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Orders of the Day — Wireless and Television, West Cornwall

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th July 1952.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kaberry.]

11.47 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frank Hayman Mr Frank Hayman , Falmouth and Camborne

At the outset of what I have to say, I should like to mention the great pleasure that the appointment of Sir Philip Morris as one of the Governors of the B.B.C. gives to the people of the West of England and not least in West Cornwall. The reception of the Home Service in West Cornwall has been bad for a very long time, although in the Annual Report of the B.B.C. of the year 1949–50 it was stated: With the new wavelengths in use, the B.B.C. is providing a satisfactory service of the Home and Light Programme to approximately 95 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom. But in the Annual Report for 1950–51 it said: As expected, interference with Home Stations from foreign stations after dark was severe during the Winter, particularly with the North Home Service in many parts of the Region and with the Home Service in the South-East and South, and on the East Coast. and added: Some complaint was made also of interference with the West of England Home Service. During the last two years I have been in constant touch with the Assistant Postmaster-General by letter and by Question on this matter. I put a Question on 21st March, 1951, another on 4th July, 1951, a third on 11th July, 1951, and a fourth on 28th November, 1951, and again on 9th April, 1952. I have had a variety of reasons given in answers but there has been very little improvement in the reception.

A petition was organised in Camborne-Redruth some months ago. It was not widely signed because the promoters endeavoured to secure signatures of influential bodies and people. All that the promoters got from the B.B.C. was a three-line acknowledgment. Nothing further. There has been no improvement. The Redruth Chamber of Commerce has had the matter raised at meeting after meeting during the last two years. Therefore I think it will be fairly evident that there is widespread dissatisfaction with reception in Camborne-Redruth which, with a population of between 35,000 and 36,000 is the largest urban district in the county.

I have made inquiries since I secured this Adjournment debate, and the present position is much the same as it has been for the last two years. One of my correspondents says that it is worse than ever; another that in the last few weeks there has been a marked fall-off; and a third, that it is very bad. I would add that those replies are representative of the conditions which are obtaining in my constituency of Falmouth and Camborne.

At Redruth we have a transmitting station of low power, but it has two transmitters. At the moment it is transmitting the Light and the Third programmes. We ask that the B.B.C., shall provide a third transmitter at that station. I am informed that the B.B.C., has plenty of suitable apparatus available, and that all that would be necessary, probably, would be sanction for the building of a comparatively small additional room at the present station. If that is impracticable now, we ask that for the time being the Third Programme shall give way to radiation of the Home Service.

I understand that there is already synchronisation of the Home Service from Clevedon and Berkeley on 206 metres. I understand that one of these transmitters is 10 kilowatts and the other five. The transmitter at Redruth is two kilowatts, so it ought to be possible for Redruth to be synchronised with the other two stations both of which are in the West Region. I would point out that already the Light Programme radiated from Redruth is synchronised with Plymouth on 247 metres. I understand that it is a simple operation to adjust the transmitter from 194 metres as it is now to 206 metres, a similar operation in Northern Ireland being carried out over-night.

We feel that the bad reception of the Home Service justifies the suggestion that the Third Programme should give way to the Home Programme for the time being. It ought to be borne in mind that there are still thousands of listeners in West Cornwall using battery sets. A battery which is half used would be almost useless for the Home Service now. As far as the Third Programme is concerned, I would remind the Minister that my wife was on the Advisory Council of the West Region for two years, and that when she advocated that the spare transmitter at Redruth, as it was then, should be used for the Third Programme the B.B.C. engineers put up all kinds of difficulties, and said it could not be done.

Eventually, it was done, and we are now in the ironical position of being told we must have the Third Programme and cannot have the Home Programme on this transmitter. I am not asking for the Third Programme to be put aside permanently. There are many people who want that programme. It is a good one, but it ought not to be too long before the B.B.C. can give us a third transmitter. If this is impossible now we ask them to agree to synchronise the Redruth transmitter with those of Cleve-don and Berkeley.

There is much controversy in Devon and Cornwall about the B.B.C.'s desire to site a television transmitter on North Hessary Tor in the constituency of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Studholme). It is on Dartmoor which is now a National Park. It is one of the great heritages of this country, and we feel that nothing should be done now to damage the amenities of Dartmoor until it can be proved that it is essential to site a television mast there.

I understand that the B.B.C. is providing for five high-powered television stations each with a range of 50 miles. They are to be completed by the end of this year, and will serve 78 per cent. of the population. The transmitter at Wenvoe, five miles west of Cardiff, is to serve 3½m. people in South Wales and the West of England. Transmission will be on low power from next month and on high-powered transmission from December.

I gather, too, that the B.B.C. provide in their programme for five medium-powered stations which have a reliable range of 25 miles. They are to be completed by the end of 1954, and they will serve 11 per cent. of the population compared with 78 per cent, of the population to be served by the high-powered stations. So by the end of 1954, according to this programme, 89 per cent. of the population will be served, and 11 per cent. will be outside the range.

The mast for North Hessary Tor is designed to serve South Devon and Cornwall. There will be good reception in Cornwall east of a line from Tintagel to Looe, and according to my reckoning 75,000 people will benefit, which is 22 per cent. of the population of the county. Secondary reception—one-fifth of the strength of good reception—will be obtained west of a line from Tintagel to Looe, and east of a line from Padstow to the Lizard, which will serve a population of 121,000, or approximately 38 per cent.

But for West Cornwall there will be 135,000 people, according to the answer given to me by the Minister a few weeks ago, which represents 40 per cent. of the population of the county, who would be right outside the range of the transmitter from North Hessary Tor. Indeed, we find that nearly four-fifths of the population of Cornwall will have either inadequate reception or none at all. North Hessary Tor is in a National Park. The Dartmoor National Park Committee are equally divided on whether to grant permission to the siting of this transmitter there, and it was only on the casting vote of the chairman that the committee agreed to it. The mast is to be 750 ft. high, and already on another part of Dartmoor there are R.A.F. masts which are a dreadful disfigurement of a lovely piece of country.

At the meeting of the Devon County Council on 17th July Lord Roborough, who owns North Hessary Tor, is reported to have said that the B.B.C. has recently been putting pressure on them to make a decision. The National Parks Commission suggested that the B.B.C. were being hasty and asked that further consideration be given. As far as I know there is no proof that North Hessary Tor is the most suitable position for a television mast to serve South Devon and Cornwall.

We ask for comprehensive tests to be carried out before there is any final commitment to North Hessary Tor. It is true the tests are expensive, but once the damage to Dartmoor is done it will probably never be remedied, and it is surely worth while to incur some reasonable expense to ensure that the amenities of Dartmoor are preserved and the people of the areas concerned shall have had good television reception.

After all, in West Cornwall, we are a long way from the centre of things; there are few of us who can get there to see things really happening, and it will give great pleasure to the people to be able to see them on television. Certain tests were carried out from Wenvoe a few weeks ago and, commenting on these, the "Western Morning News" said that the results beyond the official range were altogether freakish. Therefore, it does seem that at the moment that something should be done to ensure that we are going to get reasonably good reception in the places I have mentioned.

Dartmoor is a great national asset. Television is a great boon, and I appeal to the Minister to try to persuade the B.B.C. to do nothing further until comprehensive tests are carried out. In the Chamber this afternoon the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Brigadier Rayner) supported my plea in this matter.

12.4 a.m.

Photo of Sir Henry Studholme Sir Henry Studholme , Tavistock

Although I see that all the Cornish Members are here and are keenly interested in this question, I venture to intervene because, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) said, North Hessary Tor is in my division, and I am extremely grateful to him for raising this matter.

There is a strong feeling locally that the Devon County Council and the owner of the site have been "bounced" by the B.B.C. into agreeing to the use of North Hessary Tor. I have been told that the B.B.C. representative said to the County Council that if they did not agree, Devon would lose priority for television—or words to that effect. I have been informed since that it was not the case that Devon would risk losing that priority; so that does not come into the question. There is actually no hurry, for this new mast cannot be put up for a considerable time.

Therefore, all I ask is that the decision should be deferred, pending a thorough investigation into alternative sites outside Dartmoor in order to test them thoroughly and see if it is possible to have the mast erected in a place which is not a beauty spot or a National Park.

12.6 a.m.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

The hon. Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) and Tavistock (Mr. Studholme) did not think that North Hessary Tor is a good spot for a television mast, on grounds of amenity. Let me make the position clear. The Post Office does not come into the actual acquisition of the site. All that the Postmaster-General has to do is to give his permission to a site being acquired, when an application has been made to him by the B.B.C. No application has yet been made.

I understand that the position is as follows: The B.B.C. have got planning authority, and thought they would like to go ahead in due course with the acquisition of this site, but there is no question at all of any particular urgency in this matter. If any remark has been made in the debate to the effect that South-West England would lose its priority, it is not correct. The five low-power stations, of which this is one, have been put off indefinitely because of the cuts in capital investment. The only pledge given is that, when these stations can be built, the first priority will go to the North-East coast. Therefore, any idea that this part of the world would lose priority is not correct.

With regard to the other reason put forward by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, that North Hessary Tor is not the best location, from the point of view of television, that is a matter upon which I cannot comment, because it can only be decided as a result of actual tests. What I have been informed by the B.B.C. is that any other area which included the hon. Gentleman's constituents and the surrounding area would bring in 135,000 more possible viewers, but would exclude over 500,000 from any other part of that same area.

I would not like the hon. Gentleman to understand that this means that they will never get the chance to see television. The present plans of the B.B.C. are that they will, in due course, finish the five high-power stations and also the five low-power stations, and then they propose to see to what extent the country as a whole is covered by television. If it is not, and if there are gaps left, they are quite at liberty to put up plans for filling those gaps when the financial resources are available. So much for television.

Now for sound broadcasting. As I think the hon. Member admitted, the Light Programme throughout Cornwall is reasonably satisfactory on the long wave, and, in the Redruth area, on the medium-wave as well. The Third Programme gives coverage in the Redruth area but not in the rest of Cornwall, but I must point out that it was never intended that it should do. The Third Programme is only available to roughly 70 per cent. of the population of this country. In regard to the Home Service, and the claim that reception is not as good as it might be, that is true in many parts of the country. I would remind the hon. Member that in the part of the country where I live, after dark, it is hardly worth while to tune in to the B.B.C. at all.

There are good reasons for this, and one is interference. There are two stations on the same wavelength as West Home Service, and one is Roumania, which keeps on butting in every now and then. Protests have been made on more than one occasion, but the Roumanians do not even acknowledge our letters, let alone do anything about it. The second is Tripoli. There is a station there which is under the control of the British Army, and which was interfering in the West Country some little time ago. We have made representations to the War Office and they have reduced its power and have also modified the aerials. We have every reason to suppose that interference from the station will not be as serious in future as it has been.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne has made three suggestions. The first is that there should be an extra medium-wave transmitter at Redruth. He made the statement, with what justification I am not quite sure, that the B.B.C. have lots of spare transmitters.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

He may be right or wrong about that, but I doubt if that is right. The B.B.C. tell me that at the moment they cannot put up a medium-wave transmitter at Redruth for the Home Service in the West Region within the limits of the capital expenditure which the Government have imposed upon them.

The hon. Gentlemen's second suggestion was that the transmitter at Redruth which is now sending out the Third Programme should be used for the Home Service. That is an interesting suggestion. It means that the Redruth area would not get the cultural Third Programme but would prefer the Home Service instead. I do not know whether the views put forward by the hon. Gentleman would be supported by his constituents as a whole—

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

—but that is a proposition and I shall be only too pleased to put it to the B.B.C.

I should like the hon. Gentleman and the House to realise that the Post Office does not interfere with the B.B.C. over the question of programmes or over such a matter as whether the Home Service should be substituted for the Third Programme. That is a question which is within the independence accorded by this House to the B.B.C. But I will put this suggestion to the B.B.C. and see what they have to say about it.

The only real solution to the problem in West Cornwall and in many other parts of the country is the introduction of very high frequency. That is on the tapis, but I shall not pretend tonight that it is likely to happen in the near future. The Television Advisory Committee which is to advise the Postmaster-General on the technical points is about to be appointed, but the installation of very high frequency means not only fairly severe capital expenditure at the transmitting end but also, perhaps far more serious, the adaptation of existing sets or the building of special sets with a v.h.f. band.

I hope I have dealt with the various points raised by the two hon. Gentlemen and I hope they understand very clearly the position regarding North Hessary Tor. All of us would agree that the very last thing we ought to do is to despoil a beauty spot like Dartmoor, but planning permission has been given by the relevant authority which has the power to give that permission.

My hon. Friend rather suggested that it might have been given under a misapprehension. That I do not know. At any rate, I have tried to make it clear that there is no great urgency in the erection of the mast. Special permission has to be given by the Government to release the necessary capital and resources for the completion of the five low-power stations of which this is one. I do not know what deductions the hon. Gentleman will draw as a result of the two-day debate which we finished tonight, but I do not foresee that permission being given in the very near future. In any case, there is the priority of the North-East Coast which is to have the first low-power television station.

With regard to the hon. Member's second suggestion about the re-allocation of the second Redruth transmitter from the Third Progamme, I will put it to the B.B.C. and inform him of their decision in due course.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes past Twelve o'Clock a.m.