Clause 11. — (Enforcement of Regula- Tions as to Use of Apparatus.)

Orders of the Day — Wireless Telegraphy Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 1949.

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Lords Amendment: In page 11, line 18, at end insert: in a case where he considers that all reasonable steps to minimise interference have been taken in relation to the station or apparatus receiving the telegraphy.

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Wembley North

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

This Amendment makes statutory provision for what has always been my right hon. Friend's intention, namely that an enforcement notice making the use of electrical apparatus contrary to the regulations an offence should not be served on the user of the electrical apparatus where the interference can reasonably be eliminated at the receiving end. That is the case where there may be a defective wireless set, or where the alteration of an aerial can make the set not cause interference.

Lords Amendment: In page 12, line 17, at end, insert: This subsection applies in relation to a notice under subsection (1) of this section which has been varied by a subsequent notice as it applies in relation to a notice which has not been so varied.

Mr. Paling:

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

Where under Clause 11 (1) the Postmaster-General serves an enforcement notice, subsection (3) gives a right of appeal to the tribunal. By subsection (2) the Postmaster-General has power to vary the notice by serving another notice. We are anxious to assure, by putting these words in the Bill, that where the Postmaster-General varies a notice, and there is a second notice, the right of appeal shall also apply to the second notice. When the Bill was before the House it was stated that there was some doubt whether a right of appeal would apply in such circumstances. This Amendment makes it certain.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

I am not quite happy about this Amendment because the words are rather confusing. May we have a fuller explanation, as I am sure it would be welcome. The Amendment contains considerable amount of reference. I want to know how far these variations would go and why this Amendment could not have been made on the Committee stage of the Bill? On the whole, the other place has been wise in putting forward this Amendment, as they almost always are, but I wish that the Postmaster-General would give a rather wider explanation. This does not seem to be an Amendment which is without substance I see that the Assistant Post-master-General agrees. Therefore, we should have a little more explanation.

Lords Amendment: In page 12, line 21, after "heard," insert: and has, in accordance with the rules regulating the procedure of the tribunal, procured himself to be made a party to the reference.

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Wembley North

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

Where a case goes before a tribunal there may be a desire to be represented and intervene and it is only right that there should be power for such persons to be paid their costs or to pay the costs awarded against them. It is to the end that we propose to agree with the Lords Amendment.

Lords Amendment: In page 12, line 30, at end, insert: (c) if they are satisfied that compliance with the said requirements or those requirements as directed to be varied, would impose unreasonable cost (not being less than one hundred pounds) upon the person having possession of or any interest in the apparatus they may if they think fit direct the Postmaster-General to allocate the cost in such proportion among such persons or class of persons and in such manner as may be specified in the direction.

Mr. Paling:

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

This Amendment gives power to the appeal tribunal to be set up under the Bill, if they are satisfied that compliance with the requirements of the regulations would impose unreasonable cost on the person possessing or having an interest in apparatus, to direct the Postmaster-General to allocate the cost in such proportion among such persons or class of persons and in such manner as may be specified in the direction, if the cost would amount to more than £100.

The Amendment is singularly vague both as to its practical application and the machinery for its enforcement. If the tribunal should direct the Postmaster-General to allocate the cost, no indication is given of the action which would fall to be taken by the Postmaster-General. It would be the function of the Tribunal itself to specify in what proportion among all the persons and in what manner the allocation should be made. If the intention is that the Postmaster-General should notify tine persons concerned of the sums allocated to them and should recover those sums from them, there are three comments to be made. The first is that the Amendment does not say this. The second is that the Amendment does not provide the Postmaster-General with power to recover the sums allocated or say when those sums should be payable or how the Postmaster-General shall deal with the sums when recovered. The third is that functions such as these would be strangely inappropriate to the Postmaster-General, who will be concerned not as a functionary of the tribunal but as a party to the proceedings in his capacity as guardian of the ether.

9.15 p.m.

Again, the Amendment does not give to the persons among whom the cost is allocated the elementary right to be heard by the Tribunal on the justice of the allocation, and if there is one thing which hon. Members have insisted upon it is the right of appeal in all these disputed matters—but this would not be the case in this particular instance. In theory and in equity, the allocation should be made between all the persons who would benefit from the suppression of the interference in proportion to the degrees of benefit. How these persons would be identified I do not know, and I do not think anybody else could know. It may be that it can be done with classes of persons. It may be that the interference would affect a class of person, say, six, 10, 20, 50 or perhaps 100, and the Postmaster-General or somebody else has to find out the individual, and, when he finds him out, he has no power to do anything about it. Presumably, it would still go on as usual.

I have some sympathy with the outlook of those who proposed the Amendment, but I think we have gone a long way to meet their point of view in providing protection against undue burdens being unreasonably imposed. First of all, there are the regulations prescribing the requirements to be complied with in respect of the apparatus to be used. Hon. Members know that the people who will make the regulations are to be very carefully selected, firstly, from among people whose technical knowledge of the industry is of the greatest, and also from people, especially on the Advisory Committee, whose interests are also affected, and the Postmaster-General is compelled to select the Committee from persons of that kind. That in itself is a reasonable safeguard.

Then there is the Amendment to be moved later, to which I have referred, providing that, at the tribunal itself, the question of undue interference will not be merely a matter of how much interference is caused by the emission of the interfering frequencies, but also that the tribunal must take into account the question of how much hardship would be caused if the person responsible had to pay what appeared to be rather a large sum. That is a second protection.

The next step is that nothing can happen to anyone until the Postmaster-General has served an enforcement notice under the Act. Regulations will be recommended by the Committee and will be made, but, although it may be that perhaps next year thousands of pieces of apparatus will not be in accordance with the regulations, that fact does not mean anything to these people. Nothing can be done until these pieces of apparatus cause undue interference, and when, because of that, and when all these things have been gone through, the Postmaster-General serves a notice. I hope that no hon. Member feels that either myself as Postmaster-General or any other Postmaster-General will go in for serving an orgy of these notices. That is about the most unlikely thing that can possibly happen.

Then there is the question, which is also important, and even with this Bill it will still remain important, of voluntary co-operation, and, in any of these bigger cases, where a considerable sum was likely to be concerned, it would be a matter of talking it over and considering it point by point in every particular be- tween our people and the people concerned, and trying to arrive at a decision. As a matter of fact, that is what is happening now, and is likely to happen in the future. It would not be until everything else had failed that this other procedure would take place.

Last but not least, there is the question of the Appeal Tribunal. If all these things fail, then the person or persons concerned will go to the Appeal Tribunal and the decision will be made there, together will the fact that under the Amendment which has just been added the question of hardship would be brought to bear in any decision which the Appeal Tribunal came to. I say, therefore, that the Measure is needed, but it could be reviewed if time and experience showed a real need for that. When regard is had to the safeguards incorporated in the Measure, I think it will be found to give adequate safeguards. As a matter of fact, it was said that we were overloading the Bill with safeguards.

I am not prepared to write into the Bill financial provisions on the lines of the Amendment, but if in practice difficulties of a financial character should arise which cannot be surmounted in the ordinary course of negotiations conducted in a reasonable spirit of give and take, the Government would be prepared to give their sympathetic consideration to the position, and if convinced that something, should be done, would do their best to meet the situation, and, if necessary make proposals to Parliament.

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

The Postmaster-General has entirely missed the point at which this Amendment is directed. I do not want to be long at this late hour, but I really must put the point before the House because it is one of some substance. I think I can do it best by illustration. We will presume, for the sake of this illustration, that the Admiralty wishes to put up a wireless station somewhere, or it may be the Postmaster-General, and it is found that one of the grid systems, either the Electricity Board or the Hydro-Electric Board, with which my hon. Friend will deal later, has a series of overhead lines which emit interference, and perhaps prejudice the operation of the station. What happens is that the Admiralty and the Electricity Board or the Hydro-Electric Board can get together and come to some arrangement, because it may well be that in order to stop this interference the Electricity Board may have to incur very high costs in laying, perhaps, a great deal of underground cable, which, in turn, will impinge on the cost of electricity to industry at a time when the Chancellor and everybody is saying that we must keep costs down.

It may be that the Admiralty, or whatever Department it is, and the Board will come to some arrangement to share the cost, but I think that anybody who has had experience of Government Departments will know that very often they need having their heads knocked together, and I suppose there are no worse instances of "passing the buck" than those which exist in Government Departments. Suppose the Admiralty refuse to pay anything, the Postmaster-General may come along, and, under order, compel the Electricity Board to install this apparatus at great loss in order to prevent interference. The next thing that happens is that the Electricity Board can go to the tribunal which can either uphold the Postmaster-General or can give the case against him. What it cannot do is to allocate costs.

The Tribunal may very well say that there is undue hardship to the person—in this case the Electricity Board—and that they will not uphold the Postmaster-General. In that case, the Admiralty station will not work. Surely, this provision which will give an independent tribunal power to allocate costs and to compromise in a dispute between Government Departments in a case of that sort ought to be put into the Bill. I can see no earthly reason why it should not. There is nothing to stop the two Departments from coming to an agreement if they wish. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Postmaster-General refuses to put this very reasonable provision into the Bill.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) has dealt with the general principles underlying this excellent and, we think, most necessary Amendment. I entirely agree with him that the Postmaster-General, albeit with great charm, as usual, has missed the point and has not given us any satisfaction whatsoever. I think it is perfectly clear what this Amendment asks for, although he says it is not clear. We have to remember that the Postmaster-General himself, when he is brought into this matter, is very much—or will be very much—a prejudiced party in any dispute there may be. He asks, "How am I to dispose of the money which is to be collected from these different people if the cost is allocated as between the electricity apparatus user and the wireless user?" He can dispose of that money just as well as he can dispose of the money from the people from whom he will get it anyway—the users of the apparatus. There is no difficulty whatsoever about how to dispose of money, as the head of any Government Department ought to know by now.

We were very hopeful at one time that the Government would see reason in another place about this Amendment. There, the Government said that they would consider the matter urgently with a view to doing what they could to ease the burden of any large public authority concerned with the supply of electricity. I propose to confine my remarks to a large supplier of electricity—the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board. It is of the greatest importance that as much electricity as possible at the cheapest possible rate should be supplied to the people of the scattered, sparsely populated districts of Scotland. That is, we consider, a fundamental necessity.

If this Amendment is not accepted there will be grave risk that the cost of electricity to those very people will be very substantially raised. My hon. Friend has pointed out that it may be necessary for a supplying authority such as this to put cables underground instead of overhead. It may be of interest to hon. Members to know, if, perhaps, they do not know already, that to do that in the Highlands of Scotland might cost a minimum of £22,000 per mile, which is a very considerable sum to add to the cost of electricity to the people for whom we are hoping to provide it cheaply. That is one of the illustrations which, I think, show very clearly what a serious effect it will have on this electricity authority if this Amendment is not accepted.

We must be perfectly clear on one or two points. The first is that what the Lord Privy Seal, in another place, described as safeguards are not safeguards at all in this particular respect, although the Postmaster-General has repeated that he thinks there is every possible safeguard. The Lord Privy Seal said that the first thing it was necessary to secure as a safeguard for this particular purpose was that any difference between Government Departments should be settled by sensible discussion and compromise. My hon. Friend has pointed out that of all bodies in this world Government Departments seem to be, in fact and in practice, the least suitable for coming to a friendly compromise on matters on which they disagree. We have all had experience of that.

It is important for the Postmaster-General to realise that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board is not a Government Department, and that it is subject to all the penalities imposed by the Bill, whereas the opposing authority, which is a Department of State, is not subject to anything of the kind. The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board will come into the argument with its hands tied, to all intents and purposes, and I cannot see that what the Minister suggests—the sweet reasonableness always found between two Government Departments—will be discovered when one Government Department is dealing with an authority which is not a Government Department. I hope we shall hear something from the Minister on this subject because it is a fact, whatever he said, that it is not just a matter of sweet reasonableness between two Government Departments.

9.30 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal added that there were three safeguards which were adequate. The first of these was the advisory committee. Those of us who have had experience of advisory committees have a very poor idea of their value in safeguarding the consumer. In any case, this advisory committee cannot save the authority the expense which will be laid upon it if it is found that there is interference as a result of their working. He then said that the use of the apparatus must be likely to cause undue interference. Of course, that is no safeguard as far as cost is concerned; it merely prevents unnecessary cost being thrown on the Hydro-Electric Board, as is desirable, but the necessary cost which is not covered may be very substantial indeed, as I have endeavoured to point out, for instance, in putting cables underground.

He then spoke of the third safeguard, which is that of the tribunal. Again, tribunals have their use, as we know, but, personally, I do not think the Hydro-Electric Board will be in any way safeguarded by the Tribunal in the matter of the payment of charges. It may be possible, under the Tribunal's ruling, to get away without paying anything at all, but in that case it is perfectly clear that the reason for putting that charge on the Hydro-Electric Board will be done away with or, rather, the reason will remain and the faults and the dangers will still be apparent to the user. Nothing will be done at all, although the original charge was due to the fact that the Minister thought something should be done. It merely washes out the charge to be made, and has no effect upon what is to be done in the way of paying and allocating payment as between the different parties concerned.

I could go on with a great deal of detail, but I shall not do so because the hour is late and there is much more Business to come before the House. What I want the House, and particularly the Postmaster-General, to realise is that the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board have a very difficult and highly responsible job to do; and that, as experts in their particular line of business, they are very disturbed at the fact that if this Amendment is not retained in the Bill they will have to pay very large costs which, frankly, they do not feel their financial position enables them to pay except by means which are most distasteful and are against the wishes of this House—raising the cost to the consumer in the Highlands of Scotland.

This authority is not a Government Department; it is not like the British Electricity Authority in England in that respect, but is an independent body. Raising the cost is the only possible way in which they can carry out the orders of the Minister, if he says that they are to pay the costs of interference, which in this case might be on a colossal scale; they must be. The Hydro-Electric Board in the North of Scotland carry a grid over what is perhaps some of the most difficult country in the world and they are doing it very well in circumstances of the greatest difficulty. One thing the Board must do is to keep expenses down as low as possible.

It is impossible for this authority to carry out its pledge and indeed to carry out the instructions which this House of Commons has given to it if the Minister does not accept the Amendment inserted in the Bill in the other place. In conclusion, I would say that the British Electricity Authority in England heartily supports this plea by the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, as does the similar authority in Northern Ireland. I cannot believe that this House will go against such experts as that and I feel certain that we shall have a reasonable answer so that, even if the Minister cannot accept the detailed wording of this Amendment, he will accept the great principle of it and retain it in the Bill.

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

I thought the Postmaster-General was singularly unconvincing when he invited the House to disagree with the Lords in this Amendment, because it is quite plain that, whereas in the discussion of an earlier Amendment he invoked the aid of experts, on this occasion he has not sought the advice of the experts so admirably outlined by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan). It is obvious that as soon as the Postmaster-General saw his own name in the Amendment he said "I must avoid this job of work at all costs." He crouched low over the Despatch Box in case the job of work landed there and then on his shoulders, without even pausing to consider whether the tasks this Amendment would impose upon him were serious or onerous.

The Postmaster-General suggested that if this Amendment were accepted it would place him in an impossible position; that he would have to decide how the costs were to be allocated; and that he would have the impossible task of collecting the moneys, without perhaps knowing to whom they should be paid. If he looks at the Amendment again he will find that all these matters are very clearly dealt with. In the first place, it is obvious that the bills for carrying out the work of suppression will be sent to the owner of the apparatus, who will have to pay them. All that happens is that the person who has to pay the bills will be able to recover contributions from the various persons nominated by the Postmaster-General.

Now the Postmaster-General does not have a free hand; he is not placed in the quandary of having to decide to whom he should allocate the various proportions of the cost, because that is all decided for him by the Tribunal. The Tribunal, if they think fit, may direct the Postmaster-General to allocate the cost in such proportion…and in such manner as may be specified in the direction. The Postmaster-General is merely the agent of the Tribunal. The Tribunal decides the proportions of the cost and the individuals from whom various proportions should be collected. It is merely for the Postmaster-General to allocate the actual figure in pounds, shillings and pence to each participant. Surely that is a task which is not beyond the wit of the Postmaster-General. If those were his only grounds for disagreeing with this Amendment, then in face of the impressive evidence marshalled by my hon. and gallant Friend I hope that the House will see its way to agreeing with this Amendment and writing it into the Bill.

Mr. McKie:

I very much hope that the Assistant Postmaster-General will be able to say something in reply to the very cogent arguments advanced in favour of this House agreeing with the Lords in this Amendment. I agree with every word said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) about the inadequate manner in which the Postmaster-General attempted to deal with this matter. I represent a constituency in the Lowlands of Scotland where the first Hydro-Electric Board came into being, and I have every sympathy with what my hon. and gallant Friend said about the possible danger to the consuming public of increased costs if this Amendment is not accepted.

It is quite true that in one of the counties I have had the honour to represent in this House costs to the consumer have not been raised. But in the other, which did not have the advantage of the supply of electricity from the first Hydro-Electric Board in Scotland, there have been, over a long period of years, many complaints about the cost of supplying electricity to the ordinary consumer. Since electrical undertakings in general were nationalised there has been nothing to allay those fears, and I am of opinion that if this Amendment is not accepted, not merely will their fears go unallayed but the costs to the consumer will be very materially increased. I should have thought that a Socialist Government in all events would have been at great pains to ensure that the consuming public, particularly the small consumers, were not penalised in such a way as this.

It is not for me to proffer advice to the Government with an election in the offing, but I should have thought that if they did not agree to this Amendment they would agree to something which would be in their own interests in view of the impending election. [Laughter.] The hilarious way my remarks have been received by hon. Members opposite leads me to believe that my chances of reelection are much greater than those of some Scottish hon. Members opposite. It is not for me to proffer any advice on that score, because I hope to benefit from all the mistakes that the Government make. But this is not a question of party. It is a question of doing our best to protect the interests of the small consumer. I cannot understand why the Postmaster-General should have turned a deaf ear to this proposal, and I hope the Assistant Postmaster-General will be in a position to agree to this Amendment, having regard to the small people who will benefit from it.

Photo of Mr Charles Williams Mr Charles Williams , Torquay

The Postmaster-General told us that if anything went wrong we could rely on the Government to look on it as a matter of sympathy. I know he would like to do that, but I have completely and utterly failed to understand how it can be done. I have searched through a long list of cases in which really good people wanted sympathy, and a long Parliamentary experience has taught me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] I agree, very much too long for the Socialists, but not long enough for sensible people, as my constituents have found out. I must not go into that matter, but I would say that wherever a promise of this sort is made we should not allow the Government to escape from that promise when a real crisis arises.

I listened to the Postmaster-General with very great care as I always do, and I appreciate that he had a brief. At first I could not make out what had happened. What he said did not appear to bear any relationship to the Amendment we were discussing, until my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Grimston) and my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll), explained the position. Then I became aware of what had happened. The Postmaster-General, by some curious twist, read the wrong brief. There is no other explanation of what he said, and if he reads it tomorrow in HANSARD he will see that what I say is right, that it bears no relation whatever to this Amendment. His statement was completely irrelevant.

9.45 p.m.

Under this Amendment it is quite clear what will happen. Certain duties are laid on the body proposed by the Amendment and the Postmaster-General will be able to avoid what I want to see avoided, namely hardship to the individual. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) put the case for the Highlands. I represent a part of the South country, and I feel that I could put a similar case in regard to innumerable instances in rural districts in the South, in Wales, in the Midlands and elsewhere. It is our duty as a House of Commons not to look after the interests of the Government in placing burdens upon individuals, but to look after the individuals and to save them from the unnecessary and often wicked burdens which are put on them by the Government of the day. I hope that hon. Members will vote in favour of this sensible Amendment, because it is obviously in the interests of the ordinary persons of this country.

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

On a point of Order. Are we not entitled to some reply from the Assistant Postmaster-General?

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

That is a matter for the Government Front Bench to decide.

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Wembley North

I was just going to get up. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Perhaps I might briefly reply to the points that have been raised. I shall not attempt to follow the arguments of the hon. Mem- ber for Galloway (Mr. McKie) with regard to what should be the correct tariff for the Scottish Hydro-Electric Board to charge for their electrical energy. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) seemed to be under the impression that the regulations will be entirely arbitrary. In point of fact, the tribunal will have the power to relax the regulations in favour of appellants. I fail to see how it can be said that my right hon. Friend is acting in an arbitrary manner.

The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Perth (Colonel Gomme-Duncan) appeared to be special pleading for the Scottish Hydro-Electric authority. There is no intention, by regulation or by order of my right hon. Friend to compel the Scottish Hydro-Electric authority or the British Electrical authority to lay all their cables underground because they might cause interference. If there were any question about the siting of pylons, there would be complete consultation among all the departments concerned. Suppose, as a result of a leaky insulator on a high tension pylon, there were interference; does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that the Post Office should pay for the costs of keeping in full and proper maintenance the whole of the network, simply because of that neglect of maintenance?

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that there might well be interference from other causes than faulty maintenance?

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Wembley North

I agree, but I am dealing with the Amendment as it left the other place, and with the reasons why my right hon. Friend cannot agree with the Amendment. There is the other point that this suggestion does not deal only with electrical authorities, who are not the only people or the only commercial concerns likely to cause interference. Electrical apparatus in industrial establishments can cause considerable interference. Do the Opposition suggest that we should pay for the whole cost of protecting that apparatus and preventing it from causing interference? That would be something entirely new. Nobody suggests that because the Ministry of Labour says that under the Factory Acts machinery should be protected that the whole of the cost should fall upon the Ministry of Labour. That seems a fair analogy.

Photo of Mr Charles Hobson Mr Charles Hobson , Wembley North

Where interference is being caused, it is entirely wrong that the Post Office should have to meet the cost, if it needed more than the sum of £100 to remove the interference. The later Amendment mentioned by my right hon. Friend gives the ordinary individual a chance, and it prevents an arbitrary Government official placing a burden on his shoulders.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, in view of the really astonishing misrepresentation of what I have said—I am sure it is quite unintentional but it is misrepresentation

as clear as daylight—may I say that I never suggested that we were only dealing with an electrical authority—

Photo of Mr Douglas Clifton Brown Mr Douglas Clifton Brown , Hexham

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has exhausted his right to speak.

Photo of Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan , Perth

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I have been grossly misrepresented, and I was trying to put it right.

Question put, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 232; Noes, 97.