HC Deb 29 March 1979 vol 965 cc640-61




4.17 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 14, at end insert— (2) In the provision of this service the Authority shall not discriminate against any region of the United Kingdom. (3) For the purposes of this Act region ' is defined as it is defined on page 4 of Issue No. 27 of Statistical News' published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, for November 1974.". It will be obvious from the fact that my colleagues and I did not oppose the business motion a moment ago that we are not attempting to filibuster this Bill. It is, however, interesting that there is a tremendous attempt to rush this Bill through the House before the Dissolution.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will automatically accept this amendment. Most of us believe in non-discrimination for various purposes. One would have thought that an amendment of this character was hardly necessary. One would have thought that a body such as the Independent Broadcasting Authority—the Independent Television Authority as it was—would not have attempted to discriminate against regions of the United Kingdom.

Unfortunately, this amendment is necessitated by the fact that the IBA has discriminated, and the fact that the East Midlands is the only region of the economic planning regions—which I believe I should technically call the "standard regions" of the United Kingdom, such as the North-West, North-East, Northern, East Midlands, West Midlands. South-East and South-West—which does not have a television programme company. It is the only one that is not provided with its own independent regional service. We are totally dominated by the services provided by ATV from either the Shepperton Studios or Birmingham.

A week or two ago I understand that Lord Windlesham, who is managing director of ATV, suggested that these relatively recent complaints would be satisfied if there was a little opt-out, whereby Birmingham would graciously allow the people of the East Midlands their own magazine programme for half an hour a day. That is hardly sufficient for the purpose.

What we in the East Midlands want is what every other region has, be it Scotland, East Anglia, which is a very appropriate example because it is a smaller region in numbers of people than the East Midlands, London, Wales or Northern Ireland. We simply want the rights that everyone else has. In other words, we do not wish to take away the great profits that ATV makes, not only for itself but for the country as a whole, by producing films to be shown abroad, thereby earning money for the kingdom and itself. We are not concerned with that. Good luck to ATV. We are not concerned that the East Midlands should have one of the great major network companies that dominate the independent channel.

We are concerned, however, that a very large and prosperous region of the United Kingdom should have the same minimal rights of a second-rank programme company that would provide eight to 12 hours of programmes—not just news, as Lord Windlesham seemed to suggest, but also drama and everything else. I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord seems to think that all we want is news of the East Midlands.

The reaction of ATV to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), myself and my colleagues in the East Midlands was to create an office in the centre of Nottingham with three reporters. It is an amazing and interesting fact that for over 20 years there has been a Midlands franchise based on Birmingham, the holders of which never thought of having an office in the East Midlands until now. That office may improve news coverage, but will three reporters produce, for example, the works of D. H. Lawrence? Plays by D. H. Lawrence have been performed on the BBC, and adaptations of his novels have been shown on the independent channel. That was done, I believe, on the independent channel by Granada Television, a Lancashire company. ATV has adapted Arnold Bennett's novels.

There is a good technical reason for doing this. The good technical reason why ATV will always use something from the West Midlands if possible is that some 20 years ago, as one understands, ATV concluded arrangements with its trade unions that even I, as a member of the Labour Party, would suggest were not necessarily ideal arrangements from the point of view of the management of any organisation. One is told that—

The Second Deputy Chairman

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make it clearer to me how his argument is related to the amendment.

Mr. English

The point is that the East Midlands, which is one of the regions of the United Kingdom, is not provided with a television service because it is officially provided with a television service that happens to be based in the West Midlands. I was endeavouring to explain that this West Midlands or London-based company cannot provide very much in the way of services to the East Midlands. For example, if it wants to do any outside broadcasting there, under the nature of the arrangements that were made with the trade unions about 20 years ago, it costs so much more. It is, therefore, easier to produce "Clayhanger" or Arnold Bennett in the West Midlands, because the company does not have to send its camera teams to the East Midlands.

The result is simply that the East Midlands is not provided with what every other region has, namely, drama, news, current affairs or music from the East Midlands. We do not have the things that other regions possess. There is an intentional discrimination, which I think started in a reasonable way. I am not suggesting that 20-odd years ago there was not a tremendous rush. Once London had its television, Birmingham and the Midlands wanted television, and once Birmingham had it there was a tremendous rush to have it in Lancashire and Yorkshire and Scotland. That is all perfectly natural.

But, in the course of that, people erected television masts and transmitters wherever they could. The result was that originally, instead of society being served by the machine it had developed, the machine, permanently instead of what should have been temporarily, dominated mankind. As a result of masts being erected on the Pennines, Lancashire and Yorkshire were united, which I as a Lancastrian—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would also have something to say—would argue is something that cannot be permanent.

In the last round of franchises, Lancashire and Yorkshire were split, as they should be, because they are not the same area, and erecting a television mast in the middle of the Pennines does not change that fact. Just because the Midlands area is relatively flat, it is possible to cover it with a few transmitters and relay stations. Just because of that, and after the old "Granadaland"—Lancashire and Yorkshire—had been divided, it became the largest region in terms of population. I believe I am right in saying that the region served by ATV is the biggest in population terms.

That has occurred because people erected transmitters in particular places—Sutton Coldfield, Waltham and so on. It has not occurred because the East and West Midlands were naturally one region. They have been different regions ever since the Danes conquered the East Midlands and did not conquer the West Midlands. Just because, from an engineering point of view, one can serve a particular area does not mean that one should.

I understand that the IBA's main priority now is to erect small, extra stations in parts of valleys and high mountain areas. Its main priority is not to change anything that was set up 20 or more years ago, even if it was discriminatory against a particular region. Its main priority is to fill in tiny gaps of a few thousand people, instead of serving the nearly 4 million people who live in the East Midlands and who at present have no service whatever.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I have a great deal of sympathy with, and rather support, the tenor of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. Is he complaining that the service which is received by the people in the East Midlands is technically inferior in the sense that the signal sent out is less clear, or is he, as I suspect, suggesting with some evidence that the reporting carried out by the news service of the Midlands television is discriminatory in the sense that it does not cover the news of the East Midlands as effectively as it does in the West Midlands, for the simple reason that it is more expensive to go out from Birmingham into the East Midlands area than into the West Midlands area? Is it the inferiority of the signal or the poor news reporting and drama production of which he complains?

Mr. English

It is a combination, but I was talking primarily about engineering. About 18 months ago, when the hon. Member for Beeston and myself started this, it could be said that there was no reporting at all in the East Midlands. But since we did start this, and since nearly all our 44 East Midlands colleagues on both sides of the House supported us, ATV has reacted by opening an office in Nottingham which has three reporters. My hon. Friends and I will have a closer look at this in a few weeks, subject to other events, but, as I understand it, for the moment, the Nottingham office has three reporters but no electronic equipment or cameramen. In that respect it is not like the BBC. For example, on Derby Road, Nottingham, the BBC has a full colour studio which can be used by anyone in the East Midlands for any purpose that is relevant.

As to the signal, it is a peculiar fact that the signal from Waltham transmitter can be received by 90 per cent. of the population of Derby and by only 80 per cent. of the population of Nottingham. But the population of Nottingham normally looks at those programmes, whereas the population of Derby is normally forced to look at programmes transmitted from Sutton Coldfield because for various reasons the signal from Waltham is not as good in Derby as it is in Nottingham. The strange thing is that the coverage in Derby is greater and the signal strength weaker, whereas the coverage in Nottingham is less, although the signal strength is greater. There are various technical problems involved.

The point I make in the amendment is that the technical problem involved basically boils down to money. Clearly, if one wishes, one can provide a service for any region of the country, but one should not allow machinery—in this case, television transmitters—to dominate the society in which we live. It was futile to attempt to unite Lancashire and Yorkshire, and in television terms that has now ceased to exist. It is equally futile to attempt to unite the East and West Midlands. The BBC used to unite the East Midlands, West Midlands and East Anglia. In "Broadcasting in the Seventies", the BBC specifically said that East Anglia would become a separate BBC region and the next priority was to split the East and West Midlands. I have consulted the BBC and it still adheres to this. I would be ruled out of order if I went on about the BBC, but our principles are not only related to one channel. I want to make that plain. We want the BBC region divided just as we want the ITV region divided.

What we want is perfectly simple. We want the same rights for the East Midlands as every other region of the United Kingdom has. We do not want to be discriminated against. We do not want all our programmes made either somewhere outside the Midlands region or in Birmingham, which is outside the East Midlands region. That would be quite easy to do. Undoubtedly, we would like this done on the fourth channel, but we would also like it done on what one might call the second channel as well. We simply want to be treated equally with everyone else, and we have a right to be so treated.

If one looks at the Kilbrandon report, one will find that, if one measures public expenditure against taxation, the East Midlands region provides more public taxation for the public expenditure that it gets than any other region of the United Kingdom. Demographically, it is the region that is growing most rapidly with young people. The East Midlands is one of the regions of the United Kingdom which is not a problem—

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

There are others.

Mr. English

There are others. It is one of the regions that does not have to be propped up by the taxpayer. If every other region of the United Kingdom was like the East Midlands, our country's industrial and economic performance would be far better than it is. In such circumstances, the people of the East Midlands have a right to look at their television screens and see a few things—say, eight to 12 hours—produced in the East Midlands, instead of programmes that are produced in London, in Birmingham or by other people who do not support or run the East Midlands.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

This is one of those days when, for a variety of reasons outside the Chamber, most of us will probably wish to be uncharacteristically brief. I want to comment on two aspects of this matter, and perhaps the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) will help me on one point.

In his amendment, the hon. Gentleman has referred to regions as defined by statistical news, and one of the difficulties I have always been in since I was engaged in regional policy at the Department of the Environment is to know what a region is. Perhaps he could help me by telling me at this stage precisely what he means by "the East Midlands area". I ask this because I have an interest—not a personal but a constituency interest—in the success of Anglia Television, which is seen in parts of what I call the East Midlands. Perhaps he would let me know where, in his mind, the demarcation is.

Mr. English

The reason for this peculiar definition is that I was told that my amendment would be out of order because the draftsmen would say that they did not know what a region was. Having been trained in the law, I understand the technical legal comment, "I do not know what a region is unless you define it", so I promptly produced a definition.

The standard region is Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire, and it is in the last that the hon. Gentleman is interested. But I was very careful in my earlier remarks not to suggest that anybody could conceivably, from an engineering point of view, produce from transmitters a visual area that exactly corresponded to county boundaries. Nobody but a fool could think that. What we are mainly concerned with is where the population of the East Midlands lies, which is in the three counties of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

I quite understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making, and we are mainly concerned that there should be a television company in the East Midlands. Scottish Television does not serve all Scotland and companies in various other areas do not serve precisely the whole region, but at least each region has one. We have not.

Mr. Griffiths

It seems to me that the point is this. There are various regions in this country for the supply of electricity and water and for television purposes, but the region that appears to count most of all is that which is ordained by the Order Office of the House of Commons for the purposes of amendment.

My first point is made in support of the hon. Gentleman, because I frequently go to the East Midlands. I think it is one of the most lively, most vital and, certainly economically and industrially, most successful areas of our country, and it is unfortunate and a shame that it does not have a television service of its own emanating from that area and able to report perhaps more effectively than is possible from Birmingham the very many things that happen in the social, industrial, economic and agricultural life of the area.

I should like to give one example, which I hope the Minister will take into account. Last Sunday there was held in Nottingham the first round of a series of games for the selection of a team of mentally handicapped athletes to compete in special Olympics in New York in the summer. I declare an interest because I am the chairman of the group that is selecting those athletes. It was of some importance, not least for fund-raising purposes, and because of the need to demonstrate that the mentally handicapped can compete in sport, to make sure that those games were well known to the people of the Midlands area. Nottingham was very hospitable in every sense.

I found it remarkable that the BBC covered those games very well, and it did so, I suspect, because it is conscious of the East Midlands as an area where there is news to be reported and viewers to be cared for. But, while I make no criticism of the independent television service, perhaps because it was a Sunday, because there is such a thing as overtime, because it would have had to come from Birmingham, it found it very much more difficult to cover those games and did not do so.

I think this rather underlines the point which the hon. Gentleman has made. There are many reasons why a television service at any one point may not cover an event. We do not always agree on what is news, and I certainly would not wish to pre-empt the news judgment of the editor of ATV in these matters. But it was conspicuous that there was a greater ability and willingness on the part of the BBC to cover the East Midlands than there was on the part of ATV, and I cannot help believing that it was in part because ATV is much more Birmingham-oriented, West Midlands-centred, than is the BBC, which over a period of years has hoisted in the hon. Gentleman's point. So I agree very much with him on that.

The second point I wish to make, and it is really in support of the amendment, is that the signal of the Anglia Television system comes into what is broadly called the East Midlands area, however it be defined, and I think it is very welcome. True, it does not go into the heartland of the East Midlands, of Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire, but it is received widely in Northamptonshire and indeed, as the hon. Member well knows, in Lincolnshire, which has an agricultural and regional commonality with the Anglian area.

I very much emphasise to the Minister that nothing should be done in this Bill or in any other way that would, in the words of the amendment, "discriminate against" the very successful activities of Anglia Television.

Mr. English

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene a second time. I think he is aware that, although it is not what we are advocating, if our television service were run from Norwich, which is the centre of a region nearly the same size, in population terms, as the East Midlands, we would have much less complaint than we do when we are dominated from Birmingham, which has two-thirds of the population of the whole of the Midlands.

Secondly, I entirely accept that there are fringe areas, like Lincolnshire, the second most sparsely populated county in the United Kingdom—in which my wife's mother and father live—where they are fortunate enough to be able to get Yorkshire, Anglia and ATV. The trouble is that the bulk of the population of the East Midlands is not in that situation; they are forced to have the "Crossroads" Birmingham-oriented ATV.

Mr. Griffiths

I understand the hon. Gentleman. Those who are fortunate enough to live in the area of overlap have a wider range of choice than those who do not, but sometimes the consequence of overlap is a blurring of the signal, so that while one has a wider range of choice none of the services received is anywhere near as clear. Therefore it is not an untrammelled advantage. There is inevitably an area of overlap between one television area and another. This is no bad thing, but the crucial point—and this is where I strongly support the amendment—is that nothing should be done by the broadcasting authorities, and certainly nothing should be done as a consequence of this Bill, which would permit some areas to be put at a new disadvantage as compared with others and as compared with the present situation.

I seek only one assurance from the Minister, and I am sure she will be able to give it: that when the House comes, as I believe it will, to give authority to the IBA to provide these new facilities—we are talking not of a service but merely of the infrastructure that will allow a future service to be put in, and indeed I suspect it will be the service which this side of the House prefers and not the service which the Government have rather foolishly suggested, in my opinion—I want to be quite certain that the IBA will recognise that in some parts of the country we have contented customers.

The vast majority of viewers in Suffolk, Norfolk, North Essex, Cambridgeshire and most of Lincolnshire receive from Norwich, whether through the BBC or Anglia Television, a good signal. They receive a good, newsy, interesting service, although it can of course be improved. I want to make sure that nothing is done to limit, discriminate against, or make more difficult the task of, the existing service. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the spirit of what the hon. Member for Nottingham, West said even though, for technical reasons, we know that it is difficult to add to the Bill an amendment in that form of words.

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)

I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), with the mover of the motion, and with my hon. Friend the Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester), whose name lies alongside his, in their desire to have a new region established in the Midlands. We in Wales are fortunate in that we are a region in ourselves and that a specific Government proposal for the new service to Wales is referred to in clause 1.

Mr. English

We are a region, and always have been. The boundaries were slightly changed when the county boundaries were altered, but we always have been a separate region. Our difference is not that we are not a region but that we are the only region without a separate television service.

Mr. Roberts

I understand that, and I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's feelings.

The Government have specific proposals for the fourth channel in Wales. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) rather misled the House during the Second Reading debate on the Bill when he said: the Conservative opposition have no proposals for Wales whatever." —[Official Report, 6 March 1979; Vol. 963, c. 1138.] We made our position absolutely clear in the debate on 23 May 1977, and we have not budged from that position. I hope that the Committee will not think it vain of me to quote myself, but I feel obliged to do so. In that debate I said: The non-Welsh-speaking majority of viewers and the Welsh-speaking minority both want the Welsh language programmes placed in a separate channel. That is the channel referred to in clause 1. I went on to point out Annan's regret if all Welsh programmes were banished to the fourth channel, and I said: I suggest that the proper solution is for both BBC and HTV Welsh programmes to be transmitted on the fourth channel under the control of the IBA and for the BBC to continue transmitting selected programmes on its main Welsh channel and thus maintain the Welsh language presence on that channel in accordance with the Annan recommendation."—[Official Report, 23 May 1977; Vol. 932, c. 1083.] I went on to explain the position further. The hon. Member for Merioneth could have seen most of my quotation from Hansard incorporated in the Conservative campaign guide, which is our recognised "bible" of policy and available to all and sundry in the Library. Be that as it may, I read the hon. Gentleman's speech with great care and I take it into account as I expand on our ideas for the fourth channel in Wales under the auspices of the IBA.

4.45 p.m.

What the Government propose by way of a Welsh language service in the White Paper, which we shall be discussing later, differs fundamentally from our proposal only in so far as we propose to make the IBA responsible while the Government propose to make the OBA the responsible body. I do not see that it makes a blind bit of difference to the viewer which authority is responsible. He is concerned only about the programmes presented for his viewing.

It should not make any difference to the broadcasters either, but they have been making noises behind the scenes and their points of view are well represented in the Home Office report of the working party on the Welsh television fourth channel project. The BBC is reluctant to show its programmes under an IBA banner, but I believe that reluctance will have to be overcome. After all, under the Government scheme it will be showing its programmes under the OBA flag and those programmes will be transmitted from IBA-controlled transmitters erected under clause 1. The BBC programmes can be clearly identified as BBC productions when shown on the fourth channel in Wales.

As for the IBA and the Welsh contractor, it is understandable that they should argue that, in the event of their being given the fourth channel in Wales, they should be on a par with the BBC there, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, they should have to carry only their own Welsh language programmes on the fourth channel, and the BBC should continue to transmit its programmes on BBC Wales or BBC 2.

I say to the broadcasters that they should put the interests of the Welsh-speaking viewer first and foremost, that they must get together to provide a continuous daily service of Welsh language programmes on the fourth channel from about 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. If this daily service were to be expanded by as much as half an hour, which would take it until 7.30 p.m., the initial target of 25 hours a week of Welsh language broadcasting would be very nearly achieved.

The Second Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) should be talking about the provision of broadcasting equipment. Perhaps he could relate what he is saying to clause 1.

Mr. Roberts

Clause 1 provides for the establishment of a service which in Wales is already allocated to a fourth channel Welsh service. The position in Wales is rather different from the position in England. Nevertheless, Wales is a region, and we would argue that any failure to carry out the promise to establish a Welsh fourth channel service would be discriminatory against television in Wales, and, of course, the amendment refers to discrimination. I think, Mr. Godman Irvine, with due respect, that brief as I shall be, I shall nevertheless be in order in talking about the region of Wales and non-discrimination there.

The Second Deputy Chairman

As long as the hon. Gentleman talks about equipment.

Mr. Roberts

By "equipment" is meant here the provision of aerials and transmitting equipment, which in turn implies a service. Clause 1 talks about the provision of a service. With due respect, I do not think that one can talk about equipment purely and simply, especially in view of the speeches that preceded mine, without talking about a service. I am talking about the service that is proposed for the fourth channel in Wales, that service being provided by the equipment referred to by you, Mr. Godman Irvine.

I place emphasis on the early evening hours. That is the time when children are watching. It is with them very much in mind, and for them, that the service should be provided, although there would be provision for adults in news and current affairs and other programming appropriate to the time of day.

The Government propose a Welsh Language Television Council, consisting of representatives of the broadcasting organisations in Wales with a chairman drawn from the OBA. Under our scheme, it will be necessary to have a close practical liaison committee of the existing broadcasting organisations, probably with an independent executive chairman whose first concern will be a Welsh language service provided under clause 1. This working committee may need to be backed by selected members of the committees already serving the broadcasting media in Wales. This machinery would be similar to the proposed Welsh Language Council.

Where is the advantage for Wales in the scheme that we, on this side, have proposed? It is partly financial and partly organisational. Just as the IBA is providing the transmitters and the equipment for this fourth channel service in Wales, so it will implement the Welsh language service in conjunction with the programme contractor and the BBC. We would maintain that the OBA is superfluous in this context.

Wales will lose part of the second ITV service. But it will lose part of the OBA service under the Government proposals, as is readily admitted in the White Paper. On the question of the number of hours broadcast, there is a danger that we emphasise quantity at the expense of quality. New ideas do not grow on trees. There is a difference between a string of programmes and a proper unified service. It is the latter that Welsh-speaking people want. They want continuous viewing of Welsh programmes presented in Welsh, and Welsh in spirit. I firmly believe that this service can be provided largely from existing resources, although the BBC may need extra support for additional programmes.

I know that this debate began in the Midlands, but it has moved on to Wales, which is another region. I hasten to assure you, Mr. Godman Irvine, that we have advanced further in Wales than in England in the use of the fourth channel. We have moved from the stage when we are talking about equipment to the stage where we are talking very much about programming.

Mr. Julian Critchley (Aldershot)

If we might move swiftly back from Wales to the Midlands, I suppose that all IBA regions are a matter of masts and money but, more particularly, they are a matter for the IBA and not for the House. An opt-out system has been suggested for the East Midlands. The special links that would be necessary, in engineering terms, for such a system would have to be carried out, in the first place, by the Post Office. If this work was given to the Post Office and not to the IBA, I understand that it would not be completed for 18 months.

But is is common sense that an opt-out system should be provided so that East Midlands programmes can be shown only to people within the East Midlands. The system should be provided before the franchises are changed, if, indeed, they are, and the new contracts announced.

Mr. English

I recognise that ATV's proposal, as expressed by Lord Windlesham in last week's UK Press Gazette, is at least an attempt, after 20 years, to show willing. It is not enough. The average opt-out is about two and a half hours a week, half an hour a day, possibly involving a magazine programme or similar type programme. But that is not what we want.

The technical problem lies in providing any service at all, or a greater service. It is nothing that greatly involves either the IBA or the Post Office. I am reliably informed that all transmitters in this country are provided by a well known Dutch company called Philips.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Dr. Shirley Summerskill)

Discussion on this amendment has ranged more widely than I believed it could. That is saying quite a lot. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) appeared to use the amendments to state his well-known argument for an independent television service for the East Midlands. We are all well aware that this is his desire. He has stated it fully and eloquently on previous occasions.

I am sure that the IBA is aware of his wish. I believe that he has recently met the Authority to express his concern. The Authority must now be considering his proposal carefully.

The IBA has issued a statement about its initial work towards the granting of new franchises. A good deal of consultation with the public will be involved. My hon. Friend's views will obviously be considered important in this matter. My hon. Friend has urged the establishment of a separate franchise area for the East Midlands—

Mr. English

I do not wish to take as much credit as my hon. Friend seems to want to give me. I hope she realises that only about four or five of the 44 Members of Parliament representing the East Midlands take a different view from the view I was endeavouring to express. All five county councils in the East Midlands take the same view as myself, as do nearly all the district councils. In other words, to be blunt, nearly every elected representative of nearly 4 million people, in addition to all the chambers of commerce of the counties and cities, except the Lincolnshire chamber of commerce in whose area, as the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) explained, three services can be received, take the same view. We do not simply want a separate television company. We want a separate service provided by the BBC and ITV. How it is provided has nothing to do with us. None of us has any financial interest.

Dr. Summerskill

I appreciate that there is great concern in my hon. Friend's area, even if that concern is not shared by all his parliamentary colleagues.

Mr. English

About four out of 44.

Dr. Summerskill

Four MPs are four MPs. Their views deserve some recognition. I am sure that the IBA is well aware of the numerical breakdown of who supports this proposal and who does not, and that it is aware of my hon. Friend's strong interest in the matter. The IBA issued a statement last month about its intentions on the granting of television contracts from 1982 onwards, subject to the provisions of any legislation Parliament may approve on the future of broadcasting. The current pattern of ITV franchise areas has been influenced partly by the coverage capability of the VHF transmitters which provided the earlier monochrome transmissions in 405-line definition. In determining what changes, if any, shall be made, the IBA will need to take account of technical constraints no less than the considerations, mentioned by my hon. Friend, of social identity and financial viability. The present ATV Midlands area is a large one. My hon. Friend was present when I said in a previous speech that it has the largest potential audience of any of the ITV companies outside London.

5.0 p.m.

The proposal to remove the East Midlands from ATV would involve hiving off Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and perhaps the reallocation of Lincolnshire, from the franchise areas served by Yorkshire Television and Anglia Television. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, who has left the Chamber, mentioned his interest in Anglia Television.

The present Waltham transmitter used by ATV could provide a service to about 1.35 million viewers. A number of detailed technical considerations would need to be studied involving other transmitters serving part of the current franchise areas of Yorkshire Television and Anglia Television. These include the need to avoid any adverse effects on coverage elsewhere if there were to be any adjustment of the existing areas.

I am sure that these arguments are familiar to my hon. Friend. He knows that franchise areas are matters for the IBA and not for putting in the Bill. We cannot meet my hon. Friend's wishes by means of the Bill. However, I am sure that the IBA will be aware of the arguments that he has advanced.

The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) advanced an argument that I understand is official Conservative policy for Welsh television, according to the Western Mail, which has given it great prominence. The Conservative Party plans to give the fourth channel to ITV, full stop. Obviously the hon. Gentleman has taken advantage of these proceedings in Committee to amplify his party's policy for Wales. Even if we wanted to, we would not be able by means of the amendment to determine the handing over of a fourth channel to ITV. That is irrelevant to the amendment. However, as the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue, I repeat yet again—we have had many broadcasting debates and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said what I am about to say on many occasions—that it is the Government's intention to introduce the fourth television channel in Wales, giving priority to a service in the Welsh language in the autumn of 1982.

The present Bill gives the IBA the power to start engineering the fourth channel. The Authority has already indicated that it will give priority to engineering the fourth channel in Wales. It is our intention to establish an Open Broadcasting Authority and to deal with that in our major broadcasting legislation.

If we secure parliamentary approval for both the Bills, there is no basis for supposing that the Government's commitment to the Welsh people for a Welsh fourth television channel cannot be implemented in the autumn of 1982. I hope that the Western Mail gives those remarks as much prominence tomorrow morning as it has given to the hon. Gentleman's statements on Conservative Party plans.

I return to the amendment—

Mr. English

Hear, hear.

Dr. Summerskill

I have been answering the elaborate points made by my hon. Friend in moving the amendment.

The Bill is concerned only with essential preliminary engineering work for the fourth channel service. Under the Government's proposals in chapter 3 of the White Paper on broadcasting, the provision of that service will be a matter not for the Open Broadcasting Authority but for the IBA.

Mr. English

Before we reach the possibly contentious issue of the Open Broadcasting Authority, with which, I stress, my amendment does not deal, does my hon. Friend realise that we are continually told that the reason why we do not have a separate television service in the East Midlands is because certain engineering work was done almost a quarter of a century ago? She says that the Bill is only about undertaking engineering work. Whoever runs the service may be told in 25 years' time that it is suffering from the engineering for which we made provision in the Bill. From past experience, that must be what is likely to happen.

My hon. Friend began by mentioning engineering technicalities. Why has a study not been made of how the East Midlands could be provided, from an engineering point of view, with a separate television service? The hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) and I have consulted several engineers of various persuasions. We are told that no study has been undertaken. After 25 years it is surely time for such a study. My hon. Friend says "This is why it cannot be done". Will she order the IBA to assess the facts? Surely that is within the powers of the Home Secretary. My right hon. Friend has the power to ask the IBA to check on the relevant facts.

Dr. Summerskill

I am sure that my hon. Friend has put all these matters to the IBA. They do not relate to the amendment. The amendment is concerned with setting up preliminary engineering work for the fourth channel. There can be no question of discrimination against an area or region. Apart from Wales, the service to be provided will be transmitted as a single service throughout the United Kingdom. That will include the areas of every hon. Member except for those representing Welsh constituencies.

For the reasons that I have given, I cannot accept my hon. Friend's amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. English

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 3, at end insert 'commencing with those areas which at present have no such studios'. The Government's reply and the Opposition's response to the previous amendment—this is a somewhat all-party occasion—were effectively to say that we do not mind if certain regions are discriminated against. It is to that approach that the people of the East Midlands object.

After an earlier debate to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State referred, there was a somewhat acrimonious correspondence between Lord Windlesham and myself, in which he accused me of saying that the ATV premises in Nottingham are offices rather than production facilities. I said no such thing. I said that they had no electronics for any practical purpose.

It may be that ultimately ATV will introduce facilities in Nottingham of the sort that were introduced long ago by the BBC. Before the hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester) and I referred to the non-existence of any facilities in Nottingham, there was nothing. There was a BBC studio that originally could handle only black and white material. It can now handle colour material and is a fully competent studio. However, there was no ATV studio.

There is now behind the Theatre Royal what I described as an office but which is described by itself as a studio. That is in the middle of Nottingham. From those premises three reporters work. Nor did I say in the previous debate that they do not. However, Lord Windlesham asked me to make it plain that three reporters work from the premises in Nottingham.

The hon. Member for Beeston and I anticipated visiting the ATV premises on 20 April but it now seems unlikely that we shall be able to go. We want to know whether it is possible for colour broadcasting to be undertaken at those premises. As I understand it, for whatever reasons, perhaps disagreements with trade unions or lack of equipment, it is not possible. Whatever it calls itself, it is not a studio in the sense that the BBC has a studio in Derby Road, Nottingham.

We come back to the question of discrimination which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary loves so much. If we are to have the new service required by this Bill—studios are particularly mentioned in the Bill—may we please start with areas which do not have a studio? May we at least see that the services provided by the Independent Broadcasting Authority are not less than those provided by the BBC in the East Midlands? if as much were provided by the Independent Broadcasting Authority as is provided by the BBC in the East Midlands, that would be a start. At the moment it does not provide, in the precise terms of the Bill, the equipment and other essentials that are need for a proper television service.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I want to make it quite clear that the views expressed by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) are by no means shared by all hon. Members from the East Midlands. Many of us further south in the Leicester area say that, as there is already a fully operational colour BBC studio in Nottingham, if there is to be any change from Birmingham—and many of us do not want a change—we can see no reason why the IBA studio should also be centred on Nottingham.

My purpose in speaking is to confirm that a number of us in the East Midlands are quite happy with the service which ATV provides. Many of us in the southeastern corner of the East Midlands are more than happy because we are on the fringe of ATV and Anglia and we get a first-class service from both. I say this to put the record straight.

Mr. English

I fully explained that a minority of hon. Members take the view just expressed by the hon. Gentleman, although it is a small minority. I did not choose that there should be a studio or office in Nottingham, nor did the hon. Member for Beeston (Mr. Lester). We did not choose, either, that there should be no ATV studio or office anywhere in the East Midlands in the previous two decades. It was ATV, after a majority protest by hon. Members, which decided to put its studio, office, or whatever it may be, in Nottingham. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there should be another studio in Leicester, I agree with him. There is a shortage.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He went into such detail about whether the studio should be in Nottingham—I know Nottingham very well—saying there was a suitable site here and the lack of a site there, that I thought that he was suggesting that Nottingham should be considered to the exclusion of anywhere else.

Many of us are happy with the existing set-up. It is difficult if one wants to take part in an ATV programme from Pebble Mill to go from Leicester to Birmingham. But it is as convenient to go from Leicester to Birmingham as to go from Leicester to Nottingham. It would make more sense if there were alternative studios in Leicester. Most of the letters I have received from constituents have been in favour of the existing ATV and Anglia regions service with which we are well satisfied.

Dr. Summerskill

I feel that this amendment is not relevant to the Bill. The Bill is specifically intended to enable the IBA—

Mr. English

On a point of order, Mr. Godman Irvine. This is a direct accusation against the Chair. The relevance of this amendment is shown by the fact that it was in order and selected by the Chair. My hon. Friend should realise that when she suggests that it is not relevant, she makes an accusation that she should not have made.

The Second Deputy Chairman

I am sure that the hon. Lady has taken all these matters into consideration.

Dr. Summerskill

The Bill is specifically intended to enable the IBA to finance and undertake the provision of all the necessary facilities to enable a fourth programme service to be broadcast. Since there are, as yet, no studios anywhere which are equipped specifically for the televised broadcasting of the fourth channel service, the proposed amendment would seem, on that basis, to be superfluous.

There is a deeper concern in that the amendment seems to imply that the service will be provided on an area basis. It would be inappropriate to include in this Bill anything which may pre-empt the decisions of the Open Broadcasting Authority which the Government propose to set up to supervise the fourth channel programme, taking account of such duties, functions and guidelines as may be included in the major broadcasting legislation which is still to be brought before the House. Therefore, if the amendment is not irrelevant, it is superfluous.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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