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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 Feb 1966

Vol. 220 No. 5

Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill, 1965: Committee Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That section 5 stand part of the Bill."

I was inquiring last night from the Minister what the special significance of paragraph (n) was. He was explaining that it introduced nothing new so I took the trouble to get the Principal Act of 1960. If Deputies look at subsection (2), paragraphs (a) to (k), they will see that there are provided in these several paragraphs, which are all subject to a general provision in subsection (1), powers to enable the Authority to do all that is necessary to be done. What I do not understand is why the Minister desires further to supplement the general character of subsection (1) of section 16 which reads:

The Authority shall establish and maintain a national television and sound broadcasting service and shall have all such powers as are necessary for or incidental to that purpose.

Any reasonable reading of that general subsection will, I think, lead the House to believe that in case of any national emergency, or in a situation requiring communication urgently to be made to the public at large on behalf of the Government in the public interest, the general subsection (1) gives the Authority all the powers it needs. Subsection (2) goes on then to say:

In particular and without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, the Authority shall have the following powers . . .

It can do a number of additional things, things associated with correspondence, for instance, with foreign broadcasting companies or foreign broadcasting authorities and it is quite understandable that the general power to maintain a national service requires to be supplemented by this specific provision. But, over and above that, they were entitled to enter into correspondence with foreign broadcasting bodies. Now we find that, in addition to the special powers included in subsection (2) for corresponding with foreign broadcasting authorities, we begin with a new paragraph (1), which is quite understandable, that further expands Telefís Éireann's right to correspond with a foreign broadcasting enterprise. Then we come to paragraph (m) in this Bill. That speaks of, subject to the consent of the Minister, compiling, publishing and distributing, with or without charge, recorded aural and visual material.

That widens the scope, particularly with regard to recording.

And enables the Minister to lend it to Television Europe, or the Columbia Broadcasting Company, or somebody else. But we come now to the interesting one, paragraph (n) which says:

subject to the consent of the Minister, to provide services for and on behalf of Ministers of State.

It is not on behalf of the Government. Why? My submission is that subsection (1) of section 16 of the original Act gives the Authority all the powers it could conceivably require to deal with any situation of national emergency in which the Government ask it to intervene, to distribute news, or issue a warning, or an exhortation, about foot and mouth disease, or an outbreak of smallpox, or the need for vaccination, or anything of that kind. What is the meaning of giving it special power in an entirely different context—"subject to the consent of the Minister, to provide services for and on behalf of Ministers of State".

Those of us who are familiar with the handling of legislation in this House are always put on guard when we find something injected into a context in which it does not belong. I could understand it if this had been a proposal to provide a new paragraph to subsection (1)—that is to say, "shall have all such powers as are necessary for and incidental to the purpose of maintaining a national television or sound broadcasting service" and "subject to the consent of the Minister, to provide services for and on behalf of Ministers of State". But that is not what we are doing. We are giving a general power in respect of the domestic scene and then setting out a whole series of things the Authority can do vis-á-vis foreign authorities and then we are being asked to put in three paragraphs, two of them dealing in the context of communication with foreign authorities and, slipped in at the end, “subject to the consent of the Minister”—in this case, the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs—to provide services for and on behalf of Ministers of State. I do not think I am unreasonable if I ask the Minister now what has he in contemplation in asking for that power and, if he does not know—I mean to say, if it has not originated with the Minister himself—what is the justification for this requisition being made upon him by the Television Authority? If the Minister's position is the latter, then I think he should tell us on what grounds the Television Authority made this request.

The purpose of this paragraph is to clarify the authority which, in fact, the Television Authority is already operating. Section 16 is the section which broadly gives the Authority these powers to which Deputy Dillon referred. In the paragraph under subsection (2) these are more clearly defined and spelled out in simple terms, and more specifically, in relation to different things. At the moment, Telefís Éireann are acting as agents for the Department of Education in a schools programme for which the Department refund them the cost. This is done outside of ordinary broadcasting time. There is some doubt as to whether the broad terms of section 16 cover it specifically or not. This is simply a matter of making it specific in relation to other things, having regard to the possibility that some situation could arise in relation to other Departments. They are already operating the schools programme service as agents for the Department of Education. The power to do so is derived from section 16.

Subsection (1).

In regard to the powers under section 16, the Act then proceeds to spell them out more specifically under these paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i), (j), and (k), with reference to material, and so on. Under the amendment of this section we have to broaden the scope of some of them in order to leave no doubt as to what the Authority can do in regard to change of material, the question of recorded material, and so forth. This further paragraph in relation to services for Ministers of State is for the same purpose. There is nothing specifically spelled out with regard to the Authority acting as agents for a Department. They have taken that authority from the broad terms of section 16. They are already doing this work and this provision is to make is specific.

The Minister and I are probably in substantial agreement here, but I merely want to approach it in the appropriate way. I agree that the Authority ought to have, under subsection (1), the power to co-operate with the Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Department of Agriculture or with any other Department which may feel it can help. I would prefer if that was done not at the instance of the Minister himself but at the instance of the Government.

The Deputy knows that in practice——

In practice, yes, but I will not worry about that. What I am concerned to preserve is that if any abuse of this should arise and that it appeared to a reasonable citizen that a use was being made of television which was clearly not envisaged by subsection (1), he could proceed through the courts to restrain the Television Authority from proceeding with it. Paragraph (n) takes that from him. Once paragraph (n) is put in, no matter what they broadcast, if you or I try to restrain them through the courts on the ground that they are exceeding the power Oireachtas Éireann laid down for them under section 16, they are entitled to say: "We are, with the consent of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, providing a service for a Minister of State." The moment they establish that, there is no remedy; there is no restriction on what they may or may not broadcast provided they can satisfy the court——

The Deputy would probably know this better than I would, that it is the usual thing to specify a Minister rather than a Department.

I am not certain of that. All I want to put to the Minister is this: We have the power under subsection (1) to do anything appropriate to a national broadcasting service. Rightly, I think, under subsection (2) of section 16 of the original Act we give the Authority wide powers to deal with foreign broadcasting authorities. Here in section 5, paragraphs (1) and (m), not unreasonably, we spell out further matters——

More specifically.

——in relation to which they can deal with foreign authorities. I am prepared to agree with all of that, but then I ask: Why do we want paragraph (n)? I want to engage the attention of the few Deputies who bothered to attend the proceedings of the House: I believe that in the day and generation in which we are living one of the powers that is most under-estimated is that of television. I believe it is one of the most terrible powers that was ever put in the hand of man. People often smile at me when I say that as between the atomic bomb and television I regard the atomic bomb as something of relative insignificance. The most the atomic bomb can do is to destroy your carcase; television can destroy your soul and corrupt your mind. This power and this influence going into the living-room and kitchen of every human being in this country and being displayed in every public house and every place of popular congregation is utterly terrifying. Therefore, we here in Dáil Éireann ought to be constantly vigilant to see that it is properly controlled, that nothing irresponsible is done, and that if anything irresponsible is done, the humblest citizen in the country can go to the courts and invoke the protection of the courts against malpractice. I do not believe Deputies want individual Ministers of State to have the right to bespeak from the Television Authority such services as they may command with the consent of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. When we were passing the principal Act we were very careful to lay down——

No, you did not.

What we laid down, as far as I can read the measure—and I would go into court to defend it—is that the independent Authority have certain duties and one of those duties is to provide a national service. I would be prepared to contend that if an individual Minister bespeaks a special service, even with the consent of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, that does not come within the competence of the Authority if it does not partake of the character of a national service. The Minister can be put on his proof that he was providing a national service. For instance, suppose a Minister for Agriculture gets some daft idea in his head and invokes the Authority to conduct propaganda for it, and prevails on the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs that this is a very specialised thing and that he wants to carry it on, I can go into court in the morning and say: "This is not a national service. This is a daft idea this man has got into his head in which he alone believes but in which the vast majority of the people do not believe. It is ludicrous. It is not a national service." If paragraph (n) is inserted, the Authority are entitled to go into court and say: "Do not draw us into this quarrel. We quote paragraph (n) as our justification," and that is that. One can imagine such a situation arising if the Minister for Health, any Minister for Health or any other Minister of State got a bee in his bonnet——

Under any Act.

If paragraph (n) is included, the Television Authority need only come into court and say: "We provided that service in pursuance of paragraph (n) of the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill, 1965, and that is our responsibility. No injunction can lie against us. We have specific authority to broadcast this because we are doing it for a Minister of State with the consent of the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs". I think you are imprudently widening a section which is already wide enough. I do not quarrel with you about paragraphs (l) and (m) but I urge on the Minister strongly to delete paragraph (n).

This is a matter of elucidating and specifying rather than widening. As I have already pointed out, we are not in conflict here at all. Section 16 (1) does already give certain broad powers to the Authority to enable them to carry out specific duties for the Department of Education. They are not quite happy since other specific duties are spelled out more clearly in the paragraph to the subsection and they think that a further specific paragraph relating to these specific duties would clarify the position under that broad section 16.

The Deputy sat in on this Act when it was going through this House and I remember the discussion. Many Deputies on that side accused the Government of handing over powers, and CIE and other State bodies were quoted as examples where a Minister would have to stand up and say: "I have no responsibility". It was said that we were delegating too much power. An effort was made to strike a balance between delegating power completely and the retention by the Minister of certain rights. This balance was achieved in the Act. Nobody can say that any Minister has abused these powers.

I will read the section specifically relating to the powers of the Minister, section 31 (1):

The Minister may direct the Authority in writing to refrain from broadcasting any particular matter or matter of any particular class, and the Authority shall comply with the direction.

Subsection (2) states:

The Minister may direct the Authority in writing to allocate broadcasting time for any announcements by or on behalf of any Minister of State in connection with the functions of that Minister of State, and the Authority shall comply with the direction.

These powers are necessary. It does not mean that some Minister will go mad and ask the Authority to do something outlandish. I cannot understand the fears which Deputy Dillon expresses about agency work which it is already doing outside of normal broadcasting time. The Authority feel, and I think rightly, that while the provisions of section 16 are very wide, they lack specific provisions with regard to that particular work. This is purely and simply the purpose of the section. I can assure the Deputy of that.

The Minister has clinched and reinforced the argument I have been pressing upon him. In the original Act, the Minister "may direct the Authority in writing to allocate broadcasting time for any announcements by or on behalf of any Minister of State" and now read the qualifying words "in connection with the functions of that Minister of State." Show me those words in paragraph (n).

It is taken as a subparagraph of section 16.

But observe the difference in the terms, "with the functions——"

It is merely elaborating and simplifying section 16 which says that "the Authority shall establish and maintain a national television and sound broadcasting service and shall have all such powers as are necessary for or incidental to that purpose." This is one of them.

In subsection (2) of section 31 in the original Act, to which the Minister referred, there is power to direct the Authority to allocate time for any announcements by or on behalf of any Minister of State in connection with the functions of that Minister.

It is already spelled out in section 16 when it says before these subparagraphs that the Authority shall have "all such powers as are necessary for or incidental to that purpose". In other words, this paragraph gives the Authority power to do work for the Minister incidental to what is stated in paragraph 16, that is, in relation to broadcasting, which brings us back to section 31 which we have just quoted.

But observe the difference in terms—"by or on behalf of any Minister of State in connection with the functions of that Minister".

That is here, too.

When we come to put in paragraph (n), it is not.

Subject to the consent of the Minister to provide services which are on behalf of Ministers of State. Would the Minister agree——

That paragraph must be read in conjunction with section 16 which states what——

Would the Minister agree to put in there "for or on behalf of a Minister of State in connection with the function of that Minister of State"?

No, that would be repetition and duplication because the section already says that the Authority "shall establish and maintain a national television and sound broadcasting service and shall have all such powers as are necessary for or incidental to that purpose". And subsection (2) says:

In particular, and without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, the Authority shall have the following powers:

These are all in relation to section 16 which specifically states "incidental to that purpose," in other words, incidental to broadcasting. That is specifically stated and I am sure the Deputy cannot fail to see it.

I can see it.

What further safeguards does the Deputy want? The Deputy is not afraid that I will get them to go to the bogs to cut turf?

No, but I would not be at all surprised to see a campaign of the kind I remember to persuade us that the second greatest industry was the sod turf industry. Does the Minister remember that we bought a million sacks to accommodate the State turf which, according to Deputy Egan, was going to replace the agricultural industry?

It was before my day.

My memory goes back a long time. It would be just as easy for Fianna Fáil to go daft in 1966 as it was for them to go daft in 1936. I would be prepared to compromise if the Minister would consider between now and Report Stage putting in qualifying words analogous to those words already in subsection (2) of section 31.

I am not trying to be difficult but these sub-paragraphs to subsection (2) must be read in relation to the section as a whole, and the section as a whole states "to establish and maintain a national television and sound broadcasting service and shall have all such powers as are necessary for or incidental to that purpose." And then it sets out these incidentals to the purpose of broadcasting and television.

All I am asking the Minister is to consider between now and Report Stage——

I was hoping to get Report Stage today.

No; I want to put down another amendment. Why is the Minister in all that flutter? The House will not fall down if the Bill does not pass until next week.

I did not suggest that it would but I do not think there is any conflict.

Patient endurance attaineth to all things. That is St. Teresa of Avila. The Minister should learn that.

I agree with Deputy Dillon when he states that television is an influence for good or evil but I cannot follow him in his objection to paragraph (n). To me it looks almost innocuous. When we come to the television service itself, Deputy Dillon has stressed that in this country, as in other countries, there is a great need for vigilance to ensure that the national television service will be used as a means of education and entertainment. At times we are not satisfied with some of the things we see on Telefís Éireann. Most Deputies do not get much time to watch it. Generally speaking, they are doing an excellent job and their technical performance is improving, but there is a small section there who seem to set out to make prudes like myself sit up. Last year certain words were used which used to be the prerogative of the British Army here.

Does the Deputy know that we are discussing section 5? The Deputy may not discuss anything but that section.

Did the IRA never use those words?

I am coming to that.

The Deputy may discuss only the matter that is before the House, which is section 5 of the Bill.

Is the Ceann Comhairle not excited by the conversion of Deputy Briscoe last night and Deputy Moore today?

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 6 stand part of the Bill".

This is not a matter of controversy but what does the Minister think is expected from the change from private auditors to the Comptroller and Auditor General?

I think it may make for a little bit of extra control. Although in the previous Act it was a duly qualified auditor, in actual fact it was the Comptroller and Auditor General. Seeing the amount of State investment there is in the Authority, it was decided that it should be stated specifically that the auditor should be the Comptroller and Auditor General.

I will not argue about it but I have had a great deal to do with these matters on the Committee of Public Accounts and the present Minister was a colleague of mine on that Committee. He will remember that we differentiated very specifically between the suitability of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Government accounting, for which he is peculiarly equipped, and commercial accounting for which he is not peculiarly equipped. His staff is largely trained in the tradition and form of Government accounting. My recollection is that when we were passing the original Television Act, there was present to our minds the fact that these people would be dealing with commercial firms in regard to advertising revenue and rentals of television material and would be conducting a large commercial business similar to the business carried on by the large commercial broadcasting companies of Britain and the United States as against the most rigid procedures of the BBC which is an exclusively Government service and has no dealing with advertising agents and other such interests.

For that reason we thought it would be desirable to make it possible for a commercial firm of auditors to audit the accounts of the Television Authority. The Minister says that in practice the matter is in the care of the Comptroller and Auditor General but the Minister must remember the problems we faced in the Committee of Public Accounts where we sometimes felt that the procedures of the Comptroller and Auditor General were too rigidly adapted to Government accounting. Does the Minister remember the occasion when we were dealing with the accounts of Gaeltarra Éireann? Stocks had been accumulated for such a long time that a firm of commercial auditors would have been frightened to death but the Comptroller and Auditor General was satisfied that as long as the stocks that should be there were there, everything was all right. Suddenly he discovered that we had a vast accumulation of unsaleable stock which had to be got rid of by drastic measures. That was due to the fact that the officers of the Comptroller and Auditor General were uniquely equipped to deal with Government accounts but were less familiar with the practices of commercial undertakings.

I mention this to the Minister so that he may consider whether he thinks it expedient that he should tie himself to the Comptroller and Auditor General. I think he should leave it so that it can either be the Comptroller and Auditor General or so that, if he thinks it desirable, he can put in a firm of commercial auditors. Why does he want to tie himself down to the Comptroller and Auditor General? I would prefer the decision to be left open and allow the Minister to come here to the Dáil and say that he is calling in a firm of commercial auditors because he is satisfied that the commercial accounts of the Television Authority would be best examined by commercial auditors.

The Minister, in his opening statement, stressed that in view of the heavy existing and potential State investment in the Authority, he thought it better that the Comptroller and Auditor General should report on the accounts of the Authority rather than a commercial firm. Personally, I would agree with that point of view. There is so much State money invested in the Authority that it would be better to have the Comptroller and Auditor General doing the work.

He has, in fact, been doing it.

Did Deputy Dockrell ever serve on the Committee of Public Accounts?

I did, for years, with you.

The Comptroller and Auditor General has comparatively little experience of commercial accounting. The whole approach of his office is the approach of auditors trained to deal with Government finance. If there could be two things covered by the one name and still completely different, they are commercial accounting and Government accounting. They are as different as chalk from cheese. Surely we can rely on a responsible body of commercial auditors to do this work? Surely we are not to take it that the only person on whose report we can rely is the Comptroller and Auditor General? We all employ firms of auditors in our offices and without them we would be bankrupt. The Minister would be better advised to leave a measure of flexibility in the matter. I do not know why he wants to tie himself down to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

While the Comptroller and Auditor General does deal largely with the accounts of so many State bodies, I would not think it correct to say that he is devoid of commercial experience.

I am not saying he is devoid of it. I remember being asked by the present President, when Taoiseach, for my advice as to whether he should put a man in as Comptroller and Auditor General who was trained in a commercial auditor's office or trained in the Comptroller and Auditor General's office or in the Department of Finance. My advice to him most emphatically, as the then Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was: "You must put in a man trained either in the Comptroller and Auditor General's office or the Department of Finance. A commercial auditor could not audit Government accounts. He is not trained for it." That view has prevailed from that day to this, perfectly right, in my opinion. But the very fact that the head of the Department is himself pre-eminently, not exclusively, an auditor of Government accounts, I think renders him less effective as an auditor of commercial enterprises than the head of a commercial firm would be.

Question put and agreed to.
Question proposed: "That section 7 stand part of the Bill."

The note here refers to "minor amendment and repeals." It would be civility to tell us what they mean.

This is really a correction. The Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1956, amended section 5 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1926, by inserting a subsection (1A) after subsection (1) of section 5. This subsection provided that a vehicle which contained wireless telegraphy equipment required to be licensed separately even though the owner had a receiving licence for other premises, e.g. his home. A further subsection incorrectly numbered (1A) was inserted after subsection (1) of section 5 of the 1926 Act by section 34 of the Broadcasting Authority Act, 1960. This subsection provided that the Minister may by order authorise the Authority to collect licence fees and grant licences, etc. Section 7 (l) proposes to correct this position and put it in its proper place.

Will the Minister agree that that is as clear as mud? When we have time to read it, we will see what it means. Obviously, it does not mean very much.

It is a correction.

I accept that. It gives me a chance to renew an appeal made yesterday by Deputy Dockrell or somebody else to the Minister to reconsider one aspect of this matter of granting licences. These corrections relate to a section of the old 1926 Act in regard to the issuing of licences for wireless sets. In those days every wireless set you had had to have a licence. That principle was carried over to the days when transistors came in and it was decided if you had one licence for a set attached to the mains, it would cover any transistors the children had or the woman of the house carried about with her going about her daily job. But it was determined that if you had a wireless in the car, you had to get an additional licence. The next stage was that television came in. We provided you had to take out a £5 licence and that covered television and all the wireless sets in your house.

Now we are in this extraordinary position. If I have a transistor wireless set and I carry it down in my fist to Sandymount strand, I am covered, but if I get the transistor wireless set and put two screws, one on each side of it, and screw it into the dashboard of my car, I am not covered. I have to have a second licence. Surely the administrative annoyance involved in making those kinds of distinctions more than outweighs any additional revenue the Minister gets from the licensing of radios in cars? I put it to him he ought to consider suggesting to the Minister for Finance that it would simplify administration, would avoid a good deal of personal irritation, if a person who held a £5 comprehensive licence was deemed to be a person who had a television set in his house and who could go out festooned with wireless sets if he wanted to, provided he had the pink £5 licence. That is the kind of commonsensical thing that will be done sooner or later. The sooner it is done, the less trouble there will be about it. I urge on the Minister to consider that matter of having one comprehensive licence to cover the whole thing and drop this business about separate licences for radios in cars.

It would be a great thing if you could get some method to prevent people going out with transistor radios to strands and such like public places.

Now, now, Deputy— middle age.

I know one likes to get away from it all.

The older we get, the more we like to get away from it.

Very soon Sandymount strand will be put to another purpose.

I do not want to say a lot on this. One of the reasons why I would be reluctant to change this without long and deep consideration is that I would be considerably reducing the revenue.

What is the revenue?

There are about 13,000 sets licensed in cars.

What does it cost to enforce it?

Sound radio licences are diminishing as television takes over. We are in the course of providing a better sound radio service, costing £160,000, and one would expect increased revenue from licences rather than reducing them. If we were to say that radios in cars were covered by the licence attaching to the house, it could possibly lead to a good deal of difficulty. We were discussing the other day the changing of cars from one person to another. It is much easier to keep "tabs" on the sets fixed to the cars and require a separate licence for them rather than allow a whole conglomeration of licences to be attached to the licence for the set in the house. If at some stage I was thinking of increasing the licence by another £1, I might allow car licences in.

That would be a most deplorable decision. Have a look at the matter. In the meantime, do not underestimate the value of sound radio. It is perfectly true that, when we were depending on valve sets attached to the mains, sound radio was practically a thing of the past; but sound radio has come back as a valuable asset in every household in this country. A housewife who can now carry around her portable radio with her and have a bit of music and light entertainment while dusting and cleaning from room to room has an inestimable boon. Lots of people forget that and imagine that television is the only thing that counts.

I did not for a moment say that.

I planted a very sensible seed in the Minister's mind. I hope it will grow.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 8 agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.
Report Stage ordered for Thursday, 3rd February, 1966.