Television (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th July 1949.

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Photo of Hon. Thomas Galbraith Hon. Thomas Galbraith , Glasgow Hillhead 12:00 am, 30th July 1949

Dr. Johnson used to say that the best road for a Scotsman was the road to London, but, looking round these benches today and seeing that, relatively speaking, there are few Scottish Members here, I believe that at a certain period of the year the road to the isles still has its attractions. Nevertheless, I think that if Dr. Johnson were alive today, he would find that there are stronger reasons than ever to tempt Scottish people from their homeland. The mishandling of the development of television in Scotland is a typical example of what is happening, or, to be more correct, of what is not happening.

Why is there this delay? No doubt the Government will say that the economic crisis is responsible for slowing down the programme, but my criticism is not that the programme has been slowed down, but that the Government, although it is supposed to stand for a planned economy, has so far failed to fix a definite programme which would enable manufacturers to plan ahead and, as a result, bottlenecks occur and expansion does not take place in the industry as it ought, the price of sets still remains too high and the chance of establishing an export market is gradually dwindling. Is it a valid argument to say that we cannot afford this development? Is it not a case of "ruining the ship for a ha'porth of tar"? After all, we are not asking for something costly like a new Forth Bridge, but for a few hundred thousand pounds before it is too late and before we lose to America the chance of creating a co-ordinated system of television for Europe and the Empire based on this country.

I would remind the House that "Britannia rules the waves" and that it is not only necessary to rule the waves of the sea, but also to rule the waves over the sea. Perhaps the Minister will change his line of defence and try to hide behind technical difficulties as well as economic difficulties which have been discussed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Glasgow (Colonel Hutchison). He will probably say that we cannot have television until a coaxial cable has been laid, or a chain of V.H.F. stations has been established. To the Minister sitting in London with a map of the British Isles in front of him, it may appear perfectly logical to proceed from the south to the north, but to people waiting in Scotland it appears quite illogical.

I am not here only to criticise the slowness in development, but also the order of priority which I believe is based merely on technical expediences. I claim that the correct way to develop television after Alexandra Palace was working properly, would have been to establish an independent transmitter first, in Scotland, secondly, in Ireland, thirdly, in the Principality of Wales and after that to go on to establish provincial stations in England. I do not want the House to think that I am making a narrow, nationalistic plea. Like the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) I support the Union, but the Government must realise that Scotland is not a province, or a region, but an ancient kingdom with traditions, customs, laws and a religion quite different from those which exist in England. For too long it has been the Cinderella of the B.B.C. Even now it is not possible to receive the Third Programme at all satisfactorily in Scotland. Therefore, I do not view the establishment of an independent transmitter necessarily as an evil. It might act as a focus for cultural talent in Scotland which the Edinburgh Festival has shown to be much more lively than was anticipated. If such television shows were recorded by filming, a profitable exchange of programmes could be established between Alexandra Palace and a Scottish station.

The reply of the Government may be that the population of two million is too small, but it is precisely because Scotland is so often regarded solely on a numerical and statistical basis which is doing so much to harm the good relations between the two countries and to make people lose faith in the Act of Union. Surely it is in the outlying districts where population is scattered and there are only a few people that television would have the most social value. Down here in the South of England people have an ample variety of amusement. There is Wimbledon, the Derby, the Boat Race, and, when people have got tired of those, they can come to this House. But all those things are beyond the means of people in Scotland and a transmitter situated in Falkirk would not only benefit the people in the towns, but would reach into the heart of the Highlands, into distant Argyll and the bleak uplands of the Border Country and bring to those remote and desolate areas all the fun of the fair. After housing, I imagine that nothing would be of greater help in overcoming the reluctance which people have to leaving the cities and going to work on the land.

I find it very strange that the Socialist Government, who pride themselves, quite inaccurately, on having created the social services, should ignore the social value of television while lavishing so much money on other services which are infinitely less valuable to the community and family life of the country.