HC Deb 31 July 1958 vol 592 cc1594-7
The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now make a statement on the televising of the State opening of Parliament.

Her Majesty's Government have been considering requests that facilities should be granted this year for televising this ceremony. They have decided in principle that such facilities should be granted, and the Queen has been graciously pleased to give her consent.

To avoid undue disturbance, the facilities will be given only to one operator. The British Broadcasting Corporation will prepare the broadcast, but it will make the results available to the Independent Television Authority.

The necessary arrangements will now be concerted with the Lord Great Chamberlain. It is intended that inside the Palace of Westminster the television should be confined to the Royal Gallery and the House of Lords Chamber.

I should like to make it clear that the Government regard this ceremony as a State occasion, quite distinct from the day-to-day work of Parliament, and that they have no intention of proposing that facilities for the televising of those day-to-day proceedings should be allowed.

Mr. Gaitskell

The Government were good enough to consult my right hon. and hon. Friends on this proposal, and we conveyed to them that we supported it. We did so because, although there would be circumstances in which the televising of Parliamentary affairs might seriously interfere with the spirit and the nature of our proceedings here, evidently this is not the case with the State opening of Parliament. We believe that there is a strong public demand for this, and I am glad, therefore, that the Government have reached this decision.

There is, however, one point which, I feel, I must raise. I think that we would all feel strongly that in no circumstances should the Crown become involved in party politics. There is, perhaps, some danger that the sight of Her Majesty reading the Gracious Speech—and this would apply whichever party was in power—might be misleading. I would, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would ensure that the B.B.C. commentary makes the constitutional position abundantly clear in the broadcasting of those proceedings.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, I am well aware of that point, but I think that this gives opportunity for removing any misapprehension which may exist. After all, after the opening of Parliament millions of people see a political programme, as it often is, under the heading of the Queen's Speech. This broadcast gives an opportunity for the commentator, who, no doubt, will take some part in it, to explain very clearly to all the listeners exactly the constitutional position. I think that this is an opportunity to describe, no doubt as part of the description of the whole ceremony, the precise constitutional significance. I think that very important, and I will try to ensure that this is done.

Apart from that, it will give great satisfaction to millions of Her Majesty's loyal subjects to see this ceremony. We have sometimes had doubts about the broadcasting of similar ceremonies in the past, but it has turned out that the people have responded with delight and pleasure at being able to take part in their own homes in ceremonies which, hitherto, only a very small number of people have been able to see.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Is it not clear that by far the greatest effect of the visual transmission of this ancient ceremony is obtainable in the Dominions and in foreign countries, and, that being so, is it out of the question that a colour film should be made of the ceremony at the same time?

The Prime Minister

In Canada recently the opening of Parliament by the Queen was televised. There are difficulties about a colour film, of which I may say just this, that at present the intensity of the light and the heat is something more than we ought, I think, to ask at this stage.

Mr. G. Jeger

Will the Prime Minister exercise some control over the sort of advertisements, commercial advertisements, distasteful advertising, which might, on I.T.A., accompany and even perhaps interrupt the televising of the ceremony?

The Prime Minister

I understand that that matter has been thought of and will be taken care of.

Mr. Leather

Is my right hon. Friend aware that among those who have been anxious that this ceremony should be televised there is no support whatever for this thin end of the wedge idea for any further incursion by television into the ceremonies and proceedings of this House?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware of that. That is why I said at the end of my statement that the Government have no intention of making any proposal of that kind.

Mr. Hale

Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that if he could arrange for a flash of his supporters, including, for example, the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), listening to the Gracious Speech, it might be possible for the community to have a fair example of the effect and importance and relevance of the speech to the community?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is introducing into this decision—which, I think, is generally accepted by the House—to give people the opportunity of seeing a great State ceremony, in which Her Majesty plays the central part, just those very points which I should have thought would have been distasteful to the House as a whole.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Can the Prime Minister assure us that there will be the Gracious Speech and not a General Election?

The Prime Minister

Were it not for dangerous precedent—and I do not see an actual descendant here—I should be inclined to say, "Wait and see."

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the continued existence of another place is a matter of controversy, and that this broadcast will tend to give to it a degree of importance which not everyone attaches to it. Would it not be a very good idea to leave the television cameras there and to televise the House of Lords in action about a fortnight later?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has said that the existence or composition of the House of Lords is a matter of controversy. What is not, I hope, a matter of controversy is the central position of the Crown in our Parliamentary life.

Forward to