio stations. They have taken certain action but they seem very reluctant to apply the full pressure of the law, and the full pressure of the Government's powers, to these thieves. I find that situation unacceptable and I hope the pressure will be stepped up.
For example, in the North Sea, oil operators and oil companies operate under licence. I feel quite certain that the Government would act much more quickly if a group of pirates came along and started drilling for oil in the North Sea, breaching the licensing system there. I cannot give your Lordships a fairer example than that one.
In independent radio, we—and I must declare an interest as a director of an independent local radio company—operate under a licence from the Government, and the Government should support that licence. What worries me is that the pirates openly flout the law. They not only advertise their services and their stations but actually make presentations to the public and to advertisers. Nothing is done about 837 them. They claim in many instances that they are community radio stations. Nothing could be more nonsensical. What they give us is audible wallpaper; wall-to-wall pop music. I have nothing against pop music but the restrictions and regulations under which the established independent local radio network operates lay down quite clearly that we must provide balanced broadcasting. We do provide balanced broadcasting; I am rather proud of my association with the major London independent radio station because we have a unique relationship with the London population.
The pirates have no responsibility and there are no checks on them whatsoever. I see a greater danger here. There is now a cynical attempt by these pirate stations to pressure the Government and to pressure public opinion under the guise of being the little man who is fighting against the big institutions and the established radio networks of the BBC and independent local radio. Indeed, certain sections of the press have taken their side and have adopted the same attitude. If this is allowed to continue, we are in danger of destroying something that has been carefully built up over many years; the delicate fabric of national radio in this country.
Take, for example, an offshore station, against which the Government would find it more difficult to act, called Laser. Laser proudly proclaims, "You're never a second away from music". As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said, they do not pay any copyright fees, performing rights fees, or anything else.
Who backs them? The answer is, Wall Street—Wall Street banks. They see a huge prize here in the United Kingdom if they can only establish this station and take command of a big national network. They are prepared to pour millions into Laser, and they are doing so, in order to try to achieve that position. They are not little men. They are big men, and the prize is big. If they are allowed to continue, then the fabric of radio is in danger of being destroyed.
I speak as somebody who absolutely loves radio. In the BBC's four radio channels, not to mention independent radio, we have a unique institution. It is something that gives pleasure and mental profit to everybody in this country. Anything that hits at that—such as the suggestion I read recently with horror, that BBC radio should accept advertising, or the continuation of the pirates—seems to me to be in danger of upsetting the balance of that fabric, and it would do immense harm to this country.
We have something unique and splendid in our radio system. We have built it up by a careful system of checks and balances, of licensing, and of making sure that even commercial stations have to broadcast a certain amount of talks and educational programming, and so forth. We have built it into a unique system; yet we now seem to be sitting idly by while these pirates—these thieves—move in and destroy that fabric. I hope that the Government will take heed of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and will move much more fiercely, and much more strongly, against the pirates and throw them overboard for everybody's sake.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord Craigton
My Lords, I, too, join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, for initiating this debate. I must declare an interest. I am an age-expired director, now a consultant, of the Aylesbury Broadcasting Company. For some years we have been applying for permission to operate a commercial radio station for that area. Over the past year we have been moving up the queue, to the head of the queue, and have begun to make plans for raising the considerable capital required to make a start, perhaps in 1986 or 1987. We now find that the threat and existence of pirate radio stations is not making it any easier for us to launch this project, which is now not such an attractive investment as it was.
Of course, we could, if we wanted to, start a pirate radio station. We could do this with about £5,000 and the property. That is all it requires. As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said, in running a pirate station we could give our audience whatever we liked, when we liked, with programmes and quality determined only by our own interests. Moreover, because we would have a low capital we could make a profit by cutting our advertising rate below those of the competing licensed radio stations.
The legitimate independent radio companies can, and do, compete for audiences and advertising with local and national radio, with ITV, and with the local and national press. But the pirates—and I make no apology for repeating what has already been said—who must cheat to survive, represent unfair and illegal competition. If they are free enterprise—and I have heard them claim this—so is stealing merchandise from Asda stores and setting up in business selling the stolen goods. As has been said, the pirates steal news bulletins. Because they are illegal operations they steal the music by not paying the performing rights charge. They ignore advertising standards. The pirates do not have to provide a costly, balanced public service programme.
Using the air waves is an important intrusion into people's homes, with a capacity for evil as well as for good. The VHF spectrum is a scarce resource and there should be orderly, planned growth. While the pirates operate we risk anarchy, in which the most powerful transmitter will dominate and, as has been said, the bands now allotted to licensed operation and the emergency services will continue to be stolen and interfered with. Both noble Lords who have already spoken have referred to the legal position which is, of course, chaotic. Since 1967 it has been an offence under Section 5(3)(e) of the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act to advertise "by means of a broadcast" from a vessel in external waters. As has been said, after 18 years the Act has not achieved its purpose. Radio Laser and Radio Caroline are both still operating. I am told that there have been two recent instances of their broadcasting advertisements of which the DTI is aware. Over the years, of course, there have been repeated instances of advertising by American and other firms.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, referred to Radio Laser. I shall add to his words by briefly quoting from 839 one of its expensive and widely distributed publications, Laser 558, which states that it is,offering simultaneous programming within reach of over 150 million people in nine Western European countries".The first four countries are the United Kingdom, France, Belgium and Holland. The publication states—and it is plain for all to see—that there are,no governmental restrictions on advertising copy".It also states:The station operates on the principle that the airwaves are free and beyond regulation".What a scandalous statement that is.Its powerful 25,000 watt signal covers more than 150 million listeners in nine Western European countries".The publication continues by adding that since the ship ismoored in international waters in the North Sea … is owned and operated by a Panamanian corporation and staffed and supplied by citizens outside the European Economic Community signatory nations, the station is, in the opinion of counsel, entirely legal".That is a situation which we in Europe must do something about.
I have been referring to the sea, but on land we now know that fines and injunctions will never get to the root of the matter. It is too cheap, too easy and too profitable not to start up again. We all know that if we stop the profits, the pirates must close. Without the advertising revenue there would be no profit. So to be effective—and here I have a new thought—it must be made unprofitable for advertisers to advertise from unlicensed stations. There seems to be at least one net which will catch all advertisers, both from home and abroad, bearing in mind that all advertisers need distributors—someone to deliver the goods to the shops. The form of words that I should like to see added to existing legislation is this:The offender must be the person who distributes or otherwise makes available for purchase goods or services announced or advertised for sale or hire by the operation of an unlicensed radio".Such a form of words would, if included in current legislation, prevent large legitimate advertisers at home and abroad from endangering their whole national distribution and sales—for that is what would happen—by broadcasting some of their advertisements through unlicensed channels. The smaller, local advertiser or a local shop would, of course, be just asking for trouble. Something has to be done, and this debate is bound to help. I have told your Lordships what I believe could be done and I hope that the Government will present a leak-proof solution. If the Government cannot do that, then we might have to consider a Private Member's Bill.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, I must first declare an interest as a director of an independent local radio company. The essence of this debate is, as the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said, that there is an implied contract between the state and the independent local radio companies. That contract says, "We will license you, if you behave yourselves in certain stipulated ways, to make a profit out of commercial broadcasting, and with that we will guarantee that nobody else seeks to make a profit out of commerical broadcasting—that is, anybody who does not behave in the stipulated ways".
840 The Government have fallen down on that contract and are breaking it week by week. I have obtained the best figures that I could —no one is going to write them down or swear to them—for what is the weekly break-even rate for a legal and an illegal commercial radio station. There seems to be a sort of agreement that a radio thief—I much prefer the description used by my noble friend Lord Aylestone of "radio thief" to "pirate radio station"—can break even and begin to make a profit on an expenditure of about £10,000 a week. That is what the station must get back in advertisement fees. A legal independent local radio station can make a profit on about £17,000 a week. Those are rough figures. It is about 60 per cent. if you break the law; one can make a profit on 60 per cent. of the legal outlay if one breaks the law.
There are some interesting cases around. I am not going to make any bones about naming the companies. As far as I know, they are not yet in court; if they are, I apologise. If they are about to be in court, I can only say that they are not yet sub judice and the sooner they are, the better. Radio Sunshine is operating near Worcester. It conducts its business through a series of Post Office box numbers. Would a thief be allowed to do that? Would a brothel keeper be allowed to do that? I believe a prostitute is allowed to do so; but is any other criminal allowed by the Government or the police to conduct his business through Post Office box numbers? It is a company which, among many others—and I do not single it out—either interferes with, or is close to interfering with, ambulance frequencies.
Another one is Radio Scargill, which operates on the very frequency allotted to Radio Trent. That one is being pursued by the Government with slightly less faint steps than usual. It has been closed twice; it is now back. It does exactly what one would think it would be doing: it puts out pro-strike propaganda to the miners, for the miners. Why should it not? There is no intrinsic political reason why it should not, but there is a legal reason. It is against statute law that it should do so; it is a criminal enterprise. It is as simple as that.
Successive Governments have now brought us to a three-tier system in broadcasting. First, there was the BBC, which stood alone for many years and became all the wonderful things which we know it to be. Then there were the independent local radio companies, which are private enterprise but are regulated by the state, and pay the state for certain services, particularly rental for transmitters. This is defensible. This situation was reached after democratic discussion and was embodied in statute law. Now there is a third class of broadcasting company—the thieves. They are against the law. They are regulated in no way by either Government or Parliament, and, as my noble friend Lord Aylestone said, they are no less against the law than is any other sort of thief.
I will inject another factor into this whole debate. What is done now in radio by the criminals can be done equally well in television. It is already beginning to be done in a fleeting way. There are fly-by-night television thieves who set up, transmit for a day or two, and move on before they can be caught. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, spoke of intrusion into people's homes. We all know what he means. We need not get 841 into that argument. I remember a time—it must have been nearly 10 years ago—in Rome when the Italian state had proved inadequate to the task of regulating television thieves. Between about two and four in the morning one could take one's pick of three or four channels transmitting "blue" movies. I take no position in the argument about the desirability or undesirability of pornography. I simply state that that is one effect that arose in Italy through a dereliction of duty by the government, and it is one which will arise in this country if the Government continue to be in dereliction of their duty for long enough. There is no difference in kind between that and what is now happening.
The noble Lords, Lord Willis and Lord Aylestone, both spoke of the oil thieves in the North Sea who do not exist. Just imagine if a company operating outside the law were to plant itself down on an oilfield which had already been allotted by the Government to somebody else after complex and arduous negotiations, and paid for with large sums of money, and started to exploit that oilfield. I wonder how long the Government would take to move it! I imagine that it would not stand a chance of getting built; whether in territorial or any other waters, in the high seas or not.
This brings me to the point. What is the difference in kind between oil theft and frequency theft? The answer is, none. There are marine stations, ships and platforms, in the sea. There is no doubt, of course, that those operating in territorial waters are as much covered by the law which the Government are now neglecting as stations on land. There is no doubt that if the Government chose to begin to do their duty about the stations on land, they would have no greater difficulty in beginning to do their duty about those that are within territorial waters at sea. But there are some that are outside territorial waters and on the high seas.
I have in my hand, as they say, a copy of the Food and Environment Protection Bill which is at present before this House. Part II is entitled, "Deposits in the sea", with a sub-heading "Licensing". It is about the dumping of liquids, fluids or any other substance. In a sensible, beneficial and imaginative way, by this Bill the Government are taking power to prevent the unlicensed dumping of anything in the high seas outside British territorial waters by British ships. If it is a British ship, when the Bill is law, it will have to have a licence to dump any substance into the sea anywhere in the world, be it even in the mid-Pacific.
The Bill also—which is of more interest to us today—takes power to prevent the unlicensed dumping of waste, and so on, by foreign ships which have taken the waste on board in British ports, within the British fisheries protection zone. The fisheries protection zone is pretty wide. It goes out to the median line of the North Sea. It would be quite enough to wrap up the marine radio thieves if that little provision were extended, or were to serve as a precedent or an analogy for a prohibition of unlicensed broadcasting in the high seas up to the edge of the fisheries protection zone. That would serve the purpose. Of course, it may be asked, what connection has broadcasting with fisheries? And I have to admit there is none.
842 But the conceptual connection is there. A ship which has taken on board waste in the United Kingdom is, while under physical United Kingdom control out to the edge of the fisheries zone, liable to prosecution if not licensed. Its connection is with the United Kingdom economy. The Government are taking that right because those ships are doing something to the United Kingdom economy; for the United Kingdom people, and against the United Kingdom people. That is exactly what the extraterritorial waters radio pirates are doing, too, and as far as I can make out, this would be a perfect analogy.
I wonder what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will say this evening. He could say that the Government are carrying out their duties satisfactorily and everybody is wrong. I do not think that he will. If he did, this House and everybody else would laugh at him. He could say that the Government have not been carrying out their duties as forcefully as they might and that they intend in the future to carry them out more forcefully. If he said that, I think that this House and everybody else would be very glad to hear it and would applaud. He could say that the Government have not been forceful enough and intend to be more forceful within the present law, but we must all realise that outside territorial waters there are wavelength thieves whom we cannot touch. I hope that he will not say that.
I hope that the noble Lord will say the fourth and only satisfactory thing that he can say, which is that the Government have not been using the present law as fully as they might and intend to use it more fully; and, moreover, the deficiencies in the present law will be rectified immediately, either by the passage of a one-clause Bill which can be carried straight out of Part II of the Food and Environment Protection Bill, or even, if one wishes, by the addition to the Food and Environment Protection Bill of a clause covering broadcasting. It is a sort of environmental protection to prevent the, as it were, thieving pollution of radio waves by these illegal operators.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, I join other noble Lords who have spoken in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, on bringing this subject before your Lordships. He spoke with the wealth of experience that he acquired in his distinguished time as chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. I think that it is generally agreed that the situation has grown very much worse over the past three or four years. There seems to he complete unanimity among the IBA, the Association of Independent Radio Contractors, the individual ILR companies, the BBC and the general public that something ought to be done about this serious and growing problem of pirate or illegal radio stations—call them what one will.
Like other noble Lords who have spoken in numbers, I must declare an interest because I have for some years been a director of Radio Hallam, the independent local radio station for the Sheffield area. It is of course quite simply the case that the pirates are stealing frequencies. Not only are they stealing frequencies but also in many ways they are interfering with the legitimate and proper enjoyment of the radio. This was eloquently described by my noble friend Lord Willis. I agree completely with what he said: 843 people get immense enjoyment from both the BBC and the independent stations and they are so often interfered with by these pirates. Also, of course they are interfering with and stealing the advertising revenue, some of which would otherwise go to the independent stations.
While some independent stations, including the one about which my noble friend Lord Willis spoke, are very successful, quite a number are finding it very difficult, in the hard economic circumstances of today, to obtain the kind of revenue that they need to provide the programmes that they want to provide for their own particular areas. They are of course quite properly subject to regulations. They also have to pay copyright fees. They are restricted in the kind of programmes they put out and also of course restricted in the kind of advertising that they take. I understand that some of the land-based pirate radios have even been transmitting political propaganda, about which Parliament, both with regard to the BBC and quite properly with regard to the independent stations, has laid down very rigid rules. Certainly no one should be allowed to buy political advertising time. I am sure that that is a view which will be shared by all parties and none. That is not what we should want to see developed.
However, I think the problem is not that there are insufficient legal powers; it is quite simply that the only complacency in this matter is found within the Government. The Government have just not seen fit to exercise the powers that they have. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is to reply to the debate. I wonder whether there may not be some problem in so far as the Home Office has some responsibilities and so does the Department of Trade and Industry.
I put down a number of Questions at the end of last year which were answered by the Minister of State for the Home Office, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and I got the impression that the Government were going to do something. But, as far as I can gather, very little, if anything, has been done. In fact in one case where there has been a very serious interference with Radio Mercury, I believe that the owners of that station have been obliged, with the Attorney-General's support, to try to take action themselves. While we know that in dealing with Laser and Caroline, the stations operating outside the territorial waters, in international waters, there may be problems, there is—and it has not been mentioned—the Marine Offences Act 1967, which makes it illegal for British citizens to supply these vessels with goods and services, including advertising or their labour. If the Government took steps against those who advertise on the illegal stations, then there would obviously be no motive on the part of the companies concerned to advertise and, without the advertisements, I am quite certain that these stations would disappear very rapidly.
As is made clear, there may very well be a number of amateurs and enthusiasts. I am told there are up to 130 stations, some of them run just on Sunday afternoons by enthusiasts. But the real problems come from people who are making a lot of money by these illegal activities. The Government not only have power through the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949, as 844 has been pointed out, but since July last they have also had power to confiscate equipment ahead of the prosecution, whereas before they had to obtain a successful prosecution before they did so. In addition, of course, the fines have been doubled. It was hoped that the new Act of last year would give the Government powers that they always said that they did not have in order to deal with this problem.
The problems were there when the Telecommunications Bill was before Parliament. If the Government had ideas that they lacked legal powers, why did they not then come to this House and another place and ask for those powers? If indeed there are still powers that they feel they ought to have and they do not have, I am quite certain that both Houses of Parliament would be very happy to support a Private Member's Bill or to permit the Government to put through a short Bill to give the necessary powers.
I believe that in a number of cases this situation is now extremely serious. It is serious in commercial terms. A number of the independent local stations are, to my knowledge, having very real problems in getting sufficient advertising to sustain themselves. Also, when it is clear the Government do not appear to worry about it, it encourages others to put on illegal activities in other areas as well as the enormous spread of the power of the Laser and other offshore stations. I think it is an extremely serious problem. I hope not only that we shall get some assurances today from the Minister but also that the stations that are struggling to carry out their obligations to the IBA and, through them, to the Government, will have the encouragement of knowing that they will have backing from the Department of Trade and Industry and from the Home Office and that they can be encouraged to face the real economic problems.
For example, in South Yorkshire, where Radio Hallam operates, because of the recession in steel and heavy engineering, and in areas, too, which have been badly affected by the miners' strike, I believe it is now extremely difficult, with all the competing demands for advertising, for the small stations to get enough. They should not be undercut. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, indicated, it is quite easy for someone who does not have to pay any copyright fee to get the news programmes simply by recording them from the BBC or from the independent news. They do not have to pay journalists, they do not pay any fees to anybody and in fact just have records all day and every day. I think it is just incredible that one—I think it is called Radio Jackie—has been allowed to operate for 15 years and now for a couple of years it has been operating for 24 hours a day and nothing at all seems to have been done about it by the Government.
Therefore, I hope we shall get a really good answer tonight. I hope the Minister will understand that many of us will want to follow up not only what he may say tonight but what his department do in the next weeks.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to discuss the pirate radio stations tonight. I should like also to declare my interest as a director of Hereward Radio. I want to see increased opportunities for the broadcasters, for the listeners and for the advertisers to 845 benefit from an expansion in the media but that must be achieved by fair competition and by fair trading conditions. It is the existing independent local radio stations that have built up highly-valued community services in their area and they get an enviable share of the listeners in their localities. But the present and future challenges to commercial radio have been detailed in the Economist Informatics Report which has just been published. That shows that there are between 40 and 80 land-based pirates in operation in the United Kingdom. About 13 of those are broadcasting regularly in the London area serving identifiable groups or communities with shared musical tastes. As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said, they are not the ones that worry us. Off shore, however, there are two American backed pirate stations, one a new version of Caroline and the other called Laser Communicator. Both are transmitting on very clear and very strong signals. I believe that a third station is probably joining them shortly.
The audio services on cable television and satellites are also being developed. The IBA issues the franchises for the independent local radio stations. As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has explained, most of the capital for local radio stations has to be raised locally and the board of directors has to be made up of local representatives. The technical requirements as to studio equipment, the copyright fee and the Exchequer levy all combine to set operating costs at a higher level than if they were market-determined. The primary rental payment is a fixed cost. The transmitters are owned by the IBA and are serviced by IBA engineers. The studio standards are rigorously enforced. If and when a station is really profitable, it pays a levy back to the Exchequer, not to be ploughed back into the industry. During 1982–83, I understand that Capital, Clyde and Piccadilly radio stations were obliged to pay a total levy of over £500,000—that is half a million pounds—to the Exchequer, but it was not to help support the smaller and less profitable stations and enable them to bring down their costs.
Our programme content is regulated. The needle time is restricted to nine hours a day or 50 per cent. of the broadcasting time, whichever is the shorter. The effect is to restrict non-stop recorded music. Yet the pirate stations have no such restrictions. They can play records for 24 hours a day, and they pay no royalties. The IBA controls the staff levels of the independent local radio stations. They have to employ more staff than the pirate stations and pay them properly negotiated salaries. Pirate radio is illegal and is quite unscrupulous in the way that it does not pay for news and music or conform to the framework of regulations that control those broadcasters who stay within the law. Over the years there has been quite a rapid development of competitive media, threatening both audiences and revenue. There has been an increase in the number of legitimate ILR stations. There has been Channel 4, breakfast television, morning TV, some cable TV, plus the illegal pirates. All of the ILR stations expect to face competition; but they expect that competition to be fair and on the same terms.
My own local radio station, Hereward Radio, was recently awarded the franchise for the Northampton station as well. To get our Peterborough station on air 846 originally, we paid £295,000 for the buildings and a further £180,000 for equipment. At Northampton last year, we took a £16,000 per annum lease on the building; we had to spend £210,000 on equipment to bring it up to the IBA standards; and we spent another £100,000 on pre-operational costs. We also have to pay for our office accommodation and equipment, our outside broadcast facilities and all our staff. The pirates ignore the technical standards and they do not carry these high start-up costs.
For every £1 of our net advertising revenue on Hereward Radio, in Peterborough, 21.6p goes to cover the IRN national news service, the IBA primary rental, the royalties, the employment of musicians and membership of the AIRC. In Northampton, it is working out at the moment at 19.8p, but that is partly because the copyright organisations are rather more generous in a start-up situation to a new station. Over and above that, we meet our operating costs and our normal company taxation. And when we reach a certain level of profitability, we shall have to pay the secondary rental. The pirates have no such costs. They steal news; they steal musicians' work; they pay no royalties; they are not subject to rentals or to levy. If an unemployed youngster walked into a shop and helped himself to a cassette or a record and was found to be shoplifting, he would face the full rigour of the law. Why do not the pirates have the same sort of treatment?
We cannot use more than 50 per cent. of our broadcasting time playing recorded music. That is a very inexpensive way of programming. But we have to establish and to maintain a local news room. We have to vary our output and include features, education and religious programmes. We have to maintain a political balance. We have to observe and uphold very high advertising standards. We have to keep our studios to high technical specifications, and they are subject to scrutiny by the IBA. None of these restrictions apply to the pirate radio stations. We at Hereward and other local radio stations, won our franchise in fair competition with other applicants. The pirates could apply for a franchise but they do not bother. They only steal the air waves.
The average annual payments in 1983 for ILR stations varied from £40,000 to £180,000 and a blanket payment of nearly £30,000 to the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society on behalf of all the ILR stations. ILR has special rate cards for advertising. In the metropolitan areas where the pirates operate, I am told that whereas Capital Radio can offer peak 30-second spots for something like £490, Jackie can offer the same time for £5.
Throughout the country, hundreds of individuals and small businesses have invested in local radio believing it to be the kind of independent enterprise that deserves encouragement and believing in public broadcasting services directly related to the interests of their own community. If the growth of the pirate radio stations, land based and off shore, is allowed to continue unchecked, it will threaten the viability of the ILR stations and will reduce the value of many of these small investments made in good faith and on the assumption that the law of the land would be upheld and that the integrity of the local franchises awarded by the IBA would be maintained. Some pirates have 847 been shut down. But for many that shut down, the shutdown is only temporary. And for Jackie shutdown never appears to be attempted. Why, my Lords?
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who is a member of the board of Mercury, has asked me to express his regrets that he is unable to be here to speak this evening. He has asked me to refer to the recent legal proceedings between Mercury and Jackie. On 30th November, in another place, the Minister admitted that Jackie was committing a criminal offence. Yet on 13th December the managing director of Mercury wrote to the Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry saying:Despite an undertaking given on 11th December by the owner of Radio Jackie that he would cease to be involved in illegal broadcasting following the application for an injunction by the Attorney-General and Radio Mercury, Radio Jackie continues to broadcast as it has done for some years. I would very much appreciate notification of the action the radio regulatory department of the Department of Trade and Industry now intend to take in response to this continuing breach of the Wireless Telegraphy Act by Radio Jackie.".The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, assures me that until now there has just been silence from the Department.
The statement of claim by Radio Mercury against Jackie's owner says:At no time has the defendant or anybody corporate, the owner or operator of Radio Jackie, been licensed under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, or otherwise permitted in law to operate and broadcast as aforesaid; and in the premises the said operation and broadcasting of programmes is illegal and in contravention to the said Act".In the response for the defence, Jackie's owners said:Save that the Department of Trade and Industry has held back from using its powers to prevent Radio Jackie from broadcasting, paragraph 9 is admitted".Why has the Department of Trade and Industry failed to act against Jackie? Why has it held back its powers? Is it for lack of regulatory staff? Is it for lack of monetary resources? If so, what are the Government proposing to do about it? But if all the land-based pirates were forced off the air, no one would be happier than Caroline or Laser which are bobbing around in the North Sea off the Essex coast.
The Marine Etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act bars British advertisers from using Laser or Carloline, and British companies providing them with goods and services are acting unlawfully. Their employees face arrest if they enter Britain, which they frequently do; but none has been brought to court so far. Why, my Lords? We accept that offshore pirates outside territorial limits are untouchable by the Marine Etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act, which is explicit in categorising the many types of succour which constitutes an offence when committed in this country.
But recently there was an appearance of a Laser Lover and Communicator roadshow at the St. Ivo Centre in Huntingdonshire—a centre owned by the local authority. The managing director of Hereward Radio consulted with the IBA and with the AIRC and they advised that this appearance was in contravention of the Marine Etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act. The event itself had been plugged on Laser Radio and the roadshow was obviously promoting the interests of this offshore pirate.
848 Our managing director of Hereward Radio wrote to the Department of Trade and Industry, to the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire, to the local Member of Parliament, to the district administrator and to the centre management, but the booking went ahead. The IBA have written to the Department of Trade and Industry using this as a further example of how little action is being taken against the offshore pirate station, but still to no avail. In our case the police sent two officers to observe, and on 18th December the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in reply to a Written Question from me on 4th December, said, at col. 634 of Hansard:the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire…has sent a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions about the possibility of bringing a prosecution under the Marine Etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act".The noble Lord promised to write again when a decision was known. Since then there has been one month of utter silence.
The IBA have made strong representation to the Government and direct approaches to the Home Secretary, as have the AIRC, but nothing ever happens. If the offshore pirates increase their reach and listeners, then independent local radio is bound to suffer in terms of reach and listeners. This means that their advertising revenue will diminish and the quality of service, especially the local service to the community, will worsen. If this is allowed to go unchecked and if others take up offshore positions we could end up with all the independent radio stations playing pop music 24 hours a day. Is that what the Government want?
When will the Department of Trade and Industry show that it means business by taking action under its new powers? When will the regulatory investigation services act decisively and show determination to restore the rule of law in broadcasting matters? When will the Marine Etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act be enforced against the offshore pirates? These are the questions to which all the ILR stations will want to know the answers, preferably tonight from the noble Lord.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, when the issue before the House is violation of the law I suppose there may be those unkind enough to ask somebody speaking from this Dispatch Box whether he is in favor of the enforcement of the law and obedience to the law. Let me assure the House that I can unhesitatingly give the assurance that I am in favour of the enforcement of the law and of obedience to the law, but I cannot help the thought occasionally that there are degrees of moral opprobrium given against some perpetrators of disobedience to the law. The moral atmosphere for striking trade unionists and local councillors seems to be a little bit different from that which applies sometimes to entrepreneurs and advertisers.
The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, is to be congratulated not only on raising this important matter, but also on the unanimity which he has achieved in other speeches from all sides of the House. It may be that only my noble friend Lord Willis and myself are not actually directors of local radio stations, but I do not suppose—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, he is; I am the only one. But I do not suppose for a moment that—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's correction. But I do not think there is a great deal of financial benefit to be gained from being a director of a local radio station. I am convinced, not only from that fact but also from the force of the arguments, that it has not been a significant factor in this debate tonight.
The case has been very clearly made in terms of the theft of the artistic productions of musicians whose work is being stolen in the plainest terms. The case has been made that it is necessary to preserve trade union rates and decent conditions of employment for those working in the radio industry. The case has certainly been made, in my view, that there is no justification whatsoever for continuing to permit local radio stations, pirate radio stations, to steal IRN news. That seems to me a completely damning indictment.
But I am bound to say, having expressed my support for the noble Lord and other speakers, that I think there is an element of stick and carrot which ought to be applied to this issue. The stick we know. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, have issued very precise challenges to the Government. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will not wish to avoid them, but I am equally sure he will have some difficulty in responding to them in the terms in which they were put to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, put forward a very interesting suggestion for dealing with the problem of an offshore radio station which claims to have obtained counsel's opinion and to be completely immune to the existing legislation. We are aware of the difficulties of amending legislation and the difficulties of extending regulation. This is always one of the most awkward kinds of legislative mopping up when you find that the terms of the legislation which are supposed to cover the issue do not in fact do so as effectively as was originally intended. But there are problems here about the stick, the nature of the stick, the nature of the legislative powers available to Government, and I shall be very interested, as I am sure my noble friends will be, to see what sort of response the Government can give to that.
At the same time I do not think we should ignore the carrot. If it is true—and I believe it to be true—that there has been a substantial expansion of illegal pirate radio in the last few years, ought it not to be in the interests of Government and of the IBA to see to it that the attraction of pirate radio is less? Ought it not to be, for example, that the IBA and the Government should proceed faster in the licensing of new radio stations in the smaller communities? I understand that the IBA has been pressing the Government for wider powers in relation to community radio, but we still have a very monolithic radio structure in this country. We do not have ethnic radio stations. We do not really have local radio stations operating, as they should do, on a shoe- 850 string or in accordance with the very high technical and engineering standards which may be appropriate for national radio stations but which I doubt are appropriate for community radio.
Apart from the fact that, as my noble friend Lord Mulley, said, it is against the law, is there anything very wrong in political broadcasting? I ask that question seriously. In France over the last few years there has been a whole series of movable pirate radio stations which have expressed political views which were unacceptable to the majority—they particularly expressed extreme Left-wing political views—but which did no perceivable harm to anyone, certainly not to the radio stations. These are enthusiasts who are doing the airwave equivalent of fly-posting. Is there anything so terrible about that?
When referring to community radio, I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, say that we had "No need to worry about them". It is important that we should distinguish between the large-scale moneymakers and the various people on the fringes of local radio who are simply existing in the vacuum which, it must be said, has been created by the bureaucracy, the slowness, of both the Home Office and the IBA in extending radio services to those who might well want them.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, can the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, help the House fully to grasp the drift of his argument? He has asked: Is there anything wrong with this except that it is breaking the law! Is the noble Lord urging that there should be a change in the law to permit what is now illegal, or is he saying that it would be better if these people continued to break the law?
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I suspect that the practical complications of legislation to permit political enthusiasts to occupy occasional airwaves on a Sunday afternoon would be too great. Therefore, I am suggesting—and here I think that I am following the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone—that we ought not to be worried too much about that sort of breaking of the law. I think it was the noble Lord's noble friend who led the way to that sort of tolerance, which the French Government found that they had to accept after a period during which they tried very seriously to crack down on these zealot radio stations. So my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is the same as that of his noble friend—let us not worry about them too much and certainly let us not worry about the fact that occasionally there are political messages involved, whether it is Radio Scargill or any other political belief.
However, the basic thrust of the argument must be that there are certain kinds of unfair competition— those kinds of unfair competition which are carried out quite unscrupulously and ruthlessly for financial gain on a very large scale—with which we must deal. If it is the case that the existing legislation referred to in the Question is not adequate for the purpose, then I think it would be the unanimous wish of those Members of your Lordships' House who have spoken tonight that the Government should say very clearly what are the defects of existing legislation and what proposals there are to put them right.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Lucas of Chilworth)
My Lords, at the outset may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, for his kindness in accommodating me with regard to the date of the tabling of his Question. As noble Lords will know, it is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who was such a distinguished chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, should have brought this Question to your Lordships tonight. It gives me the opportunity, not perhaps to answer all the questions that have been asked but certainly to put the Government's view of the situation and to outline some of the actions that we are taking to deal with it.
Let me start by saying straight away that what we have been describing this evening as radio pirates have a quite unmerited swashbuckling glamour, but the reality is that they are unlicensed broadcasters who, as a number of noble Lords have suggested, have proliferated, most particularly over the last two or three years. I should perhaps set the record straight by saying that it is not the Department of Trade and Industry that has control over broadcasting, although it does of course have a regulatory role in so far as that control is concerned.
As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, and others have made quite clear, this proliferation of unlicensed broadcasters is a proper matter of concern to legitimate broadcasters, because after having spent much time, effort and money in setting up and running their stations in accordance with the terms of their licences and their franchises, they then find themselves facing unfair competition. This unfair competition is very much as all noble Lords have described it. I do not think I could add very much to what they have said. Of course, by avoiding the necessary costs of working within the framework of the law, illegal broadcasters compete on unequal terms for listeners and advertising revenue. Moreover, it seems that they do not hesitate—and these are words used by noble Lords—to steal news broadcasts from the legitimate stations when it suits them. Nor do they pay performing rights fees to those whose records and other material they use. This evening we have heard the words "thieves" and "theft" used. I would put the position in much the same terms but perhaps a little more delicately. I believe that this is no more nor less than intellectual theft.
However, it is not only unfair competition which legitimate broadcasters have to face, because these illegal stations simply select any radio frequency that suits them without having regard to other authorised users of that frequency. They can and do frequently cause annoying interference to radio and television, and that interference involves the police and other emergency services as well as the public utilities and transport services. Interference to aircraft navigational aids has also occurred. Therefore, we are talking here not only of something illegal but of something that can be quite positively dangerous.
I think that your Lordships will appreciate that what I have said underlines that unlicensed broadcasting is disruptive and anti-social. For these reasons, over the years the Government have done what they can to combat the problem to best effect with the resources 852 which it has been thought proper to devote to this task. Currently, the service is undermanned by about eight persons only. But unlicensed broadcasting is only one of a number of problems caused to radio and television users of all kinds. Those problems also arise from the growth of the illicit use of radio, whether it be of broadcasting equipment, CB radio, mobile radio, high-powered cordless telephone or amateur radio equipment. All this illicit use causes interference and annoyance, and of course it brings calls for the Government to take urgent action, as has been the case this evening.
The task of investigating the illicit use of radio falls to the Radio Investigation Service, which was formerly known as the Radio Interference Service. The RIS was, until August of last year, part of British Telecom, but now it is part of the Department of Trade and Industry. I think noble Lords will appreciate exactly what I mean when I say that since it came under the control of my department there has been a fairly major review of the activities of the service in order to see what we can do to improve them.
The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, asked: are we doing enough? Until that investigation is completed— and it is not going to take very long—it would be difficult for me to suggest exactly the direction in which we may go. May I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, that in 1982 the investigation service (or, as it was then, the interference service) managed to track down 62 illegal transmitters, of which 39 were found unmanned, and there were 10 prosecutions. In 1984, the provisional figures suggest that over 119 transmitters have been found, of which 50 have been found unmanned, but already there have been 43 prosecutions. I do not think the Government can be accused of being completely idle about this.
Certainly, in Part VI of the Telecommunications Act 1984 new and stronger enforcement powers were included for dealing with radio offences, and since the coming into force of that part of the Act in July last year the service has carried out 60 raids on over 36 pirate radio stations, and more are planned. No pirate station, even if it has so far escaped action, can consider itself immune from the attentions of the Radio Investigation Service.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, the figures that the noble Lord has just given are of extreme interest. If I understood him aright, in 1983 the relevant service found 62 illegal transmitters and prosecuted 10, and in 1984 they found 119 illegal transmitters and prosecuted 43. Is that not precisely the ratio which would lead to a virtually untrammelled and optimistic expansion among the illegal operators?
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
No, my Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, left out one figure, and that was that over 50 were found unmanned. If the noble Lord will allow me to continue, I have something further to say about actually catching people.
Having said what I have already said, the difficulties are fairly massive. Although it is not difficult to track down a radio transmitter that operates from a fixed site—and these are fairly cheap items; I understand that a 100-watt transmitter costs only around £2,000, 853 and many of the smaller stations have low frequency transmitters which cost a good deal less—the unlicensed broadcasters frequently have their stations at different locations from their transmitters, and the two are generally connected by a radio link. There are technical reasons which make tracing such a link very difficult indeed. It takes a good deal of time and effort. Finding the studio itself may possibly require police assistance, and given other calls upon their time, particularly in recent months, it is not always possible for such assistance to be made available immediately.
Most stations are not in fact incorporated institutions, and they frequently change hands. As soon as there is any thought that the investigation service are on the track of an illegal broadcaster, the station changes hands. We find it extremely difficult to catch hold of any one person who will accept responsibility for making the transmission. Therefore, it is difficult and frequently not worthwhile taking people to court, because they can just deny authority for having operated the station. Nevertheless, the task of finding the studios is one which will be pursued—and with increasing vigour.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who said that a radio transmission station is not like a drilling rig in the North Sea, which you can see and get hold of. That is exactly the problem here: you cannot see it; you have to find it. If it moves from room to room and from house to house, you are on an almost endless paper chase. At least with a rig it has, more often than not, its feet on the ocean bed.
So long as the culprits remain undetected and unprosecuted they will continue their activities, although seizure of studio equipment, as well as transmitters, which is now allowed, makes it more difficult for the broadcasters to resume their activities speedily. So far as seizure is concerned, it is not true to say, as I think the noble Lords, Lord Aylestone and Lord Mulley, said, that the Government had power to seize equipment. That is true only in part, in that they certainly have power to seize equipment but this may be seized only as evidence with a view to court proceedings. If the equipment is not subsequently ordered to be forfeited by a court following a prosecution, then the equipment has to be returned to the owner. It is not quite as easy as just seizing the equipment so that they have to go out and buy new equipment.
What I have said so far covers the situation within the United Kingdom. Action against stations broadcasting from ships outside territorial waters is much more difficult. The relevant legislation here is the Marine, etc., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967, which, broadly speaking, makes it an offence for a British national to broadcast from a ship inside or outside our territorial waters, and makes it an offence for anyone within the United Kingdom to supply ships involved in broadcasting at sea, or to advertise on any pirate offshore broadcasting station. However, the Act gives no powers to anyone to arrest ships on the high seas. In these circumstances, we have to rely mainly on the detection and prosecution of people assisting pirate stations from within the United Kingdom.
There are no pirate radio ships generating within territorial waters. The only two that we know of are both outside. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, 854 spoke of a third offshore station. Perhaps she would tell me a little more about that later, because we have no knowledge of that one.
The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, asked me particularly why we have taken no action against advertisers advertising with unlicensed broadcasters. We have advised all the advertisers that we can that they are dealing with an illegal operation. We have written, warning them that the station with which they are dealing is illegal, and that if there were to be a successful prosecution of that station that advertiser might then be charged with an aiding and abetting offence; but until the principal offence is proved it is quite pointless to go for the advertiser on an aiding and abetting charge. There is no separate legislation on which we could go to advertisers.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, surely the advertisers on the overseas stations would be covered by the terms of the legislation for aiding the illegal broadcasting. Surely the advertisers on Laser and Caroline could be prosecuted.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, as I understand the law no prosecution for aiding and abetting has ever been successful until the principal offence has been prosecuted and a conviction obtained. When that offence is proven, then the aiding and abetting can possibly be proved; but until the principal case is charged and proved there is no possibility of aiding and abetting.
§ Lord Willis
My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that there is no legislation available to the British Government which will enable them to take the principal, not the aiders and abettors, to court and that the Act we have been discussing is not relevant and will not help us? What way is there of taking the principals behind Laser and Caroline to court?
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, no, I am not saying that there are no measures open to the Government for taking the principal offender to court. That has been done in a number of instances with land-based stations. It is an impracticability to take an offshore station outside territorial waters to court.
I want to touch briefly on something which my noble friend Lord Craigton and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, raised, both of whom spoke about the different pieces of legislation which might be extended or otherwise to make it more possible to bring the offence committed outside territorial waters within our jurisdiction. I have some doubts whether the fishery protection zone legislation, the waste disposal at sea legislation, the food and environmental protection legislation or the wireless telegraphy legislation extension would be effective. But I undertake to both noble Lords that I shall further consider that, and, while I have answered the question of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, in perhaps rather denying terms, I should not like him to think that we are not seized of the importance of this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, also asked about VAT and the Customs and Excise. I believe he asked whether pirate radio was recognised for VAT purposes. I believe that that is the case. The noble Lord 855 will recognise that the Customs and Excise have their own statutes and can work independently. I believe there are a number of so-called illegal activities, or alleged activities, which are registered for the purposes of VAT.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, catalogued a number of events—too many, I think she and perhaps your Lordships will agree, for me to answer, because she rattled them off at a fair rate. I did not get them all down. I will study that catalogue and respond to her appropriately in quite a short time. Under the present arrangements in your Lordships' House on these occasions, copies of that letter will be placed in the Library for the benefit of your Lordships.
The Association of Independent Radio Contractors, which has been most vociferous in this matter, is due to meet my honourable friend the Minister in a matter of weeks. We hope that at that meeting some of the difficulties we are also encountering in meeting their requests for us to be more energetic in pursuing this intellectual thieving may then be resolved.
In conclusion, I should like to make a further point. I think it is sometimes suggested, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackintosh of Haringey half hinted at this in his remarks, that illegal broadcasters would not exist if we had what most people call community radio—that is, a third tier of broadcasting. This is what he described as the carrot element; a radio service catering for more localised or specialised needs such as those of ethnic minorities. Frankly, I do not agree with that. Whatever broadcasting regime we have—we have a very good regime at present— there will always be people who wish to buck the system. I believe it does a great disservice to those who wish to promote community radio to suggest in any way that present unlicensed broadcasters are the pioneers of that form of broadcasting.
Community radio is indeed under consideration by the Government. I understand that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary hopes to give some indication of the initial view of the Government quite shortly. In the meantime I must make it absolutely and abundantly clear that we are not prepared as a Government to allow illegal broadcasters to flout the law. I have described to your Lordships one or two of the measures that we intend to take. I have also given an assurance that the work of the Radio Investigation Service is to be stepped up, because illegal broadcasting is invariably at the expense of others and that is not fair. If allowed to go unchecked it would soon result in anarchy on the airwaves and this we cannot allow.
§ House adjourned at three minutes before nine o'clock.