14 and 15.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General (1) if he will make a further statement on the erection of the small power station at Pontop Pike.(2) if he will make a further statement on the question of a separate wavelength for the North-East.
There is no immediate prospect of a television station at Pontop Pike so long as the restrictions on capital investment remain. So far as sound broadcasting is concerned, the number of medium waves allotted to this country is not sufficient to permit the use of a separate one for the North-East coast. My noble Friend has recently reexamined the whole question and has announced that this area will receive priority both for a television station and for a very high frequency sound station as soon as the economic situation of the country permits.
With reference to Question 15, has the Assistant Postmaster-General given consideration to the point I made to him on Monday—whether Stagshawe could radiate on 434 metres?
That is one of the wavelengths which is no longer available to this country.
Is the Minister aware that his noble Friend refused the courtesy of giving that answer to a number of hon. Members who requested a meeting with him as far back as 6th December last year?
There is another Question on the Order Paper about that, but I can deal with that point now. My noble Friend did nothing of the sort. He invited a number of Labour Members to meet him and they ref used to do so unless they could meet him alone. He has still offered to meet them alone, and that offer is still open if the hon. Members wish to take advantage of it.
Is the Minister aware that his noble Friend made it a condition that Members of Parliament should tag on to the back end of a local authority deputation before he would meet them, and that he stated categorically that he refused to meet them separately until after the local authority deputation had been met—and then he would only meet them to talk over matters and not to discuss questions of policy?
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is quite misinformed—or rather, he is not misinformed, because he has the letter. The truth is that it was not Members of this House who first asked my noble Friend to meet them; it was members of local authorities, as early as last September. My noble Friend has said quite categorically that he is willing to meet Members of this House and the local authorities, but the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Ewart) and his hon. Friends did not choose to accept that invitation.
On a point of order. Is it in order for my hon. Friend to answer my Question in reply to a supplementary question from the other side of the House?
As this is a matter of interest to the North-East, in which I happen to be interested, may I ask the Minister whether he will not agree that it is customary and traditional in this House, if hon. Members wish to see a Minister, for that Minister ordinarily to see them without their having to be associated with any other body, however interested that body may be? Will he not agree that this is the usual custom?
I am aware that this is the usual custom and it is exactly the custom my noble Friend was prepared to follow. He has invited hon. Members from both sides to meet him, but hon. Members from the other side of the House did not want to go with anybody else and so my noble Friend said he would be quite happy to meet them separately, and he is still prepared to do so.
Do I understand that if I wish to see the Minister's noble Friend in any matter affecting the interests of my constituents, and if he insists that he can only see me when I am in company with somebody else, then I am bound to do as he says?
My noble Friend made no such stipulation. His offer to meet the Labour Members of Parliament, including, we hope, the right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell), is still open.
Is my hon. Friend aware that this is a matter of concern in Northern Ireland? Might not a way out of my hon. Friend's difficulties, and out of all the trouble, be to put the transmitter at Stagshawe on the same wavelength as Holme Moss and give us our own frequency in Northern Ireland, solving all the trouble there?
I am given to understand that that is not practically possible. It would produce what is known as a mush area in Durham county.
Was not it showing extreme discourtesy to Members of this House when the hon. Gentleman's noble Friend agreed to meet Labour Members, when that meeting was postponed—
And Conservative Members, as well.
—and the meeting was postponed as a consequence of the King's death; and when, after that time, a request was made by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Ward) and local authorities to meet the Minister, the Minister, instead of renewing the date when Labour Members should meet him, attempted to compel the Labour Members to meet him along with the Conservatives and local authority representatives? Is not that extremely discourteous to the House, to say the least?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should read the correspondence between my noble Friend and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South, before he makes such a statement. I think if that correspondence were released to the Press, the conclusions which his constituents would reach would be that the hon. Gentleman and his Friends were far more pernickety about their own dignity than they were about the welfare of their constituents.
In view of the misrepresentation of the facts which the Assistant Postmaster-General has given, supported by the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Miss Ward), would he not agree to consult with the Leader of the House in order to allow a day on which we might discuss this matter and have it fully thrashed out?
That is no concern of mine.
On a point of order. Is it in order for a Minister, when Members exercise their traditional rights, to refer to those rights in contemptuous terms?
Order. I wish hon. Members in all parts of the House, whether they are Ministers or not, would leave out of their answers and questions terms of a contemptuous and wounding nature. I am bound to say that in my experience in the House that Rule is frequently transgressed.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General for how long listeners in the North-East are likely to continue to be obliged to share a sound broadcasting wavelength with listeners in Northern Ireland.
The only hope of a solution to the present difficulties lies in the introduction of very high frequency sound broadcasting. The time when that will be possible depends on the national economic position. My noble Friend has, however, announced that this area will have priority for a very high frequency sound station when the situation permits.
Will the hon. Gentleman advise his noble Friend to discuss this matter with Labour Members of Parliament from the North-East Coast?
I can assure the hon. Member that my noble Friend will be delighted to do so.
Will my hon. Friend reconsider his decision to give this area priority in the event of very high frequency coming into use, because East Anglia at present has either to have the Midland or the Home Service, neither of which is really interesting from a regional point of view?
My noble Friend is convinced that when something can be done the North-East Coast should have priority.
Would it not be possible in the meantime to give to other regions the privilege of sharing a wavelength and give theirs to Northern Ireland and the North-East Coast?
There is no satisfactory way out of this, with the shortage of wavelengths, except on the V.H.F. system.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General who were invited by his noble Friend to meet him on 18th March to discuss the lack of television facilities and the disadvantages of the shared wavelength on the North-East coast, and who refused to accept the invitation.
My noble Friend invited hon. Members for the constituencies and representatives of the local authorities in the area to a joint meeting. He regrets that members of the Northern Group of Labour Members of Parliament did not accept this invitation to a joint meeting.
Will my hon. Friend be good enough to publish the correspondence in the OFFICIAL REPORT? IS my hon. Friend aware that all this attack on his noble Friend has developed because Durham County Council did not wish to be associated with the other local authorities in their representations to his noble Friend?
I think we have spent quite enough time on this subject this afternoon. All I can reiterate is that my noble Friend will be only too pleased to meet Labour, or any other, Members of Parliament on this subject.
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply to the Question, and the fact that I have been unable to put a supplementary question, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment on the first opportunity.
Licences (Deaf And Dumb People)
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he will make available television licences to deaf and dumb people at the reduced rate of £1 per year, in view of the fact that broadcasting licences are granted at concessionary rates to the blind.
My noble Friend regrets that he cannot agree to make this concession.
Why not? If it is a question of cost, what is the estimated cost to the Post Office, or the Treasury? If it is a question of organisation and finding out the numbers, will my hon. Friend consult the Minister of Health, who probably has the figures?
Representations have been made from time to time on behalf of many deserving people, old age pensioners, the bedridden, disabled, deaf and dumb, etc., but the attitude taken by successive Governments has been that they have regretted they could not make these concessions.
Grand National Commentary
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General the amount spent by the Post Office in installing, testing and preparing lines and apparatus in anticipation of the British Broadcasting Corporation's request for facilities for broadcasting a commentary on the Grand National Steeplechase on 5th April next.
The cost of the preliminary work at the Aintree racecourse in preparation for a broadcast is about £12, which will be paid by the B.B.C.
Is it not now perfectly clear that there are neither technical nor financial reasons for this broadcast not taking place? Will my hon. Friend therefore discuss with his noble Friend and with those responsible for the conduct of the affairs of the B.B.C. an approach to this matter from the aspect of the public interest in the hope that a satisfactory arrangement can be worked out between a willing buyer and a willing seller, as a result of which we may get the broadcast which everyone wants?
As I have explained, the Post Office have no responsibility in this matter, although, as I have said, I think everyone will regret it if the broadcast does not take place.
Is not the hon. Gentleman of the opinion that the lady who is stopping this broadcast deserves the censure of the public?
Is my hon. Friend aware that the imputation in a remark made a moment ago is entirely contrary to evidence which is readily available to the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) in the history of the negotiations which have gone on so far on this matter, and that it is entirely improper for him to say that sort of thing?
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General what action he is proposing to take in regard to the temporary British Broadcasting Corporation's Charter which expires in June.
The Government have the future of broadcasting under review, and when their proposals are ready a White Paper will be issued for the consideration of Parliament.
In view of the very short period between now and the time of the expiration of the present agreement, can the Minister say when this White Paper is likely to be issued?
I am afraid that at this juncture I can give no estimate of the date.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner), is quite right. Knowing that the time is getting very, very close under that six months arrangements, surely the Minister can say when this White Paper will be laid. Are the Government still muffling along when they do not know—[HON. MEMBERS: "A contemptuous term."] That is a very different thing from saying that Parliament has no right to any sense of dignity. The Government postponed the matter of the Charter for six months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] I want to know when the Government are going to act, because the time is getting very close. Surely we ought to know when the Charter will be produced. I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell the House this and not keep us hanging about merely because a quarrel is on with the Tory Central Office.
I cannot add to what I have said in answer to the supplementary question.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman, who is treating the House with persistent disrespect, when we can be informed when this matter, which is becoming one of great urgency, will be dealt with?
I cannot say anything more in regard to the date of the publication of the White Paper than I have said already.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General if, in view of the reduced requirement of the Foreign Office for broadcasting channels, he will now allocate a channel for the broadcasting of meteorological information, along the lines of the former Airmet broadcasts.
The B.B.C. is not proposing to give up from its overseas services any wavelength suitable for reception in this country. If such a wavelength became available, the improvement of reception of the B.B.C. home programmes would have the first claim upon it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it was repeatedly stated that the only reason why such a channel could not be made available for this service was because of the requirements of the Foreign Office for their overseas service, and as that service has now been reduced can he make a channel available?
The Foreign Office services are being reduced, but the reduction is not such as to enable them to provide us with a wavelength.
Will my hon. Friend nevertheless give serious consideration to the early re-introduction of the Airmet service on this or some other wavelength?
We cannot do that without a wavelength.
Why not get one?
Is there any reason why the Third Programme wavelength should not in non-programme hours be available for this purpose?
If the hon. Gentleman cares to put down a Question, I will give him a specific answer to that point.
Sporting Events (Copyright)
asked the Assistant Postmaster - General whether, in the renewing of the British Broadcasting Corporation's charter, he will arrange for the British Broadcasting Corporation to hand over the copyright of sporting events, after limited use, to the promoters of such events.
The question whether a copyright in such events should be established is at present being examined by the Copyright Committee appointed by the Board of Trade, and I cannot anticipate its findings.
Will my hon. Friend use his good offices to help to bring about an agreement between the B.B.C. and the owners of Liverpool racecourse in order that the public may not be denied the opportunity of hearing a commentary on the Grand National, which, after all, is one of the greatest sporting events of the year?
I know that there will be very great disappointment, both at home and overseas, if it is not possible to broadcast the Grand National, but I am afraid that the point to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers does not fall within my competence.
Can the hon. Gentleman assure the House that before any definite arrangements are made in regard to the new Charter the House will have some opportunity of making its views known, as there is considerable apprehension in the country that all the backdoor negotiations about sponsored programmes might completely alter the complexion of the B.B.C.?
On a point of order. May I have an answer to my perfectly legitimate question?
That is not in my power to elicit. I allowed ample time for an answer to be given.
Further to that point of order. Is it not regrettable that the Assistant Postmaster-General has this afternoon consistently treated the House with the utmost discourtesy?
That is not a point of order.
asked the Assistant Postmaster-General when it is proposed to open a television studio to serve Scotland.
No plans have yet been made to provide television studios outside London, but outside broadcasts from Scotland will be included in the television programme.
Will the hon. Gentleman endeavour to persuade the B.B.C. to develop as speedily as possible a television newsreel service for Scotland?
That is outside the Question which the hon. Member has on the Order Paper.
Further to the point about a television studio in Scotland, would it be possible to make more use of Scottish talent not only for Scotland but also for the general service from London?
The selection of talent by the B.B.C. is a matter for the B.B.C. and not for me.