Lords Amendment No. 12: In page 29, line 28, leave out from beginning to "either" in line 30 and insert:
The Minister may grant a licence".
§ Mr. Stonehouse
I beg to move, That this. House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment.
There was discussion on the last Amendment about the shortness of my speech. Perhaps it will be appropriate if I make a slightly longer speech on this Amendment, succinctly to put the case for the monopoly. The purpose of the Bill, which the House considered at great length in Committee upstairs and on the Floor of the House, is that the Post Office Corporation should have the telecommunications monopoly at present enjoyed by the Postmaster-General. The only major change in its scope is that the new monopoly catches the British ends of the overseas systems and the old one did not.
The Government believe that it is important to have a single, publicly-owned system with a monopoly by Act of Parliament because the communications network has an essential job to do in the economy and in the country, and the communications network is a natural monopoly. The bigger it is, the more valuable it is to its users. The various facilities—the telegraph, telephone, vision and data aspects—of the system use a common plant and techniques, and many users need to use several of these. It is obviously right to have one body providing them.
This communications network requires planning for many years ahead on a secure basis; and finances permanently secure against "creaming-off" of the specially profitable bits of the system. Nothing short of an Act of Parliament can give this security. A monopoly at the gift of a Minister, which he could revoke when he feels like it, simply will not do. Furthermore, the staff must be given a real sense of security for the future.
If we were to allow the Amendment to stand, it would be possible for a future Minister gradually to erode the monopoly without any further reference 1646 to this House, and I believe that the House would regard it as wrong for such an important decision to be made by a Minister without a new Bill.
When the Amendment was discussed on Report in another place, the view of those who supported the Amendment seemed to be that the Post Office should have a statutory monopoly but not the power to grant monopoly licences. In their view, this was a function of Ministers, and they saw licensing by an impartial Minister as a protection for the consumer.
The point was not made specifically on either side in the other place that the Amendment would leave open the possibility that a Minister could use it to dismantle the monopoly, in particular by opening the provision of the communications system to private enterprise. As I have said, this is an important point, and I believe that on both sides of the House there would be support for the view that, if this important departure were to be made from a monopoly by a future Minister, the issue should be brought to the House, and should not be decided by a Minister without the House having an opportunity to discuss a fresh Bill on it.
If this unique network is to be preserved, inbuilt safeguards must be provided for it, and it is important that the telecommunications monopoly that at present resides in the Postmaster-General should reside in the public Corporation of the future, so that the Corporation will be able to do the job which this House expects it to do to maintain and develop efficiently the communications system.
The noble Lord Lord Helsby in another place gave as his reason for pressing the Amendment that involving the Minister enabled Parliament to be brought in. But licensing is only one of the many ways in which the Post Office will be fulfilling its functions, and there is no reason to involve Parliament directly in this function.
I hope the House will agree with me in disagreeing with the Amendment.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
This Amendment raises the whole matter of monopoly, not merely in the narrower sense, but over the whole wide range of telecommunications. The Minister 1647 has produced the extraordinary argument that he wants to transfer the present monopoly of telecommunications enjoyed by the Postmaster-General, a Minister of the Crown, to a new public corporation which is not subject to day to day questioning in this House. The two concepts are absolutely different.
To begin with, the monopoly which he proposes to transfer is a widely extended one. If it were simply a case, as the Postmaster-General has argued, of wanting to protect against erosion the present telecommunications network as it exists, there is an easy way to deal with that. But in this Amendment we are concerned with the whole future of telecommunications, with aspects which have not yet been thought of at all.
We are not here dealing with the old system of telephone lines and exchanges, but with the telecommunications of the future which can hardly be foreseen and at which the mind boggles. The Postmaster-General has been careful in the passage of the Bill to remove the upper limit of three million megacycles on his monopoly. He well knows that it is in the area of frequency spectrum that the new developments will come, which will make the present system of telephone communication by line and semi-mechanical exchanges totally out of date. There are systems which have not yet been thought of operating in frequencies which have not yet been developed, well above the frequency of light. The Postmaster-General well knows that it is on that aspect that the present system of communications might well be in danger in the future.
He is saying that at all costs we must preserve the monopoly of the stage coach in case somebody in the future should invent a motor car. What will happen is not that the new Corporation will develop these new areas, but that it will use its monopoly to prevent their development. To take a simple case, at present the Postmaster-General licenses the ordinary two-way mobile radio—
§ Mr. Stonehouse
How can the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) justify his remark that the Post Office would stand in the way of new development? Surely he knows that the Post Office is now in the forefront of new development. The p.c.m. system is only one example of this. The 1648 hon. Gentleman has no ground at all for that remark.
§ Captain Orr
That is not quite what I said. I have no doubt—I have said this often before—that those at present in charge of the Post Office are interested in new developments—of course they are. I have no doubt that they would willingly work on these matters in their research establishment at Dollis Hill and elsewhere; they are at present very forward-looking. But at present they have competition. Where the Post Office has not itself been willing to develop, let us say, two-way radio as applied to ambulance services and taxi services, it is being done by private enterprise. The Post Office has not been willing to move into that sphere of activity. If the Post Office, rather than a Minister of the Crown, had been in the position of granting licences, I wonder what would have happened in the end. If it had been thought at the time that the development of this kind of communication would become a menace to the capital investment in line telecommunications, what would those devoted public servants in the Post Office have thought it their public duty to do? The argument is against monopoly, whether it be State or private monopoly. Those who serve the Post Office might think it their public duty to stifle any new development which might menace its present capital investment.
There is not much hope of getting the Postmaster-General to change his mind. His dogmatism on the subject is notorious and has been displayed on many occasions. But I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be steeled in their determination, when we return to office, to remove the licensing power from the Corporation and put it into other hands. Like the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), I would prefer them to be the hands of an entirely independent body. But this Amendment seeks to put it in the hands of the Minister, and that seems reasonable, as the Minister is responsible to the House. The Minister may issue licences without reference to the House, but he is subject to Questions in the House as to whether a licence is fair as between the Corporation and a competitor.
All that we seek is a fair system. It is not fair if the new Corporation, controlling the largest amount of capital in 1649 the country and one of the largest employers of labour, is left in the position of being able to stifle all competition and hold up the extension of modern methods of communications in the future. I hope that the House will reject the Minister's proposition.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I desire to make two brief comments on the arguments advanced by the Postmaster-General. For a long period, I thought how lucky I was not to have been involved in the Committee stage, but I realise now how much interesting political dogma I have missed.
The two points are those on which the right hon. Gentleman based his argument. My first comment is that his diagnosis of the Parliamentary rights of this House is inaccurate. The second is that his logic is severely at fault.
With regard to the first, he talks about the necessity for Parliamentary control, which I understand he concedes. Obviously it is necessary for this House to be able to control excesses, whether they be of the Post Office Corporation or of the Postmaster-General. If the right hon. Gentleman attaches importance to that, let us see what the situation is. It is that, if the Amendment were rejected, a licence could be granted by the Post Office, provided that it was within the general terms issued by the Postmaster-General.
The suggestion in the Amendment of the other place is that it is the Minister himself who may grant a licence. Therefore, it is not left within the generality of terms which may have been laid down five or 10 year before. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that a specific licence granted by a Minister is more readily the subject of a Parliamentary check, control and debate than one issued by a Post Office Corporation which may coincidentally fit in with general terms previously issued, conditional or unconditional.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. It is the intention of this House, through the Post Office Bill, that the monopoly now enjoyed by the Postmaster-General should be transferred to the Corporation. My point was that a future Minister could undermine that monopoly in a way that the House does not approve. By the techniques suggested in the Amend- 1650 ment in another place, it would be possible for certain sections of the network to be creamed off as a result of unilateral ministerial decision. That is what I want to prevent. I believe that this House intends that the Post Office Corporation should continue to enjoy the existing monopoly.
§ Mr. Thorpe
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I make only two comments. First, the right hon. Gentleman has touched on the second point to which I am coming, namely, that his logic about the powers of the Postmaster-General is wrong. Before the Assistant Postmaster-General shakes his head, perhaps he will do me the honour of listening to what I have to say before deciding whether he agrees or disagrees.
The other point is that the Minister has said that a Postmaster-General may cream off the service contrary to the wishes of the House. It seems a strange argument that a Postmaster-General will, by the acceptance of the Amendment, be able to drive something through the House against the wishes of the majority. If the Minister was the issuing licensor, it would be less likely to happen than if it was done through a general authority which could have been set up five or ten years before. I cannot accept the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument. Nor could he if he looked at it realistically.
It is quite extraordinary. We are saying that the Minister becomes far more answerable because it is his responsibility in each case. He cannot merely say that there was a general authority issued, that there were certain conditions laid down, that those conditions have been satisfied, and, therefore, it is not a matter for him.
The right hon. Gentleman's first argument, that the Minister can in some strange way cream off the market without reference to the House of Commons, by the very definition of it, is of no account. The fact that he has personally to issue the licence and to justify it makes him far more accountable to the House.
Coming to the right hon. Gentleman's second argument, that the Minister's powers of monopoly must be divested and given to the Post Office Corporation, he seems to have failed to understand that he may have a monopolistic power now, he may have the power to license, but he 1651 is not an operator. The great difference is that he is not an operator. He does not have to provide the Post Office lines to transmit broadcasting from the West Country; he is not responsible for seeing whether Caradon Hill has the necessary television boost to carry a good picture. This is done by a third party. Sometimes it is the B.B.C., sometimes the I.T.A., and sometimes, indeed, it is a relay service. This is the point where the right hon. Gentleman's logic falls down.
The right hon. Gentleman is saying that he wishes one body to have the power of licensing and the power of operating. Lord Thomson once said that he had the power to print money. But the powers that are given here not only to operate, but to license as well, would, by comparison, qualify Lord Thomson for supplementary benefit. That is the power. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's logic is totally fallacious. He is saying, "I have monopolistic power at the moment, but I give it to the various broadcasting authorities, whether in public or in private service, whether a public corporation like the B.B.C. or the Post Office or the I.T.A. or the relay services." He is now trying to amalgamate those powers and give them to one organisation which will also have the power of licensing. This is wrong.
It is frightening when a Postmaster-General, opposing an Amendment which is brought forward, first gives a totally fallacious appraisal of the parliamentary situation and proves that he has failed to appreciate the powers which he exercises and proposes not only to delegate those powers but to delegate the operation of those powers as well. If that has been the logic behind his thinking, I can understand why he has failed to appreciate the advantage of the Amendment.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ The Postmaster-General spoke as though we were all agreed that the monopoly as now enjoyed by the Postmaster-General should be transferred in precisely its present form to the new corporation. This is not what we all thought in Committee upstairs. We thought that this was an opportunity to have a close look at this monopoly before passing it on, because of the new situation which has been described by the right hon. Gentleman. We thought that a much closer look was required, for the very reason that no Minister would have his eye on this monopoly.
§ As to the erosion of monopoly, we do not see any great danger there. We would far rather see the Minister in a position to adjust the monopoly as he saw fit, with Parliament overlooking him the whole time, than have the monopoly rigid in the hands of the Post Office year after year. The whole technical situation in industry will alter over the years, and still this rigid monopoly will be held by this corporation, whereas if the final appeal, or licence, is in the hands of the Minister, he can adjust it from time to time, and I am not in the slightest frightened of this threat of erosion of monopoly.
§ I think it worth pointing out that the C.B.I. has taken the trouble to write to the Minister of Technology asking him to press this point with the Postmaster-General, again pointing out what Lord Halsbury said in another place, namely, that in a technological age like this advances are made at such a speed that one simply cannot have a monopoly in so rigid a form as this.
§ I think that the case has been well put once again. It is fitting that this very last debate in this long discussion lasting since November should return to the attack on the rigidity of monopoly. I think that that is the most important evil that we have been fighting, and we have failed so far to destroy it. I now suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that we oppose the Minister in this Motion.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 178, Noes 132.1655
|Division No. 343.]||AYES||[11.18 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Armstrong, Ernest||Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)|
|Anderson, Donald||Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)||Beaney, Alan|
|Archer, Peter||Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Bence, Cyril|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Hannan, William||Molloy, William|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Harper, Joseph||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Blackburn, F.||Haseldine, Norman||Morris, John (Aberavon)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Heffer, Eric S.||Murray, Albert|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Neal, Harold|
|Booth, Albert||Hilton, W. S.||Newens, Stan|
|Boston, Terence||Hooley, Frank||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip|
|Boyden, James||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Norwood, Christopher|
|Brooks, Edwin||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Ogden, Eric|
|Broughton, Sir Alfred||Howie, W.||Oswald, Thomas|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Hoy, Rt. Hn. James||Palmer, Arthur|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Buchan, Norman||Hunter, Adam||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Cant, R. B.||Hynd, John||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Carmichael, Neil||Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Pentland, Norman|
|Coleman, Donald||Janner, Sir Barnett||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jeger, George (Goole)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Probert, Arthur|
|Cronin, John||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Rankin, John|
|Dalyell, Tam||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway)||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Judd, Frank||Rose, Paul|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Harold (Leek)||Kelley, Richard||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Dempsey, James||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dewar, Donald||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Silverman, Julius|
|Dobson, Ray||Lawson, George||Slater, Joseph|
|Doig, Peter||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Small, William|
|Dunnett, Jack||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Loughlin, Charles||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Luard, Evan||Taverne, Dick|
|Eadie, Alex||Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George|
|Edelman, Maurice||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McCann, John||Tinn, James|
|Edwards, William (Merioneth)||MacColl, James||Tuck, Raphael|
|Ellis, John||MacDermot, Niall||Urwin, T. W.|
|Ennals, David||Macdonald, A. H.||Varley, Eric G.|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||McGuire, Michael||Wallace, George|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mackie, John||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mackintosh, John P.||Wellbeloved, James|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Maclennan, Robert||Whitaker, Ben|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Ford, Ben||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Forrester, John||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Ginsburg, David||Manuel, Archie||Willis, Rt. Hn. George|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Marks, Kenneth||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Gregory, Arnold||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Winnick, David|
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Mendelson, John||Woof, Robert|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Millan, Bruce||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Mr. Ioan L. Evans and|
|Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Mr. Neil McBride.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)||Goodhart, Philip|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Goodhew, Victor|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Carlisle, Mark||Gower, Raymond|
|Astor, John||Chichester-Clark, R.||Gurden, Harold|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Clark, Henry||Hall-Davis, A. G. F.|
|Baker, Kenneth (Acton)||Cooke, Robert||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Baker, W. H. K. (Banff)||Corfield, F. V.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere|
|Balniel, Lord||Dean, Paul||Hastings, Stephen|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Hawkins, Paul|
|Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay)||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Hay, John|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Drayson, G. B.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel|
|Bessell, Peter||du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward||Heseltine, Michael|
|Biffen, John||Eden, Sir John||Hill, J. E. B.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tlc-upon-Tyne, N.)||Holland, Philip|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Emery, Peter||Hooson, Emlyn|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Eyre, Reginald||Hornby, Richard|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Farr, John||Hunt, John|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Fisher, Nigel||Hutchison, Michael Clark|
|Braine, Bernard||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Fortescue, Tim||Kimball, Marcus|
|Bryan, Paul||Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Alick(Angus, N & M)||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Kirk, Peter|
|Burden, F. A.||Glover, Sir Douglas||Kitson, Timothy|
|Lane, David||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Peel, John||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Lawler, Wallace||Percival, Ian||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Temple, John M.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Pink, R. Bonner||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|MacArthur, Ian||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Pym, Francis||Waddington, David|
|McNair-Wilson, Michael||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Marten, Neil||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Wall, Patrick|
|Maude, Angus||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Mawby, Ray||Ridsdale, Julian||Wiggin, A. W.|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Williams, Donald (Dudley)|
|Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)||Royle, Anthony||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Monro, Hector||Russell, Sir Ronald||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Montgomery, Fergus||Scott, Nicholas||Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|More, Jasper||Scott-Hopkins, James||Wright, Esmond|
|Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Sharpies, Richard||Wylie, N. R.|
|Murton, Oscar||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Neave, Airey||Silvester, Frederick|
|Nott, John||Speed, Keith||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Stainton, Keith||Mr. Anthony Grant and|
|Osborn, John (Hallam)||Stodart, Anthony||Mr. Bernard Weatherill.|
|Page, Graham (Crosby)|