§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I beg to move,That this House, believing that the maximum involvement of a responsible people in the processes of Parliamentary government is a sure guarantee of liberty, welcomes the interest shown in political issues raised in television studio confrontations in which Members elected to this House take part, but perceives a danger in thereby persistently diverting public attention from debates in this House to such fortuitous substitutes, and, therefore, is now firmly of the opinion that this House would more worthily fulfil its role as the supreme forum of the nation of its actual proceedings could, after appropriate experiments and by 1034 methods calculated not to impair its unique atmosphere, be projected directly into the homes of the people on their television screens.This is a Motion upon which counsel is quite properly divided in the House, and, no doubt, opposing views will be expressed. The view which I shall express is firmly in favour of the Motion, but I think that I can at the outset unite the House in saying, in the first place, that this is above all things a House of Commons matter. I think that I may have hon. Members in all quarters of the House with me when I say also that, as it is a House of Commons matter, the House is particularly gratified that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is in his place. I hope that I shall not be thought unduly partisan if I add with even greater warmth that I am extremely gratified that his distinguished predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), is in his place, too.
I framed the Motion with the intention that the House should have an opportunity to address its mind to the fundamental proposition that our proceedings should be televised. I stand by that proposition, and I still believe that the House can most usefully debate the Motion by concentrating upon the arguments for or against the prime issue, to televise or not to televise; and it remains my intention respectfully to submit to the House the case as it seems to me in favour, as argued in outline in the Motion itself.
Until a few days ago, I had thought that I could best assist the House in its deliberations by concentrating almost exclusively upon these arguments. It had seemed to me that I myself should avoid the fascinating but essentially secondary issues arising out of the consequential question: how should it be done? But, after discussing the question of principle with many hon. Members, I have felt obliged to change my mind about that. It has been borne in on me that, regardless of the supreme importance, in my view, of the question of principle, hon. Members have generally been reluctant to form a judgment for or against the principle without first discussing in detail just how the televising of Parliament, if it were to be done at all, could be done best.
1035 Hon. Members with whom I have raised this question of whether or not to televise more often than not have replied with interest and animation in some such terms as this: "Oh, but you cannot have it running all day", or "Oh, but you cannot let the B.B.C. take this over", or "Oh, but who is going to edit it?", or, "Oh, but the exhibitionists will hog the mike", or "Oh, but you cannot have all those ghastly lights about the place". Time and again I have found that the immediate reaction of an hon. Member was to put up an Aunt Sally, to knock it down, and then to conclude that in knocking down the Aunt Sally the fundamental principle had finally been disposed of.
It seemed to me that if so many hon. Members found that such considerations came most easily to mind in the first place, perhaps it would be wise for me to accept that order of business, and so, with some misgivings, I shall first suggest to the House and comment on some of the possibilities, which are fascinating indeed as material for debate. But before launching upon that excursus I implore the House to accept my main contention that our first consideration should be decided on the matter of principle, and I shall in the second half of my remarks come back to that theme, which is what hon. Members must decide.
As to the technicalities of the details, may I first ask for the acceptance by the House of certain simple assumptions about the purely physical arrangements that would be involved. Other hon. Members who may take part in the debate are better qualified than I to make these assertions and I hope that the House will have the benefit of their comments at a later stage. But I think that the following are the facts: all that we need to have to televise the proceedings in this House is, first, slightly improved lighting—nothing devastating or distracting, no powerful glare, no intolerable heat. Secondly, four little unobtrusive remote control cameras slung under the Gallery of this House—no hordes of technicians clambering about the Chamber, no paraphernalia or trollies or coils of cable. Thirdly, perhaps a few more microphones in the Chamber, but such, honestly, as hon. Members would not, unless their 1036 attention were directed to them, notice that they were at all. Fourthly, somewhere outside the Chamber, in a gallery perhaps, a man or several men performing an observing function which is already performed by the Press Gallery in the House.
Whatever the House may decide about the method of recording or reproducing our proceedings in visual form, which I shall discuss in a moment, those four simple requirements are all that we should have to endure in the way of physical adaptation of this historic Chamber, and even the most conservative—in the non-partisan sense—hon. Member I think would hardly be aware that anything had happened at all.
Now let us make a list of some of the possible ways of giving people a direct television view of our proceedings, and let us chalk up the good points and the bad points in respect of each one. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will, I hope, suggest other ways, and we will chalk up the good points and bad points in respect of each one of them.
To begin with, we could have continuous live television of our proceedings, presumably on a separate television channel, presumably being transmitted contemporaneously with the actual proceedings of the House. This is an obvious possibility. It would have the merit that it would be unbiased and incapable of being presented in a biased way by selectivity in presentation. I do not want to prejudice the issue by stating the overwhelming objections to that. It would be extremely boring. It would be unselective. The timing of important points in our proceedings might arrive at bad viewing time. Conversely, peak viewing time might tempt what I think in this context it is fashionable to call exhibitionists to dictate the timing of business. The experience of the Australian Parliament with sound broadcasting of its proceedings, I think has a lesson for us here in respect of that possibility.
We could have continuous live televising piped to special subscribers such as Press agencies, newspapers, the B.B.C., independent television companies, film companies, clubs, organisations, universities, and so on. The subscribers might then be free to use in whatever 1037 form they choose, edited or in full, re-showing the film of our proceedings to their customers. I think that this is broadly the idea that was evolved in the fertile mind of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes).
Its merits are much the same as the merits of publishing HANSARD. In fact it would be HANSARD in the sense of a continuous precise record of what is said in this House, but HANSARD in a visible and audible form. Its demerits are, of course, that what we do and say here would be susceptible to unfair representation and selection by anyone who wanted to be unfair, although of course the same objection applies to some extent to the publication of HANSARD reports in printed form and to the possibility of reporters unfairly reporting by the printed word the proceedings of the House which they have witnessed.
I suppose it could be maintained that the evil that could flow from mischievous reporting from televised recordings would be very much greater because of the greater and wider and deeper impact—much greater than any evil that can flow from mischievous reporting in print, which anyway is concentrated in more hands than the very few which would be adapting television reporting. It might he so much greater as to be a difference of kind and not a difference of degree. The House might well feel that here is a source of such massive power and influence that it might live to regret having played the rôle of the Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Or again it might be possible for the House to have continuous live televising subject to various other adaptations which hon. Members may suggest. But, perhaps I might leave the continuous televising there and move on, although I think one ought to accept it that when one talks of continuous live televising one takes it for granted that there must be a record preserved on video tape which is running all the time the House is sitting, whatever use were to be made of the tape subsequently. But with that continuous video tape in existence there are, of course, fresh possibilities which suggest themselves, and they all come under the general heading of an edited version and they all involve a decision by this House as to who should do the 1038 editing. One might, for example, envisage an authorised film version of "Today in Parliament" edited, issued and copyrighted by the House itself. The editor might be appointed an officer of the House ultimately answerable to the House through a Select Committee established for the purpose under your chairmanship, Mr. Speaker. If this method were considered best then the film would be available as soon as possible after, say, 10 p.m., assuming that the times of sittings of this House remain as they are. Who knows, if this idea were a success the House might feel impelled to reconsider the hours of its business—they are not sacrosanct and the House is its own master in this matter—but I think that is a bridge we might cross when we come to it, if we come to it.
The advantages of this form of editing under House of Commons control is that the House would enjoy the joys, such as they may be, and the satisfactions of censorship. Any accusations of unfairness would be settled in the House by the House. A disadvantage of this method which has been put to me by professional commentators is that the official editor might be rather hard to find. He would be very expensive if he were to be recruited from the ranks of experienced professionals already in the field of political television commentating. Further, such people might perhaps be deterred by a sense of possible restrictiveness.
Another way of producing an edited version would be that the House could simply throw the field wide open and take what came from accredited gallery observers and commentators entitled to make their own excerpts from video tape as they chose, when they chose and of what they chose and to use them at their discretion for the benefit of their companies. John Milton might possibly argue that this would be the way that free men unafraid of liberty should choose. The House might sense a danger in this which I have already outlined when commenting on the piped television idea which I attributed, I think not unjustly, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford.
Those are some of the more obvious ways in which the thing could be done. 1039 Arguments about their respective merits are secondary to the argument that must be considered of whether it should be done at all. I have already relegated that positive prime argument from the beginning of my submission and I continue with a further important but still secondary matter, namely, the objections in principle to televising Parliament. I take many of these negative arguments very seriously indeed and I respect the wisdom and the instinct of many hon. and right hon. Members who have been in this House longer than the 11 years which I have spent here. Many of them have profound misgivings about the effect of televising our proceedings on the essential nature and character of this House. I say to my hon. Friends who are broadly in favour of televising Parliament that it would ill become us to be too brash and too rash in dismissing misgivings of hon. Members of this House who know it and love it well. I have tried to acknowledge these objections and anxieties in my Motion in the words… by methods calculated not to impair the unique atmosphere of the House …My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Quintin Hogg) may have expressed these anxieties better than I have in the wording of my Motion when he said recently that he was afraid that televising our proceedings might alter the "character" of the House. I would like to try and analyse what is meant by the character of the House. Do we mean that this House is a place apart, an exclusive and esoteric club with its own philosophy of life and its own rituals which are somehow mysteriously valuable and important but which the people who elected us here cannot appreciate? Are we arguing that if we thought that the people who elected us here could actually see and hear us we should be compelled to speak and behave differently because we would have to put on an act for them and that would stop us properly transacting our business? I think hon. Members who think of the House like that ought to explain now just exactly what they do mean.
Personally I should need convincing of this, although my mind is open to persuasion. I am sure my constituents would be equally open-minded but I think they 1040 would need some convincing. They might say that they would have more confidence in the House of Commons if it not only faithfully represents their interests but could be seen by them to be doing so and was not ashamed of being seen doing so. They may ask what we were so anxious to hide. We should consider, if we are to accept these particular anxieties, what the answer is to that. The public is very rightly watchful and sceptical and suspicious of politicians. It is very alert for symptoms of secretiveness, guile and insincerity and it appreciates and demands openness and sincerity. I would need to be told how to explain to the public that the character of this House is something valuable that will wilt and wither if the people this House serves were allowed to watch it.
May I suggest what I think is the character of this House? May I even suggest that the character of this House would be not impaired but fortified by the knowledge that the House could be seen in action? Character is a matter of what you believe and how you behave. Let us examine the dynamics of this House and remember that we are continuously watched by strangers, anyway. How much does the knowledge that we are watched by strangers actually affect us and would be affected more if we were watched by millions instead of hundreds?
Let us consider what is in the mind of an hon. Member who has the Floor of this House, to which he has been sent by 60,000-odd of his fellow countrymen. I think hon. Members would agree with me that an hon. Member's mind is concentrated firstly upon the fact that he is addressing you, Mr. Speaker, for the benefit, if that is the right word, of the House as a whole. Secondly, hon. Members I think would say their minds were concentrated upon the actual business of remembering and trying to express the point they wanted to make for the consideration of the House. Thirdly, an hon. Member is actually and consciously aware, all the time that he is taking part in a debate, that there must be a conflict of opinion and that therefore he is constantly open to challenge and other hon. Gentleman are waiting and ready to pounce. These are the three essential compelling elements which operate upon an hon. Member in the House. With these compelling influences, I ask hon. 1041 Members how many of us are really ever consciously primarily aware of the fact that strangers are observing the debate. Quite honestly, for me the ceiling of the House is very close to the top of your wig, Mr. Speaker.
I wonder whether these compelling dynamics would be changed simply because the Galleries, which we are aware at other times do exist, were to be miraculously enlarged by the techniques of television. I think that the dynamics would remain the same. Surely any hon. Member who has debated outside the House in the television studio itself, or merely seen others doing so, knows perfectly well that the resources of brain and mind, such as one might have, are concentrated on the issue under debate. One is genuinely oblivious of the fact of an audience. We are not actors acting. We are ourselves at the full stretch of our minds. I myself believe that television is the great enemy of the twin monsters, cant and rant. I do not think that it would debase the attitude which hon. Members bring to bear to their duties in the House.
I have heard it suggested again, for example, that hon. Members might say to themselves, if there were a televised report of our proceedings going out from the House, "Let me make sure that there is one bit of my speech that will sum the whole thing up in about 60 seconds or so. That will be very handy for the television editor". What is so terribly wrong about that? Does not one try anyway to give the gist of an argument conveniently at some suitable point? It is useful for reporters; it is useful for one's constituency newspaper editor who is performing an important function in helping to inform the public. If one can provide it, a good short handout before any public speech is useful and helpful in the public interest and one tries to make it a succinct summary of the argument. It is a very useful discipline for oneself, and it is very useful for the audience. I do not see it destroying the character of the House.
Another fear expressed is that the public might somehow be shocked by scenes of rowdy partisanship and robust enthusiasm which occasionally lend colour to our debates, or by the sight of hon. Members lounging on the benches in attitudes possibly lacking in 1042 pomposity and dignity, although I must say that hon. Ladies always seem to get along perfectly all right in this Chamber without in any way losing perfect decorum. The argument seems to be that while the constituents of ours who now visit the Strangers' Gallery are, as we know, because they tell us, shocked by these things, they are too few and too inarticulate seriously to undermine the reputation of the House. There may well be something in these worries, but I think that we should ask whether these things which may be altered are really a very valuable part of the character of the House. Would it really become something very different and very much less if hon. Members were constrained to behave as they think their constituents imagine we behave? I am confident myself that somehow the character of the House would remain unimpaired.
I should like now to refer briefly in passing to the experiments mentioned in the Motion. By all means let us have these experiments. I think that that goes without saying. We must try out as far as possible as many ways of doing this thing, though I think that the House would be interested to hear what particular advantage is claimed for experiments with sound recordings which have been suggested. I should have thought that the House might feel, on the face of it, that if it is the televising of Parliament which we are considering, television experiments are the kind of experiments which would be most helpful to us.
May I sum up the argument so far in a brief statement which would be so damaging to the character of the House if it were to be useful to a television editor? I have yet to be convinced that the character of the House would be changed for the worse by the knowledge that we might be observed in our proceedings by millions of the people we represent. There are no doubt several ways of televising our proceedings and some may be preferable to others. The House will have to express its preference and it will be assisted in that by the Report which is to be made to you, Mr. Speaker, by the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports, and, I hope, by subsequent experiments based on that Report. But the arguments in favour of this or that method are only 1043 secondary. The prime objective of the Motion and the debate is that we should affirm our belief that this is a good thing and that it should be done. Let us cheer the Select Committee on its way with a clear and bright green light and let us start our experiments as soon as we can.
I come now to the main principle. This House is the fountain, the origin, the inspiration, the example of Parliamentary democracy. Winston Churchill said that Parliamentary democracy was the worst form of Government ever evolved by man—with the possible exception of any other form of government. If anybody should think that those words betoken a tepid enthusiasm, I think that the author of them, who boasted that he was a child of this House, showed by his deeds what a passionate faith those words represented.
The essence of Parliamentary democracy is that people should live in liberty and be governed by consent. The essence of that consent is that there should be free and wide discussion. That discussion is useless unless it is understood by the electorate. It can be understood only if it is shared and witnessed. But it is the real discussion that must be shared and understood. And the real discussion and decision-making must be, and must continue to be, held and done on the Floor of the House.
That is what I mean in the words of the Motion which say:believing that the maximum involvement of a responsible people in the processes of Parliamentary government is a sure guarantee of liberty …".At this moment, our people's involvement in the processes of Parliamentary government is involvement at second hand. But it need not be at second hand, that is to say, in the studio interviews and debates in which hon. Members elected to the House take part—and all honour to them and all honour to the very skilful men who organise these things. Personally, I think that they reach a very high standard and I make no complaint of partiality or otherwise. But those Members who enable the electorate to take part in these discussions are not the Members called by you, Mr. Speaker. Those debates which are 1044 so eagerly followed by millions are not the debates of this House.
I cannot believe that it is right for this House wilfully to shut itself off and to screen itself from the public. It should not be cut off from the greatest medium of communication since the invention of the printing press, and a medium of communication which has infinitely more impact on the minds of people than the printing press could ever have.
The decision called for in the Motion was really taken long ago, in essence, when the House decided that its business should no longer be held in secret. That was the essential, crucial decision. We conducted our business in the House in the ancient past in secret because we were afraid of the Sovereign. Now the people are sovereign, and I do not think that we have anything to be afraid of.
If we are not to hold our debates in secret, why not hold them in public as much as we possibly can? If this nation were a small tribe inspired by the ideal of government by consent, anybody could attend the meetings of those who took decisions of government for the tribe. And who would say that any one of the tribe ought to be kept out from the supreme forum of debate? The miracle of television has given us the chance to restore to an unwieldy nation of 50 million or more people something of the cohesion and unity of a small community. I wonder whether it would not be better to welcome this opportunity. This is where our leaders should speak for the nation and to the nation, and be seen to do so. This is where they should be challenged, and be seen to be challenged. Hon. Members have probably often heard, as I have, constituents complaining about television interviewers when, say, the Prime Minister or some respected Member of the House has been grilled in public on the television screen. They say, "What right has the interviewer to grill him like that?". I do not blame the interviewer; I think that he is performing a very valuable function. But the fact is that it is not properly his function. It is the function of hon. Members in the House, and it is to perform that very function that we have been elected to the House. This is where we should be seen to do it, and we should 1045 not allow that duty to be delegated to others.
I suggest that as a general principle we cannot have too many responsible people actively associated with and directly scrutinising the making of Government decisions. We all know how evil is done by unscrupulous men in the name of good men who have not been alert or informed, who have not known what was being arranged behind the scenes, who have not realised what was being done until it was too late to overturn it. It happens in small ways in the experience of everyone every day. It has been the tragedy occasionally of trade unions, as hon. Members know. I have seen it done myself in the last fortnight in a very different kind of organisation not five miles from this House. And, in a vast and terrible way, it is exactly what was done in Germany in the 1930s.
No great, marvellous means of information such as television, or the printing press in the past, ought to be shunned by the House if it will more closely engage the minds and attention of our people m their vital affairs. I should like to think that the House would approach its 700th anniversary by taking a huge and momentous step along the way that it has always followed. I hope that it would not be thought too grandiloquent of me or that the House would not consider it to be pitching it too high if I said that that way is the way of trusting in the good judgment and balance of the maximum possible number of decent people—the way of openness, of frankness, of liberty. I believe that that is what we should be doing in accepting the Motion, and I hope that the House will accept it.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Mr. Colin Jackson (Brighouse and Spenborough)
I should like to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) on the way in which he moved the Motion. I found it a fascinating survey of this very interesting problem, presented fairly, clearly and interestingly enough, with a 60-second summary during the speech, as an anticipation of the programmes which I trust we shall have later in the House. Because the hon. Member set out so clearly the general argument in favour of televising Parliament, I should like to de- 1046 vote my time to taking up individual points, both in the general presentation of the argument and in suggesting the sort of programmes that we might have.
Obviously, whether or not we have television in the House must be the subject of exhaustive inquiry. The Select Committee on Publications and Debates, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), will be entrusted at an early stage with this investigation. As I see it, it is not for us today to give any kind of mandate. We should simply discuss the problem and lay the ground work for an investigation into the whole question of televising Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman referred to radio in Australia. It is significant that, apparently, as a result of radio programmes about Parliament in Australia the interest of the people in the Parliamentary proceedings in the Australian House of Commons has vastly increased. I understand that when the Australian Members of Parliament voted themselves an additional salary, far from complaining about it, the public, having listened to what had been said, were behind them. I am not suggesting that this should be the basis of our actions here, but it might diminish some of the complaints.
The B.B.C. has suggested that as a preliminary to televising the House we might have a radio programme about our proceedings. The hon. Member for Ilford, North did not seem to be in favour of that, but as we will be proceeding with experiments in televising the House it would afford us the opportunity of a period during which we could accustom ourselves to the sound of our own voices if we had a radio programme, perhaps on the Third Network or on the Home Service from 10 to 11 each night—"Today in Parliament". That could be done at the minimum expense, and it would be a pilot project.
If we were to televise Parliament there are one or two programmes that one might suggest. We could sweep away a vast collection of television items which these days are out of date. I think that party political broadcasts basically have become tedious and artificial. If Parliament were televised, the people would thereby be brought to the forum 1047 of the nation, which would be the main purpose. The public's attention would be brought to Parliament through the prime medium and we could do away with party political broadcasts.
We could also spare Ministers the horrifying experience at seven o'clock in the morning, after returning from the United States, for instance, of having to go before television cameras two, three and even four times briefly to state the result of the visit. They could save this for when they reported to the House of Commons later that day because they would then be reporting to the nation through the television cameras. There would be no necessity for them to undergo macabre experiences in the early hours at London Airport.
§ Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the television and broadcasting authorities would desist from seeking to interview Ministers arriving back from abroad because they would report later today to this House?
§ Mr. Jackson
On balance, it would be preferable if they did desist. The Ministers would report to the people through the House of Commons and, after all, the people should hear these things through the House. What is the value of these reports of 60-second interviews at London Airport early in the morning except for the first edition of the Evening Standard? They do not add anything to the information of the nation.
§ Mr. Aidan Crawley (Derbyshire, West)
How would the hon. Member prevent either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. from televising such interviews? Would he pass a law to stop them?
§ Mr. Jackson
I am merely giving an example, and I chose these early morning interviews. I am merely pointing out that neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition have to give such interviews, but the need to do so would be far less if Parliament were televised. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to get me to extend the point by suggesting that under no circumstances on no occasion would a Minister or one of the Opposition leaders appear before the cameras outside the 1048 House. I am not suggesting any such thing. I merely say that the prime forum should be the House of Commons, exposed to the public through the prime medium, and that that is where Ministers report to the nation.
The hon. Member for Ilford, North referred to television personalities and the way in which they are perhaps thought by certain hon. Members to be unnecessarily "grilling" Ministers or Leaders of the Opposition. A man who can be described as one of the most prominent television interviewers, and who is not noticeable for his reticence or shyness or discreet asides, Mr. Robin Day, is on record as being a prime supporter of televising Parliament; and that is significant. If he holds this view, that is a very great argument for televising Parliament, for surely one of his main functions would be affected. These interviewers mainly have the interests of the public at heart.
§ Mr. Crawley indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Jackson
The hon. Member shakes his head, but perhaps he is not so trusting as I am.
I want now to deal with one or two objections which are put. The first is that televising Parliament would show up the empty benches. Perhaps today is a good example. But, on balance, the cameras would be more profitably employed televising the Members than the empty benches. If, from time to time, they showed a sparsely attended debate, surely that would be just as legitimate as when hon. Members from time to time call attention to the fact that few are listening to a debate. In any case, the television cameras would surely not be supposed to protect the House. On the other hand, nor would they be expected to victimise it.
Objectors also say that hon. Members might feel required to sit to attention throughout the whole of a debate. Some of us have been required to adopt other postures of attention and this is a discipline we have accepted. I can see some hon. Members today in positions which cannot be described as "attention", but they are certainly not slovenly. They are relaxed. Again, the cameras, on balance, should be on the face of the speaker and not on his shoulders or on any other part 1049 of his anatomy. The face is more interesting in watching and listening to a debate.
Objectors also claim that hon. Members would "play" to the cameras. This argument was made when the question Of HANSARD reporting was first discussed and surely that reporting has not altered the proceedings of the House.
I would like to suggest one or two programmes that we might have. Perhaps on the Third Network we could have radio coverage of debates. We must remember that many people, particularly the blind, are deprived of the pleasure of television. The radio could broadcast important debates like the Budget debate. There seems no reason why the whole day should not be reported on the Third Network.
But my view is that the televising of Parliament might be better done through various programmes. We might have a programme "Question Time in Parliament" at 6.15 p.m. after the weather news, when we need something to cheer us up. A short selection of Questions could be televised. This would enable back benchers to be reported in a way that, in present circumstances, they do not receive. Unless one is a television figure in a political sense, it is very difficult as a back bencher to be seen or noticed on television.
Secondly, we might have a major programme at night. I do not think that it could start before 10.30, because of editing problems, and certainly not much later because audiences dwindle late at night. A full report of the day's proceedings could then be given. We already have examples of this sort of thing at trade union and party conferences. Fair summaries are given of them at night and I think that one can trust the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. together to do a fair summary of Parliament.
It is not our responsibility to decide these things, but I would throw out the thought that perhaps Sunday afternoon would be an appropriate time for an hour devoted to "Highlights of the Lords". That seems an eminent kind of programme for Sunday afternoon—restrained and somnolent. On major occasions such as the Budget debate or the steel debate we could perhaps have a programme between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., televising the final speeches on both sides.
1050 In these ways, we would involve people in our activities. If, in those activities, we were found to be wanting then that would be our fault, not that of television. If we impress our constituents with our diligence, care and thought then that is to our advantage. This House has not been afraid of many dangers from any source over many centuries and surely it can take television in its stride.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
Like the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson), I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) not only on the good use he has made of his fortune in the Ballot, but on his speech today. I think that it will be agreed by those who support and those who oppose the idea that he was extremely fair in the way in which he presented the argument on both sides. I speak, as he spoke, from the standpoint of those who think that television should come here.
At the same time, like him, I am entirely sympathetic, indeed not unimpressed, by those who view the prospect with the very deepest misgivings. I think it incumbent on those of us who take this view that television, sooner or later, should come here to recognise the deep misgivings which are felt and why they are felt, and try to meet them.
There is, I think, a very general feeling among hon. Members that television, which has tended to make so much of the world its oyster, should not as it were be allowed to get the thin end of its wedge in here. It goes deeper than that. There are many who, understandably if misguidedly, feel that the power of television, sometimes without responsibility, has increased, and is still increasing, and, without more responsibility, ought to be diminished and certainly not given a seat in Parliament.
There are many hon. Members who, viewing aspects of television today, feel that Parliament would come to no good if it were projected in the same way. There is, I think genuinely, an apprehension that once television is admitted anywhere it tends to become not a passive, but an active force and a disturbing force. It wants to start moving furniture about. Once in, it tends to say, "Of course, we can make a good job of it your way, 1051 but we can make a much better job of it our way. If we could just move you, Mr. Speaker, in your Chair four feet forward, or four feet further back, it would produce a much better picture."
There is no doubt that some hon. Members have misgivings on this score. It leads to a third and most genuine misgiving, which my hon. Friend touched on very convincingly, that television would inexorably sooner or later change both our methods and procedure. I think that that is right; I think that over a period it would. That has to be faced, particularly by those who are prepared to support the idea. I accept that this is a very serious point. This is a court where decisions are taken. Any extraneous influence which would affect the way in which the decisions were taken would raise a very serious issue.
It is the object of privilege to avoid just that, to avoid extraneous influences affecting the way we decide business. We must certainly be clear whether television, if it came, would be bringing Parliament into its orbit, or whether Parliament would be bringing television into its orbit. I am quite clear that it must, of course, be the second. I know that many hon. Friends feel, although they may not express so themselves in this debate, a bit doubtful whether televising of our proceedings would enhance our reputation in the eyes of our constituents. Again, this is deeply and widely, if perhaps silently, felt. Most of our constituents, we are aware, have a fairly hazy idea of exactly what goes on here. I have concluded, after 15 years in this place, that, on the whole, this redounds to our advantage.
Given television, the public will discover that we do not all sit up all night during all-night sittings. They will discover that we do not all sit here even during afternoon sittings. The Chamber, as the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough said, is frequently ill-attended, not because we are idle but because so many diversions—and important diversions—occur elsewhere in the premises. The corridors as well as the Committee rooms and the Chamber form part of our work and functions. This, of course, the cameras could not convey to the outside world. While I think that television would usually bring 1052 a few more into debates here, it would—I am aware of this—still leave many of our constituents profoundly dissatisfied with our productivity, or at least the appearance of it.
Then there are those awkward and unanswered questions which my hon. Friend raised which would arise from taking this decision, some of which have been put very persuasively by Mr. David Butler, who is a great authority on these matters. I must add that I sometimes feel that it is as well that the Fellows of Nuffield College concern themselves with psephology and not biology, because if it were biology we would very soon be brought to see that natural birth is impossible.
However, Mr. Butler has made serious criticisms of the points which might arise. How would it be edited? What protection would there be against defamatory statements made here? How would they be covered by our present system of privilege? How would Committees upstairs be dealt with? What would be the effect on the Press?
All these are respectable problems which we must consider. I think that it is incumbent on those of us who think it a good idea to trot them out and not brush them aside, but they do not, in my view, of themselves constitute fatal obstructions to television coming into this place. Therefore, they ought not to be exaggerated. These, which I have deliberately begun by presenting, are formidable arguments, but so, I think, are the factors on the other side. In effect, television has laid siege to this place. We are in a way a beleaguered garrison. Television interests sometimes probably hope, indeed they do hope, that tremendous trumpeting of public affairs programmes will eventually cause the walls of this place to fall and those interests will achieve what they want.
One must not exaggerate the effect of these rival forums on the screen, but they must be reckoned with. The trouble with shadow boxing in this age of imagery is that so many people come to regard the shadow as the substance that the image becomes the reality. The pseudo-event, the non-event becomes better and brighter than the event itself. Of course, that is part of the producer's 1053 job. It is not part of his job to offer a pale reflection of debates here. He must seek to show that his ersatz version is superior to the real thing and that margarine really does taste better than butter.
This consequence of mass communications in much wider spheres than Parliament is a prevailing malaise. We must be sure that it does not infect parliamentary democracy. But there is a stronger factor even than that. In this world of megaphones it seems that the microphones of Parliament have become distressingly faint. Amid the clamant, competitive roar of mass media, I shall not say that this place makes a diminishing impression, but sometimes the wrong impression.
I do not think that Parliament has a divine right to be heard. At the same time, I think that the question of communications, with a modern democracy, is one of the biggest which faces us, and when my hon. Friend spoke of the cohesion of a small community and the contribution which television might make there I thought that he went very near to the heart of it.
During the last century I think that democracy was largely seen to be secured by the ballot box: one man, one vote. In this century, I think that it is not the ballot box but communications which will make participating democracy a reality, and this is, I think, something which a free country must take very seriously and give itself a chance to solve and not allow any prejudice to hinder it from solving the right way. Television is a great force in communications today, and it is still far from its zenith. We have only to look back 10 years to realise what may yet lie ahead. I think that the House ought to ask itself if parliamentary democracy ought to isolate itself from or insulate itself against this great force on the human mind.
How should we go about it? The hon. Gentleman the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough offered some ideas, and every hon. Member will offer his own ideas. Of course, it may be said on this that a Select Committee is considering the matter and that it is not for us to anticipate any decisions which it may offer, but it is ultimately a matter for Parliament and for its Members. We 1054 shall, of course, have to consider any fresh evidence which is brought before us, but a function of Parliament is to give views, and a preliminary indication of our views might be helpful to the Select Committee.
Clearly, there must be experiment. I think that all hon. Members who favour the idea would accept that, but we ought to be clear what experiment would be directed towards. I have never varied from my view, mentioned by my hon. Friend, and formed about three years ago, that the system which ought to be preferred is that the whole of the proceedings should be televised and transmitted initially by piped line to subscribers. Technically, this is quite feasible. The subscribers would include universities, institutions, newspaper offices both in London and in the provinces; indeed, anybody or person willing to subscribe. It would be open to all. There might, perhaps, be initially 5,000 subscribers more or less. I cannot guess. It would certainly, let me say in parenthesis, be of enormous value to newspapers, and, indirectly, to us. It would, for example, promote the last hour of the debate here between nine o'clock and ten o'clock which, more often than most hon. Members believe, coincides with the hour when the first editions of the national newspapers are already being printed and going out to the country. From this full version an edited version for daily use, in line with what is now done on sound radio, would be possible.
I am insistent in my own mind that control of this must be vested in the House. We must propose, and the television interests dispose. Indeed, in my estimate they would in fact be the distributors for the Parliamentary Television Unit. The exact relationship requires thought, but I feel sure of the principle. Hon. Members would all desire some degree of Parliamentary supervision over the edited version, at least at first. The need might diminish; we would have to feel our way.
But what I should like to stress, because this is a point which, I think, exercises every hon. Member who thinks of the problem of the edited version, is that the twin systems I have suggested would be complementary in two important respects. They are designed to meet 1055 the main anxieties, those of balance and exhibitionism. Someone somewhere would have seen the whole version, or most of it, and over a period any imbalance in the edited version would be perceived and could be corrected. It would certainly be a brake on exhibitionism. After all, the piped version would be going out to a fairly discerning audience, and any attempt to hog the lights—which, I think, would not materialise—would be palpable to that discerning audience.
The full version would have value for local issues. After all, the more Parliament can convince people the farthest from London that it has their interests at heart the more it can fulfil its functions, which, I think, are not at the moment fully understood and appreciated. The local newspapers, anyway, would be able to pick up full and instant accounts of local matters and perhaps schools and universities would find a use for this; there is some educative value in this. Whether the audience should or could be limited for the piped version is arguable.
I think that it should be ready—I am talking of the Parliamentary Television Unit—to charge a very big subscription to subscribers—£100 a year, or £200, if hon. Members like. I have heard estimates that the whole operation with four cameras in this Chamber over a year would cost £250,000. With 5,000 subscribers at £100 each, as I work it out, we could make money. Why not? It would be a very good thing to do.
I do, however, stress the educative value, because I think that the young are interested in this place. I have a feeling that they would come to understand this place, warts and all, quicker than some of the elders we have in mind when we concern ourselves with our constituents, and particularly if, as would be possible, it could be explained to them, as it were, in the course of the piped version.
Finally, I think that we ought not to be too frightened of opening this window to the outside world. If, over this, we appear to lack faith in ourselves then all is not well with us, and we shall not conceal it by keeping the cameras out. It would be a stimulus. It might 1056 be the challenge which we need. After all, what is democracy if not willingness of rulers to submit themselves to the people and to share their lives and customs? We must not seem to be too fearful of doing that.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
Whether we have television here or not the House can be seen to be sometimes a mutual admiration society and that has been so to some extent this morning. I take the conclusion of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) about costs. I think that there is a great deal of controversy about the costs. There have been many arguments about that, and I have listened to many of them, and I do not think one can be so dogmatic as to say exactly what they will be, but I do not think this is part of the argument at this stage.
I would also disagree with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about democracy. The principle of one man, one vote is not as old as he said it was. It is very young in this country, only 17 years old. It was not in the nineteenth century, but only after the war, that we really did establish democracy in that sense in this country—a very important thing, because much of the reputation of hon. Members on this side of the House was established in building that kind of democracy.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has left the Chamber, because I wanted to continue the argument particularly as put by himself. He presented an extremely lucid case, well argued and in great detail. The way in which he analysed the whole case was masterly. Indeed, he left very little for the rest of us to say. I hope that this is one of the few occasions on which he can convince me so completely; with a Government majority of three, I hope that he does not succeed on many occasions in convincing me so completely that his case is right. Indeed, he presented his case brilliantly. In my case he was almost pushing at an open door. I thought that what he said was virtually unanswerable.
The hon. Member dealt mainly with four principles on which I should like to comment. He said that the cameras would be unobtrusive and under the 1057 Gallery. I am certain that the cameramen would want to be more ambitious than that; at some time they would perhaps want manual control of the cameras. Indeed, it would be a good thing if we were to have an imaginative presentation of Parliament—not from a set angle, but by using imagination in the direction and presentation of the television and in the use of cameras inside the Chamber.
I disagree with the hon. Member on the question of special agencies and subscribers, because this leads to the great problem of selection, which was one of his main doubts. In his speech he illustrated how we could overcome the technical difficulties. I do not think that any hon. Member could raise serious technical difficulties. None of the technical articles and discussions which I have read has raised insuperable difficulties as a reason for not televising the House. It appears that there are no longer any technical difficulties to be overcome.
During recent months I have been impressed when looking at film from elsewhere in the world. From the film it appears that the presence of the camera was almost unnoticed by the members. I agree that in televising the United Nations and Parliaments elsewhere in the world a fixed camera position is used for the speaker. This is one of the weaknesses in the case. Objections have been made on the grounds of the intensity of light and heat. I have seen films taken of the whole of a Chamber, from a general view and not concentrated on one forum, but most of the film which I have seen—and the most successful—has been provided with the cameras concentrated on one position. They used this technique particularly in the United Nations, and possibly in Western Germany where certain sessions have been filmed, but it has been done while the camera has been directed at one person.
§ Mr. Jackson
I understand that the B.B.C. has suggested using miniaturised cameras and has indicated four positions in the House. I understand that with these cameras the extra lighting required would be very small. There would be four cameras, and they therefore need not concentrate on one person.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that assistance. That 1058 means that we have eliminated the last of the technical objections.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
Has the hon. Member observed the cameras in use in the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations? They are not in fixed positions and they cause no inconvenience to speakers, who are unconscious of their presence.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Yes, I have. But speakers are usually called to the forum and speak from a central rostrum. Most of the illumination is, therefore, beamed at the rostrum. One of the objections is that one has to have light of such intensity in the Chamber that it is uncomfortable to sit through a debate of many hours and to suffer this intensity of light.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
From my experience of the United Nations I think that the hon. Member is wrong. It is only in the General Assembly that one speaks from a podium. In the Security Council one speaks from one's seat. The cameras are there, but one does not notice them.
§ Mr. Atkinson
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I am by no means an expert. All the information I have on the United Nations proceedings is that which I have seen on film.
There are two difficulties of principle and two extensions which I wish to mention. I agree that the use of cameras would in no way extend the principle already established with regard to HANSARD and the Press—with one exception, which is photography. I think that in this part of the twentieth century we should be using photography to its utmost if we want to extend communication with the people and attempt seriously to explain why this complex method of government is necessary. We should use any method of communication which is available, and certainly television is a first-class medium in this sense. We ought to take the opportunity to use it to the best of our ability. In that sense I think that we should have no objection to the extension of this principle.
I am not a lawyer and cannot, therefore, argue the question of privilege. This is another facet of the objections. No doubt, privilege is involved once we introduce cameras into the Chamber. I 1059 have listened to many discussions among eminent lawyers on this subject, and they seem unable to reach a conclusion. That is not surprising; they earn their living by not being able to reach conclusions. If they reached them, they would become redundant.
I am interested in the effect of the proposal on Parliament and the Press. I believe that it would have a great influence on the Press by broadening the argument, for we are subject to a head-finish approach by the Press to all Parliamentary reporting. I understand this; I understand the dilemma of the editor in having to harmonise his desire to sell newspapers with the need to portray an accurate picture of the arguments, for and against, in debate. If television were brought into the House to broaden the argument in this way it would tend to get editors off the tramlines of sensationalism on which they are stuck.
Some recent examples are outstanding. I go no further back than the steel debate. The Minister of Power presented a first-class argument in terms both of economics and of politics in favour of the State ownership of steel, yet the Press, the following day, entirely concentrated on two minutes of the end of the debate. This was considered to be the sensation of the evening—not the hours of argument which had substantiated the position from which the First Secretary was able to produce this sensational situation at the end of the debate. That is one example. Television at the House would tend to eliminate that kind of situation, and it would be a good thing.
Another example occurred the day before yesterday, in our debate on homosexuality, when the argument for was forcibly put by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), followed by the hon. Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) against. The Press devoted its space almost exclusively to the argument against any change in the law. It used the speech of the hon. Member for Louth in an attempt to present the argument. Television of the House would tend to eliminate that situation, because one of our functions here must be to state clearly and openly the basic facts and arguments. That would be an influence on the Press.
1060 Its influence on Parliament would arise from the fact that it would tend to eliminate some of the Pavlovian reactions of hon. Members—if that is a permissible word. It has been my experience, certainly since October, that some hon. Members have rather curious reflexes. During a number of Committee debates I have listened to hon. Members opposite arguing against Bills which they played a part in preparing. Some of them took part in drafting some of the legislation in the life of the previous Government. Those Measures went through the pipeline and recently emerged in the life of this Government. When that happened we found that some of those who had had a part in preparing them argued against their own cases. That is a curious reflex.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
The hon. Member is telling us what he says has happened in Committee. Is he telling us that there should be a televising of proceedings in Committee, as well as in the House?
§ Mr. Atkinson
Not at all. I am merely saying that I have noticed certain almost automatic reflexes, which cause some hon. Members to oppose for the sake of opposing. This is a curious thing. It is part of the character of the place that when an hon. Member moves from this side of the House to the other he adopts an attitude of opposition, for no reason. This is very confusing. One either believes in something or one does not, irrespective of one's position in the House.
To a large extent television would eliminate some of the worst features of that situation, in which a Member opposes because he believes that it is the thing to do, to make a show. In arguing a case in the House a Member would have to be much more decisive and much more sincere in what he was saying if he were being televised.
The final point made by the hon. Member for Ilford, North concerned the question of selection. In this connection, my only comment arises as a result of conversations and discussions that I have had with many other hon. Members. We all recognise that there is a difficulty in editing and selecting. We must remember that tremendous jealousies exist in the House. People who arrive here do so 1061 as the result of a political struggle. They arrive here with some of the morass from which they have emerged still clinging to them. They have developed all kinds of individualities, and have arrived here as individual giants, as it were, to be reduced in size when placed alongside other giants who have arrived here after having gone through the same process.
That is one of the contributory factors in the creation of the jealousies which exist in this place. Friction develops between these giants, who are cut down to size after they have arrived here. That would have to be remembered in any argument about selection and editing. The only suggestion that I can make for overcoming this situation would be to follow the suggestion of the hon. Member for Ilford, North that you, Mr. Speaker, should preside over a Committee, to be elected by hon. Members, to whom complaints about selection could be submitted. This might be a worth-while control. If a hack bencher had a legitimate complaint he would have a means of expressing that complaint, and it could be pushed along to the proper quarter.
I realise the job that editors of all media have to do, but I do not think that if we introduced television we would be bringing in something which could not be controlled. We should be following an already established pattern, and there would be nothing new or sinister, in that sense, in bringing in television. In my view, the arguments about selection are exaggerated, just as are the arguments about editing. There are ways in which these difficulties can be overcome.
This is a wonderful opportunity for us to increase our method of communication and spread the exchange of ideas, which is the function of this place. We often talk glibly about moving into the second half of the twentieth century. In my opinion, we cannot get there without the aid of television.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Selwyn Lloyd (Wirral)
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) has made a most interesting and thoughtful speech. He has thrown one or two flies, but I do not propose to rise to them. He will understand what I mean.
I have intervened now because this is essentially not a party matter, or even 1062 a Front Bench matter. I want to put certain ideas before the House, and would like to hear comments from my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite about what I have said. We all agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) chose a most interesting and important topic. He also made an admirable and persuasive introductory speech.
This is obviously a matter of great significance for the country, as a democracy, believing in the importance of Parliament, and significant for this House of Commons as an unique institution. My hon. Friend said that the question was: to televise or not to televise? We would all agree that it would be folly to take a decision lightly or prematurely upon this matter, just as it would be folly to do so in respect of any other matter which vitally affected our proceedings.
The basic principle involved is that Parliament should be presented to the public through the accepted and generally used media of information, education and, indeed, entertainment. That happens now through the Press and sound radio. We live in a period of photographic presentation, and the argument is put forward that television should be made use of, and that Parliament will suffer if this medium is not used by it. It is said that the political centre of gravity will move further and further from the House to the television studio, and to the kind of programme to which reference has been made. In that connection I would particularly remind hon. Members of my hon. Friend's closing words.
I find myself in great sympathy with this general proposition. It is necessary to move with the developments that take place in means of communication. But it has already been made clear by what has been said that this raises some important and difficult questions.
I want to express my view on the full-time televising of Parliament. The purist may say that only if Parliament is continually televised will the public obtain a true impression of it. There are the moments of excitement, the hours of monotony—almost tedium—the occasional bad manners and lost tempers, the scanty attendances, and the great 1063 occasions when the House is crowded. It is argued that only by giving people an opportunity of seeing it all will they be able to appreciate the real atmosphere of the House.
There are, however, certain procedural difficulties about a 100 per cent. transmission. For instance, Question Time would be meaningless unless members of the public had Order Papers. You do not read out the Questions, Mr. Speaker, before asking for the Answers. We all agree that Question Time is a period in the House's operations—or it used to be, before the syndicates got to work—and we shall deal with them—when the House is most alive. If we were to televise Question Time, therefore, it would be necessary to have a national Order Paper, generally distributed, and I very much doubt whether the Press would exercise that function very willingly unless it was paid to do so.
Also, a lot of our procedure is not easily understood. Whether we could have this full-time transmission with somebody commenting at the same time I very much doubt. In connection with the question of full-time transmission there is the technical question of the scarcity of channels. I doubt whether it would be thought to be an appropriate use of the channels if one of them was used solely to transmit Parliament.
To my mind, the overwhelming objection is that the full-time televising of Parliament would change its character and procedure completely. It would affect the subjects chosen for debate, the Members seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, the techniques for wrecking speeches and interruptions, the speaking at certain times of the day to one's constituency, and so on. I doubt very much, referring to what was said by the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson), whether most Australians would agree that the experiment there has been a great success. I am told that it has reduced the operative part of their Parliamentary procedure to a fixed period of the day when there is the maximum listening public. I have heard considerable criticism of the Australian practice. Therefore, I am personally very much against a full-time transmission.
1064 If we are not to have a full-time transmission, is it worth while considering further what has been suggested by my hon. Friend? I understand that his suggestion was for a kind of "Today in Parliament" on the television screen. I shall come in a moment to the variations mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). I think that it is worth considering this matter further, but I think that we would be foolish to deny that the problems involved in even this are substantial and varied.
I completely agree with the hon. Member for Tottenham, I think it was, about the need to preserve the physical character and atmosphere of the Chamber. I think we accept that it would be intolerable to have here the bright lights, the large cameras and the methods at present used at public meetings, for example. In Westminster Abbey, these methods are used with great skill and discretion, and with remarkable success, but I think that here it would be very difficult to contemplate anything of the sort. I think that we have got to await the new cameras with their new lenses and the possibility of it being done here without physically interfering with the Chamber.
I am told that this involves a delay. I believe I am right in my recollection that I have been told this will not be ready until the end of next year, and that means that when one comes to think of experimenting a certain delay is imposed upon us. I think that it will be agreed that this is a "must". I feel that it would be quite intolerable to have in this House the amount of television equipment with which one is familiar.
The second question is: who is to edit? Every hon. Member who has spoken has mentioned this point. Obviously, there is scope here for a great deal of controversy and ill-feeling. I would suggest, as a first thought, that it would be necessary to have an editor-in-chief responsible to you, Mr. Speaker, as I think I am right in saying that the editor of HANSARD is, possibly with the assistance of a Committee of this House. Under him there would be a team operating on the lines of the present B.B.C. team which does the sound summary so well. That is the way in which we have to try to do it. But one must face the fact that editing of this kind of television programme would be very much more 1065 difficult than the editing of a sound programme.
Then there is another practical problem of great importance. Is this programme to be mandatory on all television channels? Is everyone to be forced to have his or her daily dose of the House of Commons? Will that really enhance our prestige? The idea of each network choosing the bits that it wants to put over would land us in further troubles. There would then be considerable controversy on grounds of partiality, and so on. The extent to which this is to be compulsory viewing needs a good deal of further consideration. Again, for the reason that I have already given, it would seem very difficult to have excerpts from Question Time. It would really involve an announcer reading out the Questions, or else a change in our procedure.
The other point that we have to consider is: would it be an anti-climax? Would the "Panorama" or "Gallery" programmes still be the real attraction? Is it possible to get the cut-and-thrust of this place into a few moments? It is quite true, as I think one hon. Member has said, that the party conferences have benefited from being televised, but there, as the hon. Member for Tottenham said, talking of the General Assembly of the United Nations, there is a fixed rostrum and the whole thing is set out beforehand.
Again, I feel that at party conferences—at least, I think that I am right when I refer to party conferences of my own party, and I think that, more latterly, this is true of the other parties as well—we do not get the cut-and-thrust of debate in the same form as we get it here. At public meetings this can be done because there is a fixed platform. Very occasionally, one gets a heckler and the reply is spontaneous, but that is a very different proposition from a sort of expurgated version of a debate in this House. These are all matters of serious difficulty and they require further consideration. But I certainly agree that I do not think any of them are fatal objections.
My advice to the House and to the Government is to do what can be done to push on with the new equipment, to let the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports do some useful preparatory work, certainly on the technical 1066 side and also on the problems which we have to solve. I would not mind the experiments with the sound radio. I do not think that they would prove very much, but they might be valuable. It might be unwise for these experiments to be publicly heard for the time being, until one saw their character. Then, when the new equipment is ready and this place can be televised without interfering with its physical character—in other words, when we are certain that the presentation is technically acceptable—we should have a further examination of these difficulties and see whether they can be resolved with the general agreement of this House.
I think that this is a House of Commons matter to such an extent that it should not be decided against the wishes of a substantial minority. We must take with us the great majority of Members if we are to make a change of this sort. There is a great deal of criticism of the House of Commons. This is rather the order of the day. One is "with it" or "switched on" if one makes rude remarks about our procedure and performance. Improvements, of course, are always possible and they are steadily being made. I do not think that people always realise that. A good deal of hard work is constantly being done to try to improve our procedures. But, by and large, I think that the House of Commons is the best instrument yet fashioned for democratic parliamentary government and we must be very careful not to change its character.
The hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough said that it had survived many threats in the past—the monarchs, the oligarchs, presidentially-minded Prime Ministers and the Irish Nationalists. It has survived and still survives these sorts of things. Will it survive the television camera? I do not know whether the Leader of the House agrees, but I myself, before pronouncing "Yea" or "Nay", want to know rather more than I know at present. I want further consideration to be given to the objections which I have listed.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend intends to put this matter to a vote today. I am not sure that a vote on a Friday would really be very significant. I would rather hope that he would consider withdrawing his Motion after a very valuable debate; that the 1067 Leader of the House should undertake to push on as far as is in his power with the technical examination of what is possible and what can be done, and that we should consider how we should examine further the points that have been raised today, bearing in mind the work of the Select Committee.
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Bowden)
May I, first, say that I agree absolutely with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) that this is a difficult and important question and one about which we ought not to take a decision lightly. He has suggested that the decision, when it is taken in this House, should be by a considerable majority of the House, and with this I would agree. It should be something rather different from the sort of majorities that we are used to in the House these days.
I am on record in a debate in the House on 15th March, 1963, as expressing rather strong views against the televising of Parliament. It is only right for me to say this at this stage, and also to say that I do not think that my views have very materially changed. But today my function is that of Leader of the House and I will endeavour impartially to put before the House any additional information I have which may be of help with a view to the House coming to a democratic decision at some point.
Again, I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral, with respect to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), that it would be inadvisable to attempt to take a decision today. Although I have expressed strong views, I read in the Daily Sketch this morning that I am now lukewarm. If I have any comment at all to make on that it is only to say that if we have many more all-night and late-night sittings I will soon be stone-cold.
I welcome the debate and I am pleased that the hon. Member for Ilford, North has initiated it. This subject crops up from time to time, not only here in Qpestions but at party meetings. It is something which we must face and discuss thoroughly, but when the decision is made, it must be made here in this House, 1068 and this House alone. I say this advisedly, because we are inclined these days to be persuaded, or at least people endeavour to persuade us from outside, on what we should do and these people have not the detailed information that we have in this Chamber on this sort of thing.
While one should listen to advice from everyone outside, and particularly from the gentlemen who have had a great deal of experience in televising current affairs, the decision must come back here. To give an example of the wrong impression that the public could get from reading articles in the newspapers, I would remind the House of an article which probably we all read in a newspaper last Sunday. It dealt with the procedure of the House and said that we ought to adopt the American system of Committees and that we were out of date, and so on.
There may be something in that argument, but what impressed me about the article was the opening words which said:For much of last week, while the eloquence of a handful of M.Ps spent itself on a waste of empty red-leather benches …which would suggest to my mind that the gentleman who wrote that must have been in another place and was not talking about the House of Commons at all. While we should take notice of that sort of article, I do not think that we should take it too seriously.
The first question that we have to ask outselves is: can it be done? The second question is: should it be done? There is no doubt about the reply to the first question. Of course it can be done. Technically, it can be done. There is no doubt that if it were the wish of Parliament every sitting minute of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Committees could all be televised. My old friend Aneurin Bevan was in favour of a complete coverage by television of every Parliamentary hour. He advocated this. He felt that only complete coverage would give a true picture of what happens here. I suppose that to some extent that is right, but I do not know what interest there would be outside in watching every minute and every hour of what happens in the House. However, I think that I should give the House some information which has come 1069 my way about the type of technical arrangements which would be needed, first, for complete coverage.
There is no doubt, in the present circumstances when we are changing over line definition from one system to another and using channels for that purpose, that during the next five years, in order to have complete coverage of the House of Commons, we would need to use the whole of the new Channel 4. We have discussed what we should like to do with this fourth channel. Some hon. Members have one view and some have others, but the capital cost of using the fourth channel for complete coverage of Parliament, I am told, would be in the region of £35 million. Cost has to be considered. Someone would have to pay the bill, and I cannot imagine either the Authority or the Corporation being prepared to face a cost of that size without some help from Parliament if it is our view that there should be complete coverage.
On the other hand, an edited version, it would appear from speeches made this morning, seems to be of more interest and probably more reasonable. In 1960, it was estimated that the capital outlay on cameras, and so on, for an edited version was something like £250,000 with an annual cost of £60,000. It has been suggested this morning that with the passage of a few months—and the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral said that it would be by the end of next year—it might be possible to have remotely controlled miniaturised cameras in position. The period which the right hon. and learned Member mentioned is about right. I am told that in approximately 18 months it should be possible, but we should bear in mind that in this field time is somewhat elastic when we are promised a technical advance of that sort.
In the event of that being possible we have to ask where the cameras would be placed. Would they inconvenience us and affect our normal activities within the Chamber? I am told, first, that it would not be possible to site cameras of the present type or of the proposed miniaturised type in the Galleries. They would have to be on the Floor of the Chamber. It is thought that for the best positions technically to obtain good coverage and a good picture, there should 1070 be one camera on each side of Mr. Speaker's Chair, that is probably one in the Official Box in the corner on the left of the Chair and one on the right.
I understand that these cameras could be so camouflaged that they would not be seen or heard. They would be put in what is known in birdwatching terms as "a hide". There would be two cameras in that position. A third camera would be necessary behind the Serjeant at Arms's Chair and a fourth right at the back of the Strangers' Gallery. In other words, we should need four cameras, whether of the present type or of the proposed miniaturised type.
Some additional lighting would be required for the present type of cameras, though not a great deal. There would be no more heat generated, I am told, than is common in this Chamber on certain occasions. Very little additional lighting, if any at all, would be required for the new cameras.
So much for the technical side, but if we have in mind an edited version to be transmitted at certain hours, either at ten o'clock or during the day, then, as the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) rightly said, it would be advisable to provide for complete coverage on video-tape. I do not dissent from the suggested cost of this. If the whole of the proceedings are to be "canned", which I think is the technical expression, and put on video-tape, for what other purpose could the tape be used? Could the newspapers have access to the tapes for dramatic incidents within the Chamber?
If that should be the case, why should not the newspapers be permitted to have silent cameras in the Galleries for photographic purposes? These are matters which the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports must look at in detail. Who is to do the job? Is it to be handed to the B.B.C. only or to the I.T.A. only, or are all the programme companies, if they so wish, to have coverage?
I was, first, frightened by the thought that we might have six or seven people competing for this function of televising Parliament, but I am told that there is now a working arrangement whereby only one camera would be necessary and that they would work something out between them. I see no reason why, if this facility is to be granted at all, one programme 1071 company, the I.T.A. or the B.B.C., should have it exclusively. I think that it should be done and shared in such a way that all have access to it if it is regarded, as many hon. Members who have spoken this morning regard it, as something of great value to Parliament itself.
We have been asked why it is necessary for experimentation to take place on sound. I am told that this is not in relation to the sound broadcasting of the functions of Parliament but rather to see in what way the microphones of the public address system would have to be altered to provide the sound for televising Parliament. One appreciates, of course, that it would not be possible for hon. Members sitting in their places in the Chamber to wear necktie microphones, for, otherwise, we should throttle ourselves when moving about from place to place. It would, therefore, be necessary to have experimentation to see what is required as far as sound is concerned.
It has been suggested that the televising of Parliament would bring the working of the House nearer to the public. Although I have certain prejudices, I think that this is probably true with regard to those members of the public particularly interested to see and hear what is happening here, but I would be horrified to think, as the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral suggested, that there might be occasions when all channels are taking Parliamentary proceedings. I know myself—I have had some negotiations in this matter—that party political broadcasts are always simultaneously televised on channels throughout the country, on I.T.A. and B.B.C.
The reason for that is that unless one has a captive audience the viewers are, perhaps, going to switch off and look at "Wagon Train", or something else, instead of looking at the party political broadcast. But surely we do not want that sort of thing to happen with regard to proceedings in Parliament, and if viewers who would much prefer to watch the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight rather than a similar fight taking place—[Interruption.] I was not referring to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock). No one would wish to switch off a programme of that sort and be forced to look at the proceedings in the 1072 House of Commons unless he so wished. So let us be a little careful about that.
It used to be the practice under what was known as the 14-day rule to prohibit the televising or broadcasting on sound radio or to anticipate any debate that came before this Parliament for 14 days. I was instrumental in the negotiations when this rule was finally ended. I think it was right to end it, but we now find ourselves in a position where the coin has gone completely over to the other side and the pendulum, as it were, into reverse. We have now the position where we are in danger of many important debates taking place on television and not in this Chamber. This, too, has to be watched.
I had an invitation on Tuesday to appear on television to speak on this subject and simply because I was speaking on the subject on Friday, today, where I thought the matter should be debated, I declined the invitation. We need to be a little careful about this, and that is a reason for televising Parliament and not a reason against it. That is one of the reasons why an edited version would be necessary.
Another problem which, I think, we have to face in considering the edited version is the sort of thing that the editor would broadcast. Is it to be the serious speech of the hon. Member wherever he may be sitting, or the dramatic moment? I am inclined to think that whilst there may be some coverage of the opening and winding up speeches and, probably, of some back bench speeches—the time would be limited after all—the dramatic moment would be caught. I am not sure that this always really portrays Parliament.
I said in 1963 that I thought the character of Parliament could be damaged. I am still of that opinion. Someone has referred to the fact that hon. Members would have to brush their suits, not put their feet on the Table and not loll about the benches. I would regret that. It is the character of Parliament. It has been going on for centuries. While it is easy enough to explain to constituents why we put our feet on the Table, and so on, it would not be understood outside. I think it important that it should be and that the character should be maintained.
1073 There are dangers that if we have too set a televising of the House, as it were, with Members spruced up and cleaned up, with hair like my own, which is thinning, covered with powder to prevent shine—we all know these things go on in television—we shall have an artificial and not a very real Parliament. These are dangers which we have to watch.
The question has been raised, too, concerning what happens about coverage in other parts of the building. I do not know what the experience of other hon. Members is, but I am continually being asked about, and, in fact, the Press, is continually reminding us of, the thinning attendance in this Chamber. It is perfectly true that the attendance in the Chamber apart from Question Time and the major speeches is thin, but it is never pointed out sufficiently, I think, that there are eight or nine Select or Standing Committees running while the House is sitting, in which Members are busily engaged. This is the Chamber of the House of Commons, but not the whole of it. So one would have to give some consideration to coverage of the other parts, and it should be made absolutely clear, in my view, when the cameras are covering the Chamber that, in fact, a great deal of work is going on elsewhere in the building.
Question Time has been mentioned and everyone will agree at once that Question hour from half-past two to half-past three every day and the exchanges on business for about half an hour on Thursdays, which I hear described as "Children's Hour", are probably the most entertaining—I use that word advisedly—of Parliament from the point of view of those listening or viewing. But, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman accurately pointed out, unless we have a very skilled television commentator explaining what is happening or unless every viewer has an Order Paper, it would be extremely difficult to follow what was happening.
That is equally true of what would happen on occasions in debates which have been hotly pursued when Mr. Speaker, or the Chairman of Ways and Means, rises and puts the Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question". How intelligible would that be to someone at the other end of the television camera? That, too, would 1074 have to be explained by the commentator. I was told this week that skilled political television commentators are few and far between and that there would be a great deal of difficulty in finding them. I have heard mention—
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the two television programmes which are put out on Friday nights, "Westminster at Work" on B.B.C. and "Dateline—Westminster" on I.T.V. both of which give a very fair and accurate summary of the week's proceedings in 15 or 20 minutes? Surely it would be possible to do this every night with all the material that would be available.
§ Mr. Bowden
I have seen them, and I regard them as excellent programmes. I saw one last Friday night which I particularly call to mind. An edited version could do this, and, on occasions, it would be done so well that there would be no come-back. But the House will realise that the Chief Whip on either side would say that, after every broadcast of that kind, programmes like "Panorama", "Dateline", "The Week in Westminster" on sound, and so on—I am not saying that it happened on Friday of last week—it is usual to have protests from some direction or other, not necessarily from Members but from people in the country who suggest that the commentator has been unfair.
My own view is that, if the House decides, as it may well decide, that we should have an edited television version of Parliament, we must do something to protect the editor and leave it to him. Unless we do that, we shall get ourselves into a shocking position, and there will be early day Motions on the Order Paper, to which I should have to reply on a Thursday, asking why the Director-General has not sacked this or that commentator. That sort of thing really would be nonsense. If we decide to have an edited version, the editor will have to be protected.
May I remind the House of what has happened in one or two other places? There has already been reference to the experiments which took place in Australia and New Zealand. The House may be aware also that the Bundestag of the Federal Republic of Germany tried televising Parliament in 1959. It run it for 1075 some time and dropped it for the very reason that has been put in some of the speeches today, that it did, in fact considerably change the character of Parliament. This may have little significance for us, perhaps—the Bundestag is new in its present form—but I think that it is well worth bearing in mind.
The Government take the line that, at this stage, they ought to take no initiative, that is to say, at this stage they ought not to ask for experiments of any description to take place. They are of the opinion—and I am certainly of the opinion—that in the old House—this, I understand, was the view of Mr. Harold Macmillan, then Prime Minister, after the exchanges we had at that time—the House would not have been in favour of televising Parliament. But my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister feels, and I agree, that, with the considerable number of new Members who have come in, that may not still be the position, and a decision ought to be taken as a decision of the House.
The Government take the view that, while they ought not to take any initiative at this stage, the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports should make the most detailed examination of the problem in its technical aspects, its likely effect upon Parliament itself, and the need that there is for televising Parliament from the consumer end, the viewer's point of view, as far as that is possible, and, having collated all the information, present a report to Parliament which the Government would find time to be debated.
If, then, it is the view of the House, by what is a reasonable and considerable majority, that we ought to have some experimentation to see what form of coverage there should be, at what stage it should take place, and whether we should wait for the new cameras or not, the Government would acquiesce. I think that that is the right line to take.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Aidan Crawley (Derbyshire, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), who introduced the Motion in an admirable speech, was so fair that at one time I thought that he was really being devil's advocate and persuading people against his own wishes. I agree with much that the 1076 Leader of the House and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) said. It seems to me that we are debating two questions: what television can do for Parliament, and—perhaps, little less openly—how Members of Parliament can make the best use of television.
On the first question, what television can do for Parliament, I agree entirely with those who feel that a full broadcast of all our proceedings would be against the interest of Parliament. To take today's example, this debate is neither entertainment nor instruction. It should not be either. What we are doing here is trying to discuss a subject in a way which will have some influence on this Government or a future Government who will have to take a decision, and to do this we may well repeat many of the arguments quite deliberately. It is in no sense an entertainment. No viewer would be very interested in the whole of it, or should be.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) spoke of the people who come to the Public Gallery. I do not think that many people who come to the Public Gallery do so day after day. One knows from one's own constituents that a very large proportion are people who have heard of Parliament, who have a sense of its importance in the House of Commons, and who come, perhaps, once in their lives. If half the population were looking in on our proceedings day after day, there would not be much production or anything else done.
Neither do I consider that the broadcasting of the whole of our debates would be in the least instructional. As both the Leader of the House and my right hon. and learned Friend have pointed out, a lot of it would be incomprehensible, not merely at Question Time, but, for instance, in our debates on the Finance Bill, when the Amendments are read out without any mention of the relevant Clause, and so on. In the absence of a running commentary interpreting the debates, no one could understand them. It has to be remembered that viewers turn on and turn off, new viewers come in all the time, and, as in a commentary on a cricket match, whoever was trying to explain the proceedings would have, 1077 every few minutes, to explain to new viewers that we were debating Clause such and such—or whatever the point might be—to make any sense of the thing at all. It would be an impossible performance, and I do not believe that for any purpose a full-scale, full-time broadcast of our proceedings would be of use or of any benefit to Parliament at all.
Now, the question of an edited version. I am certainly not against—and I do not suppose that anyone is—an experiment being made. But one must be clear about what an edited version could do. Everyone says that it is technically possible, and I accept that with some reservation, until the new cameras have proved themselves. I have some experience of scenes in baddish light, even with the fastest kinds of film, and I am not yet convinced that the results would be wholly satisfactory. But, accepting that the experts think that they would be, what would an edited version do for Parliament? This is the most important question.
As everyone says, it will depend enormously on the editing. Some people have suggested that the editor might be controlled by a Committee. I am quite sure that the Leader of the House was right about that. It would be impossible. What will the editor have to do for an edited version? It will have to come out each night. There will be no point in having it next day; it will be as stale as yesterday's newspaper. He will have to sit right through the whole business of Parliament, and he will have to be able, while listening, to select moments in debate or at Question Time which will give the flavour of the day's proceedings. It must inevitably be one man's view. There could not be two or three editors chipping in. The whole sense of the debate would get lost in that way.
Moreover, the editor's task will be quite different from that of a reporter in the Press Gallery. He cannot listen to a speech and then, in a few lines, say that the hon. Member for Blank said this and that, giving a summary. The editor of a televised summary must actually pick sentences out of context and blend them together so as to give some sense of the debate. I am quite sure that this will prove much more difficult than most people have understood so far.
1078 As the Leader of the House said, there will be only limited time. I suppose that half an hour would probably be the longest time that any television circuit would want to give. In that time, a six-hour debate, or whatever it was, would have to be covered. The editor would really be taking very short extracts from very many speeches unless the result was to be most unfair.
I think that the problem of editing would be enormous. I do not say that it could not be done, but everything would depend on the editor. It is no good pretending that the editor would not have a point of view. I do not mean necessarily a political view, but the report would be one man's view. A Committee could express satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but we would have to trust the editor to do it.
Would the House of Commons be satisfied with the result, and, secondly, would the result fairly represent Parliament? Would it give the public a correct and full enough picture of what happens in the House of Commons? I doubt whether hon. Members would be very satisfied with the result. There would be the difficulty of taking sentences out of context and broadcasting them with a picture of the speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North said that every hon. Member could prepare a summary of his speech for the benefit of television. I doubt whether the editor would select the sentences in such a summary, because it is likely that they would consist of a monotonous series of cliches.
The editor has to make the debate live. He has to produce something of the clash in it. He would have to be highly selective, and I doubt very much whether, day after day, hon. Members would be very happy about how the selection had been made, and how the debates had been presented.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
Surely it would be possible, as is done now in "Today in Parliament", to show a picture of the Members speaking and say that he made such and such a point? It would not be essential to synchronise the speech with the photograph. There could be a summary, with the most important points being selected for showing. The editor could do it as he does now.
§ Mr. Crawley
I think that that would lose half the point of having television. If that is all that is to be done, it would be better to have sound radio. Television would give a picture of the man speaking, and the character of the man. The editor would have to bring out the clash between two Members, and so on.
Even if hon. Members were satisfied, would the edited version give a full enough view of what the House of Commons was like? Like the Leader of the House, I have grave reservations about this. The fact is that some of our most valuable Members seldom take part in debates. They speak only once or twice a year, but they do a lot of good work behind the scenes, in Committees, and so on. If they wished to continue to fulfil their membership in that way, it would be difficult for them not to be criticised by their constituents.
If, because of television, every hon. Member who only occasionally takes part in our debates were to say that for the sake of his constituents he must speak once a month, or once a fortnight, Mr. Speaker's job would be made much more difficult, and we would fundamentally alter the character of the House and of our debates.
Let us suppose that a producer—it does not matter for which channel—wanted to produce a programme on the House of Commons. What scenes would he want to transmit to give a balanced and vivid idea of what goes on here? He would want to include something for the sake of the Members who do not speak very frequently in the House. He would want to give scenes of Members dictating their letters. I am trying to present a day-to-day picture of what the House means and what goes on here. Cameras would be required to show Members dictating their letters.
If I were producing the film, I would want hidden cameras in both the Tea Room and the Smoking Room in order to get the more candid comments of Members on other Members during their less guarded moments. I might be content with silent cameras in the Dining Room, but I would want sound cameras to convey the hush of the Library and catch the scribbling of nibs and the thumping of books of reference by our legal hon. Friends. I would also want both 1080 sound and picture cameras to show and hear the attitude and sound of profound meditation which is assumed by the occupants of our deeper armchairs.
If I were trying to present a picture of Parliament, I would want to show something of the HANSARD reporting, and of Members trying desperately to correct their grammar. I would also show the Press Gallery and the very healthy cynicism which pervades it. I would also want to show something of Mr. Speaker's Office, and something of the Table Office.
If we had the facilities, with hidden cameras, and so on, to give a picture of what goes on, and of how Members work, and what their work consists of, we might interest a great many people to a considerable extent but I am not at all sure that if we once started an experiment, demands would not be made for a fuller picture of what goes on in the House. Perhaps that will be possible one day, but I think that there is a grave danger of being very unfair to many of the most responsible Members of the House if only debates in the Chamber are presented.
If I may now turn to the use that Members seek to make of television, one of the reasons for this debate—and this is clear both from the Motion and from much that has been said today—is the dissatisfaction which many hon. Members on both sides feel about the way in which politics are handled on television. One hears that only those who are exhibitionists, and so on, succeed on television. Many feel that television is a matter of trickery and that make-up, teleprompters, powder on the hair, as the Leader of the House mentioned, and so on, are what really make for success on television. It is felt that the exhibitionist, dressed up in this way, has discredited politics and the position of Members of Parliament, and that this must be corrected by having television in the House.
There may be something in that, but I think that it is a fundamental mistake to think that television is a matter of tricks, that it is a matter of acting. In my experience, acting is the one thing that ruins a television performance during a discussion on politics or current affairs. I think that most people with any experience of television would agree with that.
1081 Surely television is the twentieth century's greatest gift, not only to the politician, but to anybody who has any ideas to express. It is a new form of communication, and, like any other, it needs imagination and a lot of thought and preparation if it is to be used properly. Any Member who is making a speech in the House knows that he prepares it rather differently from a speech to be made outside. The speech that he proposes to make in Committee on the Finance Bill is quite different from the speech that he would make to an audience of 500 people outside.
Outside, one is talking to a different type of audience, and in a different way. This is true of sound broadcasting, but it is even truer of television. Television allows anybody with an idea to talk to millions of people. It is not like talking, as I am doing now, to a few Members in the Chamber. On television, one talks to people in their homes, and they listen as though they were being addressed personally. Everyone who watches television knows that this is true.
It also means that those listening to one are, in a strange way, much more intimately concerned even than those listening to one in this Chamber. They get the feeling that they know one. Thus, we have a means of communication which allows an extraordinary intimacy, and much of this intimacy persists if one has an interview or discussion. People watching not only look in, but in some sense share in what is going on.
Surely this is something that hon. Members should use. The suspicion that I have about this proposal is that the effort to televise Parliament is being made fundamentally in order to get away from having to use television as it really should be used. If that is what is in people's minds, then I am sure that the experiment will fail. I do not believe that televising the House will for one moment stop debates on politics on television. Nor should it. But that was what the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) seemed to suggest.
Surely we have not a monopoly of political debating. We are not in an ivory tower, even if we do not like what other people say. We cannot say that 1082 politics shall only be debated in the House of Commons and that anyone who is not a Member shall not debate politics on television. As the Leader of the House said, a great many people are critical both of the way Parliament works and of hon. Members. Many of us share some of the criticism.
Many people feel that the way in which the party system has developed and the increasing strength of the Executive have led to some of the importance of our debates being taken away. It would certainly be more exciting for viewers if they could feel, when a vote was being taken at the end of a great debate, that the outcome was uncertain, particularly with the narrow majorities of today, because argument could really sway hon. Members so that some crossed the Floor. It would he more exciting if Select Committees of the House had more power to take decisions. There are genuine criticisms and there are many critical points of view which are not just held by a few people.
Many people in the country suspect that those with party views are too much of a rubber stamp and it is important from the public point of view that other views, often those of experts, should be heard. If we televise Parliament, we shall not in any way reduce the amount of political comment from outside which goes on in television. If that were the attitude and it persisted, hon. Members would cut themselves off from genuine and broad discussion on television simply because they did not like it, because they thought that only exhibitionists took part and that politics should only be discussed in the House of Commons. That would be a total misunderstanding of the function of television.
Television is enormously broadening people's interest in politics and democracy. But our debates are not geared to television. It might be interesting to look at them for half an hour but the viewers will want the essence of the argument. They will want quick exchange. They will not want repetition or the building up of a debate. They will want the essence, given in the shortest possible time in the most dramatic way.
That is what the viewer will want, it is what he should get and it is certainly 1083 how his interest in politics will be increased. There may be no greater mistake than to say that, because this is difficult and not what we are used to, or because we do not like the person who does the editing or the people from outside who are brought in, we should have nothing to do with it. That would be disastrous for membership of this House.
If we try to restrict political discussion and the televising of political debate to this House we shall not only be doing democracy a great disservice, but this House the greatest disservice of all.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
I begin by apologising to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) even in his absence for not having been here to listen to his speech. I had every intention of being here in time but a combination of circumstances made it impossible for me to do so. I studied his Motion carefully, as other hon. Members have done, and it is most useful that he should have given the House the opportunity to have a preliminary canter on this important subject.
It is probably merely because we are debating this on a Friday and the accident of the use and availability of choice that I am the first hon. Member to speak today in opposition to the proposal that television should be introduced into Parliament. I want to make that quite clear from the outset. I have held that view for a number of years and I have seen no reason more recently to change it.
I therefore welcome all the more the expressions of opinion by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) and by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that neither of them would be party to any attempt to introduce television into Parliament by a narrow majority and that a broad consensus would first be necessary before any Government took an initiative to make the introduction of television a reality. That is a very important statement and I fully support it.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Crawley) has referred to television as a medium and to the working of Par- 1084 liament. Here we must guard against confusion from the beginning, although I hasten to add that there was no such confusion in his speech. The reform of Parliament and of the working of the House of Commons is a very great subject. It must be looked at and something done about it. That would be so even if television did not exist.
Secondly, television as a very important medium of communication will include the pronouncement of political fact and opinion, no matter what this House decides about televising its proceedings. That is a separate matter altogether.
Thirdly, there are shortcomings in the reporting of our proceedings in the Press at the present time. I believe that there is far too much bias in that reporting and that this side of the House is at a disadvantage in that situation. I could give a large number of examples of the bias, particularly when we are at the beginning of an election year, that begins to operate against this side of the House in a large part of the Press. I believe that to be a fact.
But I would not at any time advise any of my hon. Friends to be influenced in the slightest by this situation when making up their minds about whether Parliament should be televised. This is a matter that must be discussed and brought to the notice of journalists and editors and perhaps in time we shall achieve more fair play. But it must not affect our basic decision on televising Parliament.
It is important to remember that, in recent years, among the people who have written and spoken about the working of Parliament only a minority have been really well informed—and I do not exclude from that stricture even some in academic posts. A number of academic publications, well known to the House, have come to conclusions after employing a most elaborate apparatus of research, the results of which they could have learnt in 15 minutes from any hon. Member who had been here at least five years. There have been other elaborate academic writings in which conclusions have been obviously contradictory to self-evident facts and some have led to some very funny and amusing reviews in the learned journals. There have also been a number of people, not of the academic 1085 world, but in the Press and television who have spoken or written with but scant knowledge of the history of Parliament and the real working of its machinery.
Therefore, we must not be unduly impressed by some of the descriptions and descriptive criticisms which have come from some quarters. As against that, there has been a body of very well-informed opinion built up in recent years, and the writers in these works have pointed to shortcomings and said that our working and machinery should be modernised and brought up to date.
In parentheses, may I say that I do not accept the easily-produced and glibly-presented examples of the working of the American Congress or the French Assembly or the Bundestag in Bonn. Those examples are completely irrelevant to the working of the House of Commons. Let us consider the famous proposal that we ought to have special committees corresponding to every Government Department. It is argued by some that this would lead to much more rational formation of opinion, both in the specialist committees in the first place and in the House of Commons later on. But this is not the experience of the United States, as is known to anybody who has gone into the subject over the years. What happens in most of the American committees is that the ranking members of the two parties, as they are called, on the committees become far too closely associated with the departments concerned and become involved in the clique struggles within them. Instead of being independent spokesmen for the committees, they become mouthpieces of some of the very powerful generals and admirals of the Defence Department, for instance, or of others into whose departments they have been far too closely integrated throughout the years.
Before hasty decisions are made in this respect—and this relates to the Select Committee on Procedure which is now sitting and on which I do not propose to comment—great care therefore needs to be taken to see that we are not influenced by the experiences of Chamber; which have not the function, nor the long-standing centuries of experience, nor the importance in the political life of the country that the House of Commons has in the political life of this country.
1086 Therefore, I am not terribly impressed by writers of columns in newspapers, The Guardian, for instance, who are sometimes people who have never yet been Members of the House of Commons, and who, although none the worse for that, speak as though they had that experience. We ought not to be terribly worried about not being thought to be "with it", as they say that some of us are not "with it". There is nothing to be ashamed of if we take time to consider whether our most important political institution has to be reformed in one way or another.
This also applies to the issue of introducing television. I want to examine the statements which have been made by some of the supporters of the Motion and of the idea. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) admitted that if televising Parliament were to be taken seriously and a great deal of it were to be undertaken in the years to come, then the character and nature of the working of the House would inevitably change. I think that there should be a change from time to time, but this must be decided by the House in the light of political circumstances and not by the introduction of an outside reporting means which would then create a situation in which changes were imposed upon the House from outside. That would be putting the wrong horse before a well-established, wise and experienced cart.
The statements made by the proposers of the innovation sometimes do not quite tally with the stated attitudes of the directors and senior executives of television companies. I agree with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West in welcoming television as a medium of discussion. I have not done very much of it, but I have appeared on a number of occasions and I therefore have a little experience of it.
Normally, after or before one's television performance, one has a drink or a meal, or a discussion over a cup of coffee with some of the executives, and occasionally with some of the directors of the television companies. I can assure hon. Members that most of them do not have the modest views about how they would use their right to televise which have been advanced on their behalf in the debate 1087 so far. If all they could get out of the decision of the House of Commons to allow television cameras in this place would be the whole lot, an obligation to show everything or nothing, none of them would look at it, and there is no doubt about that. At the same time, if they felt that they were to be carefully guided in how to edit the programme and how to produce and show it, I am quite sure that they would not accept that, either. There is a clash, not because of the character or attitude of the directors of television companies, but because of the nature of the medium of television on the one hand, and the nature of the House of Commons on the other.
It is inevitable that television must try to entertain. It is not possible to have any programme on television, including a strictly educational programme, which does not have a factor of entertainment somewhere within it. There is a very simple reason for this. It is that without that factor no one would switch on and if he did, he would turn off within minutes. He would not be gripped. He would not be held. He would not be kept before the screen if the factor of entertainment were absent, and there is no doubt about it. That is why those of us who are not very good at it have to be charitable in our relations with the directors and producers and understand when they choose others in preference to us. They must choose those who have the factor of entertainment to a higher degree than the duller ones.
But in the House of Commons there is no premium on and no greater effectiveness in having the factor of entertainment in a higher degree than others. I need not labour this point, because I am speaking in the House of Commons, but I might have to labour it if I were to appear before the television cameras on a Friday evening.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Is my hon. Friend saying that in his view the "University of the Air" suggested by the Prime Minister is a dead duck?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am not discussing the "University of the Air" at the moment, but it so happens that I have spent my life in education and so that is a fair question and I do not need notice 1088 of it. The "University of the Air" will be successful only if many brilliant and able lecturers, like A. J. P. Taylor, are enrolled, but if all the dullest mathematics teachers are to have the mass of the programmes, it will be a dead duck.
The importance of this is that we should not become biased against television and ought not to be uncomprehending in considering what the directors of television companies are trying to do. If their medium is to be successful, they have to work in the way they can. I have a very positive attitude towards television and I firmly believe that far from being the evil influence which some people believe it to be, it has a beneficial influence, and it brings a great many things to many people who otherwise would never have been within the circumference of partaking in these events. We ought to understand the problems of the medium, therefore, to understand some of the things which are happening.
However, when it comes to televising the House of Commons, we must be the sole judges, and this brings me to the crux of the matter. This is a point which has not yet been made in the debate and I attach the greatest importance to it. Parliament is above all a workshop. Question Time is important in revealing a great many things which otherwise would not be revealed and for giving an opportunity for a statement of policy by the Government. A great debate on a general subject on the Motion for the Adjournment, without a Division, is important. But, above all that, Parliament always has been and always will be a Parliamentary workshop.
It is the passing of new legislation and the imposition of new taxes and the appropriation of expenditure which are the heart of Parliamentary work. These matters are, in the nature of the case, very often the subject of quiet, long-winded discussion. It is true that it is occasionally interrupted by hilarious interventions when Progress is being moved or there is disagreement about what has happened on the gilt-edged market. But largely it is quiet work. It involves people who have worked quietly on a subject and who have been in touch with their constituents and know what is going on in the country and who are not merely concerned with reading the newspapers and reproducing what they have read. They bring 1089 knowledge, sometimes new knowledge and sometimes well established knowledge, to the debate.
It is complete moonshine to think that, having this kind of medium at his disposal, a responsible director of a television company would allow his staff to produce a preponderance of programmes dealing with Parliament quietly at work in its workshop. If he did, all the rosy theories of some of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite that there would be millions of members of the electorate eagerly watching what we were doing are completely unrealistic. It is the Question which deals with something either very hilarious or immediately exciting which causes millions of people to be riveted to the screen for five minutes.
It is inescapable and in no way a reflection on hon. Members that Members would more and more become concerned about what the cameras were recording. Being only human, they could not react in any other way. This is the fundamental reason why I am opposed to this proposal from the start and why I do not wish it well.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that the great concern of many Members is what the Press is reporting at present?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I do not know whether my hon. Friend was in the Chamber when I referred to this point. Perhaps other hon. Members will bear with me while I repeat it very briefly. I said that I fully accepted that there was bias in reporting our discussions and political events in many organs of the Press. I said that I shared the opinion of my hon. Friend who took this view, but I immediately added that I should advise my hon. Friends—and certainly I would not be a party to it—not to be in the slightest influenced by this phenomenon in making up their minds about the proposal to televise the House. That is something which must be dealt with by other means.
Members of the House of Commons ought to be able to concentrate on the substance of what they are saying and on the way in which they conduct themselves towards each other. This does not mean only when they disagree with hon. Members on the opposite benches. It includes the occasional important 1090 agreement with an hon. Member opposite. Some of the best debates take place when there are cross-currents of opinion. In all these respects, therefore, Members must be in a position to conduct themselves as they think fit without any other external factor intruding.
I do not say for a moment that Members would trim their sails. I do not mean that. When we talk as Members of the House in our workship, an extraneous disturbing factor is inevitably introduced if we are continually photographed while we are talking. This would apply to the plumber or engineer on the job. I am absolutely certain that if the proposal were put to the Associated Society of Woodworkers that its members should be photographed twelve hours a day while they were doing their work it would reject it with scorn, and rightly so. If the main purpose of Parliament is to be a workship, the introduction of an extraneous factor would be disturbing and unhelpful.
I wish to make two more points. Having eliminated, as many speakers have done, the possibility of television companies having the right to choose to televise all the proceedings of Parliament, may I deal with the suggestion which a number of hon. Members have made about an edited programme. Some hon. Members have suggested that we should have a Parliamentary committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Speaker which would be the controlling organ of the editor of the programme. I would oppose this as an interference with the freedom of journalists who are doing their job and who are trusted to have the integrity to do it. I do not believe that the National Union of Journalists or the working television reporters would accept it. Whether they would or not, I would oppose it. If this is a medium which, for its own good reasons, should be introduced in Parliament, we could not at the same time have a committee of Parliamentarians, even under the completely neutral chairmanship of Mr. Speaker, taking the effective decisions. We cannot have both at the same time. Here I possibly carry some of the supporters of the Motion with me.
The other proposal which has been made is that an editor should be appointed and that we should leave it to him. If we left it to him, he would in 1091 effect not be the sole controller of programmes. He would have to pay the greatest possible heed to the views of the directors of his company. I need not go into this matter in detail. In a medium which is so expensive where a choice has to be made between putting in an advertisement just before or just after an important announcement, obviously the final decision will have to be made in the board room. Then considerations about commercial success will be the overriding factor. In competition, the B.B.C. has often tried to keep running as fast as the commercial companies. We have seen some of the dire results of those attempts in recent years. When commercial success is the overriding principle in the board room, the editor will have to toe the line. This is not a decision which I should like to leave to the directors of the television company who must be guided largely by financial considerations.
§ Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the contents as distinct from the placing of the programme schedules of Independent Television News are affected by the question of whether an advertisement should be put in before or afterwards?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I am suggesting from my experience that Members of the House and members of the public appear on certain discussion or feature programmes and someone very high up in the company has a telephone conversation with the executive producer 25 minutes after the programme is over. If my hon. Friend wants evidence of that, I will meet him later, have a cup of tea with him and present it to him. There is no doubt that neither the shareholders nor the directors of the company would allow complete and utter control to go outside the board room.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
What are the contents of this telephone call which comes so rapidly to the executive producer? If the hon. Gentleman cannot tell me now, I should be grateful if I could join him for tea.
§ Mr. Mendelson
This will be quite a tea party. I can answer that question. 1092 He discusses the general appeal that the programme just broadcast has had from the point of view of the director concerned. If it is too rigid a formula, the conversation may take place 25 minutes after the programme has been seen. The time can be extended. Sometimes the director may be further away, and the conversation may take place on the following Wednesday.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that somebody high up is intervening with regard to the quality or political content of the programme? If he cannot answer that, perhaps I, too, can join the tea party.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I can answer that question. It is the easiest question of all, and I thought that I had answered it. May I repeat what I said? The question of whether a feature programme of a political character, not one about the ballet, has had general appeal—whether it had enough punch, as it was described to me at one time—is a matter of discussion between the controlling directors of the company and the executime producer of the programme. The hon. Gentleman knows this is absolutely true. It could not be any different. That is why I prefaced my remarks by saying he must not suspect there is any particular prejudice about this by the people who control the television companies. They work in a medium in which the appreciation of whether the programme has enough punch, from their point of view, is decisive as to whether it will attract the advertiser and whether it is going to be a success for the company they control and for the success of which they are responsible. We must not lightly pass on the suggestion that all that is necessary is to appoint an executive editor and say that he will be the only one, without regard to the opinions of anyone in his company, who will make the decision.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
I hope hon. Members will not make so many interventions. There are a large number of Members wishing to speak and this speech has been very much prolonged by so many interventions.
§ Mr. Freeson
I am curious to know whether all these objections could be 1093 levelled by my hon. Friend against a suggestion that an edited version of "Today in Parliament" was confined to B.B.C. T.V.?
§ Mr. Mendelson
I have already dealt with that point. I pointed out that some of the very modest proposals that had been made to introduce television into Parliament, such as the one my hon. Friend has just mentioned, merely a televised version of 15 minutes, are far and away from the expectations of the directors of television companies who want television introduced into the House. Their proposals are not so modest and if the House of Commons decided that all they were to get would be 15 minutes, analogous with the 15 minutes of "Today in Parliament", the vast capital investment mentioned by my right hon. Friend would not be forthcoming from any of them. It is only realistic to accept that.
I would like to deal with the general position of Members of the House of Commons and how their work is understood by constituents. We do not have to be too cautious about this. I do not believe that many of the things shown in the German Bundestag when the experiments my right hon. Friend referred to were carried out need frighten any Parliamentarian. Then the reporters concentrated on empty spaces and made a great deal of fun about Members being absent from their seats, very rarely adding that these Members were doing a lot of hard work in some other part of the building or outside. I am not worried by this sort of thing. I think it is not so terribly difficult to explain to our constituents, or supporters and opponents what goes on here. If we take enough time and trouble over it it will not be too difficult. They can understand.
Sometimes misunderstandings arise when a reporter, who knows much better, reports glibly that there are only 31 people in the Chamber during discussion on a certain point. He himself has perhaps been talking to perhaps five or six others outside a few minutes before and has an appointment with three others soon afterwards. There is sometimes a bias for political purposes when a deliberately misleading report is produced and that is the difficulty as far as we are concerned. There is no great difficulty in explaining the processes under which we work.
1094 I think Parliament needs reforming in its working in a number of important respects but that must be done from the inside with the full knowledge that we are a workshop and a sounding board of national opinion. It must not be done by coercion and be rushed into as a result of outside influences. It must be done with a clear mind and a clear head and it must not be done because we are afraid some people will say we are not "with it". We are "with it" when we are doing our job of work and of representation. It is for us to insist that our standards of political work and conduct are accepted by people outside and not that others impose their own upon us.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
The greatest political bias of all is the bias of suppression and I would have thought that the mere fact that we do not allow television into this House encourages political bias in other forms and we should all try to counteract this. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) has said, the situation would be improved enormously by making available to the public a direct view of what goes on in this Chamber.
With great respect to his argument, the hon. Gentleman who advanced it is quite wrong in his assumption that this has to be a majority television interest programme before it is really acceptable. It must, of course, be a minority interest programme and it always will be. I have not done an analysis of this, but, by and large, at least half of television programmes put out by the B.B.C. and I.T.V. are minority programmes. It is true they are not on at peak hours when we have variety shows, plays and sporting events going out to big audiences. But there are many programmes put on late at night and other unfashionable times of the day which give a very great deal of pleasure, encouragement and entertainment to minority audiences.
I envisage the televising of Parliament in this particular sector. It is not and never could be an "entertainment." It is too serious for that. I believe that television could do a very great deal towards educating the public as to what Parliament is about and what its functions really are. I drew a Motion in the Ballot for this subject a few weeks ago and was 1095 unlucky enough to come out of the hat at No. 2. The first item was debated all day. However, such is the interest in this matter that a number of hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have ballotted for it and in the next but one my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) came out first.
Great interest has been aroused by the subject and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that it is right and proper that there should be in this debate Members who feel strongly opposed to the idea. This needs to be discussed as a House of Commons matter. I think, with respect, that it is a pity that the two right hon. Gentlemen who spoke from the Front Benches did so rather early in the proceedings today, because, for my part anyway, they threw a bit of a dampener on the whole thing. They damned it with faint praise, particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, who is always an excellent debater, but who managed somehow to find every conceivable objection while saying that the door should be left open.
One thing that Parliament must not do is to be timid or afraid about television. It either has to go into this wholeheartedly, or not at all. We know there are tremendous arguments against it. No one will deny that, but I believe that if we apply ourselves to the subject we can achieve something which will go well beyond our expectations and even beyond those of people who at present do not favour it. I think that Parliament, far from going downhill, will be enhanced by the introduction of television, provided that it is done on the right lines. I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Penistone that we must have very rigid safeguards. We have to protect Parliament because it is too important a body to be abused.
I have the feeling from my six years in this House that opinions have changed substantially towards the idea. I believe that if we had taken a vote in 1959, when I first was lucky enough to be elected to the House, it would have been overwhelmingly against the introduction of television. I think that there might now, on a full vote of the House, be a 1096 small majority in favour. I agree that we want something bigger than that. We need at least three-quarters of all Members to be in favour, but I am sure that opinion is moving that way; and that is why I am so keen on introducing experimental closed-circuit television which could be seen only by Members.
I believe many opponents who genuinely feel that this is not a good thing would be converted if they could see the end product. We could go on arguing for many months, even years, on the basis of whether it is a good thing, but until we actually have the experiment we cannot really say what it would be like. We cannot form an intelligent opinion.
The question has been raised by a number of hon. Members: why should we have television in the House? I should have thought that the primary reason was for the benefit, not for the entertainment, of the public. There is an appalling ignorance of Parliament and what goes on here. The Strangers' Gallery is extremely small. During the course of a year comparatively few people can come into it. But there is a great interest in Parliament, as all hon. Members will know from the number of applications they receive for tickets and the fact that it is so difficult to deal with all those requests. The very fact that public ignorance of Parliament is so great is a good argument why we should introduce television into it.
We have to make quite sure that the nation sees how it is governed. If it thinks that there might be improvements, that is all to the good. If we have to reshape our ways that, again can be beneficial. I am convinced that we would not have materially to change our procedure, nor would we find that it affected the way in which we conducted debates. Initially, it might be a nine days' wonder, but after a while when we settled down, the cameras would recede very much to the background and the fact of their presence would not be paramount in our minds when we spoke or conducted our procedures.
By televising this House in action we could have a tremendous public relations job done for Parliament. People would become appreciative of what we try to 1097 do, would overlook our shortcomings and begin to understand the complexity and difficulties which face politicians of all parties in trying, in a rough and ready way, to operate democracy and see that its principles are followed in this country. I am certain that after the initial teething difficulties we would be able to put on a general debate of the character which appertains at present, which would be acceptable to the public and which we would be able to do without always having one eye on the camera.
Hon. Members who have had experience of television know that in a "live" performance the tension is tremendously heightened because it is known that if they make an appalling mistake it will he seen by millions of people. But, if it is a recording, that tension is removed and an appalling mistake can be edited out. I believe that there will not be this tension here, but only the ordinary tension of speaking before one's colleagues and in the cut and thrust of debate. This will be a good thing. I think that we shall not take notice of the cameras, whether they are on, or whether we are being filmed or not.
We shall become oblivious of the cameras. I am sure that the vast majority of hon. Members, when they are making their speeches, are never conscious of the public in the Gallery. I have made many speeches in this Chamber, often to very small audiences, as we all do. Sometimes there have been only five or 10 hon. Members in the Chamber, but on occasion many people have been queueing outside for the Gallery, which has become crammed. I have never been conscious of the public in the Gallery any more than I have been conscious of those in the Press Gallery. This is a common experience and it would apply if television cameras were introduced.
We have had a number of arguments in this interesting debate about the technical aspects. It is now accepted that with modern techniques and advances, cameras would be unobtrusive and could operate without extra lighting. Then we could overlook them easily. I think that the television directors and producers are anxious to come here, and not merely on their own terms. They would like the idea of being able to televise Parlia- 1098 ment and would find acceptable a form of edited version which might be put on both channels, or by agreement on one channel for part of the year and the other channel for the other part. The difficulties are not insurmountable. They would co-operate to the full if they felt that we were behind the idea and were prepared to pay the money.
I favour the proposal of an edited version of the "Today in Parliament" type for half an hour at the end of the evening. Properly presented, and brought together with skilled impartiality, this could be done along the lines of the two programmes which I mentioned in my intervention in the speech of the Lord President of the Council, the Independent Television "Dateline, Westminster" and the B.B.C. 2 programme "Westminster at Work". Those programmes are already in the vanguard of televising Parliament. They show photographs of hon. Members with quotations from their speeches in a completely unbiased way, and with an illuminating commentary by skilled presenters. Those programmes have an enormous minority appeal, even if they are put on comparatively late at night. I should like to see a programme of that sort televised at ten or eleven o'clock every evening when Parliament is sitting. It would be accepted and enjoyed by the public at large.
In addition to that edited version, I should favour a direct relay on a very limited number of special occasions. One which immediately comes to mind is Budget day. That would be of enthralling interest to many people. I think that it would have as big an audience as a Cup Final has. I agree that there would be allegations that the Government of the day would have the biggest share in the proceedings because the Chancellor's statement would take up most of the time and that there would be perhaps only a 10-minute contribution from the Leader of the Opposition in reply immediately afterwards, but these difficulties can be overcome.
I should have thought that the ending of the steel debate in the House a week or two ago, without going into the arguments for or against on the political question, would have been very dramatic television indeed. There was the gradual mounting tension towards the end of the day, excellent winding-up speeches on 1099 both sides and then the Tellers advancing to the Table and everyone agog with interest to know what the majority would be. This would have had a tremendous appeal and it would have done no political party any harm. As long as we did not provide this kind of programme on television every other week and did not abuse it, it would advance and encourage interest in the televising of Parliament.
Those who oppose the televising of our proceedings often argue from a false premise. The case they put up is formidable on the surface, but, on examination, I am sure that the majority of the technical experts and leading hon. Members of this House could eliminate it without too much trouble. If we tried to destroy the atmosphere that would be very bad indeed, and I am still open to be convinced that it could be a bad thing. That is why I favour experiments.
If the experiments turned out to be absolutely appalling, I should be the first to vote against the idea and never to give it further support. But I think that, far from destroying the atmosphere and making us camera-conscious, it might well improve the general conduct of Parliament. I am positive that we would have fewer bogus points of order, a greater eagerness to get on with the business, and far shorter speeches. We are all guilty of going on for too long as we develop points. If we limited our speeches to about five minutes, more hon. Members would be able to get into debates.
It is said that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and Mr. Speaker himself would have applications from about 60 or 70 hon. Members to speak in each debate, whereas now, unless the subject is of overwhelming interest, the number is 16 or 17. This could be a good thing. We could rely on your impartiality, making sure that everyone received a fair crack of the whip and that more and more hon. Members would have an opportunity of making a contribution. Nor would we pander to the exhibitionists, or to theatrical scenes. The exhibitionists are with us anyway, and still perform on occasion in the House, as they would if we had television here. One of the most salutary things which could happen would be for their remarks to be edited out. They would soon mend their ways.
1100 I do not feel that it would make us self-conscious or stilted in our approach. I think that the party conferences have proved this. The broadcasts from those of both political parties have been extraordinarily good.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I hope that the hon. Member will not repeat the error which was corrected earlier, of comparing party conferences, which meet for four days, and our Parliamentary workshop where we meet all the year round.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I give the hon. Gentleman that point, but, on the other hand, that is one of the nearest approximations one can get. To some people it is a dull, political debate, but on the other hand they have been very successfully relayed.
However, the biggest objection which I have heard, and which is perhaps the most valid of all, is that it would be a bore to viewers and so might do Parliament harm among the viewing public. I do not think so. I am sure that it would be an attractive television programme, and I am positive that it would establish its place in the ordinary television schedules. Mention has already been made of that excellent programme "Today in Parliament" on sound radio. It has been going on for years. I believe it is part of the B.B.C.'s Charter that it has to give coverage on sound to Parliament.
Whether we have had an extremely exciting day, or whether we have had a quiet one, there is, in that programme, a sensible quarter of an hour summary at the end of the day, completely unbiased politically, giving everybody a fair show. Allegations are made by some hon. Members that other hon. and right hon. Members hog the television screen and that they are the ones who are always chosen to take part in studio programmes. Surely the introduction of a television programme from here would give a far better chance to back benchers of all shades of opinion on both sides of the House.
I think that this would be a considerable advance. After all, even in the popular Press it is very difficult for a Member to get a mention, unless he tries to achieve cheap notoriety; most of the space devoted to reports of our proceedings is taken up with the contributions of the speakers from the Front Benches. Both Press and public were admitted here only on sufferance in the first place, and it 1101 may be that the television cameras will come here at first only on sufferance, but I am confident that eventually they will come and that soon thereafter they will be accepted as an established part of the routine of Parliament.
Parliament is a massively powerful and vital institution, loved and respected by the vast majority of us privileged enough to be able to come here, but it is not a sacred institution, nor is the private possession of us who are Members. We are merely transistory beings, but Parliament goes on, and influences the shape and future of the nation. It belongs to all our people. I say that we ought to open the doors and let the television cameras in.
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Rowland (Meriden)
I find myself in a strange predicament today because I have been genuinely open-minded as the debate has gone on. I should like to make some comments on some of the things which have been said so far. My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) referred to the possibility of jealousy—I think that was the word he used—about the way people would be chosen to take part in the proceedings in the edited programme. My own view is that it would reduce jealousy very considerably, for if there are any hard feelings they are about the way Members get into the current affairs programmes on television.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson), who is not here now, suggested that through the televising of our proceedings here we might get rid of party political broadcasts. I would oppose any such suggestion simply on the ground of principle that I believe the parties must have this very powerful medium—some uninterrupted access to present their own case to the public, uninterrupted by interviewers or by opposing comment from the Front Benches. I think that is a right for the parties in this country.
However, those are just minor points, and I should like now to make some more general ones. When I arrived here last October I was a good deal more in favour of Parliament being televised than I am now. Let me hasten to add that I am still, on balance, in favour, but as I have been here I have become more and 1102 more aware of the disadvantages and drawbacks. The reason I resist them is that I think that my first impressions on this subject were probably the most valuable impressions, because as one continues here one changes and tends to forget the view which the outside world has of our proceedings. I suppose it would be true to say that most people one met and moved amongst before being elected were people who were prepared to say that Members of Parliament were important people but important because they appeared on television, because they wrote articles, because they could become Ministers or were Ministers or had been Ministers—for a whole host of reasons, but the reason that they were Members of Parliament was a very long way down the list. Indeed, I would myself say people really do not know very much about Parliament as such, and I do not believe there is very great interest in Parliament as such, in the way the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) has suggested there is. Indeed, that is a reason for televising our proceedings, that that would increase interest. I think that the great outside world is completely unaware of the multifarious doings not only in this Chamber but in the Palace as a whole. They are liable to take their politics from the television, from the great public affairs programmes.
I suppose that that was roughly the position I found myself in before being elected to this Chamber. Now that I am here I find that one becomes more and more bound in our all-embracing self-sufficiency; it grows the longer one is here. I think that here we become rather introverted in many ways. One's contacts gradually but inevitably become more and more self-selecting and unrepresentative of the great public. Our interests are in politics, in our constituency parties, in our fellow Members, the political journalists, and so on, and one can very quickly begin to think that everybody else is as interested in politics as oneself; but by definition one becomes unrepresentative, because, by definition, we are an unrepresentative sort of people: we are interested in politics.
Sitting in this Chamber, being in this place day by day, one tends to view television less and less and so one becomes forgetful of the way in which 1103 that is the medium through which most people are still receiving their politics. We hear the great debates, we do not have to go to television to get our information, or to witness clashes of personalities. We forget we are only 630 and that the great millions go to television for all that. So it is that I say that I think that my first impressions, which were the impressions of the outside world, the impressions of a then layman, are in fact the most valuable impressions, and not the fact that my views gradually have been eroded by my presence in this House for six months.
I should like now to take up two points which have run throughout this debate; one, impartiality, and the other the appearance of this Chamber to television viewers.
I suppose I can speak with reasonably unique experience on the question of impartiality, in that I was dismissed from the B.B.C. in 1959 for attempting to seek election to the House, but having been dealt with by the secular arm of that organisation I can only speak in praise of its creative arm and pay tribute to the standard of impartiality which the B.B.C. maintains. This is vitally important, because one of the crucial tests of the televising this House will be that test.
I do not agree with what was suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr Selwyn Lloyd) and the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that we should in any way have a Parliamentary commission, under the chairmanship, maybe, of Mr. Speaker, to control, perhaps at one remove, what should be broadcast from this Chamber. I object to this for a variety of reasons. First of all, nobody has ever suggested this should apply to the current sound broadcasting in "Today in Parliament". I think it is remarkable, considering that the Postmaster-General is bombarded with questions about the B.B.C., that that programme, so far as I know, has never come under attack. If that is the case, I do not see why we should fear the B.B.C.'s capability of dealing with televised proceedings.
Secondly, we do not pretend to apply this test to reporting in the newspapers—not even to the serious newspapers. No one suggests that the reports in 1104 The Times or The Guardian or the Daily Telegraph should be assessed by a Parliamentary Commission. That would be quite intolerable. The comparison with the OFFICIAL REPORT is a misleading comparison. I understand that the Parliamentary supervision of HANSARD is to ensure its total textual accuracy and not to ensure that it selects adequately and impartially from what is said. There is an overwhelming practical point—that such a form of control would put an intolerable strain on Mr. Speaker, or whoever he nominated, and perhaps on the Leader of the House. I see no reason why we should not be able to trust a rota of television journalists and editors to put on the programme night in and night out in the same way as we trust I.T.V. news and B.B.C. news and "Today in Parliament". I believe that the impartiality argument which some people advance against televising the House proves on examination to be a very poor argument.
But the argument about appearance is a good deal more important. Some suggestions have been made in the debate either the public could be educated into the facts of life about this Chamber or that in some peculiar way we are robust enough to withstand public criticism of the way in which this Chamber might appear. I am not sure that it is quite as simple as that. I am not talking of our behaviour as individuals. Not many people loll around, and in any case I do not think it matters very much. Nor am I thinking of the great shouting which occurs occasionally at moments of crisis. If anything, the public might expect that on occasions.
I am thinking about the kind of Chamber which we have today, with 30 or 35 Members present and a great area of open space. I believe that it will be impossible adequately to explain the position to the public, if they see this picture frequently on their screens, and to give them the reasons why the Chamber frequently is thinly attended, however much the commentator attempts to do so, even every night, saying, "Of course, as usual, Members are about their business elsewhere in their constituencies or the Palace of Westminster." The public are very sceptical about us as individuals, and I do not believe that they would accept this explanation.
1105 In the general discussion which we are having on the subject, I suggest that if the House is to be televised the cameras should be confined to whoever is speaking at the time. This is not like a party conference, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) said. A party conference lasts for a few days. We can all accept a few days under the scrutiny of the cameras as a member of a party conference, not necessarily on the rostrum. We can all take it in our stride to be observed at a party conference in whatever we are doing. What is more, by definition, party conferences are thronged with people. If we had a party conference with only one-third of the people in attendance and with great empty spaces, at Margate or Blackpool, we should then have a true comparison—and I do not think that anybody would suggest that that would do the party images any good.
We must try to confine the cameras to whoever is speaking. There may be some human interest scenes going on around the Chamber, with people talking to each other, gossiping, possibly laughing, perhaps writing—all sorts of things. But we must rigorously exclude this kind of thing, because although it is tolerable to be televised while speaking, I think that it would be intolerable for Members to be televised while sitting and listening to the debate year in and year out, not merely for four days a year but for every day the House sat.
Nor should we have the cameras in any way mobile. Anyone who has seen an American Senate Committee hearing, as I have, or some American State Legislatures which permit the televising of their proceedings with cameramen walking around, will immediately agree that this is intolerable not only in respect of what is shown to the public but to Members getting on with their business.
If anyone suggests that in what I am saying, which I believe to be reasonably frank, I am attempting to deceive the public by not letting them see the empty benches, I would reply that in fact my anxiety is that the public be not deceived, because the public would be deceived by general shots of the Chamber with few Members in it. I believe that the only way in which we can protect ourselves and the public from getting the 1106 impression that Members are not doing a lot of other work elsewhere is not to draw attention to the empty benches.
This leads me to the advantage, at least in the first place, of using radio. I think that if we were to use radio, first of all we should deal completely with the problem which I have put forward of the general appearance of the Chamber for much of the sitting. We should then be heard and not seen. But there are other advantages. In the first place, it would be a cautious first-step, and I think that we have to go cautiously on this matter. I see no reason why we should jump into television straight away. It would be in the great traditions of the House to proceed cautiously. This is the first advantage of radio. Secondly, it would help to prove to some hon. Members who are opposed to any broadcasting of our proceedings that the whole idea is not as pernicious as they might think. It would be a way of leading people on to the future televising of our proceedings.
Thirdly, if we went for radio experiments now, this would coincide with what I understand to be the state of technical development in television. We have heard from the Lord President today that television cameras capable of broadcasting the House with the minimum of interference are not likely to be available for 18 months or two years. This is the ideal time during which we could be doing something on radio. If we were to agree to television now we should be jumping straight into a technical situation which is not yet ideal.
The fourth advantage of experimental radio is that it would help to sort out and resolve some of the problems involved in editing our proceedings. I do not think that they are problems of impartiality, for I would trust professional journalists to do a good job, but there would be technical problems of deciding just how much of a speech could be taken and whether we are making speeches which lend themselves to easy editing. Radio experience would be very valuable if we were to go on to television later.
We must remember, again, that speeches in the House are a good deal longer than speeches at party conferences. No longer would the broadcasters have the five-minute speech from which they 1107 could rifle one or two sentences. They would have to fillet speeches lasting 20 minutes or half-an-hour, and this is perhaps a technical problem for the broadcasting authorities which they could sort out by doing it on radio first.
I still feel, on balance, that we should endeavour to broadcast our proceedings, because I think that we need to bring ourselves more into the centre of people's thinking, and I believe that we should start with radio and should consider asking the B.B.C. to extend their "Today in Parliament" programme perhaps to half-an-hour and to include recorded extracts from debates in the Chamber. This is as far as many people would go at the moment. If this proves successful, we can consider going on with television, with the very severe proviso which I made about what is shown and what is not shown.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Miss Mervyn Pike (Melton)
We would all agree that this is the sort of debate that could be televised with value, because it has been an interesting one. We are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) for bringing it forward. The question that underlies our whole approach to the problem is: what are we trying to do? I think that we would all accept that we are trying to improve the quality of political understanding and judgment in the electorate, especially at this time, when so much is changing and in a state of transition in our attitudes, our institutions, the structure of our society, and even our place in the world. More than ever, as Members of Parliament we have a great responsibility to stimulate interest and to quicken informed opinion.
Today, our traditional methods are failing. The public meeting is more or less dead. The Press, in the face of televised news, discussions, debate, and the rest, is concentrating more upon comment than on the presentation of argument. There is a great danger of our reaching a situation in which the nation's political judgment is conditioned by what one could call "instant opinion"—the sort of thing that flows from the quick comment, the sweeping overstatement and the facile argument which is necessarily part of the quiz—the quick inter- 1108 view and the brief and snappy discussion that form so large a part of political presentation on television and even on radio.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) has said, as a result of this political presentation we are beginning to have merely the shadow of political debate rather than the real substance. In many respects the shadow is very good and acceptable. We all owe a great debt to some of the work that is done by the political commentators. But we are not only a shadow in that sense; we are also too much of a set piece. The opening of Parliament is televised as a great historical occasion, as will be the celebration of our 700 years' history, and we have come to be regarded as something that is only historical rather than something that is living.
We have to keep a balance. We do not want the shadow to be candyfloss, but there is a danger that the substance may be more like yesterday's cold suet pudding than anything else. That is our dilemma. We Members of Parliament quickly learn to be selective in our diet, in terms of the Order Paper, and our own personal preferences and experiences shape the pattern of our attendance in debate and our attention in the Chamber. We learn, as well, that the reiteration of argument is not only inevitable but desirable. I am conscious of the fact that I am reiterating arguments to which I have been listening all day. I promise to cut my remarks short, Mr. Speaker, because I know that several other hon. Members wish to catch your eye.
Although we understand the need for this reiteration, to the uninitiated it can carry the seeds of disenchantment, disillusion and cynicism—the feeling that all we have to do is to go on reiterating the same old arguments. Therefore, those of us who wish to present Parliament to the public have to face the problem how it should be presented. If we look at the long queues that gather outside, especially at this time of the year, for any important debate—although those usually turn out to be anti-climaxes—we see that they contain three distinct elements.
First, there is the element of what I would call "I was there"—consisting of those people who want to witness what they regard as an important part of the English scene. They want to see us in the flesh. We are regarded in the same 1109 light as the Beefeaters, the Changing of the Guard, and London policemen. These people want to be there, and it is important and valuable that they should see us in the flesh.
The second element consists of the serious students of affairs—persons who wish to hear every word of the debate, if that is possible; persons who are seriously interested and seriously concerned to hear as much as possible of it. But by far the largest category are those who might be called interested observers, whose interest could be quickened if we were more imaginative. I am always very sorry for them, because they probably come here at a time when everybody has gone out to dinner or to important committee meetings. They arrive when our debates are rather like my garden—lovely yesterday, and always going to be lovely tomorrow. When they come in things are dead and the whole place somehow seems to have closed down.
We could get over this difficulty if we experimented. First, for those people whom I would call serious students would like to see the provision of closed circuit television of all our debates. I emphasise the word "debates"; I am coming later to the fact that I do not want Question Time to be televised. I do not think that it is necessary. We could have continuous closed circuit television of all our debates. I would like us to provide as large a cinema as possible, so that those people who wish to can watch our proceedings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said that he would like our proceedings to be piped to certain agencies. The picture need not be piped. If our programmes are sent to the Stock Exchange, or news agencies and similar media of communication, as well as to universities, we must remember that those concerned will not necessarily be interested in our faces. They will be interested in the contents of our speeches. The sound only could be piped. In this way we might be able to get some of the money which we would need—because my proposals would be expensive.
I also realise that if we have an all-night sitting and people have lost the last train home my proposed cinema might be very valuable to them. In the circumstances, I would propose that it should 1110 close at eleven o'clock, because there is usually sufficient room in the Strangers' Gallery at that time for everybody who wishes to listen to our debates. At that time the closed circuit film could go into the can.
In addition to these facilities, I would like to see us provide documentary films on the work and scope of Parliament and Government. The majority of people who go round this House during the day—school children, people from Women's Institutes and Townswomen's Guilds—who come here at great expense to see Parliament, very often see merely the historical side, valuable and interesting though that is, and go away with the feeling that this place is something out of the past. During the morning we could show documentary films lasting an hour or two, showing something of the work of Parliament and giving people the background information of what this place is all about.
We could sell these films. They would be very valuable, because we have a greater expertise than anybody else in making this kind of documentary film. This is probably the only form of extension of nationalisation of which I would approve, because it would be under the control of Parliament.
For those people who are merely interested I would like us to provide, in the first place as an experiment, a twice-weekly edited programme of our proceedings, lasting an hour or so. This version, in the experimental stage, would be under the censorship and control of this House—not because I do not trust the people outside, but because I want to protect them in this experimental and valuable stage. All my constituents say that at present nearly all the presentation of Parliament on television and radio is biased towards the Government. I am sure that in exactly the same way hon. Members opposite receive comments concerning bias in favour of the Opposition.
We shall always have this argument. Some people will always feel that these programmes are biased. Certainly, at the moment that is not true of "Today in Parliament", and I hope that it never will he. Nevertheless, that is the sort of comment that is made. It is not a live recorded programme that is going out.
1111 There are all sorts of other things involved in films, such as the camera angle and camera technique. I agree that the best thing is to concentrate on close-ups of Members' faces rather than distracting people's attention all the time. This is not meant to be an entertaining programme. It is meant to be a stimulating programme showing Members making their contributions in debate. Therefore, in the initial stages we should have censorship of this film. Then, when the experiment succeeds, as I am sure it will, it can be transmitted nightly.
I do not think that it would be possible to censor it nightly; it would be far too big a burden on the Members and Officers of the House. But I think that by then we could have built up a corps of people capable of doing this job. We have heard that there are not the television interviewers available, and that they cost a great deal of money anyway. But demand creates supply, and if there were a demand for these people we would get them coming forward and taking up this sort of work as part of their career in television.
Some people object to the televising of Parliament in the belief that to some extent it would be unfair on some Members—Members who, although they provide valuable contributions, speak very rarely, or some of whom are going bald or are getting old and are not very telegenic or photogenic. But political life is unfair. My family call my photographs horror comics whenever they see them in the newspapers. In the old days, when oratory and rhetoric were the mode of the day, it must have been difficult for those people who had neither the presence nor the voice. We should not take that sort of argument into consideration because the more we become used to this medium the more will people discount these other extraneous matters.
The danger in our attitude to this question is that we are far too conscious that our life in this House may well be changed. We all accept that from a technical point of view the cameras can be so sited that we would not see them, but there are Members who feel that "big brother" will be watching them the whole time. I think that there are Members who would probably never get over 1112 that feeling, that generations have grown up behind net curtains and high garden fences and live in a more private world than some others of us do. However, we are thinking not of ourselves, but of generations to come. We are growing up in houses with picture windows, with open-plan rooms, in open-plan housing estates, and I do not think that in the future people will be conscious of this watching all the time. I believe that the theatrical side of this matter is diminishing very quickly.
That is the nub of what I want to say. We have a responsibility to stimulate discussion, interest and argument. We are not succeeding in doing it by the traditional methods that we use now. Let us have an experiment in closed-circuit television in the Palace of Westminster where anybody can come and see it but not, as I said before, at Question Time. This is because I believe that, in any case, there is a great danger of Question Time being changed and this change not being for the good.
I believe that this part of our life can be adequately presented in "Today in Parliament", "The Week in Westminster" and in the Press. That can be adequately covered by the present method. It is at Question Time that we have difficulty with the exhibitionists and those who want to hog the Floor and who would perhaps wish to hog the camera. This is the time when, I think, we should leave the camera outside the House.
Let us have closed-circuit television of all our debates. Let us make it possible for people to come in, to sit in reasonable comfort and see these things. Let this be supplemented by documentary films which could be shown with greater frequency during the Recess when more people come to this House, and thereby stimulate their interest. Let us have a twice-weekly programme of extracts from the major debates and events in the House. Then, I believe, we shall find that there is not only a demand for a nightly programme, but we shall be fulfilling a useful function.
The cost of this will be high, but if we are not careful we shall pay a far higher price in disillusion and cynicism among people in the country because the impact of Parliament will have been lost.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I think the debate has revealed that those who are in favour of television are not necessarily agreed on the sort of televising that we ought to introduce in Parliament. I make this point because it is quite clear that hon. Members have been representing the differing points of view which are expressed throughout the country on this matter.
Obviously the introduction of television in itself would be quite a revolution in Parliament. I am sure that the mere fact that television was introduced would inevitably have an effect on the conduct and procedure of Parliament. This, of course, may be horrifying to some hon. Members. I would welcome this innovation because I feel that those of us who are on the Select Committee on Procedure may well have to move a little quicker than has been the case with previous Select Committees on Procedure.
In passing, I think that the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), made a brilliant speech today, and I am certain that those of us who are supporting his basic ideas are unable to do so as adequately as he has done. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). The case has been put so wonderfully that there is very little for us to say except, perhaps, to add various points to strengthen and support the case.
I want to say a few words on the opposition case presented by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), who I am sorry is not in the Chamber at the moment. He made a brilliant and aggressive opposition speech. It was well argued and he put forward points which need to be answered if the argument is to be carried forward logically. When he said that Parliament is a workshop, for some reason he pointed to me as being a member of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers and said that I would object to being under constant supervision if I were in the workshop.
Let me make it clear that for the whole of my life, apart from being in this House, I have been under constant supervision. Chargehands, foremen, under-managers, managers—just about everybody has 1114 come round and had a look at my efforts connected with the productive process. This is the place where nobody really supervises me, except the Whips, and they are mainly concerned to see that I am here at the appropriate moment to vote on the appropriate Amendment or Motion.
Other than that, let us be quite honest, I could be in the Smoke Room, the Tea Room, the Library or anywhere else and no one would say "What are you doing? Where have you been hiding, what activity are you conducting? "We are very much on our own, and whether we be good Members or bad, and whether we are doing our job or not, depends largely on ourselves, and we are then judged on the basis of our efforts when a General Election comes.
I am certain that there are in the House hon. Members who do very little but they have thumping great majorities and will remain in the House for a long time. There are other hon. Members with marginal seats who are very active Members but who may well be eliminated at the next General Election as others like them have been eliminated in the past. This is politics.
The argument about supervision is not very sound. Although this place is a workshop it is something much more than a workshop. We are a body who legislate on behalf of the people. I therefore argue that the people have a right to know and see what is going on here on their behalf so that they may participate much more fully than they do at present in to the work of Parliament. I am convinced that the televising of Parliament would assist in the development of a general level of political understanding and activity throughout the country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone said that we must not be subjected to outside influences. Are not we influenced already from outside? I asked in a brief intervention whether we were not concerned about what the Press said about us and whether we had been reported. Is it not a fact that hon. Members are most avid readers of every newspaper and that every Member wants to find out what has been said about him or her and whether his or her speech has been correctly reported? Is it not a fact that a Member will say, "I did 1115 not say that and if I did it is out of context" and will write to the editor a letter, which is usually ignored?
We are subject all the time to outside influences and pressures. This is not a bad thing. This is what we are here for. We are sent here by people outside and they have a right to come along and subject us to their influence. If we ignore what is said outside how can we honestly say that we are representatives of the people who sent us here?
§ Mr. Atkinson
Would my hon. Friend apply the same term to "Cross Bencher", for instance, in the sense of this outside influence?
§ Mr. Heffer
There are certain exceptions. I know that certain hon. Members are very concerned about what Cross Bencher says about them and they may well be influenced by the sort of things he says. I would make it clear that I would not care what he or anybody else said. I would prefer to be judged by what the population generally says. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Jackson) that whilst I agree with the televising of Parliament I would be opposed to this being a substitute for party political broadcasts, for the interviewing of Ministers, or any other type of political broadcast.
This seems to me to be a most unsound argument. I do not think that it can be put in this way or that it is right to say that we should have this as an alternative to what goes on at the present time. Surely, this should be an addition to what goes on at the present time. It is quite right, even if the Minister has been up all night, that when he arrives at London Airport, or any other airport, someone should say to him, "You have been to so and so, and had negotiations there. What is your view of these? "The public has a right to know what is happening and how far the Minister is prepared to make a statement immediately on arrival, especially in a very important situation.
It is quite right that there should be political party broadcasts. Let us be quite frank about this. No one in the House ever makes a short statement embracing the entire policy of his party. 1116 We are talking about different things at different times. If we are talking about the Rent Bill, then we are not going to drag in every other aspect of the policy of the party to which we belong. That can only be done in a party political broadcast when the overall policy of the party can, in a brief and concise way, be put across to the general public for it to understand. Therefore, it seems to me that it is wrong to pose the subject in this way.
I will now deal with the question of the edited version. I agreed with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) when he said that there were certain purists in the House, and perhaps outside it, who would say that the only way is to have the whole proceedings televised. I must be one of those purists because I think that this would be the only fair way in which to do it. I say that because I am certain that the hon. Member who is, perhaps, not very articulate, who speaks very rarely in the House, who perhaps asks very few Questions but who is a very good House of Commons man and a very active Member of Parliament, who votes and who from time to time makes certain statements and asks Questions, and so on, never gets on television at all. Indeed, that is true of some of us who are, perhaps, a little more articulate than he is. Television at the moment is confined very largely to those who are photogenic. That is very hard on people like myself who obviously are not very photogenic. There are certain hon. Members who have the monopoly at the moment, and it seems to me that those hon. Members will continue to go on in exactly the same way whether we televise Parliament or not. I am not saying that that is wrong but merely that it happens.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not only a question of being photogenic but that it is so often the fact that one is not quite in step with the majority of one's party? In the days of the Bevanites, an hon. Member had almost to be a Bevanite, if he was a member of the then Labour Opposition, to get on television at all. This state of affairs went on for a number of years.
§ Mr. Heffer
If one says something which is slightly contrary to one's party 1117 policy, one hits the headlines. If one makes speeches, as I do sometimes, on these lines, one hits the headlines. But I can make speech after speech in my constituency every weekend explaining the policy of my party and not get reported in the Press, except, perhaps, for a small piece in the Liverpool Echo, with which, of course, I am delighted. Therefore, this is a common experience. This strengthens the case for having Parliament televised.
When will the edited version come on? There is a television show in America called "The Late Late Show". Ours would be the "late late late show" because we should never be sure when it would come on. Would it have to be next day? Something of interest might happen in the middle of the night, the Government might get a majority of one at 2 o'clock in the morning, and this sort of thing would make exciting or dramatic television. When does the edited version come on—the next evening? Everyone has read about it in the newspapers and it has lost its immediate interest. It seems to me that the only fair and sensible way is to approach it as one hon. Member suggested—either have the whole thing or not at all. That is certainly the view I take. I think that it was the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) who said that we should either go in wholeheartedly and accept the whole thing or not go in for it at all. He was absolutely right.
My reasons for wanting Parliament televised are, in summary, these. Undoubtedly, it would heighten the interest of people in politics and in Parliament itself. I acknowledge that the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral raises a genuine objection when he says that the public might not know what was taking place at Question Time or in a debate on a complicated Amendment. But it is not impossible to overcome it. At the side of the screen the Amendment or the Question could be shown, and it could then be taken off once the point had been understood and what was being said thereafter was clear. These are technical problems which can be overcome if there is the will to do it.
In addition, the televising of Parliament could educate people into what Parliament really means and how it 1118 works. The ignorance about our Parliamentary procedures is appalling. Let us be honest with ourselves. I am sure that many hon. Members know very little beforehand and only begin to learn about Parliament after they have come here. Quite apart from anything else, a great job of education could be done.
In the third place, it would give our constituents, perhaps only occasionally, the opportunity of seeing their Member in action, as it were, in the House of Commons. We get our notices in the Press, and some of us are able to speak at party conferences, but many never get a chance even at a party conference to say a word, and it seems to me that constituents should get an idea of how their Member works. Alongside this, in order to counteract any misconceptions—I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Melton (Miss Pike)—there should be documentary programmes explaining the workings of Parliament and, equally, explaining the empty benches which we often see in the House. People could then be brought to understand about the various committees at work in this building, not only House of Commons committees but party committees and so on which discuss House of Commons matters and political issues. This is the way to tackle it.
I agree that there are many dangers. There will always be the "prima donna" and the "show-off". These people exist, whether we have television in Parliament or not. They are here. In fact, this is merely a recognition that there are such people in the House, as elsewhere, and I think that they would very quickly fit into place if the whole of Parliament were televised.
I hope that, as a result of this debate, at the earliest possible moment after the new cameras are available something positive will be done about televising our proceedings.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)
On Wednesday last I found to my surprise that I had been in the House for precisely and exactly ten years. During that time there has been a big change in the attitude of Members to the whole question of television. I think that the mention by the Leader of the House that in that year, 1119 1955, we still had the 14-day rule indicates how much it has changed, and how touchy we used to be about it in those days. Since then, we have learned to live with television, not necessarily happily, but anyway we have learned to do so. By now it is my guess—it can be no more than a guess—that a majority in this House, albeit a bare majority, want some experiment in televising the House to take place. This must surely be right.
The most revolutionary development in mass communication over the last fifty years is the picture. If one picked up a newspaper in 1900, it would not have pictures in it, or very few. There were no films and no television. Nowadays every newspaper has plenty of pictures. Some newspapers, such as the Daily Mirror and the Daily Sketch, depend on pictures. Television and films are all-important and immensely influential.
Every institution and organisation of our life has exploited the picture, except the House of Commons. The Church, the entertainment industry, and the Press have all exploited it to the full, but we are so confident of our own attraction that we have disdained it, and are the only people to do so. We refuse to be photographed at work. We refuse to have our Parliamentary home photographed. It is all very well playing hard to get, but not all that hard.
Those in favour of televising the House will only get sufficient support for this if we make clear that control of television will be firmly in our hands. The hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) put the case that if there was going to be an edited version, which most of us would favour, he would have professionals employed by the television companies to do the job. If this is proposed, I am sure that he has another ten years to wait before we have television in this House. Members who are still nervous of the idea will not stomach it unless they know that it is to be under the control of this House.
I would go far more in the direction suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and say that we would have to have our own television unit. As to being unable to man it, which the hon. Member for Meriden questioned, I would go back to 1120 the parable of the pilots and the Suez Canal. The Egyptians were not going to be able to run that Canal, but in no time they were doing so. I am sure that if the demand is there the talent will appear.
We ought to have our own unit and our own editor who will be selected by the House, and reappointed yearly to make sure that he is doing his job. But, as the Leader of the House also said, he would need all our protection.
I think that to start with the televising ought to be edited. After we have become accustomed to it and it has been a success we can decide how much of our product to make available to the companies and the B.B.C.
The Leader of the House said that once we admit the television camera in we would have to allow the Press to have their cameras in as well. I see not the slightest obligation to do so. We are the people who will decide. If we think it right perhaps that will happen. But we shall never get television in this place unless we stress that it is under our control. The editor would gradually acquire status and a reputation for impartiality. He will become a man of considerable power and it is at this stage that we can decide how much further we can proceed. I personally think that it will go a good deal further.
Some people fear that the televising of Parliament will be dull and that people will not be interested. I agree that the opinion polls and the analyses say that only "X" number of people out of 100 are interested in politics. I am sure that this is not the whole truth. After all, four out of five of the main headlines in our newspapers concern politics. Presumably, therefore, people must be interested in politics.
Last autumn, one was told that there was far too much television on the election campaign. That was not our fault. We did not put it on. We had our party political broadcasts—too many of them—but over and above these the television companies themselves decided to put more programmes on to cover the election completely and over completely.
In the eyes of those who decide these things in the T.V. companies, politics is obviously interesting to the viewers. If 1121 one asks most people if they are interested in politics they reply, "Not particularly". It is rather like saying that you are not interested in breakfast. It does not usually occur to you that you are interested but if you miss your break-fast you realise your lively interest. News about Politics is expected to be available and is very much built into national life.
I do not suggest that the televising of Parliament will complete the political education of the people. It will complement what we already have. The trouble with political television so far is, first, that the party political broadcasts are artificial. They are staged and anyone who has had anything to do with staging them knows how hard it is not to make them appear artificial. Secondly, such programmes as "Dateline", "Gallery" and "Division" are superficial and artificial.
When one comes off such a television programme one has the feeling "I have not said anything" because it was so superficial. The subject is your own, otherwise you would not be there. Perhaps there are two people in the programme, one from each side. It lasts about ten minutes, which means roughly four minutes each. That gives time for about four questions and one knows in advance what they must be. That is why such programmes come across as superficial and artificial.
Another aspect of these programmes is that they are supposed to be balanced not only in content but in weight of personalities. If the Prime Minister were invited to appear on "Gallery" with me he would decline, not because he is a rude man but because he would know that while he would have nothing to lose, he would certainly have nothing to gain. There has to be this balance of political rank all the time.
In the House of Commons, on the other hand, what is more interesting is to see the Prime Minister asked questions by back benchers as well. The David and Goliath act is far more fascinating to the adience than a contest between equals.
I should like to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) said about having a cinema with piped, closed circuit television. I have always thought it absolutely ludi- 1122 crous that we should go out of St. Stephen's Entrance and see a queue there going all the way round the block, sometimes standing in the rain waiting to get into the House when, if we had what I suppose would be called an overflow hall, they would be able to see exactly what was happening. I cannot see that there can be any great difficulty about that. I remember Stephen King-Hall, or the Hansard Society, getting out a pamphlet on this subject a couple of years ago which seemed to make a cast-iron case and I cannot see why we should not do that once we have the House televised. It would also be admirable for schools and foreign visitors.
I would like to say one last word on the subject of the extent to which television would change our habits here. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford said that it undoubtedly would, but I do not believe that the change would be drastic and I sometimes think that it would be to our improvement. Without trying to raise the heat of the debate, I would have thought that something like the Government operation a couple of months ago when they filibustered a debate all night and through the morning to stop the debate on another subject the next day would not have occurred if we had been televised. Perhaps my side of the House has done the same thing in the past. I do not know. I am not trying to make a party point, but simply to say that I would be very surprised if we did this sort of thing if we had television in the House.
All in all, I believe that T.V. will never dominate our proceedings. I should be very surprised if, one day, some hon. Member inadvertently begins his speech with the words "Mr. Camera, Sir".
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I should like to join in the general chorus of praise of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger). This debate is an example of how untrue it is that private Members' time has no value. This is the sort of debate which is much better initiated by a private Member. This is a non-party subject of great interest to the House and the public and it can be discussed in private Members' time in a way which would not be conceivable in Government or 1123 Opposition time, and we should all be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for introducing it.
I find myself in some slight difficulty in that I am a member of the Select Committee which is to hear evidence on this subject and the House will appreciate that that somewhat limits the terms in which I can speak. However, I do not find the limitation unduly great because, although somewhat unwittingly I have acquired the reputation of being a proponent of televising the House, that is not the case, because it is my view that not until all the evidence has been elicited shall we be able to reach an informed and sensible opinion on the issue one way or another.
I say this with very good reason. As some hon. Members may know, earlier in this Parliament I conducted a survey among my hon. Friends on the subject of televising the House. I have never published the results, for reasons which hon. Members will appreciate. This issue has been under discussion rather nicely on a non-party basis and it would be totally wrong for one party or another to publish a set of opinions which would immediately cause a reaction in the other party just because it had been done. However, that survey gave me a clear insight into the nature of the opinions among my colleagues and, having heard much of the debate, I suspect that they are not very different from those of hon. Members opposite. The survey also gave me a clear insight into some of the motives behind the views, some of the reasons for the views being held.
I must say, first, in comparing those with the view of the House as a whole, that, as has been said, the debate has been very unrepresentative of the view of the House as a whole, not unrepresentative in the sense mentioned earlier that it is held on a Friday, but probably in that the supporters of the proposal have been rather over-represented. It is most unrepresentative because hon. Members at present sitting on both sides of the House are the people who have taken the trouble to inform themselves of the issues and of the difficulties which those issues present.
The overwhelming fact which I found in my survey—and, again, I suspect that this is true of both sides of the House— 1124 is that views may be held, not only in the House, but certainly outside to an even greater degree, without all their implications being appreciated. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in what I thought was an admirable speech considering the opinions on this subject which he announced he had at the start of his speech, said that 100 per cent. televising of Parliament would cost £35 million. There is a substantial body of opinion which believes that the only possible way to televise the House is to have 100 per cent. coverage on a separate channel. Most people who hold that view have no idea that that sum of money would be required.
One of the valuable things about this debate is that it is bringing some of this evidence to the surface and causing it to be published. This is the sort of evidence which needs to be brought out and this is why I am strongly in support of my colleagues on the Select Committee in wishing to hear that evidence so that in due course it can be published and all hon. Members can have the necessary information before they reach a decision.
There are two sorts of such evidence. There is what I might call the technical evidence, which we should get clear first because in many ways it limits the possibilities. Secondly, there is what one might call the political—not in a party sense—evidence about whether it is desirable. May I go through some of the varied views? I think that in the House probably what was once a majority has become a minority on this issue, but the most substantial single group of opinion is undoubtedly formed by the opponents of the proposal. The proponents are divided among themselves as to how it should be done. This is why the opponents are the biggest single element.
The opponents fall into two categories. There is some opposition on grounds which I can only regard as spurious. It is not based on evidence, or it is based on evidence which is often invalid. The German experience is very often quoted. The German experience was bad. But, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was fair enough to point out, the Bundestag is a rather inexperienced legislature. This is not its fault; it is something which it will overcome. But that is the case.
1125 When hon. Members have gone into the gallery of the Bundestag, the proceedings on the floor have stopped so that members on both sides of the Chamber and the person in the chair could greet their arrival and so that they could be photographed by the television cameras. I could not imagine this happening in a legislature as ancient and experienced as ours. In view of this sort of thing, it is understandable why the Bundestag decided to stop televising its proceedings.
One might quote as an example the bitter and sweet fruits of the American experience. We all know the bitter fruits. It was unfortunate that the man who first saw the possibilities of the medium as applied to a legislature was a demagogue of the historic type, Senator McCarthy. Demagogues exist in all societies at every time; they merely use a new medium. What we have not noticed is the substantial changes taking place in the American Legislature now that McCarthy has gone.
There is a substantial change taking place and this change is for the good. This is evidenced by the fact that it is becoming more difficult to say in the American Legislature, "This is not what the people of the country want". This is the simple truth. It is true now, for example, that the influence of lobbies is declining. The American Medical Association was the perfect example of the perfect lobby, which, for years, held up the smallest proposal for anything approaching even a fragment of our National Health Service. It held it up by saying "This is not what people want, it cannot be done. The experience in the United Kingdom is atrocious".
It used all sorts of arguments which were in many cases invalid, arguments which every citizen of the United Kingdom would know to be untrue. It is not possible to do that any more for the simple reason that there is someone standing up all the time saying that the contrary is true, in public, in the presence of his electors. The electors know perfectly well that it is no use saying that they receive medical care because one of their perennial worries is the insurance they have to pay to safguard against a doctor's bill.
This is something we ought to consider. We certainly ought to consider foreign 1126 experience but we ought to do so selectively. The greatest opponents of the proposal are those who fear the fact that it would be a different type of person who spoke in the presence of the television cameras compared with the person who spoke in the presence of the Press. This may be true. Everyone here, who has had a greater or lesser degree of experience in speaking in this Chamber, may well agree that they would possibly have to learn new ways and techniques. This would probably take time, but it is surely inevitable in an age of change and technology and if the proposal is in itself a good one.
There is the point of procedure. I think that on this my right hon. Friend chose a rather bad example. No proponent of television could say the House could be televised without some changes in procedure resulting therefrom. They resulted from the appearance of the Press and there is no reason to suppose that changes would not result from the appearance of radio or television. It has been pointed out that the public at large will not understand the procedure of the House. This is really a somewhat spurious argument in the sense that at the moment they have no opportunity to see it in practice, which, as has been pointed out, is the only way a Member of the House gets to understand it, never mind the person outside.
One example of a possible change dealt with the method of putting a Question, namely "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question". This is indeed strange. I do not think that my right hon. Friend would suppose that the House would necessarily wish to retain it. In another place, I understand that the Question proposed is, "That the Amendment be there made". There are arguments for and against this. I am not going into the question of the desirability of one course or the other, but it is not impossible that this House would adopt a practice of another place and, indeed, of many Commonwealth Lower Houses on that particular issue. It would not be any radical cutting of the roots of Parliamentary procedure, to say the least. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would agree that it might ease the lot of the occupant 1127 of the Chair to be able to put the Question in that way.
There is a very small group of opinion that believes that this House's proceedings should be put on radio. It is a small group and is not even mentioned in this Motion, but it is very important for the reasons which my right hon. Friend gave because, whatever experiments one conducts, one should start by conducting experiments with radio. One could try an element of editing there to see how one could edit a radio version before going on to the more complex problem of televising.
I do not want to go into the issues which have been gone into before but I want earnestly to persuade the House—and I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) and the Leader of the House—in hoping that, although the hon. Member for Ilford, North has been admirable in proposing the Motion, he will at the end of the proceedings withdraw it because I do not think the House as a whole has as yet all the evidence on which to form an informed opinion.
This is not, as is very often said, merely a matter for the House. This is very much a matter for the individual sitting in his room at home who wants to come to this place and may have to queue to get into the Strangers' Gallery. We might decide whether he should see our proceedings or not for reasons which are important to him. When we are deciding this issue we must decide it, first, on all the evidence available and, secondly, not merely as it suits ourselves, but for the benefit of the whole community whom we are here to serve.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bessell (Bodmin)
Everyone who has spoken in this debate has agreed that we are very much indebted to the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) for bringing this matter to the attention of the House and giving us an opportunity to discuss something which is not only of profound interest to all hon. and right hon. Members, but is too of great interest to the country at large.
Also, we should be grateful that the Leader of the House expressed for us the Government's opinion early in the debate because this has guided us in our think- 1128 ing and, I am sure, has guided many hon. Members in what they have said. We are also grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) for expressing the opinion of the official Opposition on this subject.
There is one overwhelming reason why we shall have to keep this matter before us and why we shall have to review it from time to time even if this Motion is not pressed today. It is becoming increasingly necessary to educate public opinion in the affairs of Parliament. One of the effects of television and mass communication of all kinds is that much of our doings are reported abroad and, unfortunately, a great many misconceptions have arisen because people are only partially informed. The effect of televising the proceedings of this House would be at least to give them an accurate picture of what we are attempting to do here.
Another reason why this matter must have our further consideration at a later date is the fact that whether we like it or not television is here to stay and it is here to stay as the most popular form of mass communication. People are far more prone to quote something that they have seen on television than they are to quote from newspapers or the radio. Consequently, the television media are having a very profound influence upon public life at all levels.
I think, too, there is a very great advantage for everyone in hearing what we have to say here and in seeing us say it. No matter how well the HANSARD reporters may work—and we are all lost in admiration for their achievement—the fact remains that the written word is never as persuasive as the spoken word; and even the spoken word is not as easily assimilated by the listener as the spoken word when it is accompanied by a face, even on the television screen.
It was for that reason that I was a little sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House made it rather clear, I thought, that the Government have no intention of doing anything about this, even on an experimental basis.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am sorry that I did not make it clear. I said till such time as the Select Committee has reported.
§ Mr. Bessell
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is quite right. 1129 I recall row that that is exactly what he said, and I apologise for misquoting him.
There has been some emphasis placed upon the fact that to televise the proceedings of Parliament could have a restraining effect upon us. It might have a restraining effect. It might prevent some Members from saying things which they would otherwise say. I do not think that that would be bad. What concerns me much more is the fact that there might be the opposite effect, that those who are inclined to enjoy the limelight a little too much would have an even better chance of obtaining it.
That brings me to the disadvantages. If the public should form the habit of judging the quality of Members of Parliament by the number of television appearances which they make through the televising of Parliament, this would be a very serious matter because, as has already been said, very much of the important work of a Member of Parliament is done outside this Chamber. The work of Committees might suffer considerably if it were thought that by being absent from here a Member would create a bad impression among his constituents.
It is true, too, that there would be an unfair advantage to Ministers and to the main spokesmen of the parties, because, of course, they would be seen on the television screens far more frequently than back benchers, whose work is just as important, and, indeed, in many ways is much more tedious and far less rewarding. There is also the danger that speeches might be less objective and more partisan, if a speaker were conscious of playing to the constituency gallery. One of the important points which I think should be made is this, that this is an uninhibited debating Chamber. That is something which must be preserved at all costs.
There is, too, the question of the technical difficulties. It has been said that the lights would distract us. I do not find the present lighting system in the Chamber particularly helpful. The cameras would certainly distract us. Of that I am quite certain. We should tend to look to them and to play to them. I am reminded of the experiences which I have had when watching the Security Council at work, at the United Nations. On many 1130 occasions when I have been in the chamber there I have been conscious of the fact that the representatives of the member nations have tended to speak in a far more partisan manner not just because the Press were present, but because they knew they were being seen through the eye of the television camera and that that would be a valuable propaganda weapon, at least at home.
Leaving that point aside, leaving aside the disadvantages, I think that we must recognise that there is at least one very considerable advantage. As I have said, we should be educating the public, and, therefore, we should be bringing the political heart of this nation into the homes of the people who are dependent upon its steady beat. That should be an almost overwhelming consideration in our making this decision.
In spite of the fears which have been expressed, I believe that the technical problems can be overcome. I believe that by careful editing, which might be expensive, it would be possible to produce a balanced programme each day. The suggestion of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that there should be a special service to universities and schools was extremely valuable. There are, of course, problems of equal time among the parties, but these could be overcome by good will and understanding on all sides, as has happened in the party political broadcasts.
Turning from these disadvantages, I feel that we should at least make the experiment. It has been suggested to me that if we agree to make an experiment we shall be committing the House finally, but I do not think that this is necessarily true. There have been experiments in other countries which have been discontinued, and there is no reason why it should be a final commitment or why hon. Members should fear the experiment on that account.
There are many points which I wanted to make, but I will omit them because the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Walder) wishes to take part in the debate. It has been suggested, I think by the Hansard Society, that closed-circuit television could be installed, which would enable people who cannot get into the Galleries, which are very small, to view the proceedings of the House in 1131 Westminster Hall or in the Grand Committee Room. If this experiment were adopted, it would at least give us an opportunity of getting used to television, and it would enable us to see how we appear on the television screen and how we are affected in our Parliamentary behaviour. I do not mean that we should look at the television for the sake of our conceit but that we could see whether the effects of television on Parliament are in our view good or bad.
There is no right hon. and hon. Gentleman who is not very proud of the privilege which he has of representing the people of his constituency in this place. The proudest moment of my life was when I passed under the Churchill Arch and entered this great and historic Chamber. This is a feeling which we all treasure. I do not think that we need fear baring ourselves to the nation and letting the people who have placed their faith in us have an opportunity of seeing us at work. Having seen us at work they will be in a far better position to judge whether we are worthy of their trust and whether we should continue to represent them in this place.
I hope that we have not heard the last of this subject, but that there will be many further opportunities for debating it. I hope that, finally, we shall reach a decision at least to allow the proceedings of the Chamber to be televised for an experimental period.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. David Walder (The High Peak)
I am in a predicament and I do not think that even the advent of television would aid me in my predicament. I will say shortly that I disagree almost entirely with what every speaker has said on the subject, except the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), for I object thoroughly to the idea of this place being televised. At this hour I can only put my argument in note form.
If it were a continuous record of this place, I should have thought it totally boring and hardly entertaining. If it were edited by one process or the other, it would have to be by someone appointed by the B.B.C. or the I.T.V., or an Officer of this House. If it were some one in this House—an editor-in-chief— 1132 we would be in the intolerable position of being subject to two decisions—yours, Mr. Speaker, plus his, on the question whether we appeared, first, in this House and, secondly, on television. If it were edited by the B.B.C. or the I.T.V., or both, I would have thought that the question of bias and partiality would inevitably arise.
Hon. Members will probably agree that the atmosphere of the House today has been a very good one, but we must remember the atmosphere at the end of the debate on steel. Does anybody think that two hon. Members, one from each side of the House, could possibly agree about taking 20 minutes out of that debate and putting it on television? There would be constant applications and arguments about the functions of the editor-in-chief, who would, in my view—and I am not suggesting anything improper here—be usurping some of your functions, Mr. Speaker.
Those hon. Members who, like myself today, have to address themselves to a very small audience in a very short time, are subject to your decision, and if there were an editor-in-chief he would be opening or closing to individuals Members the whole audience of the nation. I would not like to turn my face against the possibility of having an experiment, but such an experiment would be slightly false, because it would be known to be an experiment. That sounds rather a metaphysical sentence, but those are my views on that subject.
It is fallacious for those who argue in favour of television to suggest that Parliament would be improved by its addition. If there are faults in Parliament they can be improved by this House, and not by the addition of some mechanical means of observing what goes on.
I admire the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), but I believe that he put up a false argument when he talked about the atmosphere of the House. The suggestion that that would be the only thing which would be destroyed is putting up a false ninepin. I am concerned not so much with the atmosphere of this House as with the general effect of television on this place. We are dealing with a medium which in my view is quite inappropriate and quite unacceptable.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
If my hon. Friend feels that way, why has he not made any criticism of the political broadcast that takes place every day between 10.45 and 11 p.m., called "Today in Parliament"? That has been going on for 20 years, and most hon. Members on both sides of the House have found it extremely objective and well balanced. If that is accepted, why should not the same thing be possible on television, if it is under the same control?
§ Mr. Walder
I was talking about the editor-in-chief in this House, whose life would be made intolerable by constant representations made to him as an Officer of this House. I was not talking about the B.B.C. or I.T.V. side of the matter. That is still open to criticism from both parties. The party opposite is convinced that there is a bias against them, just as some of us on this side of the House are convinced that there is a bias against us.
§ Mr. Iremonger
In view of the assurance given by the Leader of the House that the Government intend to give time to debate the report of the Select Committee when it is presented, and as that represents the maximum progress which the House could hope to make in the direction of the Motion in the circumstances of the moment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.