Hugh Jenkins – 1966 Speech on Pirate Radio Stations

Below is the text of the speech made by Hugh Jenkins, the then Labour MP for Putney, in the House of Commons on 22 June 1966.

I rise to draw attention to the Government’s attitude to pirate radio and television. I think that the adjournment of the House has never been more welcome. As I stand here we see dawn coming in through the windows. I hope that this debate may be seen, looking at it in retrospect, as heralding the dawn of a new attitude by the Government to this whole question.

There has been a tendency perhaps to dismiss pirate radio as a matter of no great importance and no great significance, as something which is a passing episode, but the extraordinary and tragic events of the past 24 hours have perhaps impressed everyone, the Opposition as well as the Government, that piracy is piracy in whatever aspect it occurs. We have seen the hi-jacking of a pirate station, Radio City, and the taking over of that illegally occupied tower by another group equally illegally occupying it. We have seen this culminate in the shooting to death of the chief of one of the pirate ships and the captain of another accused of murder.

We might have been more prepared for this had we considered that piracy is an aspect of anarchy. When the Government condone anarchy, as in effect they have been doing in the last two years, the gangsters soon take over. We might have been warned of this as this is not the first time that murder has taken place as a result of radio piracy. There was a murder on a Dutch ship some time ago. This is not something to be regarded as unimportant and a sort of pleasantry.

When the circumstances of the financing and management of Radio Caroline and of Radio City are investigated, we shall find that some respectable newspapers, notably the Financial Times, have been weaving a romantic web around some operations which will not look too well when the light of examination is brought to bear upon them.

The Government presented us more than a year ago with a document in which they set out the decisions of the European Agreement For The Prevention of Broadcasts Transmitted From Stations Outside National Territories. Article 2 of that Agreement said: Each contracting party undertakes to take appropriate steps to make punishable as offences, in accordance with its domestic law, the establishment or operation of broadcasting stations referred to in Article 1, as well as acts of collaboration knowingly performed. 2. The following shall, in relation to broadcasting stations referred to in Article 1, be acts of collaboration:

(a) the provision, maintenance or repairing of equipment;

(b) the provision of supplies;

(c) the provision of transport for, or the transporting of, persons equipment or supplies;

(d) the ordering or production of material of any kind, including advertisements, to be broadcast;

(e) the provision of services concerning advertising for the benefit of the stations.”

The Government have announced their intention to implement this agreement and to make these things illegal. It is extraordinary that, since that announcement, organisations which are normally regarded as respectable business organisations should continue to support these pirate stations although in full knowledge that the Government were to introduce legislation to make them illegal. One would have thought that it would have been proper for these business organisations to have ceased to support these pirate radios by discontinuing advertisements. That they refused to do so reflects discredit on them. Other countries have found it possible to get rid of pirate radios, but the United Kingdom is being regarded as a sort of refuge for buccaneers who have been rejected by more resolute Governments in Holland, Scandinavia and elsewhere and who have found shelter in and around our shores.

If we can, by international agreement, stop tankers reaching a port in Africa surely we can, with equal international agreement, prevent ships nearer our own shores breaking the European agreement to keep the air free from piracy.

The Postmaster-General has told us of the possible dire consequences of the usurpation of wavelengths, but the Government continue to find excuses for doing nothing to stop that which my right hon. Friend condemns.

When the pirates get into difficulty all available services are deployed to enable them to get back to their stations to continue their piracy. I understand that in the recent fracas on Radio City one group of pirates actually appealed to Scotland Yard to help them to resist the infiltration or attacks of the other group of pirates. According to last night’s Evening Standard senior Scotland Yard officials are considering whether they should go to the aid of one side to help them resist the hijacking of the other. The only thing that Scotland Yard should be considering, but what they have not considered, is how to help the Government to eject the pirates. They should not be intervening in what is an internal competition in illegality.

Many of these pirates are not even on ships. The towers from which they operate have been brought inside territorial waters. They have no licences, and last December the Postmaster-General decided that the time had come to act. In February the Ministry of Defence said that it was too dangerous for the Armed Forces. Perhaps the police could help, but my right hon. Friend said no, the magistrates did not have proper jurisdiction. I am advised that this is not so. They have jurisdiction under the Wireless Telegraphy Act and under the Magistrates’ Courts Act of 1952. I am advised on good authority that the arguments advanced to this effect by Sir Alan Herbert are legally valid. Why is it that the Government have not decided to act? Why is it too dangerous for the Navy or even marines to do here what the policeman regards as part of his job—going in and arresting law breakers?

Why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuse to consider my own proposal that the cost of advertising on pirate radio should be disallowed as an expense for tax purposes, thus starving the pirates out if they are too dangerous to arrest? The consequence of that refusal is that the advertising organisations have now recognised the pirates, and the audience must be substantial, for they are paying up to £80 for a 30-second spot.

Here, perhaps, lies the secret of the Government’s inaction. A lot of people are listening to the pirates, and the B.B.C. has lost its grip on the audience for popular music on sound radio. Perhaps the Government do not really know what to do about it.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will comment on the following proposals which I put forward as a possible solution to the problem. The Government should set up a new public authority, called, perhaps, the Television and Radio Authority. It would be quite separate from the existing authorities, which would continue as at present. The new authority would run the fourth television channel, which is needed if the University of the Air is to get off the ground in a big way, and it might also transmit some pay-television programmes, which have had a surprising success in their first test.

The new authority’s immediate task would be to set up a national radio network in competition with the B.B.C. It would replace the pirates, who should be given immediate notice to quit and evicted. The new service would aim to be popular. It would, in the first instance, transmit the same sort of programmes as the pirates are transmitting. It would do that, perhaps, on a medium wavelength which, if necessary, could be borrowed from the B.B.C, though it might be found by international agreement. It would transmit simultaneously on v.h.f., and on these wavelengths would act as a national feeder station for local radio stations which would be set up locally under local boards of directors, with local authority participation.

The new authority would be capitalised by public finance, but it would be allowed to accept advertising. The local stations would be allowed to accept local advertising. It would, as it were, be a mixed economy of the air.

By this means, several problems would be solved. First, we should be able to rid ourselves of the pirates, without depriving the audience of their “mush”. Second, we should break the sound monopoly of the B.B.C. The very existence of the pirates is proof that this needs to be done. Third, we should have established a parent for local radio. Local radio needs a national parent, but it should not be the B.B.C. The flavour of the B.B.C, in my judgment, is good; I enjoy it myself; but many people do not, and they should not be deprived of choice. If anyone says that the three B.B.C. sound programmes provide all the choice that one could want, I point to the success of the pirates. Clearly, the B.B.C. is not catering for that huge audience. I do not believe that the Corporation should be forced to cater for them, if it does not want to, and neither do I believe that it should be forced to accept advertising.

Here, I suggest, is the answer: a new authority, publicly capitalised, publicly owned, but accepting advertising revenue, providing a national service and source of a local service which would provide means of stimulating interest in local activities, facilities, music, sport and so on.

I recognise that there are difficulties. One of them is the absolute need to reach agreement with the performers’ and writers’ unions. In my opinion—I speak here entirely for myself—this would not be impossible if the new authority were prepared to transmit a proportion of live or specially recorded material and to pay for all broadcasts on a royalty basis so that every time a commercial gramophone record was broadcast, the performer or, perhaps, his union or organisation on his behalf received a payment.

These are the lines along which, I suggest, the problem should be tackled. It should be tackled now, and not allowed to drift. The more it is allowed to drift, the more difficult it will be to solve and the less credit the Government will deserve or get for tackling it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to tell us that he believes that the Government have been perhaps encouraged or shocked by the events of the last 24 hours and jerked into action which only if it is determined and quick action, will be forgiven for being belated.