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Clause 1—(The Independent Tele Vision Authority)

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords Amendment: In page 1, line 9, leave out from "Act" to" "television" in line 10.

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is an Amendment which was sponsored by the Opposition in another place and is little more than a drafting Amendment. It limits the life of the Authority to 10 years from the passing of the Act and not 10 years
"…or such longer period as Parliament may hereafter determine …"
The Amendment will, I am sure, give great pleasure to the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), because it was he who discussed this matter when we were dealing with it in this House. As the House realises, constitutionally it makes not the slightest difference whether these words are in or whether they are out, because, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary pointed out when we were discussing this matter, no Parliament can bind its successor, and at the end of 10 years it will be necessary for a subsequent Government which may wish to continue this scheme to introduce further legislation.

I have been looking through some of the Bills which have gone through this House in the past few years and I discovered, rather curiously, that some Bills, for no particular reason, had this phrase in and some had left it out; but as I have said, constitutionally it makes no difference at all.

Since the Assistant Postmaster-General says that, constitutionally, the Amendment makes no difference whatever to the Bill or to the future of the I.T.A., it is difficult to understand how these words ever got into the Bill and why they were included. I have only one point to make. It arises from some remarks made in another place when this Amendment was being discussed.

The Assistant Postmaster-General will recall that during our previous debates we on this side were anxious that when the Charter of the B.B.C. came to an end, there would be the possibility of a general review. We suggested that the term of the I.T.A. should be the same as that of the B.B.C.; that is to say, that its Charter should end at the same time as the I.T.A. came to an end as far as legislation is concerned. Our Amendment was rejected by the Minister.

In another place, however, it has been pointed out, as was pointed out by the Home Secretary during our debates here, that it was intended that before 1962, which is when the Charter of the B.B.C. ends, there would be a general review of the whole field of broadcasting. I should be grateful, therefore, if the Home Secretary or the Assistant Postmaster-General would confirm that the general intention of the Government, which, in my view, is made better by the removal of these words, is not automatically through legislation to extend the term of the I.T.A. but is to have a general review of the whole field beforehand. Of course, the present occupants of the Government Front Bench will not then be there to do it, but for the record it is necessary to have this confirmation.

I make that suggestion because I was very worried by some remarks made in another place by the Postmaster-General, when he pointed out that there was every intention by the party which he represented to continue the I.T.A., irrespective of any review which took place. He warned the noble peers that the Amendment made no difference. I hope that the Home Secretary will give an assurance that the Postmaster-General has not gone back on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's word to the House that there would be a general review and that, therefore, it must not be accepted that future Parliaments are automatically committed to extending the life of the I.T.A. unless circumstances have changed. Now that the Amendment is before the House and as these matters were raised in another place, this assurance should be given.

In his opening remarks the Assistant Postmaster-General conveyed the impression that this Lords Amendment contains more substance than it does. He was trying to mislead my hon. Friends when he suggested that we should be pleased to accept the Amendment. A moment later he confessed, as we well knew, that whether these words are left in or are taken out makes absolutely no difference.

The hon. Gentleman ought really to have suggested that this was merely an economy of words, that it implied no change of policy on the part of the Government, that it gave no assurance to those of us who wished to limit the life of the Independent Television Authority and that, in fact, the Amendment was of no consequence whatever. That would have been the honest way of moving, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) has pointed out, in another place the intentions of the Government were made clear. That is to say, when the time comes, if Her Majesty's advisers are the same or of the same kind as at present, it is their firm hope and intention to ask the House of Commons to extend the period of operation of the I.T.A.; so that there is nothing in deleting these words to suggest that the Government think that 10 years is a long enough dose of commercial television. The hon. Gentleman ought to have been a little more straightforward when introducing the Amendment. I hope that as the later Amendments are reached he will tell us whether they have any merit or substance.

The fact that in some Bills these words appear and in others they do not is, perhaps, merely another reason for a little uniformity in draftsmanship and is not a question of any substance in framing our legislation. I agree to the Amendment on the clear understanding that it makes no difference, that the Government have no different intentions from those which were declared in this House and in another place, and that the public and those who are apprehensive about the effects of commercial television will derive so satisfaction whatever from the deletion of these words. Then, we will all know where we are.

I should like just to say "Thank you," but with qualifications. This reminds me of "Fairy gold." I was given a handsome present, or so I was told, from the hon. Gentleman, and lo and behold, the next moment it vanished into thin air; for the Assistant Postmaster-General told us that it made no difference whatever whether the words were in or were out.

What a curious Government and what a curious party. I suppose they put these words in by mistake, or perhaps they put them in on purpose. Perhaps they thought what they really did mean or they thought what they did not mean, or they did not think whether they meant anything—they just put them into the Bill. One would forgive the Government anything, even that, if they had not been so obstinate in this House and then seen the sudden light of reason in that most unlikely other place.

Gracious though the hon. Gentleman's mood was today, it would have assisted the functioning of this House a little more if he had been able to show a similar graciousness and common sense in dealing with Opposition Amendments in this House instead of having to wait until he got to another place to make what was obviously a sensible concession. I hope he will remember that printers have to work, that paper costs money, that economy is dear to the Tory Party and that he should not waste printers' time, printers' ink and valuable paper, so essential to the national effort, by putting down meaningless phrases in a Government Bill and then defending them when they are there.

Will the Assistant Postmaster-General answer the House on some of the questions that have been put to him? I realise that he regards the Amendment as a concession to the Opposition and I fully grant that, such as it is, it is a concession. But when it was made, certain rather important questions were raised, which turn on the policy of the Government with regard to the future of the B.B.C as well.

This matter was raised in another place. The question is whether the 10 years' period which is linked to "such longer period" is to be the period that will apply also to the B.B.C. That was the suggestion of the Postmaster- General. In other words, will the Charter of the B.B.C. be extended until 1964 instead of running, as it is at present, to 1962? To that extent these words were of some importance in this Bill because this magical period of 10 years has rather a special significance. We know that it has always had great significance for the Home Secretary in the field of transport and so on, and we are glad to know that this is to be 10 years and not a more mysterious figure. However, we would like to hear more before we agree with the Lords in this Amendment.

5.0 p.m.

I should like to know whether or not this indicates that there is to be a limitation on the contracts made with programme directors. Without this Amendment they might feel they were authorised to make a contract for a much longer period than 10 years. It does not look, on the face of it, as if this Amendment has any relation to contract making, but we would like an assurance.

If I may have the leave of the House to speak again, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I say that it does not affect contracts in the least. To reply to the point made by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton), this Parliament cannot bind its successors in 10 years' time as to what they may do about the B.B.C. Charter, and it would be improper for me to suggest anything of the sort. The hon. Gentleman, of course, is fully aware of that fact. What I imagine they might be inclined to do would be to extend the B.B.C. Charter, but I cannot say more than that.

Would the hon. Gentleman answer my point? The Home Secretary stated during the debate that a comprehensive review of the whole broadcasting field would be undertaken, before 1962, yet the Assistant Postmaster-General has made it clear that he had no right to do that. Surely it would be the normal intention of Governments. Can we have confirmation that there has been no change in the Government attitude in regard to the undertaking given by the Home Secretary? Can I have an answer?

Question put, and agreed to.