§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of this Bill is to enable the Independent Broadcasting Authority to incur expenditure in equipping itself to transmit television broadcasts on the fourth channel. The Bill will enable the Authority to apply any of the current surpluses on its appropriate reserves up to a total of £10 million. It will also enable the Authority to borrow from the Government, if it should need to do so, up to a total of £18 million.
In the White Paper on broadcasting the Government indicated their agreement with the Annan committee that in order to keep the cost to a minimum and to avoid unnecessary delay the IBA should be responsible for engineering the fourth channel and for transmitting the fourth channel service. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree with this. As envisaged in the White Paper, we began immediate discussions with the IBA about the engineering work for the fourth channel. The Authority indicated that whilst it wished to proceed urgently it did not consider that it had adequate statutory powers to do so under the existing legislation. I, of course, have accepted this view and hence have introduced this Bill to make the necessary statutory provision.
I should like to make it clear at once that the purpose of this Bill—to enable the Authority to incur expenditure on engineering the fourth channel—is quite independent of the service ultimately to be transmitted over it. Whatever authority eventually provides and supervises the television service on the fourth channel, the preliminary engineering work needs to be done and to be started quickly.
The White Paper on broadcasting stated the Government's intention to establish an Open Broadcasting Authority to provide the service on the fourth channel. The establishment of that Authority will be dealt with in major 1102 broadcasting legislation which will be introduced later. This Bill does not anticipate that legislation, and, indeed, if any other arrangements should be made for the provision of the service, the engineering work which flows from this Bill will be equally appropriate.
I know that many hon. Members have a special interest in what will happen in Wales. The Government have indicated their intention to introduce the fourth channel in Wales, giving priority to a service in the Welsh language, in the autumn of 1982. To achieve this it is essential that work on engineering the service should start as soon as possible. The IBA has already indicated that it will give priority to engineering the fourth channel in Wales.
In the short term, however, we intend that there should be an increase in Welsh language programmes. The television licence fee increases that I announced last November took account of the cost of additional BBC Welsh language programmes, and the BBC has indicated its intention to provide these additional programmes by next autumn. HTV Wales, the independent television programme contractor, has also announced its intention to increase the amount of its Welsh language children's programmes. Thus, both the BBC and independent television are going to contribute to more programmes in the Welsh language in the Welsh language in the near future.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
Will the engineering of the transmitters take until 1982, or will it be completed earlier?
§ Mr. Rees
It will be finished by the autumn of 1982. It is a long job. That is why I thought that we should have the Bill. Irrespective of the Welsh problem, and whatever is decided ultimately, there is no disagreement between us that we want the fourth channel. Therefore, it is not jumping the gun on what the formal programme will be.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Some of us are anxious about this matter. Will the Minister dispel our fears? Those of us who are anxious that the ITV should not get the fourth channel will feel that by engineering the service it will establish a position from which it will be difficult to shift it. Will the Minister give us an assurance on that point?
§ Mr. Rees
I can give an assurance. What we said in the White Paper, following the Annan report, which was eminently sensible, was that the IBA had the know-how to do the engineering. It makes good sense for it to do the work. It would not have been wise for the OBA to do that.
It was our idea, when the Bill came forward, that the IBA should also do the transmission work. I am sure that that is right. I am not pre-empting the decision. The fact that the IBA is doing this agrees with our original intention in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
Is the Secretary of State in a position to say how many extra hours will be given to Welsh programmes on BBC and ITV in the next three years?
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I apologise for interrupting, but these points are important. The Minister mentioned that further important legislation would be introduced. Will he say when that important legislation, establishing the OBA, is likely to be introduced? What will be the effect if, by any chance, it is not introduced?
§ Mr. Rees
The straight answer to that is that this is a long Bill. We know the political situation in the House. There is no point in my disguising that. Very shortly, in any event, I must do something about the charter of the BBC. That is a separate issue. We may discuss wider issues on that occasion. The Government's view is clear. Just as I said quite properly to the Opposition that I am not trying to pre-empt the situation, in no way am I weakening the resolve of the Government on the matter of the OBA, which I believe is the right way forward. However, the timing of the Bill these days is not just a matter of having a Bill ready. There are other considerations to take into account.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
Does the Home Secretary agree that there are many remote parts of Scotland where people can receive 1104 only one channel? I refer to communities of 500 people. Surely, amid all this engineering work, priority should be given to engineering decent services for those people as well.
§ Mr. Rees
I am sympathetic to that aspect both in Scotland and other places. This will be engineering for the fourth channel. I see the point that if money is to be spent on this, the BBC and the IBA should consider the existing channels. I shall ask my hon. Friend to make inquiries on that point. I do not think that the two matters are linked. However, I take the point. I shall see what information we can give at the end of the debate.
May I say one word more on the subject of the Welsh language? It is clear—I speak as an expatriate Welshman—that just as there are people who want he Welsh language channel—I agree with that, for the culture of Wales—there are equally large numbers of people in South Wales and in South-East Wales in particular who do not want Welsh language channels. Indeed, this proposal will help in that respect.
I remind the House that in the longer term our proposals envisage a Welsh Language Television Council, which will consist of representatives of BBC Wales, the Welsh independent television contractor, the IBA and the OBA. Since, under our proposals, the OBA will be responsible for the fourth channel as a whole, we propose that one member of that Authority should be appointed to be chairman of the council. If the fourth channel as a whole is brought into operation in any other way—which is the Opposition's proposal—it would be necessary to reconsider how to arrange the Welsh programming, but as much as I should not want it that way I have no doubt that the necessary arrangements could be made. I stress once again that nothing in this Bill—which is directed to the engineering and financing of the fourth channel—will in any way prejudice the eventual constitutional matters which the House will determine when we bring foward our major broadcasting bill.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
As the money for the setting up of the transmitting facilities will come from the IBA, can the Minister give any 1105 assurance that it will get the money back?
§ Mr. Rees
I am coming to that section. It is a fair enough question. Indeed, the next heading deals with the cost of engineering the fourth channel. The question was well timed. We estimate that the total cost of engineering the fourth channel throughout the United Kingdom to cover just over 99 per cent. of the population will be about £28 million. The Bill accordingly provides for the full cost to be met. The importance of the Bill, however, lies in enabling the IBA to make a start, as I have said, and to incur a relatively modest part of this expenditure in the near future.
The reserve funds presently available to the IBA are sufficient to meet this initial cost and, indeed, a good deal more. The borrowing powers provided in the Bill would be necessary only at a later stage. In any event, the Authority has indicated that it will not need to use the borrowing powers in the financial year 1979–80.
The Bill empowers the IBA to engineer the fourth channel. Before the Authority commits its resources to that project, it obviously wants to be clear about the financial arrangements. I have already referred to the Bill's flexibility with regard to the service to be transmitted. I have said that nothing in the Bill will prejudice an eventual decision about the OBA or the IBA to run the fourth channel. If, as the Government firmly intend, the OBA is set up, the IBA must be able to charge the OBA for the money that it has expended and for interest and depreciation. This could be done by way of an annual rental or by way of capital repayments.
It would be inappropriate at this stage to attempt to determine the method of repayment in detail. The exact terms would be a matter for discussion between the IBA, the Government and the OBA at the relevant time. This is a financial consideration that the Government will take into account when the structure of the new broadcasting authority is being determined, and the Government will wish to honour their obligation to the IBA on fair terms.
If, at the end of the day, Parliament did not authorise the use by any organisation 1106 of the facilities being provided, the House would need to reconsider what means should then be adopted for the repayment to the IBA of the money that it has expended under the Bill. The Authority has, quite rightly, made clear that it could not properly proceed to incur expenditure under the Bill without an explicit assurance that in these unlikely—I hope—circumstances, the Government would come to Parliament to seek to ensure the means of repayment to the Authority of the money that it has expended. I am glad to give this assurance. The Opposition might like to do exactly the same.
In short, although it has not been necessary to include in the Bill specific provisions about the later reimbursement to the IBA of the money that it expends under the Bill, the matter has been discussed with it. The Government fully recognise that the Authority must be satisfied about its ability to secure repayment before proceeding with the development of the fourth channel. I expect that the assurances that I have given, together with discussions that we shall be having with it about details, will so satisfy the Authority. I also make clear that what I have said about expenditure by the Authority from its own resources would apply to any expenditure from any loans that it might receive from the Exchequer under the Bill.
I turn now to the detailed contents of the Bill. Clause 1 is concerned mainly with enabling the IBA to incur expenditure in providing the necessary transmitting equipment, but it also provides for the construction of certain necessary associated premises. The clause ensures that the continuing programme of expenditure upon which the Authority will embark under the Bill will not be inhibited by the fact that, under present legislation, the functions of the Authority cease on 31 December 1981. Subsequent legislation will deal with the extension of the Authority's function in due course. Although the Government do not intend that the Authority will provide—as distinct from transmit—the service, the clause does not specifically exclude this possibility. I think that that is right, bearing in mind that the basic Bill has not gone through the House.
§ Mr, Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Will my right hon. Friend say why clause 1107 I takes that view and the first paragraph of the explanatory and financial memorandum specifically precludes the IBA from providing a service?
§ Mr. Rees
At the moment, no decision has been taken on that. That is the basic point, and that is for further legislation. In no way am I trying in the Bill to pre-empt the position that the House has not yet decided whether it should be the OBA or the IBA. I think that answers my hon. Friend's question.
§ Mr. Rees
In no way am I havering on this. The Government's view is that the OBA shall do the programming and the IBA the transmission. That is what was in the White Paper originally. There is no havering on it. I hope that my hon. Friend will not impute anything in that respect, because that is fundamentally wrong, and there is no need for him to put it in that way.
§ Mr. Rees
My hon. Friend seems to think that he has a pre-emptive right to speak on every occasion. There are occations on which other people wish to speak.
Clause 2 deals with the method of financing the proposed expenditure by the IBA on the fourth channel in two ways. It enables the Authority to apply any of its current surpluses on its television account reserves, up to a total limit of £10 million. It also enables the Authority to borrow up to a total limit of £18 million from the Government for the same purpose. These figures meet the anticipated total expenditure of £28 million. The extent of the Authority's commitment from its own resources has been set at a level that will still leave an adequate balance in its reserves to cover its existing television service.
The clause also deals with the arrangements for the repayment to the Government by the IBA of borrowed money and the payment of interest. These arrangements are in accordance with normal procedures.
Clause 3, as with other broadcasting legislation, applies the Bill to Northern Ireland and enables it to be applied to 1108 the Isle of Man and to any of the Channel Islands. It is intended that the fourth channel will ultimately have similar coverage to the existing BBC and ITV services.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Nottingham, South)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify a point concerning the £18 million? Is that figure at 1978–79 prices, or is it at the prices ruling at the time when the Annan committee reported?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Will the Secretary of State say how long the delay will be before the fourth channel is available in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
It would be exactly the same as in any other part of the United Kingdom. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there would be no difference in that respect. He may be aware of other problems but I am not aware of any. There is no intention to differentiate in this respect.
I commend this modest Bill to the House. The only reason why I have brought it forward is that when I published the White Paper we had thought that the IBA could do the engineering without any further legislation. On subsequent legal advice, which I accept, the view of the IBA is that it could not do it without a Bill of this nature. That is the only reason for the Bill coming forward at this moment.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)
This Bill is the first harbinger of spring. It is a snowdrop of a Bill. It is, after all, five years since Lord Annan was resurrected by the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). Annan reported in 1977 and we had a debate in this House in the summer of 1977. Since then we have been obliged to wait and wait for the White Paper, which was finally published in the summer of 1978 and is still to be debated by this House. Since then we have been waiting for a 64-clause broadcasting Bill, but of that there is neither sight nor sound, nor will there be this side of a general election.
The future of broadcasting has been frozen by the Government. We know now that, were the Labour Party to be returned to power at an election later this year, 1109 we would be offered the Open Broadcasting Authority for the fourth channel. But were the Conservative Party to be returned the fourth channel would be awarded to the IBA along the lines of its submission relating to ITV2. This mini-Bill allows the IBA to start work on the engineering necessary for a fourth channel, although, as the Home Secretary said, we shall have to wait upon the result of the next election before we know of what kind that fourth channel is to be.
Were the Bill to be passed, it would enable the IBA to equip itself with the installations and services needed to provide a fourth channel, and to spend money on such equipment or to borrow money for the purpose. As we have seen, it may spend up to £10 million from its reserves, and it may borrow up to £18 million from the funds of the public for that purpose. The Bill estimates that the IBA would need a maximum increase of 60 in staff.
The Opposition have no quarrel with these provisions. They will enable whomsoever is elected this year to get the fourth channel quickly on the air—and not before time. We Conservatives want a fourth channel and we believe it should carry minority programmes—not minority programmes of the educational, improving or experimental sort favoured, for example, by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), the father of the OBA. We have no wish to see an Islamic republic declared on the fourth channel. We want the programmes to appeal to a wide range of people, regarding the channel as one of a series of equal choices. We favour ITV2 because the relationship between the two ITV channels would be similar to the relationship between BBC1 and BBC2. We believe that ITV can finance and launch the new channel more economically than can any other new proprietor.
§ Mr. Michael Morris
My hon. Friend said that the relationship would be the same. Does he mean that the two channels would be in the same ownership?
§ Mr. Critchley
Yes, indeed they would, because the existing companies would be able to extend their services from ITV1 into ITV2 and, therefore, we would have equality of broadcasting between the two major broadcasting institutions.
§ Mr. Michael Morris
Is my hon. Friend saying that there are no other companies that could put togther a viable service of independent television? Is he aware that there are many people who believe that they could put forward programmes, not identical to those of the present ITV but extremely viable? At the very least, as the party that believes in competition, the Conservative Party should keep an open mind on this before going into the general election.
§ Mr. Critchley
We certainly believe in competition, but we do not worship it. The question whether any new company might be introduced is for the IBA to decide and not for the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Critchley
In making up our minds, we Conservatives have taken into account two fundamental matters. We do not want a third broadcasting authority, although the OBA would be an authority in name only because it would be dependent upon the moneys that it would have to get from the Government. Secondly, we do not favour any solution that would be a burden upon the Revenue.
It is worth examining briefly how the OBA might be financed because, without any doubt, this is the weakest part of the OBA suggestion. Whereas ITV2, at 1978 figures, would cost between £40 million and £50 million, the OBA would cost between £60 and £70 million, and we should ask how this money will be raised. First, it will be raised out of the Revenue. Socialism, or so Mr. Aneurin Bevan used to say, is the language of priorities. Is the hon. Member for Derby, North really prepared to go to the PLP to argue that his pet scheme is more worthy of Exchequer funds than is any other? Respected as he no doubt is on the Labour Benches, I feel that he would get a short answer were he to try to do so. But then it could be that, not being a Socialist, I am not a good judge of how the PLP would react. But the Revenue would pay its whack.
§ Mr. Whitehead
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) knows enough about the history of this recommendation to know that the idea of the OBA was not just my idea or that of the chairman 1111 but also of the former vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and the former head of the Conservative research department.
§ Mr. Critchley
I have a great admiration for Mrs. Sara Morrison, as I have for all the Morrisons in the Conservative Party. But the hon. Member for Derby, North is certainly father of the OBA, and Mr. Anthony Smith is conceivably the other father of that arrangement. We are not here to debate the antecedents of the OBA, but the hon. Gentleman has played a large part in foisting that unfortunate idea on an unwilling Home Secretary and a reluctant Civil Service.
The Revenue, clearly, would pay its whack. Over and above the contribution of the Revenue we are now told that moneys would be raised by sponsorship, block advertising and spot advertising. I do not know what the Fabian Society makes of that. Sponsors will not sponsor unless the audiences are large enough. Block advertising went out years ago with those awful magazine television programmes, while spot advertising, were that to be successful, would start the battle of the rating between OBA, BBC and ITV. Would that raise the standard that we would like to see?
The OBA is an abortion. It has been foisted upon an unwilling Home Secretary. There is already a conflict between the royalists of the Independent Society of British Advertisers, that is, the advertisers, who would strive to turn the OBA into a fully competitive fourth channel, and the roundheads of the Fabian Society to whom the smaller and more unrepresentative the audience the better. One or the other of these strange bedfellows is bound to be disappointed.
ITV2 would cost the Revenue nothing. Indeed, the Revenue would gain. ITV2 would give scope for the regional and smaller ITV companies. On its programme planning board to be overseen by the IBA would sit representatives of the independent producers and educational interests. The major companies, which at the moment contribute more than half of the programmes of ITV1, would make a contribution smaller than that to the second channel. The regional companies should make a contribution at least half as much again to the second channel as they do to the first. Eventually, say 15 per cent. of ITV2 would 1112 be devoted to educational programmes, and there would be room for the independents. ITV2 is much the best of the three choices.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am enjoying the speech of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), but I am puzzled about its relevance to the Bill.
§ Mr. Critchley
ITV2 is much the best of the three choices. It is the cheapest. It would be able to cater for minority programmes and would avoid the twin horrors of the ISBA solution, which would Americanise our television, and the OBA, which would institutionalise—
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think the House heard your reply.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Willingly I will give a reply. By tradition, Second Reading debates are allowed to go fairly wide.
§ Mr. Critchley
It would avoid the twin horrors of the ISBA solution, which would Americanise our television, and the OBA, which would institutionalise ennui by showing programmes few would watch and all of us would be obliged to pay for.
The Home Secretary has had much on his mind recently, but he should pay more attention to the problems of broadcasting. This little Bill is welcome, but one swallow does not make a summer. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that a White Paper published last summer has yet to be debated in Parliament, the 64-clause broadcasting Bill has got lost somewhere in the Home Office, and no indication has yet been given as to when the Home Secretary will apply for a supplementary Royal charter for the BBC, an institution that for electoral advantage he is driving still further into debt. Will the Home Secretary start watching Mr. Harry Worth and stop acting like him?
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)
We have all listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley). It was difficult to understand its strict relevance to the Bill. No doubt he felt that he was contributing 1113 to the deliberations of the House in a useful way. I would be the last seriously to criticise him, particularly as we have a wide debate on these occasions.
I propose to confine myself strictly to the purpose of the Bill, which is to empower the Independent Broadcasting Authority to equip itself for transmitting a television broadcasting service additional to the present services. I stand here on the side of the angels, and on the side of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. What prompts me to do this is that in the East Midlands—and my constituency is in the East Midlands—there is considerable dissatisfaction with the service provided by ATV. I am sure that the East Midlands area is not unique in this respect and that there are many areas in the United Kingdom—more localised areas—which are dissatisfied with the productions of regional television organisations.
We should analyse this dissatisfaction. Mostly it is expressed by councillors, local authorities, leaders of public opinion and even right hon. and hon. Members. If one analyses the objections, they seem largely based on the fact that there is not sufficiently localised coverage of news and current affairs. This certainly is so in the East Midlands and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) agrees with me on this. We want to ensure that this kind of grievance is put right.
However, there are other considerations and there has been considerable debate in the Midlands generally and in the East Midlands particularly. These debates culminated in a public meeting in my constituency last Friday. Three possibilities were put to the meeting: first, to leave things entirely alone; secondly, to split up the East Midlands; and, thirdly, drastically to reform ATV's coverage. I suggest that these three alternatives probably apply to other independent broadcasting corporations, and the House should consider this.
The first consideration is that there is much more to television than news, news coverage and current affairs. There are entertainment, drama, sports coverage, religion and education.
§ Mr. Cronin
I am glad that the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has drawn my attention to the importance of sticking strictly to the Bill, because the importance of changing transmitting facilities so as to cover these points is the whole purpose of my speech.
It seems to me important that the regional organisations should produce much better programmes of a more localised nature, and that involves changing the transmitting facilities. It also involves the question of boundaries.
At the meeting in my constituency the general feeling was in favour of the third possibility—that of improving the performance of ATV. I am sure that if one takes the question nationally this would probably be the answer rather than splitting up the television regions. I should have thought that there was some danger in any independent television region giving way too easily to localised political pressures. That could produce fragmentation of the whole of independent television, which I am sure would have a deleterious effect on the quality of performance. Independent television is competing with the BBC, and if it was further fragmented its competition would be greatly impaired.
One thing which is absolutely certain is that in terms of resources—not merely financial, but human—it is important that television should be broadly based. I suggest, therefore, that there is no real need for splitting up the large regions of independent television but that there is a case for greatly improving their performance in order to satisfy more localised areas. The way to do this is clearly by building up more substations—in other words, improving transmitting facilities.
ATV has already started a news and information centre in Nottingham, but this has been only partially operative on account of trade union difficulties. Many right hon. and hon. Members are probably familiar with the feeling that is created by trade union difficulties at present. I should have thought that there was a very good case for demand being met by substations which can give localised coverage of news and current affairs in the various parts of the region.
A new innovation which probably makes this even more desirable is electronic news gathering—ENG. This again 1115 would be a tremendous help in improving transmissions, although at present ENG is also beset by trade union difficulties.
I suggest that it is important that ATV in the Midlands—it represents quite a large part of transmission in Great Britain, because it stretches from Oxford to Nottingham—should introduce a system of changed relay transmitters, particularly in the East Midlands, with direct links to substations and with ENG units giving the news and current affairs.
I shall truncate my speech, because I am sure that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. It is most important that there should be no fragmentation of the large regions. They need resources, both financial and human, on a massive scale. Any improvements that can be made in terms of satisfying the aspirations of small areas—and I regard my own constituency as a small area—could most easily be achieved by substations giving localised news. At the same time, I suggest that to have a really effective news and television service, in terms of the splendid television coverage that can be obtained, the answer is to have large regions and to ensure that those large regions, while looking after the aspirations of local areas, have the financial and human resources to maintain television of the highest standard.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
The Home Secretary said that this was a modest Bill, and I do not think that any one will dissent from that. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) called it a snowdrop of a Bill, which is perhaps a more picturesque description of it. However, it is quite clear that its immediate object is of a fairly technical nature, because it is designed to clear the way for preliminary work on the transmitters that will be needed for the fourth channel.
I remind the House that the initial antagonism to the whole concept of the fourth channel—whether it was engendered on a too parental basis by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) or whether it was the strong heart of the Conservative Party line for ITV2—and certainly the main objection of many people, including some of my constituents, was "Let us get the existing 1116 three channels right before we spend money and time on having a fourth."
In many ways I think that people will not welcome the expenditure of £28 million to do preparatory work for a fourth channel which may be allocated to one or other authority. It seems to me that the normal practice in Westminster, as elsewhere, is to take a decision and then approve the means of carrying it out. What the Bill seeks to do is the reverse. The Bill is carrying out exploratory engineering work prior to taking any decision.
I listened with great care to what the Home Secretary said, and I know that he has given outline consent to this work, but, irrespective of what is done with the £28 million over the next three years, it is essential that all the options remain open. For example, if there is to be an OBA, we do not yet know whether it will be centralised or decentralised.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I want to make it clear that this is not exploratory engineering work. It is the engineering work for a fourth channel, whoever should provide the channel.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
I speak as someone who was on the Select Committee and who has come to listen to the debate. Surely someone must undertake this engineering work. Everyone is agreed that there will be another channel whether it is under the auspices of the OBA, IBA or BBC. The engineering work must be done. Anyone who knows something of this matter cannot but agree that those organisations have the technical expertise to undertake this work. It has been done before, and I believe it is a fair point that must be taken into consideration.
§ Mr. Freud
I totally accept the intervention of the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). Every television set has four channel buttons, so for heaven's sake let us one day be able to press them and get something out of them. But, if it is to take three or four years to have transmitters that are roughly ready for the fourth channel, can we not also look at some of the misery that is caused by poor transmission in many of the regions? Is that really so far removed from the work that has been done for what will be the fourth channel? In 1117 my own constituency, Radios 2 and 3, which appear to have been allocated to Albania, are exceedingly unsatisfactory. We have thought of moving to Tirana, where presumably we shall get what we used to get for Radio 3 with very much more volume and clarity.
I ask the Home Secretary about this massive sum of money. I say "massive" because a few weeks ago, when I introduced the Official Information Bill and estimated that it would cost £4¼ million, the right hon. Gentleman said "Not from my budget will this money come", as if £4¼ million was a great fortune. But today he is giving away £28 million.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I should like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that Radio Albania, as heard through BBC Radio 2 and 3, is not confined to his part of England. It can also be heard, albeit very roughly, in Sussex.
§ Mr. Freud
I am glad that we have so much in common. I shall detain the House no longer, except to say that although I am pleased to have had the Home Secretary's assurance, this seems to be a cart-before-the-horse situation. I think that the beast would like to know roughly in what direction he will be pushed.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
I am glad to find that, as always, the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) was able to give the House one piece of information. I am delighted to hear that the awful noise that we hear coming from BBC Radio 1 is in the Albanian language. That has cleared up a mystery, and obviously there is now some empirical research to back up the hon. Gentleman's argument. I have never been able to understand Radio 1 since its inception.
On a more serious note, I have never been able to understand the unconscionable delay that there has been in implementing the proposals of the committee on the future of broadcasting. It is two years to the week since the Annan committee reported. We are today implementing one of the 174 recommendations—if my memory serves me correctly, it is recommendation 100. There are 173 to go. At the pace of one recommendation every two years, there will be quite a 1118 long time to go before we bring about even a modest change in the broadcasting system.
I welcome the Bill as far as it goes. In saying that, I must enter the caveat that I do not think it goes far enough. It goes along the appropriate road on its own. No one suggests that any other organisation than the IBA, which has the transmitters and the skills, is prepared to do it and has already introduced a good deal of the preliminary engineering works, should be responsible for this task. But I would take a better earnest of the Government's intentions in this matter if we were to have some clearer indication than my right hon. Friend has yet given about the timing of the introduction of the big Bill—the OBA Bill—to which in a sense this Bill is an appendix. The appendix before the body, like the cart before the horse, is an unwieldy way of carrying through legislation.
In fact, we ought now to hear where the main Bill will come from. The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) referred to it as a 64-clause Bill. He may be more privileged than I am in knowing what is in it. During this debate I hope to hear that the Bill exists, because its state of readiness or gestation—whoever fathered and mothered it—really conditions the kind and warmth of welcome that we should give to this subsidiary Bill concerned with the engineering works.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)
The hon. Gentleman must realise that in this Parliament there is not much opportunity of getting a 64-clause Bill through. In any case, the decision that he is asking to be made had best wait until we know which Government will make it.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Obviously, the longer time goes on, the more force there will be in that argument. That stands to reason. This Parliament can run only until the end of the summer. That is one reason why I personally regret that this Bill was not introduced in the previous year.
However, there is still time for a great deal to happen in the course of this Parliament. For example, there is time to discuss, and perhaps vote on, the recommendations of the Procedure Committee with regard to our own affairs. There is certainly time for us to consider, give a Second Reading to, and hear the 1119 arguments for and the voice of Parliament concerning the committee of inquiry recommendations, as well as the Government's proposals in the White Paper, on the important matter of the fourth channel. I want to see that sooner rather than later.
Since the hon. Member for Aldershot was judged to be within the rules of order, perhaps I shall be permitted to make a brief reply to some of his elegant witticisms. I have heard them before, but I do not intend to make the same reply to them that I have made on previous occasions. At any rate, one can vary the riposte.
When the hon. Gentleman says, as he did today, that this is a kind of kooky scheme, which by some weird accident happens to have carried the committee of inquiry unanimously, has cleared the Cabinet, has come before us in the White Paper and will lead to a sort of Islamic republic of broadcasting, there speaks the unreconstructed, immovable Pahlevi on the Opposition Front Bench. If only the hon. Gentleman would look behind him, as Mohammed Reza Shah should perhaps have done as well, he will see how many of his hon. Friends are reluctant to follow this long march into the last ditch which he seems to be inflicting on his party.
A number of members of the committee were distinguished Conservatives. There were a former Member of this House, Sir Marcus Worsley, a distinguished industrialist, Mr. Parkes, a former vice-chairman of the party, Mrs. Morrison, and a former Conservative candidate and director of the Conservative research centre, Mr. Goldman. They all signed these recommendations. Need I go on? Were all those people bamboozled by the Islamic republicans? I very much doubt it.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
In that case, how many apart from himself—the honourable Ayatollah—were experienced in the television industry?
§ Mr. Whitehead
Quite a number were in one way or another. That is something that distinguished this committee from its predecessor.
§ Mr. Whitehead
No, there were more than that. Sir Marcus Worsley himself had been a distinguished BBC Radio producer, although that was rather before my time in the days when the BBC enjoyed a monopoly. I shall come on to the virtues and disadvantages of monopoly in a moment.
The position of my hon. Friend is well known and understood. We know that if these proposals had been discussed in the House, the Opposition could have counted on one extra vote—that of my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend is, or was, associated with ITV. He sees a lot of opportunities in ITV and would like to give all of this to ITV. Borrowing the words of Geoffrey Chaucer, I would say to himLet Austin have his swink to him reserved ".He can go on swinking away for ITV as long as he wishes, but every other member of the Labour Party would like to see a new departure. The reason why we have misgivings about this Bill is that we see the road left open for a departure in the old direction rather than in the new one.
In further and final reply to the hon. Member for Aldershot on the remarks that he chose to make about this Bill, I would just say that a number of other people have come out in support of the OBA, for reasons that I think further strengthen my argument that the OBA Bill—if we may call it that—should have accompanied this Bill today.
During a speech that the hon. Member last made at the recent conference—a speech that we have heard yet again to-day—the first person who challenged him from the floor was a life-long member of the Conservative Party, Miss Revel Guest, who runs an independent film company. She argued—as do most of the independent film people—that the OBA was the right choice to make.
Like myself, I do not think that the hon. Member was able to stay until the end; we both had to leave. Had we stayed, we would have heard the advertisers come out in favour, together with the sponsors, saying that perhaps in the first year of operation of the OBA it would be possible to put about £8.5 million into the system by sponsorship 1121 alone. I shall not go on; if I were to do so, I think it would be beyond the rules of order. I merely say that we have sufficient evidence of support for practical and profitable reasons, and for reasons of principle, I believe, within the country and in what are broadly speaking called Conservative circles, for the notion of the OBA, for it not to be a purely political argument between Left and Right, as the hon. Member seeks to make it. It is quite different.
When I think that we are entrusting one half of the duopoly with the engineering works of what ought to be a new service, it does slightly concern me that we have not further limited the degree to which it might be responsible for the provision of that service, other than what is said in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. In other words, we are making too many nervous gestures towards the Opposition's present declared intention of bringing in an ITV2.
A great many people have said—as the hon. Member has said and, no doubt, my hon. Friend, the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will say if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that the fourth channel button is there to be used, that it has to be the cheapest and most practical choice, and that really that should mean ITV. This Bill will be seen by them as a means of giving the IBA the opportunity of doing the groundwork for what they always intended to be ITV2. Such people depress me rather when they use the kind of examples that we heard at the conference which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aldershot and I attended the other day. When speaking for the association of the companies—ITCA—Mr. Brown, from Scottish Television, said that it would be much more economic to do it in this way. He said that a fourth channel would be operated more economically by ITV thanby a new body artificially created to fulfil a broadcasting role of which it has not had previous experience.What was the then ITA, when it first came in, but a broadcasting body that had no previous experience in the field?
One of the great tragedies of broadcasting in this country is how little those who control the real estate of broadcasting 1122 are prepared to allow other people into the act. That is the problem. That is why we do not get genuine broadcasting pluralism in this country. That is what I think is wrong. Recently, I had to look at the fourth volume of the "History of Broadcasting in Britain" by Lord Briggs. In it he outlines all the plans that the BBC put forward to try to stop the monopoly being broken by ITV in the early 'fifties. There was only one thing wrong with all those plans: there were six of them, and every one entailed the BBC's retaining the monopoly in some way or another—at one remove, perhaps, but keeping the monopoly.
Those arguments were shot down with contempt, quite rightly, by the Government of the day. It was right to break the monopoly, and I think it is right to break the duopoly now. If we are therefore going on to a system in which there will really be three broadcasting organisations, as I believe we are, we should also say to the IBA that it is not merely being asked to do this engineering work for a fourth channel with which it will have nothing thereafter to do, but it is being asked to do it as part of the contribution that, quite properly, independent television should make to the coming of the new service.
Simultaneously we should say to the IBA—and here I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin)—that there are many opportunities for creative innovation, an increase of competition and a better grass roots service within the ITV franchises themselves.
As we are discussing engineering works here in this Bill, I presume it is in order to say, referring back again to the parent Act of 1973, that we shall have to discuss—it may be relevant to discuss it in Committee—the degree to which re-engineering will be necessary if the IBA, in proper time, is to introduce, as I think it should, changes in the franchise areas before the next round of contracts. I am very strongly in favour of having a separation of the present ATV area in the Midlands, where I live, to give the East Midlands area a genuine regional service of its own in addition to the service put out by ATV for the West Midlands and for a vast area around the West Midlands.
§ Mr. John Ellis
The case that my hon. Friend makes out is a very compelling one. It would be a tragedy, would he not agree, if we just stuck another broadcasting facility on the existing transmitters that would produce more of the same thing? Would that not be the danger, whether it was the BBC, the IBA or anything that is more of the same thing?
On the engineering side, it is necessary, does he not agree, that they have some regard to that when they do this work so that there is maximum opportunity to change districts and areas, to make them bigger or smaller, in any way that is required?
§ Mr. Whitehead
I absolutely agree. It has been said that the local regions in broadcasting terms were invented by engineers in this country. To some degree, engineers still dictate what is practicable.
If we are talking about the East Midlands—and we have an almost exclusively East Midlands contingent in the House at this moment—I think that we can say that the major re-engineering would have to be done to the Nottinghamshire transmitter. That in itself would probably not be enough for the kind of East Midlands region of which I am thinking.
My hon. Friend is perfectly right to say that one wants to keep transmitter engineering as flexible and versatile as possible, in order to allow a number of options. These options are not simply a question of the OBA if the Labour Party stay in or of ITV2 if the Conservatives get in; they are options about local service and variations within the region, on which surely we can all agree. We can say to the IBA in this matter "For heaven's sake be courageous, give us variety, and you will have a lead from Parliament in these matters, a clear indication of what people in the regions concerned would like."
There is a clear indication, too, from the last time round. I see that the hon. Gentleman who is a director of Granada Television is here; the division of the Granada area into Granada and Yorkshire certainly did not damage Granada, I think, and it gave more competition and variety within the network system of ITV. We should like to see that done again—not of course down to 1124 the level of the absolute minimum, but in those regions where a proper local service could be given.
I would like to end on this note. It is 10 years now since I and many other people have been working for changes in broadcasting that would lead to a greater pluralisation. My children, my friends and everyone else ask me what I have been doing in those 10 years. We had a 10-year reunion the other day of an organisation called the 76 Group, which was set up to campaign for an inquiry into broadcasting, to report in 1976. We got the inquiry, and it reported only one year late. Ten years later all of those people met, a little sadder, perhaps a little wiser, and asked themselves the question: "What do you think has happened? What have you done in that time?" We did not ask for any revolutionary changes. We said that we would go through the "consensus" way; we would call for committees of inquiry; we would argue and persuade the committee of inquiry and obtain our unanimous verdict from it and bring the matter before Parliament; we would have it debated in the public arena and then it would be passed into legislation.
As I said to my right hon. Friend today, it would be an absolute tragedy if this Parliament were to come to an end without the Bill being brought forward. We know the disadvantages that he has in the Home Office; we know that some of the people there do not like it; there are all kinds of reasons—it is perfectly true; my hon. Friend need not shake his head—and we know what are those disadvantages. We do not need anybody to argue for the disadvantages. The disadvantages argue for themselves.
Whatever happens at the end of the debate and during the present Parliament, one of the ways in which the Home Office will be judged during my right hon. Friend's tenure is the degree of willingness that it has shown to embrace the modest changes—organic reform rather than revolutionary change—brought forward by the committee of inquiry and endorsed in the White Paper. When the Government spokesman replies, I want to hear it stated that the Bill will pass through Committee concurrently with an announcement of the date when 1125 the OBA Bill is to be brought before the House. That is the least that the Government can do.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Beeston)
I am happy to take up some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) as I agree with so much of what he has suggested for East Midlands television. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin). I respectfully suggest that the hon. Gentleman made the correct analysis but drew the wrong conclusion. I fail to see what help it would be for a major television company to establish additional studios similar to the unused one at Nottingham to further the interests of the region.
We all welcome new technology. However, that will be brought about only through the operation of a new company that is established on the basis of setting new standards of genuine technological competition.
I welcome the proposals in the Bill as far as they go. Apart from establishing the fourth channel, the engineering money could be wisely used at the same time to take into account the East Midlands. I am sure that the Home Secretary will hear many more voices this afternoon to that effect. The 33 East Midlands Members on both sides of the House are overwhelmingly in favour of establishing a new franchise that reflects the needs of the area. That concept is supported by all the district councils in the region and the county councils. I am sure that in the forthcoming exercise to be undertaken by the IBA of public participation in the new franchises there will be discovered overwhelming grass roots support.
Both the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) have listened carefully to representations made by hon. Members. The essential criteria that need to be established have so far been met. Social cohesion is the first criterion. East Midlands and West Midlands Members know very well that the East Midlands stands on its own as a region. The second criterion is the financial consideration. It is already established that an East Midlands television company would be viable in that sense.
1126 The real difficulty—it was made clear at the public meeting called by the BBC—is the technical problem. Without wasting the time of the House reiterating the details of transmitters covering the East Midlands, I tell the Home Secretary forcefully, in support of what other hon. Members have said, that wisdom suggests that planning provision should be made, along with other IBA procedures, provided that all other criteria are satisfied in the establishment of East Midlands television, to use part of the £28 million to ensure that the technical issue will not be produced at the end to frustrate the genuine will of the people of the East Midlands.
I shall welcome assurances on the issues to which I have referred and I hope that they will be borne in mind by the IBA and throughout the Bill's passage in Committee.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Grimsby)
I welcome the Bill, although it may be the cart before the horse. It is the first positive step after months of delay. I do not blame the Government for the long delay, I blame the Annan committee. The committee—this applies especially to its representative who is a Member of this place—seems to have taken up an idea that is attractive to a small number of intellectually motivated men. I say "intellectually motivated" because they certainly were not practically motivated men. Surely it is not practical to erect a beautiful theoretical concept that is about as useful and as comprehensible as the Chaucerian quote with which I was belaboured by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), to my bemused incomprehension.
The Annan committee erected the road block of the Open Broadcasting Authority. That has effectively blocked all progress towards not only the fourth channel but the fifth and sixth channels that we should have. That is what we should be talking about in this channel-starved country.
The Annan committee has stopped progress in that direction, to the harm of an industry that desperately needs expansion and the boost that would come from a new channel that would be an opening for new ideas and new talent. That 1127 is the boost which ITV provided in the 1950s, which BBC2 provided in the early 1960s and which the reshuffling of the contracts provided in the late 1960s. That boost has not been provided in the 1970s.
The Annan committee has blocked progress, to the harm of the viewer. The viewer is not getting a wider choice. He is not getting the leaven to the stale mix of programmes consisting of endless repeats and repetition of the same safe formula with which the viewer is now belaboured as I am belaboured with Chaucerian quotations.
My welcome for the Bill would be pure and unalloyed if it were not for the weasel words "to transmit" rather than "to provide" a fourth channel. Progress has been speeded, but as long as that premise remains it is progress down a dead-end street towards the OBA.
The basic motive behind the OBA is a good one. It is an attempt to bring diversity and variation to British television. However, the unfortunate fact is that in taking up the idea of the OBA the Annan committee has latched on to an alien concept of publishing that has no place in the experience of the television industry. We do not achieve pluralism in one channel. Pluralism in one channel is about as likely as Socialism in one country. We achieve pluralism through a diversity of channels and not by creating a dustbin channel into which anything can be shoved ad lib that is not related to the preceding or following programmes in any way. Pluralism will not be achieved by using another channel as a relegation hole for a diversity of programmes that should be spread over a series of channels.
The Annan committee and the White Paper on broadcasting put the OBA in an impossible position. It has been designated specifically as a channel that will be used to appeal to minority tastes. That is its designation in the White Paper. However, it will be dependent on advertising. That means that it will have to compete for audiences with the two popular channels; that means that it will have to reduce itself to their level and their sorts of programme to achieve the mass audience that the advertisers will need, or it will have to be a ghetto channel, a fretwork 1128 network, with a smaller audience than BBC2.
The BBC2 audience seems to average about 8 per cent. of the viewing public. That is its audience after 15 years of cross-promotion on BBC1, the popular channel. BBC1 attempts to recruit viewers for BBC2. If the OBA is to be a minority channel and is to be on its own, its position is bound to be even worse than that of BBC2, which has the advantage of cross-promotion. If it has an audience that is smaller than that of BBC2, it will not be attractive to advertisers. That means that it will be dependent on public money.
The criticism is realistic. There will be a continuous chorus of complaints about public money being used to fund an inherently profitable medium to provide programmes for minority tastes. That in turn will make the Government more niggardly than they should be and television deserves. That will handicap the OBA, the fourth channel, from the start.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Is my hon. Friend aware that no one has ever suggested that the OBA should be a channel on which only minority programmes will qualify to be shown? He is trying to persuade the House that either the programmes will be too popular or that they will not be popular enough. Has he ever heard of programme controllers who strike a balance between the two extremes?
§ Mr. Mitchell
The fourth channel will either have to compete by broadcasting popular programmes or become a minority channel. If it is to be a minority channel, its position will be even weaker than that of BBC2 as it will not have the advantage of complementary programmes and cross-promotion. The only way to provide a real choice and an escape from the ghetto is complementary programming and genuine choice, namely, channels providing programmes that are different.
The real challenge of television is not the provision of minority programmes appealing to minority tastes. That is the easiest part of television. It might be expensive, but it is easy to do. The challenge is to take minority subjects for minority tastes, perhaps, and make them appealing and interesting to a wider audience. To undertake that task it is necessary to fulfil certain requirements. It 1129 is necessary to have a popular channel with a reasonable amount of audience loyalty to that channel. Secondly, one needs producers with a populist flair for making subjects interesting but not trivial. A ghetto Open Broadcasting Authority seems to have neither of those two advantages.
A further argument for the OBA is that independent production houses will be stimulated. "Let a hundred production houses blossom" is a slogan with which I have every sympathy. But there are not many independent production houses and it will probably take a long time for them to develop contacts with the fourth channel. The need now is to provide a new outlet for the talent, enthusiasm and ability in the existing production companies. This is the more pressing need. Ideas grow and develop from continuous progress of production and not in abstract isolation in an independent production house. One programme idea flows from another and from continuous work within a production company.
Finally, it comes from regional roots—from companies which are based in the regions and drawing strength from those regions. All too often, companies are run from London and manned by people who see their first job as getting back to London as quickly as possible. The companies must be those serving the regions and genuinely rooted in the regions, which is how the idea of independent television started and still has a long way to go towards its fulfilment. The need is for regions that are manageable which a company can serve and where it can take roots. For instance, ATV seems too large at the moment, as the assembly of East Midlands MPs, who seem to be dominating the debate, have pointed out. Delenda est ATV is not my concern because I have not the same vested commercial interest in this operation as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North.
§ Mr. English
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said that he had not the same vested interest. So far as I know, no Member representing the East Midlands, either Labour or Conservative, has any vested interest whatever 1130 in the desire to create a separate television service for that region.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Would my hon. Friend accept that I have no interest in any consortium in the Midlands or anywhere else, and never have had?
§ Mr. Mitchell
Certainly, I would accept that.
The point is that the splitting of ATV is one example of the creation of regions that can be served by companies genuinely and firmly rooted in those regions which will provide lively centres of ideas outside London. This is one of my dominant interests in the debate. The Annan committee does not seem to have taken sufficient cognisance of this "outside London" dimension. The only effective production houses on any scale of any ability outside London are regional ITV companies which need to fulfil the regional commitment of ITV but can provide the nucleus for expansion.
Setting up a fourth channel is bound to mean drawing up a set of fine balances. There is a need to be complementary to ITV but not to be dominated by the moguls of the production companies. There is a need to be independent but not to be publicly financed or a pale imitation of the BBC or ITV.
That points to either a channel controlled by the IBA or by an authority twinned with the IBA and either drawing up its programme schedule in consultation with the IBA or submitting it to the IBA. This is the only way we can secure the advantage of complementary programming and promotion by another channel that will build up the audience and provide diversity for the ITV audience. It would be a channel in which the companies would sell advertising which gives them a vested interest in the success of the channel but also financed by the levy on ITV out of which the companies secure rebates for programmes produced for the fourth channel. In other words, there will be an incentive to produce for the fourth channel and an incentive to push the fourth channel in the regions. There will be an incentive to make it complementary and functioning genuinely with ITV.
I hope that the opportunity provided—it is the only justification for the delay 1131 that has occurred—will be taken to think along these directions as the scheme is developed. Otherwise, the provision that we are making today for a transmitter framework for the fourth channel will be largely unnecessary because of the smallness of the audience for which that channel will be catering.
If the OBA scheme proceeds as outlined in the White Paper, it should only do so with the proviso that occurred over devolution, requiring an Order in Council unless that fourth channel gets 40 per cent. of the potential audience and proves that it is an effective, attractive channel which will gain and provide for the needs of a large audience.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)
The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) described this as a cart-before-the-horse Bill. I believe that it is rather a case of finding the cart and then having to place wheels under it and finding a horse to drag it.
The IBA told the working party on the Welsh television fourth channel project published simultaneously with the White Paper that it could, if authorised, go ahead immediately with the construction of transmitters required for the fourth channel service. It is a matter for some regret that neither the Home Office nor the legal advisers to the IBA seem to have found out in time that our debate today and this mini-Bill would be required before they could carry out the commitment in paragraph 7.14 of the report of that working party. The report states in paragraph 7.15:The IBA tells us that it has sufficient staft to carry out the necessary fourth channel construction programme in Wales in much the same order as the existing HTV Wales UHF service was provided without any detrimental effect to the continuation of the engineering work mentioned in the previous paragraph.That referred to increasing the amount of coverage available in the rest of Wales on the UHF service.
I wish that we had received earlier indication from the IBA's legal advisers that the Bill would be required. This is a piece of broadcasting legislation which was first not required. When it emerged that it was required, it seems to have become the only broadcasting Bill that is likely to emerge from this Government. The proposal for the fourth 1132 television channel in Wales to be allocated mainly to Welsh language television programmes was incorporated in the report of the Crawford committee which reported on broadcasting coverage in the United Kingdom in November 1974.
One of my first activities as an MP was giving evidence to that committee. The committee reported that the service for Wales should start as soon as possible and that the decision should be taken for Wales ahead of the implementation of the fourth channel in the rest of the United Kingdom. That position was accepted by the then Home Secretary. Roy Jenkins, but no action was taken. According to the Government, it was because there were financial constraints on public expenditure at that time.
It seems that we have made very little progress on that original acceptance by the Government of the Crawford committee recommendations on the fourth channel in Wales. We have since then had working parties. There was originally the Siberry working party and then the Annan committee report and Littler working party. We also have the Government's own White Paper.
I should like to refer to what the Home Secretary, in the absence of progress on the fourth channel proposals, said about the interim expansion in Welsh language children's programmes. I should like to compliment him on the progress that he has been able to make over the use of licence fee money by the BBC for this purpose and also on the discussions that have taken place between his Department, the BBC and the IBA and, indirectly, the commercial company, HTV, operating in Wales, about the increase in programmes for children. This is the only development that I can welcome in the context of these proposals.
We are now entering a situation in which the commitment for Wales is once again in danger of disappearing. Whereas that commitment had priority in the original view of the Crawford committee and in the subsequent view accepted by the Government, that priority is now disappearing. The proposal for the fourth channel in Wales as a Welsh language channel is under severe threat because of the Government's failure to legislate on the OBA concept. It is quite clear that, without the framework of the OBA 1133 for the whole of Britain, the concept of a national service for Wales giving priority to Welsh language broadcasting on the fourth channel is threatened.
In paragraph 66 and succeeding paragraphs of the White Paper on broadcasting the Government dealt with the Welsh language service. It is significant that no reference at all was made to this service when the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) spoke on the subject today, despite the reference by the Home Secretary. I look forward to some response to what I have to say now from the Conservative spokesman who winds up the debate for the Opposition, because the House and the country of Wales have a right to know how the Conservative Party would, if elected to Government, implement the policy of the fourth channel in Wales.
In paragraph 68 of the White Paper the Government made it clear that the scheme of the fourth channel in Wales under the OBA would be a national service for Wales, to which the three broadcasting organisations could contribute. That is severely threatened by the ITV2 proposal. Looking at the discussion in the report of the working party on the Welsh television fourth channel project, chaired by Mrs. Littler, we see discussion at length on what the report describes asOption 2—the implications for Wales of an ITV2-type service on the fourth channel in the United Kingdom ".This was a joint working party, with membership from the Home Office, the Welsh Office and the broadcasting authorities. The conclusions of the working party, at paragraph 6.23 of the report, are these:We judge that such a situation "—an ITV2-type service for the whole of the United Kingdom—would have serious implications for the BBC Wales and HTV Wales joint Welsh language programme service.The report makes it clear that if there were an ITV2 service for the whole of the United Kingdom it would not be possible to move ahead with the kind of national Welsh language priority service which the fourth channel should be, according to the Crawford, Annan and subsequent recommendations.
1134 Therefore, it seems clear that the cooperation which could have emerged under an OBA system between the BBC and the present or a future contractor for ITV in Wales cannot find any place in an ITV2 system. We have already had references from the hon. Member for Aldershot about minority audiences not being a burden on the Revenue. With all due respect, I say to him that the Government have already made a commitment in the broadcasting White Paper and through the working party—carefully studied concerning funding—that there has to be either a grant-in-aid from the Government or some alternative form of public funding through the OBA buying Welsh language programmes from an existing or future independent contractor in Wales and BBC Wales in order to ensure that there is cross-funding for what would be a minority audience of some 500,000 Welsh speakers as a potential audience for that channel.
The funding for Welsh language programmes must come from public expenditure. It cannot come from advertising because, except for public service advertising, there is no such commercial advertising on HTV Wales in the Welsh language, and it is not conceivable that there would be massive advertising revenue accruing with an audience of 500,000.
Therefore, I think that we have a right to know how the Conservative Opposition intend to honour any commitment that has been made about the extension of Welsh language programmes and to know whether there will be any clear statement from the Conservative Opposition tonight of their intentions concerning the fourth television channel in Wales.
As regards the separation of languages in broadcasting in Wales, the problem has very deep implications for the way in which the media in Wales are organised. I do not want to go into a long and detailed explanation, which would be out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the result of the recent referendum which took place in Wales, but certainly one of the factors in the referendum must have been the fact that at least 30 per cent. of the estimated number of viewers of television in Wales view from transmitters based outside Wales. As a result, in no way could they participate in the general referendum debate. That might 1135 appear to be a benefit or a disbenefit, but certainly the way in which the Welsh television media are organised means that at present some 30 per cent. of potential viewers of Welsh programmes turn their aerials towards transmitters outside Wales.
Therefore, the creation of a separate Welsh language television channel would enable the present slots which are filled by Welsh language programmes on the existing ITV and BBC channels to be filled by English language programmes generated for a Welsh audience and providing a Welsh cultural content as contrasted with a Welsh language and cultural content, thereby enabling us to speak to ourselves in a far more adequate and fair way.
The Conservative Party must grasp this problem. However, from the contributions that we have heard so far this evening it appears to me that the Conservatives have entirely failed to do that. The hon. Member for Aldershot, or one of his hon. Friends, should seek the immediate assistance of the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) in trying to formulate some kind of reply as to what the Conservative Party intends to do.
I have been unable so far to provoke any interventions from the hon. Member for Aldershot. Therefore, I move rapidly on to refer to one particular issue which concerns me as we look to the future of television provision in Wales. That is the abysmal failure of the broadcasting authorities and, indeed, the education authorities in Wales to mount any kind of training programme for the expansion of Welsh language television. It was estimated in the original Siberry working party report that the expanded service on the fourth channel in Wales would require some 400 additional staff with wide-ranging technical skills. But it seems clear from correspondence, which has been published, between Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg—the Welsh Language Society's mass media group—and the BBC and HTV that there has been no move towards internal training programmes in Cardiff by either HTV or BBC to cope with the obvious need to expand the numbers that will be employed with the required skills on the fourth channel.
The delay that we have experienced since 1974 in implementing the Government's 1136 commitment has led to the cynical view among broadcasters in Wales and among administrators in both broadcasting organisations that there is no point in preparing for the fourth channel in Welsh language programmes because it appears that such a channel is not likely to go ahead in any event. The delay has, therefore, demoralised broadcasters in the Principality. They are no longer able to look forward to development. The delay has created deepening frustration.
I speak as one who has tried to play some constructive part in this whole broadcasting debate over the last five years. I have to warn the House that if the Government do not honour their commitment there will be—however regrettable it may be from the point of view of those who seek democratic constitutional changes in politics—an increase in activism by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, which is committed to the establishment of this fourth channel and some of whose members have been involved in various forms of illegal activity in constituencies within and outside Wales. At the moment two leading members of the society, Wynford James and Rhodri Williams, are imprisoned in Swansea for a conspiracy offence connected with interference with broadcasting installations.
It seems that there is a necessity for the Government as well as the Opposition to understand the motives of the people in Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, who resort to illegal forms of direct acting against broadcasting property because they are frustrated at the continual delay in implementing Government commitments. It is one thing to argue with a Government who refuse to meet a demand or refuse to change a policy. It is something else to have to argue with a Government who accept a policy but will not implement it.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
It will be abundantly clear that the reason for this Bill, which will make provision to get the engineering done early, is the impossibility of the IBA doing it. There is nothing here or in the Bill which has not yet been introduced which reneges on any commitment. In no way can the activities of members of the Welsh Language Society be accepted in this House—I am not referring to cases which are sub judice—as justification for what they are doing. I hope that the hon. Gentleman 1137 is not doing that, because if their motives are prompted by what they see as commitments being broken they are wrong. One of the things that emerged last week was the bitterness that has arisen as a result of the activities of the Welsh Language Society.
§ Mr. Thomas
The Home Secretary refers to bitterness. That bitterness exists when a minority is unable to obtain what it sees as its rights. In this case the right of communication is involved and the political system is not prepared to concede those rights.
§ Mr. English
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that viewers often feel that they are suffering from vested interests which dominate them? The hon. Gentleman's case involves the cause of the Welsh language. That is not so in the East Midlands. There we are dominated by programmes from Thames Valley or Birmingham.
§ Mr. Thomas
I agree with that entirely, and the regionalisation of the reflection of cultural identity, and the cultural pluralism, referred to by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), is the whole basis of my argument. People in various cultural regions should have the opportunity to communicate with one another without interference. In Wales, this means the provision in the Welsh language for the half million of us who speak Welsh as a first language and who want to be part of a lively popular mass culture in that language. We want those who speak English as a first and only language to have a popular Welsh culture disseminated to them through the medium of English. That can be achieved only if and when the commitment on the fourth television channel goes ahead in Wales, so that we can have both services, with resources devoted to both.
All the frustration and bitterness which have been created in Wales arise from a failure of the political system in this place. That failure is compounded by the official Opposition in their lack of a statement so far. The failure of the system in this place is a failure to meet the legitimate demands of both cultural groups in Wales. I would not, in this place or outside it, defend the use in this context of illegal tactics to achieve policy changes, but it would be a foolish and 1138 blind Administration which did not recognise the motive behind the actions of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg. The motive is to ensure control of the media in Wales by the two cultural groups there.
I hope that the assurances given by the Home Secretary mean that there is to be no reneging and no moving back. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Home Secretary, since I have discussed these issues with him at great length over the last three years. But it appears increasingly in Wales that commitments made to us are not being honoured because of a failure by the Government to organise their own policies in the context of the United Kingdom.
Policies for Wales which were supposed to have priority over the rest of the United Kingdom in the original commitment by the Government then became part of the overall post-Annan framework for the United Kingdom. It now appears that the famous 64-clause Bill for the United Kingdom organisation of broadcasting is not to be produced in this Session, or it is certainly not to be enacted in this Session.
That means therefore that the commitment for Wales will be lost with the failure to enact a policy for the whole of the United Kingdom. That is not surprising, because throughout the history of Welsh politics commitments made to Wales have been lost in this House because of a failure in radicalism on the part of successive Labour Governments. It is a matter of bitter regret to me that the Home Secretary and the Government have not been able to produce a United Kingdom framework that will enable the fourth channel project in Wales to go ahead.
It is equally and abysmally clear that the Conservative Opposition have no proposals for Wales whatever. Therefore we shall have to consider the failures of the Labour Government and balance them alongside the absence of policies from the Conservative Opposition when we decide in any future event how we may have to vote in the House.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I want to make a brief contribution because I am concerned that this apparently trivial piece of legislation should be introduced at this 1139 time. There seems to be no real reason for it and I wonder how it happened. I should be interested if my right hon. Friend would explain it. Perhaps the Secretary of State took the initiative and said, one day, when he arrived at the Home Office, "We should innovate and we must get this legislation through". Or perhaps it was a minute prepared by a civil servant who suggested that this initiative should be taken. I do not take the view that civil servants are neutral and isolated. I take the view that they are a tightly knit group of politically motivated people.
It is possible that they decided that this was a facility which should be passed in the last few months of a Labour Government. We are bound to have an election some time this year and perhaps they felt that they should, as a safeguard, have this bit of legislation on the statute book. Otherwise, it simply does not make sense, because there are a number of things about the major broadcasting legislation which we would like to examine. This should be done in conjunction with this legislation and not in isolation. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that this Bill does not exclude the possibility of the IBA transmitting a service. Of course it does not.
If by some fluke the Conservatives win the general election—and it would be a fluke—they have made it clear that they will hand over this fourth channel to ITV2. They will increase the power of the existing companies. Since that is the case, and since this legislation amends the 1973 Act, we should examine what type of control the IBA has exercised in the years between the passage of the Act and today. There seems to be a little too much cosy consensus that the IBA is doing a first-rate job. That simply is not correct.
What startles me is that the merchants on the Conservative Benches who are always calling for a greater emphasis on law and order do not follow closely the 1973 Independent Broadcasting Authority Act. I refer to schedule 2 to the Act, "Rules as to Advertisements". One of the reasons why I should like the major legislation to be introduced is, as the White Paper suggests in paragraph 21, that the OBA would be subject to the same advertising rules. This House ought 1140 to have a very close look at these advertising rules. We said, in "Labour's Programme 1973":In television, the dependence of the independent companies upon advertising revenue has tended to be the enemy of innovation, or of programmes for minority tastes and has encouraged those made according to safe formulae. Through the fight for ratings, the same influence has been extended to the BBC ".We said, therefore, that the influence of advertising shaped the position. What has the IBA done? Schedule 2(3) to the 1973 Act states:The amount of time given to advertising in the programmes shall not be so great as to detract from the value of the programmes as a medium of information, education and entertainment.I wonder whether the IBA has exercised tight control over that aspect. I wonder whether it has given sufficient attention to schedule 2(4), which states:Advertisements shall not be inserted otherwise than at the beginning or end of the programme or in natural breaks therein.The controversy about natural breaks seems to have died down. Natural breaks are part of the routine and yet programmes which were deliberately designed to be shown continuously are broken night after night on ITV.
The controlling body, the IBA, is to be given additional powers in this Bill, although it has shown itself to be incapable of applying existing legislation. I refer to the showing of feature films or plays on ITV. Those plays and films were never designed, except in one or two isolated cases, to be shown with breaks.
When breaks occurred in feature films we used to shout "Put a penny in the gas". Films are designed to be shown continuously. The writers, directors and producers make a great effort to produce a worthwhile film. What happens when such films are shown by the IBA? I do not know who selects the natural breaks, but most feature films are torn to shreds by so-called natural breaks and the intrusion of advertising. That means that feature films—some of which are puerile but others of which are important artistic efforts—are subjugated to the commercial needs of advertiisng.
§ Mr. Morris
I declare an interest as a director of an advertising agency. Does not the hon. Member take on board the point that was made by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and others that the best television is that which is produced for that medium? The hon. Member seems to be saying that the television medium should lay itself before the cinema medium and that films that are made for the cinemas should be transmitted automatically on to television. Surely what the IBA and commercial contractors have done is to produce films and plays which are geared to the television medium with the natural breaks built in.
§ Mr. Cryer
Plays can be written to be produced in 15 or 20 minutes, so that an advertisement can be inserted. That argument has certain legitimacy. However, television companies want to show feature films. Many people want to see them. But the people who made those films did not know that they would be chopped up by advertisements. The parallel would be if Pearl and Dean suddenly shot on to the screen 30 seconds or a minute of advertising in the middle of a cinema programme. That would produce an outcry from the auditorium.
Occasionally films are made with a built-in intermission, but such films are extraordinary. The general rule is that feature films are shown in an uninterrupted fashion. When election results are being announced, ITV deems that that is too important a programme to be chopped up and subordinated to commercial considerations. Normally, commercial breaks do not interrupt such programmes. I say that the IBA should exercise its judgment more on the type of programmes which are transmitted and the licence that is given to the independent companies to chop up programmes because of commercial considerations alone.
There is much to be said about aesthetic merits, but the legislation does not involve a judgment of the artistic merit of a film or play. A play that is transmitted on television should be transmitted as the author and producer wish it, and not at the behest of the commercial manager or television contractor. The legislation states that:Advertisements shall not be inserted otherwise than at the beginning or the end of the programme or in natural breaks therein.1142 One can envisage that authors will now write allowing for breaks for advertisements. For example, a modern-day Shakespeare would write a play allowing for natural breaks for television advertising. That would be a prostitution of artistic merit to the needs of commerce.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith
I declare an interest as a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority's general advisory council. I can assure the hon. Member that the IBA pays careful attention to the question of natural breaks in the movies to which he has referred. There is no evidence whatsoever that any section of the public shares the hon. Member's outrage at advertisements shown during some old and valuable movies.
§ Mr. Cryer
The hon. Member has two arguments. First, he says that the IBA shows concern. That is not translated on to the screens, because commercials are shown in the middle of feature films. Secondly, the hon. Member says that nobody else shares my outrage. I do not know whether he has evidence of that assertion. I do not suppose that hon. Members eagerly seek round to see whether the law is being administered properly and gather evidence of concern before they raise a matter in Parliament. On that basis we should raise only those subjects which have been measured by opinion polls.
I believe that my attitude is shared by others. If we are to pass legislation the provisions of which are to be administered by an organisation, we should ensure that that organisation is making a good job of applying that legislation. From the evidence that I have observed, the IBA is not making a good job of applying Schedule 2, which is crucial because it forms the whole basis of ITV.
I do not wish to assist in the process of handing over the fourth channel to the IBA. I am not satisfied with the IBA. I do not wish it to have the fourth channel. I do not know why we are oiling the wheels towards that end. I do not know why this Bill is being taken in isolation from the other Bill. If the other Bill incorporates the financing of the OBA, we should examine Schedule 2 even more closely.
§ Mr. Critchley
The hon. Member is suggesting that the Bill will make our life 1143 easier. Is he prepared to concede the result of the general election already?
§ Mr. Cryer
I am not prepared to concede the result of the election. I am saying that this legislation should be accompanied by the other 64-clause Bill. I see no reason why that should not happen. I do not wish things to be taken in isolation. I do not concede that there will be a Tory victory. I believe that when the election comes there will be a Labour victory. I see no reason for the Bill now, when it should be accompanied by the other legislation.
Finally, I quote again from "Labour's Programme for 1973". We said thatOur aim must be to devise a structure that will allow much greater variety and genuine freedom in communications. It must lay emphasis on the business of communicating rather than on that of making profits; on freedom from Government control and censorship; on freedom for new people and publications to enter into the industry and not be immediately defeated by high fixed costs or the semi-monopolistic behaviour of competitors; and on the need for greater freedom for those working within the media both to express their views and to share in the decision-making process.That is a fair ideal, which reflects the common sense and decency of the Labour Party. The OBA goes some way towards measuring up to that ideal. I fail to see why we cannot look at that legislation and why we are taking this in isolation. It leaves the lingering suspicions that an unnecessary initiative has been taken and that if there is any difficulty at the election the path is eased. In any case, there is no argument for taking the two Bills in isolation. We want to see the colour and character of the legislation before giving more power to the IBA.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewis)
The conjecture of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) about the next election is as far from the mark as his concern about the influence of advertising on television programming. The Annan report gave advertising a clean bill of health in its lack of effect on television programming. That is borne out by every opinion poll on attitudes to advertising, particularly advertising on television.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) mentioned the importance of the fourth channel in Welsh. Perhaps the House is inclined to attach too much 1144 importance to that aspect of the Bill. He was talking of minority groups, yet we are discussing funding for broadcasting which is not essentially designed for minority groups. If it were, it would be called "narrowcasting".
Only last week we saw the lack of inclination of many people in Wales to think "Welshly". At lunchtime today I learned that the Leader of Plaid Cymru in Cardiff takes pride in having his television aerial tuned to Bristol. It should be considered whether this driving impetus to create more Welsh programming represents a widespread need in Wales.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) referred to the results of the referendum as Welsh people deciding not to think "Welshly". If he had paid attention to the campaign, he would know that the opponents of the Welsh Assembly were in favour of some form of devolution. It was nothing to do with the cultural, ethnic or national identity of Wales. It was a decision based only on one set of political proposals. Secondly, linguistic minorities are in difficulty when one considers their demands, particularly if they are bilingual, as 80 per cent. of the Welsh people are. Because we can understand English language programmes, we should not be denied the means of mass communication of popular culture in our language.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) has made one speech. We must allow the orginal speaker to resume.
§ Mr. Rathbone
I ask your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in measuring the time that I speak.
The Home Secretary referred to the Welsh Broadcasting Council. Will he ensure that the various geographic areas in Wales are represented according to population when that council is established? There are different attitudes to Wales and Welshness between Southern and Northern Wales.
On the Bill as a whole, I should like to know what allowance for inflation there is in the money that is being voted to build the transmitters. If no allowance is made, how will the IBA be recompensed for the additional financial burden? Secondly, has the Minister ensured that the IBA has had competitive bids? If not 1145 has the Minister approached other organisations, such as the BBC, to see whether it could have put up the broadcasting facilities more cheaply? There are many organisations at home and abroad that can provide the technical facilities that the Bill is designed to finance. What is the costing basis for choosing the IBA?
I share the concern of other hon. Members about the method of repayment being imprecise. I hope that the IBA will be the end user of the facilities. But, if not, it is not written into the Bill that the end user will work to a repayment formula over a specific period. If that is not agreed, we are putting at risk the amount of finance that the IBA might be able to make available for the programming of the fourth channel. That money will be absorbed by the continued borrowing from or repayments to the Government.
The Government have not given a specific assurance within the Bill on repayment to the IBA of costs incurred should the House decide eventually against a fourth channel. The Home Secretary may assure us that a future Government will repay, but that assurance should be written into the Bill, and that should be considered in Committee.
I have two questions on the technicalities of the facilities. Like the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), I also hope that the transmission facilities will be built on a basis which will allow new regions to be drawn or subsections of regions to be identified. I hope that the facilities which the IBA will build with the money that we are voting tonight will not draw too circumscribed a regional delineation for some future date. We are all aware that the Government have a slow pregnancy for the broadcasting future. Whether they will give birth in this Parliament, we do not know, but if that question of the future of broadcasting in this country is to be left in the air it will be sad to see too precise lines drawn on the facilities.
What estimates has the Minister obtained from the IBA about the growth of cable television? Inevitably, that could have a direct influence on the establishment of the facilities for which we are voting money today. It could be argued hypothetically that if cable television were to grow as fast as some people think it 1146 will these facilities would not be needed. The same projections could be applied to satellite broadcasting.
On the question of timing, like my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) I welcome this "little snowdrop Bill" as he described it, but if the Government had made up their mind and carried through the House plans for the future of broadcasting the Bill would not have been necessary. Perhaps this is another sad example of the Government shilly-shallying.
Many hon. Members have pointed out that there are other matters of importance which the House has yet to decide, such as the future of the BBC and the nature of TV4. We are voting these moneys today without having the opportunity to debate what these facilities will be used for. In this Bill the Government have, however, shown an ability to look to the future and plan ahead. It is all the sadder that they seem to be incapable of looking to the future of other broadcasting media, such as radio. It is frustrating that they have not given the go-ahead for 90 local radio stations rather than nine.
When will we see the Government's plans for submission to the world conference on broadcasting this autumn? Unless we know them and have an opportunity to debate them, any debate on any broadcasting matter is nonsense.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I want to swim a little against the tide of this debate. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have taken the view today that the sooner the fourth channel is set up the better. We have heard speeches from the Opposition Benches in support of ITV2 and from the Government Benches in support of the OBA. I suggest that what we need at this time is not more broadcasting, but better quality broadcasting. In the country's present parlous financial situation, if we rush into ITV2 we shall see a falling-off in the quality of British broadcasting. After all, British broadcasting is one of the few things that these nations which share these islands do well together.
The hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), in describing this "little snowdrop Bill", produced an advertising man's dream. He gave us a prospectus that 1147 we have seen made out so many times before in licence applications—more culture, more art, more opera, more of this or that. But so often in the past we have found that that dream has faded quickly. In my view, if ITV2 were set up it would lead to great scheduling pressure on the BBC and its quality would drop off as well.
Certainly the OBA has my support. I share the disappointment of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) that all we have today is a little Bill standing on its own. I would have preferred the Labour Party to have the courage of its convictions and put forward a general plan for British broadcasting, but, as the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) said, so often the trouble with the Labour Party is that its radicalism fades with the opportunity.
I wish to speak specifically about two aspects of quality. The first concerns the remote areas of the United Kingdom and the second concerns the ITV and BBC channels that now exist.
Those of us who come from more remote parts of these islands are bound to take the view that the need for broadcasting is almost in inverse proportion to population size. In North Wales and the islands of Scotland people can be cut off for weeks on end and their only form of entertainment, relaxation, information and contact with the outside world is through the box. Yet, it is a sad fact of life that in these very areas people are paying the same licence fee to the BBC as everyone else, but many of them receive only BBC1. That is manifestly unfair, and there is a case for dropping the licence fee or reducing it in these areas.
If we are talking today about £28 million being used to engineer a fourth channel, I would like some guarantees from the Home Office about the amount of money that will be spent on remote communities. Many of these communities are small—they have only 400 or 500 people—but the people there should have some guarantee that they will get more than one channel when the rest of the country has three or four.
Throughout the debate we have heard about the impact of regionalism in the East Midlands. That is also true in the distinctive nations of Scotland and Wales. This is not a day for too many referendum 1148 stories, but certainly in part of the constituency of the Leader of the Liberal Party—Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles—I was astonished last week to find that people could not get a referendum report from a Scottish station. They had to take it from an English station, and naturally all they got was peripheral news. The effect of that is to deny people their Scottishness. That situation obtains as well in parts of Ayrshire where signals are received not from Scottish stations but from Northern Ireland. Those people have a diet of Ulster news, and that can have serious repercussions in parts of West Scotland. I believe that money should be spent in these areas to give everyone the same basic three services before we start thinking about a fourth.
Let me defend BBC Scotland, because I think that it has created a national service. Certainly, Grampian Television has. Perhaps more could have been done with STV in extending the signal into the West Highlands. I certainly do not want to see the fat cats of commercial television getting fatter, on a large advertising and population basis, and not living up to the responsibility of providing a decent service to the peripheral areas.
The hon. Member for Merioneth spoke about the Welsh language. I congratulate him and share his hopes and ambitions. It is my belief that any violence done to a language by its negation is a violence done to the people and their very identity. If English Members do not understand that, they do not understand the case for Welsh broadcasting. I welcome the Home Secretary's statement that the first engineering done by the IBA will be in North Wales.
I turn to the Gaelic-speaking areas of Scotland. I admit that the numbers are very much smaller—only about 80,000. But there is still the same basic need to provide these people with a radio and television service in their own language, and certainly to provide a service for children. I am sorry that Scotland is a very poor second or third cousin to Wales in terms of providing Gaelic broadcasting services. BBC Scotland has promised a tiny radio station for Stornoway. I suspect that the capital costs will be in the region of £40,000 to £50,000—a minuscule sum. The station will provide a daily Gaelic news. It has been promised, but I am not sure when it will materialise. 1149 That is the sort of priority for a bilingual area which should come before the extention of four channels to the large metropolitan areas.
It is significant that on devolution day the ex-controller of BBC Scotland, Alastair Hetherington, who contributed so much to the Assembly debate, read the weather on Radio Highland—he is responsible for Gaelic broadcasting there. Perhaps that is a symptom of what happens to media devolutionists—they are exiled to a "Scots Siberia". However, in all seriousness, there is a case for a bigger helping hand to Gaelic broadcasting.
§ Mr. Rathbone
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the Home Office were prepared to offer the opportunity to independent radio to provide the sort of service to which he has referred, that service could be provided quickly, at no cost to the taxpayer and without drawing on the funds provided for in the Bill?
§ Mr. Reid
That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the linguistic case. Gaelic-speaking people are scattered throughout a large area; they do not shop in the same way as others—sometimes there is no shop for them. Therefore, there is no overriding need for an advertiser to fund commercial radio. It would not be possible in the West Highlands of Scotland. If it is done at all, it must be done with Treasury aid or a hypothecation of revenues from elsewhere in the ITV system.
§ Mr. Reid
I accept that. The housewife pays at the end of the day. We all pay—through the tins of food that we buy for our cats, dogs, families and ourselves.
However, I should like to make a few brief points specifically in relation to Scots broadcasting. The hon. Member for Aldershot made great play of how ITV2 would strengthen broadcasting from the regions. He said that there would be a 1150 large regional input to ITV2. We covered this ground when we discussed and allowed the extension of television hours. The big five networks had to take something for the "Tom Tiddlers" around the fringes, so there were "tartan ceilidhs" in the middle of the afternoon from Scotland and soap operas for elsewhere in the country.
Soon after I moved from Granada to STV, we sold a small Scottish soap opera to ATV. The only words of the noble Lord when he bought the series were "It is not in Gaelic, is it?" That showed no understanding. In other words, Scotland had to have something slotted into the network, but there was no commitment to the quality of that "peripheral" from the big boys. It was simply more pabulum for the masses. I suspect that that would also be the case with ITV2.
The terrain of Scotland is difficult for the broadcaster. Signals do not run in the same way as mountains, lochs and valleys. The population and the advertising base are small and, therefore, it is difficult to have a Scottish networking company at the moment. The population falls 2 million short of that covered by Yorkshire Television. The controller therefore has the difficult job of trying to programme across the board, to be all things to all men and to satisfy every specific interest group, be it Gaeldom, the Scots Kirk, the Roman Catholic Church, football and so on. In that way, everything is done poorly. I have made too many films in places such as Shetland, once with Granada and twice with STV, not to know the truth of that. With the regional company, cash and facility limits meant that filming took place when the fog cut down visibility to a few feet. With the large networking companies, filming takes place when the fog lifts.
In order to strengthen the regional companies in Scotland, it is necessary to have one Scottish networking company. I do not suggest the takeover of Grampian by STV but, perhaps, a federal and new management structure. That would strengthen the creativity and from that stronger base there could be a greater contribution to the existing network. That is Labour policy too.
If ITV2 were filled with regional contributions, there would be more of the same type of programme, more repeats 1151 and fillers, and more strain would be placed on those working in the provincial centres.
There is a delicate balance at the moment between BBC and ITV. The programme scheduler is probably more important than the programme maker. ITV delicately balances its programmes to draw audiences away from BBC1, and vice versa. However, we do have a high standard of broadcasting because that game cannot be played by ITV against both BBC channels. There is a unique 50–50 viewing mix in the United Kingdom between one ITV channel and the two BBC channels.
If, in the fullness of time, it is a question of taking a decision, my money would go on the OBA.
I believe that it is right that we should have a new channel run by a publisher and not by a programme maker. That channel should be opened to the people, and the independent programme maker, in terms of access programmes from housing estates, from co-operatives and from the factory floor. There should be soap operas about a shop steward—rather than about attractive, middle-class people from Hampstead.
That should be the way ahead for the future. At the moment we should consider whether we need not more broadcasting in quantity but more brodcasting in quality.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
Most speakers in the debate have vested interests of one kind of another which they have declared. Some hon. Members run advertising agencies, some own stations and some have made films. In order to prevent my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) from getting restive, let me say that he falls, with a few of us, into the lilywhite category—those who have some knowledge, but are mainly concerned, as viewers, that we should get programmes of good quality.
I am a member of the Select Committee that deals with nationalised industries and, therefore, the IBA. I was brought up as a primitive Methodist and I am reminded of the Methodist practice that when one spoke, one should have a text. I do not often use that maxim. However, from what I have heard of the debate so 1152 far, there is a text that would suit it very well, because on all the various stances the debate might be summed up as "Our discontent comes by comparison. Were better states unseen, each man would like his own".
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley questioned whether there should be solely commercial vested interests or non-commercial services. That is a whole area which is yet to be discussed.
I sat up in my seat when I heard the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) say "Cable television and satellites". However, he swiftly left the topic. I should like to return to it. The Bill is about the provision of transmitting equipment for new television broadcasting. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) mentioned the sectional interest—the Welsh and Gaelic languages. He said that broadcasting is hindered by the mountains and terrain of some regions. If satellites are launched and the transmitters are in outer space, half the world can be covered. Then Welsh and Gaelic could be received in Patagonia.
In earlier days, Private Bills brought in such things as the advent of the railways. I have said before that Brunei spent half his time in the House arguing. We have heard from hon. Members with vested interests, but I should like to have heard from the engineers. An engineer could explain to the House the widening boundaries that are just around the corner or, in some cases, coming into existence. We need the flair for realising the potential, but the amount of equipment that can be provided cannot exceed the budget of £18 million.
We have not even examined the potential of cable television, yet it is already being superseded. It is feared in the United States that people will buy their own dishes—to focus on a signal—and nobody will know that they have them. Therefore, they will receive free transmissions. Unless all dishes are to be registered, the mind boggles at that possibility. But it is being discussed. We see major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, being broadcast by satellite. The signal is beamed from the satellite to a central point and on to transmitters all over the country.
I am told that it is technically feasible for everyone to have his own dish, to 1153 point it at the satellite and to choose the programmes that he wishes to see. That equipment is being developed. Hon. Members may smile, but those who look back on the debate in 10 or 15 years' time may find that much of what I am forecasting will be in existence.
I hope that our engineers will not be unduly constrained. Many important decisions about which areas were to be served by which channels were decided solely because there was a hill in a particular area. The area served was the area that the signal could reach—regardless of whether the programmes were of interest to the communities involved. That is why my colleagues in the East Midlands around Nottingham are so concerned about how the fourth channel will operate. I hope that the dishes for the new channel will not necessarily be attached to existing towers. Certainly, existing towers should be used if they serve a need, but I hope that there will be more versatility.
Cine and audio recording equipment is now fairly cheap and is certainly within the reach of groups of individuals who wish to produce their own films. A cultural group in, for example, Scunthorpe may wish to produce a film and, even if the people of Grimsby do not wish to see it, it would be possible to show it in Scunthorpe. These are all potential developments which the House needs to consider.
In all our debates on broadcasting, and I have listened to many, we have arguments about Conservative and Socialist ideology. Our political views are important, but it is vital that all hon. Members should realise that unless we are careful the technological development of the medium may end up dictating events to us.
That has already happened in Canada. The Canadians passed legislation imposing constraints on what could be broadcast on television. They were attempting to encourage the arts and so on in their country in an attempt to establish a national identity. Those constraints have been swept away by the United States with its great wealth. The Canadians made the technical mistake of not taking into account the potential of cable television. Cable systems took a large part 1154 of the Canadian audience and the American television stations put transmitters on the border so that the Canadians could receive their programmes.
We are playing for bigger stakes. We are entering the age of the satellite, and viewers will be able to receive many more channels. Soon it will not be a case of having to watch only BBC, ITV or any other programme originating in this country. It will be technically possible to see a plethora of what the world has to offer and to tune into the channels that suit our needs best. I hope that that sort of consideration will be borne in mind.
The Bill is a small measure and involves only £18 million of expenditure, much of it for the duplication, rightly or wrongly, of existing services. However, there is a boundary to the debate that we have not yet crossed. My language has been extravagant and I may have presented my vision of the future in a way that some hon. Members consider absurd, but if those who read the report of our debate and the few hon. Members who are here to listen to it feel that I have made valid points—even though they may not go all the way with me—I hope that I have done a service to the House and to those who will study our debate.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)
I am sure that all hon. Members would echo what the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) said about the danger of the strength of the television medium dictating events.
I shall be brief. I wish to address myself to one point, namely, that, on the supposition that the fourth channel is to be a commercial channel, certain dimensions should be spelt out. I am inevitably addressing myself as much to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley) as to the Under-Secretary of State who is to reply to the debate.
I can think of nothing worse than the fourth channel going to an existing contractor. That idea is abhorrent to me. I have declared an interest as the director of two advertising agencies, and I speak as a consumer because my job is to advise the advertisers who put their trust in the skills of my companies on how to spend their resources.
1155 I believe in free competition, and we do not have any degree of competition in television. The television companies are in a monopoly position. They have ransomed the advertisers, particularly in the past two or three years, to the detriment of advertising, and particularly to the detriment of small companies, those that are starting up and new products that are being launched. They have much to answer for, and I do not support the idea of the fourth channel going to any of the existing ITV companies.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot should also bear in mind that our economy is not yet so bankrupt that there is no money available in the market to finance new contractors. There is plenty of money available for consortia to be set up on a competitive basis to take up new franchises. I join the pleas of my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), the hon. Members for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and others that we should not fall into the trap of having existing boundaries as the boundaries for ITV2.
I have reservations about the East Midlands station as conceived by hon. Members representing Nottingham. My concept is founded on a South Midlands basis, as there is a greater affinity between Northampton, Bedfordshire and the northern regions of Buckinghamshire than there is between the far areas of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. Let us ask those in authority to look at the varying possibilities of boundaries. We now have new Euro-constituencies. Northamptonshire is basically linked with Buckinghamshire. Perhaps that area should be looked at. There are people who look to the various registrar-generals' regions, marketing regions and Euro-regions. However, the message is that we do not wish to be tied to the boundaries that now exist.
If we are thinking of ITV2 outside the existing companies, we should think about the role of the charities and some of the minority interests of a commercial nature. Here I perhaps speak with greater knowledge. We do this with the boundaries of housing and planning policy. We say to certain local authorities and dictate to people that there should be low-cost housing in a region, a certain density in one area and a certain density in another. There is nothing 1156 to prevent Parliament or the IBA from saying to a commercial organisation "We expect you, within the time dimensions available, to make time available for charities and religious interests. You must alter the rate per second or per half minute for advertising." That is not a difficult calculation. It is simple and straightforward.
We must remember that the present ITV contractors have a vested interest in ITV2. They have held the existing commercial interests to ransom. We shall do a great disservice to competition policy, to consumer durable goods and to service interests if we adopt the "attractive" proposition which the existing companies are putting forward. I warn my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot that, inviting as it appears, we should not bite on this proposition. We should look at it cautiously. Engineering does not help the situation. I ask my hon. Friend and the Government to ensure that we do not bite on this attractive cherry.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
It is a matter of great regret and, I am tempted to say, a disgrace that although it is two years since the Annan report findings were published we should get this tiddler of a Bill all by itself instead of its being part of a much larger Bill.
It is no good anyone trying to say in its defence that the engineering must be done before the fourth channel is set up. It will take very much longer to get a body, whose task is to produce and transmit programmes, going from scratch than it will to do the engineering. And it is high time that the House had before it the legislation to set that body up.
As a result of this two-year delay we are now in a situation where the future of television may be determined by the accidental timing of a general election. There has to be an election some time in the next eight months. The Conservative Party is publicly committed to giving the fourth channel to ITV. It is a logical possibility that the Conservative Party might win the next general election—that is acknowledged even by Government supporters. However, I do not think that a reasonable person would maintain that any perceptible section of the public would cast its votes at the next election in accordance with the 1157 differing television policies of the two main parties—still less their differing policies on the allocation of the fourth channel. So although the future of television will go one way or the other, the decision will not have been made on the merits of the case.
I was especially disappointed that the Home Secretary, in opening the debate, went out of his way to say twice that this Bill in no way pre-empted the decision about the fourth channel and did not ensure that the fourth channel would go to an Open Broadcasting Authority. We should have before us a Bill that does ensure that.
The issue about the fourth channel is not whether the independent television companies should have access to it. If an Open Broadcasting Authority were set up in accordance with the Annan recommendations, everyone who knows anything about the television scene would agree that the great bulk of the programmes to be shown on such a channel would be almost bound to originate with the independent programme-making companies. They form the largest pool of programme-making talent, experience and facilities that exist outside the BBC, which already has its own two channels. So they will have their outlet anyway. What is at issue is whether the fourth channel shall also be available to programme makers other than the independent television companies and, a related issue, whether that channel shall be controlled by those companies.
I am strongly of the opinion that the Annan recommendation was right and that the fourth channel should not be controlled by the commercial companies although the commercial companies should have access to it. I therefore call upon the Government to bring forward as soon as possible legislation embodying those recommendations.
There may, as I say, be seven or eight months before a general election. They are likely to be months in which the Government will almost be looking for legislation to put before the House—certainly we do not have a log jam of urgent Bills awaiting consideration. After two years of delay despite the Government's commitment to Annan, and given the fact that the next election could set the whole development of television on 1158 a wrong path, I should like to see the Government bring in legislation based on Annan and get it passed before the next general election. They have the time.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
May I apologise? I hope that hon. Members will not all cheer at once, but I am losing my voice.
There can be no question that the Independent Broadcasting Authority is inefficient. There may be some question whether it is actually, in the strict sense of the word, corrupt.
May I prove the point about its inefficiency? The current annual report and accounts of the Authority cover the years 1976–77. The document, which has an introduction by the chairman, was submitted to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and her letter doing so is dated 7 March 1978. Those accounts are for the period to 31 March 1977.
I used to work for a multinational company whose instructions to its subsidiaries were that they should submit their accounts within one month to the holding company. The holding company consolidated those accounts within one further month. They were audited, dealt with and published within three months from the year end. It will be apparent that the IBA finds this impossible. It takes nearly 12 months for the IBA to do the same thing.
The interesting point is that today is 6 March. If the IBA does exactly the same thing for last year's accounts, we shall get those accounts tomorrow, the day after this Second Reading debate. I have reason to believe that that is exactly what will occur, and that is why I make a suggestion of corruption. I cannot conceive that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—I am sure that she was not aware of the circumstances—will wish to have the Second Reading of this Bill before we, as a House of Commons, are aware of the accounts of that Authority for the year long past—12 months past.
If we look at the last published accounts, we find a fascinating and interesting story. On one revenue account, television, there is a profit of £240,000 and on another there is a deficit of £355,000—a net deficit of £115,000. I am sorry to go back two years, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as I am sure you 1159 realise, if the accounts are only to be published tomorrow, it is not easy to deal with the current position. This is a clear illustration of inefficiency.
Television and radio, the media of communication, are not usually regarded as the least profitable enterprises in the United Kingdom. They are not usually regarded as methods of losing money. Farmers have been known to go bankrupt, as have builders but not many television or radio companies go bankrupt. But the Independent Broadcasting Authority manages, according to its last published revenue accounts—I do not know what the accounts will show to-morrow—to prove that it is not making money. In effect, it is subsidising private companies in radio and television which are, of course, making a profit and declaring dividends. I do not think that the average taxpayer set up the Authority in order to subsidise private enterprise in that way.
I am all in favour of both public service and private enterprise commercial channels, but I am not in favour of the taxpayer subsidising the commercial channel when, after all, that channel should be capable of making money for itself. However, we shall not know the latest position until after the debate, unless my hon. Friend, as I hope she will, takes the point and seeks at 7 p.m. to defer the debate to a date after the IBA has shown itself capable of publishing accounts that should have been available a long time ago.
The IBA is yet another quango that is frightened of using the Comptroller and Auditor General to audit its accounts. It uses a private firm—Coopers and Lybrand. It is a very efficient firm, so efficient that it qualifies the accounts of the IBA, remarking on the use of historic costs. We all know of the arguments that various nationalised industries have been having with the Treasury. Some of them have wished to depreciate their assets, allowing for inflation; some of them have not. The loss in the case of the IBA, to which I have been referring, occurs even in spite of the fact that it chooses only the lowest method of depreciation and does not use any method of depreciation that allows for inflation.
My hon. Friends and some Opposition Members have already made the point 1160 that in the East Midlands we have not a separate television service. Every county council and nearly all the district councils in the area have supported their Members of Parliament in asking for this. We hope that before this Bill is passed, if possible, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, despite its own inefficiencies, will remedy at least one of them by providing a separate television service to the East Midlands, which is one of the economic planning regions of this country.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Critchley
By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that the House has been united this afternoon by a feeling that the cart has been put before the horse. Clearly, in an ideal world, we should have decided long ago what should occupy the fourth channel, before starting on the engineering works, but since when has politics been a rational activity?
I have a word of warning for the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead). I understand on good authority that Lord Grade is considering making a film of his life. If the hon. Member wishes to succeed where "Jesus of Nazareth" failed, he must be more circumspect in his criticisms of ATV.
It is, I believe, basically a matter for the IBA and not for this House to decide how the franchises within television should be allocated. There are three posibilities. First, a new region might be carved out of the Midlands. Secondly, we could stay as we are. Thirdly, an opt-out system, which would allow ATV to broadcast some programmes in the East Midlands for the East Midlands only, might be a solution to the dilemma. Perhaps there is enough money in the kitty, in terms of the Bill, to allow some engineering work to begin, to enable such an opt-out system to work.
I understand that ATV has just opened a film studio in Nottingham. It has been delayed by a six-month long industrial dispute. I understand that it will be used for film, and film only.
§ Mr. English
It is described as a studio. Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me, as a representative of the city, that it is in fact an office, described as a studio, with no electronics in it?
§ Mr. Critchley
The hon. Member will no doubt be able to argue that point with 1161 ATV. I have not visited that establishment, therefore I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any more help.
Concerning the matter of the Welsh broadcasts, here again I am in great difficulty. There are not many Welsh members of the Conservative Party. I represent a Hampshire seat, but I am a Shropshire lad. Nevertheless, I understand that under the ITV2 proposals there would be an annually reviewed grant from all the programme companies, which would be used to pay for independently produced programmes, including those in the Welsh language. This would presumably mean that a relatively small proportion of the fourth channel would be devoted to Welsh language broadcasts. How large a proportion it would be I am not qualified to say, and I hesitate at this late hour to get into that argument.
We welcome this mini-Bill. It will enable the next Government to introduce ITV2 and, by so doing, to enrich the broadcasting in this country.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)
At times during the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have had a slight sense of dèjá vu when I have heard the Annan speeches from the faithful, repeated sometimes for the third time, although the jokes have varied slightly. We have had the opportunity of hearing the Opposition's policy, albeit in one sentence, for a Welsh language television service. That was a great event, and we should like to hear more about it in the future.
My right hon. Friend said quite clearly that the Bill has limited objectives, but nevertheless extremely important, necessary and urgent objectives. The first of these is to enable the Independent Broadcasting Authority to engineer the fourth channel throughout the United Kingdom. This is not an exploratory or preparatory exercise, as the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) said. It is an essential exercise. It is essential work, irrespective of whatever authority eventually provides and supervises the programmes transmitted on the fourth channel.
The concern felt by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) may not have had as much basis as he 1162 believed because, whatever happens in the future, the engineering work is essential. The Bill is concerned only—I repeat only—with the engineering and its associated finance. It leaves all the future options entirely open.
§ Mr. Magee
Does not my hon. Friend understand that it is the very fact that she is making this point and stressing it that is causing us disquiet? It is the fact that the Government are proceeding as if future options are and should remain open instead of pursuing their declared policies that worries us.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I appreciate that. It is urgent, because the second objective, which we expect to be achieved by authorising the engineering work to commence without delay, is to enable the new Welsh language television service to come into operation on the fourth channel in Wales in the autumn of 1982, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said about six times and as I shall be saying a few more times to impress it on the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). That is one important reason.
I realise that there is concern among several hon. Members about major legislation. They have referred to the legislation which will be necessary to implement the Government's proposals in the White Paper. I wish to make absolutely clear that it is the Government's firm intention to proceed with those proposals. I accept that there is a problem about parliamentary time, but we are in no way going back on our proposals, and we shall inform the House of our intentions. In this connection, as I indicated on 29 January, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends in the near future to apply for a supplemental Royal charter to extend the life of the BBC.
In the short time available I should like to deal with a few specific matters. As the hon. Member for Isle of Ely has left the Chamber, I will reply to the same point raised by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid). The engineering of the fourth channel will not interrupt the programme for the engineering of the existing channels. The Government's main concern 1163 is that the UHF coverage of the existing services should be extended to the whole country as soon as practicable. The broadcasting authorities are concentrating on bringing UHF television as quickly as possible to all communities down to a population of about 500. This programme could not be further accelerated even if the fourth channel were not engineered.
The hon. Member for Merioneth referred to Welsh programmes. In the report of the working party on the Welsh television fourth channel project the BBC indicated that it might be able to provide about two and a half hours extra a week for about nine months of the year, and HTV Wales envisaged about one and a half hours a week extra. It is for the broadcasting organisations to determine how far they will be able to realise these aims but, as my right hon. Friend said, both the BBC and HTV Wales have indicated their intention of providing more Welsh language programmes. The Bill will bring in the programmes in the autumn of 1982 with the intention of introducing a Welsh language service of about 20 hours a week covering 90 per cent. of the population of Wales. I hope that the hon. Member for Merioneth will recognise that the steps the Government are taking in the Bill provide ample assurance of their firm commitment to the Welsh language television project.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) asked many questions, several of which I will deal with. If I leave any out perhaps he will write to me. The Welsh Language Television Council will consist of representatives of the broadcasting organisations—OBA, BBC and IBA—and Welsh independent television contractors. It will not be a representative body. The estimated cost of £28 million, as my right hon. Friend said, is at 1978–79 prices. We did not think it would be right to seek from the House greater financial provision at this stage than can be properly estimated at the moment.
The IBA is skilled in engineering matters and I have confidence in its estimates. The Annan committee recommended unanimously, and the Government agreed, that the IBA is the appropriate authority to undertake the engineering of the fourth channel. The world administrative radio conference will establish the 1164 framework for all uses of the frequency spectrum for perhaps the next 20 years. The United Kingdom's proposals are not yet finalised, but they will provide all the flexibility that the matters which we are discussing today will require.
Several questions have been asked about the content of the fourth channel. We believe that a unique opportunity will be missed if that channel is not used to widen the choice available to viewers and to explore new dimensions in broadcasting. The OBA proposals are ambitious, but we believe that they are workable. This belief has been confirmed by the comments we have received on the White Paper, in particular from producers and advertisers. We have said that the fourth channel should be used for programmes that say something new in new ways. It will be for the OBA, when it is set up, to find out what is available and what can be produced once the opportunity is there. It has become clear that there are a good number of experienced people outside the existing broadcasting organisations who are looking forward to the opportunity of producing programmes for the new service.
Many hon. Members referred to the East Midlands. Although it is not strictly connected with the Bill, there seems to be concern about this. The area is at present part of the larger Midlands franchise area serviced by the ATV company based in Birmingham. The responsibility for determining the franchise areas and for awarding the contracts for the provision of television programmes rests with the IBA. The IBA issued a statement last month about its intentions as to the granting of television contracts from 1982 onwards. The arrangements involve a substantial measure of public participation designed to help the Authority to decide which applicants for contracts, whether existing programme companies or new groups, should be offered franchises. I am sure that the Authority will take notice of what has been said in this debate. It will be holding public meetings and hearings, and individuals and representatives of organisations will have an opportunity to submit written comments to it.
The present Midlands area is a large one—indeed, it has the largest potential audience of any of the ITV companies outside London. The proposal to remove 1165 from this area the East Midlands area would involve hiving off Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and perhaps also the reallocation of Lincolnshire from the franchise areas served by Yorkshire Television and Anglia Television. Such a group would include upwards of the 3 million people, so the adjustment of franchise areas is not straightforward and must receive the most careful consideration before decisions can be taken. I am sure that the House will recognise that in reviewing its franchise arrangements the IBA must ensure the overall financial and technical viability of ITV.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I conclude by stressing that the Bill is necessary to set up the engineering system for the fourth channel, and it is urgent for the purpose of introducing a Welsh language service on that channel. I realise the impatience of hon. Members concerning further legislation, but it is essential to give the Bill a Second Reading today.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 25.1167
|Division No. 84]||AYES||[7.0 p.m.|
|Anderson, Donald||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Magee, Bryan|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Finsberg, Geoffrey||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Arnold, Tom||Fookes, Miss Janet||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Ashton, Joe||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mather, Carol|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Forrester, John||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Freud, Clement||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|Bates, Alf||Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Molloy, William|
|Bean, R. E.||Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Monro, Hector|
|Beith, A. J.||George, Bruce||Morris, Rt Hon Charles R.|
|Bendall, Vivian||Golding, John||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)|
|Biffen, John||Gould, Bryan||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Gourlay, Harry||Morton, George|
|Bishop, Rt Hon Edward||Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Blaker, Peter||Grant, John (Islington C)||Noble, Mike|
|Boardman, H.||Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Oakes, Gordon|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Hannant, John||Ovenden, John|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Heffer, Eric S.||Page, John (Harrow West)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Hooley, Frank||Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Horam, John||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Hordern, Peter||Pardoe, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)||Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Park, George|
|Campbell, Ian||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Parker, John|
|Cant, R. B.||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Parkinson, Cecil|
|Cartwright, John||Hunt, David (Wirral)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)||Hunter, Adam||Perry, Ernest|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Radice, Giles|
|Coleman, Donald||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Colquhoun, Ms Maureen||James, David||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Cowans, Harry||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Reid, George|
|Craigen, Jim(Maryhill)||Jessel, Toby||Rhodes James, R.|
|Critchley, Julian||John, Brynmor||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Crouch, David||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Robertson, George (Hamilton)|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, Alec (Rhondda)||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Kerr, Russell||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Dempsey, James||Lambie, David||Rowlands, Ted|
|Dewar, Donald||Lawrence, Ivan||Sandelson, Neville|
|Dolg, Peter||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Silverman, Julius|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Silvester, Fred|
|Dunn, James A.||McCartney, Hugh||Sims, Roger|
|Dunnett, Jack||McCrindle, Robert||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Dykes, Hugh||McElhone, Frank||Smith, Rt Hon John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Eadie, Alex||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Snape, Peter|
|Ellis, John (Brig & Scun)||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Evans, John (Newton)||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Stallard, A. W.|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Maclennan, Robert||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Eyre, Reginald||McNalr-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Stoddart, David||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Stott, Roger||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Tapsell, Peter||Warren, Kenneth||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Watkins, David||Woodall, Alec|
|Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)||Weatherill, Bernard||Woof Robert|
|Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)||Weetch, Ken||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Thompson, George||Wellbeloved, James||Younger, Hon George|
|Tinn, James||Welsh, Andrew||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Urwin, T. W.||White, Frank R. (Bury)||Mr. Ted Graham and|
|Waddington, David||White, James (Pollok)||Mr. Thomas Cox.|
|Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Madden, Max||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Maynard, Miss Joan||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Flannery, Martin||Mikardo, Ian||Whitlock, William|
|Grocott, Bruce||Newens, Stanley||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Parry, Robert|
|Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Richardson, Miss Jo||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Rooker, J. W.||Mr. Bob Cryer and|
|Litterick, Tom||Selby, Harry||Mr. Michael English.|
|Loyden, Eddie||Skinner, Dennis|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Motion made, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. John Evans.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
The Question is, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House. As many as are of that opinion say "Aye".
§ Mr. English
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Excluding Ministers and Whips and members of the Shadow Cabinet, only three hon. Members out of 44 in the East Midlands voted for the Bill, out of 203 hon. Members who did so. To put it on the Floor of the House at this stage—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Be that as it may, it is not a matter for the Chair and in any event we are on a Division. The Question is, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.
§ Committee tomorrow.