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Broadcasting (Relay Services)

Volume 345: debated on Thursday 30 March 1939

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(by Private Notice) asked the Postmaster-General whether a decision has yet been reached on the policy to be adopted in regard to the wireless relay services?

The Ullswater Committee on Broadcasting recommended, with one dissentient—the late Lord Selsdon—that the ownership and operation of the Relay Companies' services should be taken over by the Post Office. The Government decided, however, that the companies' licences should be extended for three years—that is, to 31st December, 1939—and that during that period the Post Office should undertake technical research and practical experimental work in the distribution of broadcast programmes by wire. As a result of these investigations the conclusion has been reached that there is scope for the provision of services by two systems—firstly, a service by the Relay Companies, and secondly, a Post Office service by "carrier" frequency over telephone lines for use in connection with a wireless receiving set. After full consideration, the Government have decided that the public interest will be best served by the development of both these systems. The Relay Companies' licences will be extended for a further period of 10 years to 31st December, 1949, subject to certain modifications regarding the programmes supplied to subscribers and the control of the exchanges in time of emergency. Licences granted to new companies will be terminable on the same date and will be subject to similar conditions.

In addition, the Post Office will introduce a service for the distribution of broadcast programmes over telephone lines. It will be possible to give a choice of three or four programmes, including the National and the Regional; and a subscriber will be able to use his telephone simultaneously with the reception of a broadcast programme. The service will, I hope, be started this year in a few districts and will be extended later. The charges and other details will be announced in due course. The service will at the outset be restricted to telephone subscribers; and although it is contemplated that it may eventually be extended to non-telephone subscribers, this question will be left over for decision at a later stage after sufficient experience has been obtained of the new service.

The new licences issued to the Relay Companies will provide that in time of emergency the companies should transmit any special announcements ordered by the local A.R.P. or police authorities. Power will also be taken in the licences to require the Relay Exchanges to be con- nected by wire with a B.B.C. station, thus enabling programmes to be transmitted, if so desired, entirely by wire. These arrangements, which will be adopted also in the new service by telephone, will be of advantage from the point of view of National Defence, as although it is the intention that wireless broadcasting should be continued in the event of war, the service will be liable to deterioration or occasional interruption as a result of interference from which a wire service would be immune.

Will the areas in which the Government contemplate putting the new service exclude the areas where at present the Relay Companies are operating?

Will any special licences be issued, or will the telephone subscribers have to pay 10s. for a wireless licence in addition to their telephone bill?

We have not yet fixed the scale of charges for the telephone service, for a variety of reasons. One reason, of course, is that we have not yet been able to ascertain the cost of the equipment which would have to be added. This would, obviously, be included in the cost.

There will be three or four alternative programmes available, and the individual will himself be able to choose which of those programmes he likes by pressing a button

Can my right hon. Friend give the House some details as to the restrictions on choice of programmes on the existing relay system for the new licences to which he refers? May I also ask him whether the Ullswater Committee did not recommend that there should be a Minister for Broadcasting in this House, and does he not agree that if we had had a Minister for Broadcasting in this House there never would have been an Abyssinian war, or any of the trouble we now witness in Central Europe?

In answer to my hon. and gallant Friend, I would say that the requirement that people in this country should have the opportunity of listening to their own broadcasting services during a large: proportion of the time, does not mean that other broadcasts will be excluded. With reference to a Minister for Broadcasting, I do not think that is a question for me.

Will the choice of programmes be confined to British programmes only, or will it include an opportunity of listening in to Continental advertising programmes?

I do not think that foreign advertising programmes are the only programmes to which I would care to listen.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say when this new service will be instituted or will be available?

We are anxious to get on with it as soon as we possibly can. As I made clear in my original reply, the main consideration governing the decision is the importance of this from the point of view of national defence and national safety.