Communications Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th March 1970.

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Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Stepney 12:00 am, 26th March 1970

I must ask my hon. Friend to forgive me on this occasion. I am keeping an eye on the clock, and if I can give way to him later, I shall do so.

I turn now to the question of television. There has, as we know, recently been considerable concern about revenues, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications made a statement this week announcing changes in the levy which will benefit the companies which were under the greatest pressure to the extent of some £6 million. I believe that the urgent problems they were facing a short time ago will now be surmounted.

Inquiries have very often taken place into broadcasting, and it may well be desirable that there should be a public inquiry to consider broadcasting again—it might be a royal commission or an independent committee set up by my right hon. Friend. As the House knows, the franchises of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. to broadcast—the B.B.C. Charter, the B.B.C. Licensing Agreement and the Television Act, 1964—all expire on 31st July, 1976. Before then, the Government will have to consider their policy for broadcasting beyond that date. It is true that, in the past, independent committees of inquiry have generally been set up to advise the Government for this purpose. On the last occasion it was the Pilkington Committee, which was set up in 1960 and reported in 1962.

The Government have made no decisions about what should be done after 1976, but, clearly, it will be necessary to consider what the future of broadcasting is to be after that date. The Government are as anxious as anyone that the decisions to be made shall be the right ones, and perhaps a committee of inquiry or a commission would be the right way to help them reach those decisions. If so, such a commission would need to have enough time. It would need several years to do the work properly and for Government, Parliament and people to look at and consider the recommendations. It is too early to decide, but if an inquiry is set up, it will be set up in good time.

Some hon. Members argue that we should not wait until 1976. They claim that broadcasting has evoked so much interest, and even that there is a crisis of confidence—for example, over such things as the B.B.C.'s plans for sound radio and over the television companies—that there should be an inquiry now. I note what my hon. Friend the Member for Putney says about a "fire brigade" and the proposed use of a Select Committee. I think that he was right when he talked about the perhaps short-term problems which may arise, quite apart from the rather more searching forward inquiry of the sort we have had in the past. It is an interesting proposal.

I conclude on the subject of television by saying that I think it possible that there is a case here for some restricted form of inquiry into aspects of the effects of television on viewers, or perhaps many other aspects which may come to mind, but that this should be considered as something quite different from the longer-term-view-of-broadcasting kind of inquiries we had with the Pilkington Report and even before that.

I turn to meet head on the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay on the question of a major inquiry covering the whole range of communications industries—films, television, newspapers, the lot. This would be of enormous scope and it would be a big task. I see an interconnection in respect of advertising revenue, as my hon. Friend mentioned, as being a link between the Press and at least a part of broadcasting. I also see the relationship, as one must, between television and the film industry. I accept that there are these links.

We would, however, have to think very seriously indeed before we accepted that these links were, in themselves, so strong as to require such an enormously wide-ranging inquiry. I put aside the question of the amount of time that it would take to carry through such an inquiry. I am thinking more in terms of the enormously difficult technical and specialised problems that exist in each medium.

My right hon. Friend spoke in the House only last week about recent and prospective developments; and these include, in television, the development of facilities for playback in the home of recorded material received on television sets and television connected by wire through switching exchanges to enable viewers to choose a programe from a vast selection, merely by the turn of a dial. Such developments might be more relevant to the future of broadcasting than many aspects of the Press or cinema. This is a fair point to make, and these matters must obviously receive careful consideration as we examine the suggestions that have been made.