HC Deb 11 December 1967 vol 756 cc94-137

6.20 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Richard Crossman)

I beg to move,

That this House approves the making of sound recordings of its proceedings for an experimental period for the purpose of providing for Members specimen programmes.

The House will recall that, in the debate on 20th November, 1966, on the question of broadcasting our proceedings, it was decided, by a single vote, not to go forward with a combined experiment in radio and television coverage of our debates, as had been recommended by the Select Committee. That debate was largely about television, but I said in my winding-up speech that the issue of the sound broadcasting of our proceeding was of the greatest importance, and expressed the hope that we should have another look at the sound broadcasting aspect of the question on its merits, not merely its merits for mass communication but its merits from the point of view of historical record, since, surely, a sound version of our proceedings is worth recording and keeping for ourselves, even if we decide not to publish it to the world.

Since that time, we have had the Report of the Select Committee on the televising of proceedings in the House of Lords, and it has been decided that a short television experiment should take place there in February of next year. I am sure that the results of that experiment will prove useful to this House in enabling us to make up our minds on whether we should have a further look at the possibility of televising our own proceedings. This is, however, obviously a matter on which we should proceed very carefully and make absolutely sure that what we do reflects the considered feeling of this House, and after consultation through the usual channels, I do not propose to take any further steps this Session in the matter of television.

This evening, my proposal relates exclusively to sound broadcasting—indeed, only to experimental recordings of our proceedings to be heard by hon. Members and members of the British Broadcasting Corporation recording staff. It would provide no authority for any kind of public transmission. It would be authority merely to undertake the experiment, which was, I think, recommended by the B.B.C. in the memorandum which it submitted to the Select Committee.

What is proposed is that the B.B.C. should first satisfy itself that the microphone installations in the Chamber are adequate for that purpose and to make any necessary alterations. Then, after its preliminary technical trials, the B.B.C., for a limited period, would provide experimental sound recordings of our proceedings. These would be played back to hon. Members at selected points throughout the Palace. Secondly, from these live recordings, the B.B.C. should devise a short series of edited extracts as examples of what in future might be a sound radio programme illustrative of live quotations from our speeches. These experimental programmes would be played back each night in rooms where hon. Members could listen to them. After sufficient time, say, two or three weeks, the House would, I suggest, be in a position to decide whether it wished some such progamme to be a regular feature of broadcasting.

I emphasise that the recordings which we should hear in the experimental period would be on a closed circuit connected to points within the precincts, though the circuit would also have to be linked to the B.B.C. in Broadcasting House where the specimen programmes would be prepared. I emphasise again that whatever was done would be on an entirely experimental basis, and nothing in the way of a decision about future permanent broadcasting of our proceedings would be taken without coming back to the House for further authority. In other words, the authority for which I am now asking is simply and solely for the experiment under those conditions. There will be no resulting public transmission.

The question of the timing of the experiment is still one for further discussion with the B.B.C. It would, of course, be an experiment for the B.B.C. as well as for us, but I am pretty sure that it will do all it can to ensure that the experiment will be completed well before the end of the present Session so that we may then reflect as a House and decide what permanent decision should be taken.

Before putting forward these proposals. I consulted both Opposition parties. I think that they share our view that the time is now opportune for this issue to be put before the House.

Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)

Will the cost be borne on public funds through the B.B.C. or through the House?

Mr. Crossman

The cost will certainly be borne on public funds.

Sir Knox Cunningham

But will it be through the B.B.C.? Will it be on the Corporation's account?

Mr. Crossman

I think I am right in saying that it will be on our account. I do not think that we have ever suggested in any of these experiments that we should not bear the cost of them.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

I thank the Leader of the House for his brief explanation of his proposal for a closed circuit sound broadcasting experiment. I do not complain at his brevity, as the principles of the proposal were fully debated at about this time last year and we have since had the Report of the Select Committee on television in the House of Lords. No one can say that we are short of information on the subject. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would say whether he will wind up this debate, as he did the last one.

Mr. Crossman

Yes, I shall seek to do so. I was deliberately brief because I felt that I might be more useful in answering questions than in repeating matters which are so well known.

Mr. Bryan

The proposal in the Motion debated last year was more ambitious than the one now before us, the question then being whether we should have an experiment in sound broadcasting and television broadcasting as well. When the right hon. Gentleman tried to put his foot into that particular door, he got it fairly severely trodden on, almost as though by a stiletto heel. This time, we have a far more modest proposal. The right hon. Gentleman has put the tip of his toe in the door, and I wish him better luck.

Important as radio is, it is not even half as important, I suggest, as an experiment in television. Should the sound broadcasting of our proceedings ever come to pass, the public audience will be smaller. It will also be narrower, as for the more serious type of programme the audience is composed more largely of older people than is normal. The message is less vivid, too, because as a communicator television is very much more effective than radio.

However, in certain respects, radio has advantages over television in an experiment of this kind. The first advantage is that it is much cheaper. The other experiment would cost us, I believe, About £150,000, or even more. This time the experiment would be far cheaper. I shall be interested to know what it will cost, in fact. Another advantage is that it will not disturb our proceedings, and neither will it disturb our habits, as the other experiment would have done, with the introduction of lighting, cameras and so forth. Moreover, only one organisation will he doing it, which will make matters far simpler than having alternate weeks covered by I.T.A. and the B.B.C. Last time, we were told that we should be tied in our timings, largely because of the racing calendar. We were informed that the outside broadcasting teams had to be free again by the time the flat racing season started. That was something of an impediment, too.

For all these reasons, in particular the matter of cheapness, it should be possible to have a longer experiment, if that were so desired. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of two or three weeks. I should be surprised if we get all the lessons we want in so short a period. On the last occasion, we talked in terms of five to eight weeks, and many of us were not entirely happy about that, but the difficulties of that experiment and the cost of it forced us to accept some such time scale.

In the present experiment proposed, I should prefer no set time to be laid down. I imagine that it would not be too expensive. The Sub-Committee of the Services Committee, which, I take it, will again be in charge, ought to be able to judge how the experiment is going, and I suggest that it ought to be continued so long as useful lessons are being learned, however long that period may be.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the sort of programmes which might be the subject of the experiment. I assume that we all have in mind a live edition of "Today in Parliament". That is the one programme we all know about. But in the course of the experiment they may well find that there are other more interesting ways of presenting our proceedings than a straight imitation of programme. Therefore, I should say let us not hurry.

I expect many lessons to be learned, some of which will have a bearing on the televising of the House. For example, we shall get evidence to guide us on the whole thorny question of editing, which we discussed very fully and inconclusively in the last debate. We came to no conclusion, and the advice of the Leader of the House to us was to spend the next few months considering this unresolved question. We shall have had our minds made up one way or the other when we have seen the success, or lack of it, of editing on radio.

The Leader of the House also emphasised in the last debate that only about 2 per cent. of the words uttered in the House would ever be broadcast. When we hear the radio experiment, that will give us some sense of this proportion, and possibly bring comfort to those who have feared over-exposure of other hon. Members if not of themselves.

I am very much in favour of the Press being allowed to listen to, and comment on, the experiment. The Leader of the House seemed rather to go out of his way to say that only Members of Parliament and staff of the B.B.C. would hear it. Whether he lays that down or not, there is nothing to stop a Member writing in the Press or telling the Press about it. Therefore, I think that the experiment will be reported, and it would be better to take the bull by the horns and invite the Press to make its comments.

Members of the Press will be very good judges of the effect on the public if the broadcasting of our proceedings ever reaches it. They will also be somewhat more diligent in their judgment than we shall be. The Leader of the House may be rather disappointed to see the small numbers of M.P.s who will listen to the various experiments in Westminster Hall, or wherever it may be, because on the whole we are pretty busy when we are in the Palace of Westminster. It would be worth repeating the broadcasts, in whatever form they take, several times a day and possibly the next day. Presumably it would cost nothing to do so. If they were at regular two-hourly intervals people would know when they were coming and could fit them into their daily programme.

It would be useful if the Leader of the House could keep us up to date with comments on how the experiment is going during the experimental period. Could he give us a slightly broader picture of the general situation on broadcasting the House if the Motion is carried? We hear that it will start in February, but, as he explained, we do not know the length of the experiment.

Mr. Crossman

The House of Lords experiment will start in February. I could not give a date for ours because it will depend on the B.B.C.'s technical examination of the situation.

Mr. Bryan

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that explanation. Will the broadcasting of another place be a long or short experiment? Shall we in this House have an opportunity of seeing its results? Will those broadcasts be relayed into rooms in this House? It would be very valuable if we had the results of our own radio experiment and the results of the experiment in another place at the same time.

In the last debate, on 24th November last year, less than half the House voted on the proposal to have a television experiment. It was rejected by one vote. If it comes to a Division again, I should say that even fewer than half the House will vote. We on this side of the House treat the proposal as a non-party matter. Hon. Members on this side will not have the benefit of advice from our Whips. Speaking personally, I believe that the Motion, although less significant than its predecessor, is important, and I hope that it will be approved by the House.

6.34 p.m.

Mr. J. T. Price (West Houghton)

Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will acquit me of inconsistency if I say straight away that I shall oppose the Motion. I am familiar with the technique of the foot in the door, and I know that my right hon. Friend's very modest presentation of the Motion tonight is a tactical exercise which is expected to pacify and mollify the House.

It would be unkind of me to repeat some of the arguments that many hon. Members on both sides of the House employed when we objected so strongly to the televising of the House 12 months ago. Some of us said that we did not want this place turned into a performing flea pit. Similarly, I have no wish to see the House, with all its great history and traditions, merely becoming an adjunct to the Press and television authorities.

The greatest forces behind the previous attempt to get closed-circuit television cameras into the House came not from hon. Members, not from our constituencies, but from interested people in the television organisations. I was reliably informed, after the attempt had collapsed, much to the surprise and annoyance of my right hon. Friend, that several dispositions made by television authorities in London elsewhere had had to be cancelled. Various appointments had been made of top officials in anticipation that that proposal would go through on the nod.

I think it is true that it was long before the debate on 24th November last year that the House became interested in the matter. Although only a minority of Members voted, the House was very crowded on the night. Many more hon. Members were in the Chamber to hear that fascinating debate than went into the division lobbies. I will take you, Mr. Speaker, and the House generally into my confidence. They did not vote because nobody expected that there would be a Division, least of all my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. He thought that the proposal would go through on the nod, that apart from a few desultory or token words of opposition from various hon. Members it would be nodded through. He was so certain that that would happen that long before the debate arrangements had been made to instal closed-circuit television cameras. When I made enquiries I was told that they were installed as a sort of substitute for the enunciators, which have been working in the House for so long, or an alternative method of informing hon. Members about the business of the House.

Mr. Crossman

The installation of the so-called television enunciators was a completely separate matter, done before I became Leader of the House. It has absolutely nothing to do with the problem of the presentation of our proceedings to the public. I hope that my hon. Friend will not be confused about this. That was entered into as an experiment because of the expense of the old enunciators, in the belief that it was more efficient and cheaper, it has no implications for the televising of our proceedings here.

Mr. J. T. Price

I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for what he says. I do not impugn his good faith, and I want to be fair. But it is a remarkable example of the long arm of coincidence that preparatory to that debate, in which the House rightly or wrongly rejected on a free vote a closed-circuit experiment which would have cost about £30,000 a week for a number of weeks—a fantastic bill which the House did not like very much—closed-circuit television cameras were put in. If they were put in, as my right hon. Friend says, instead of the enunciators, it is remarkable that 18 months later the enunciators are still here and the television cameras are working with them in double harness and confusing hon. Members to some degree—

Mr. Crossman

I do not want to debate enunciators. Before I became Leader of the House it was decided that there should be an experiment with enunciators of that type. It was decided that before we committed ourselves for or against television enunciators as a permanent installation we should try them out while we had the old enunciators so that we could compare the two. That had nothing to do with televising our proceedings on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend is confused over the fact that we have a broadcasting system on the Floor of the House which is used for HANSARD, and that it is conceivable that if we had a radio experiment from the Floor we should not have to duplicate by having another set of things hanging down from the ceiling. That is the only thing that could overlap between broadcasting our proceedings and the problems of other things going on outside the Chamber.

Mr. Price

I am interested in that explanation. Obviously I must accent it. I will not pursue that line of country, although it is a valid line. We are not so naĩve in this House that we accept everything we are told from official quarters. We have to be a little sceptical and try to confirm whether we are being correctly informed of important developments in the House. That is what we are here for. We are not here as voting tallies always allowing ourselves to be herded into the Lobby when someone decides that a certain line of policy is the one. I am a loyal member of the Labour Party. No one can produce a better record in this House of loyalty to one's party. But I am getting a little tired of being told by experts of what is good for me. I prefer my own opinion sometimes to the expert opinion.

I do not want to make a long speech. I do not want to be rhetorical or use elaborate phrases. I want to put the commonsense point of view of some of my hon. Friends and myself. We say, first, that we have no evidence from our constituencies that the country wants this innovation. We are more likely to hear that too much time is taken up with Parliamentary reporting. Perhaps the kindest thing for some of us in this House is the fact that the House is not more widely reported.

If the Leader of the House is to have any responsibility under the experiment and if the experiment goes beyond experiment and becomes a sort of pipeline to the country, recording the fluent voices of hon. Members in the flesh instead of their merely being reported by somebody in the Press Gallery, I am not sure that the country will be very much attracted by the idea. After all, we have a daily programme on sound radio—" Today in Parliament "—and very rarely do people tell me that some words of wisdom, or otherwise, that I may have uttered in the House have been picked up by the programme. I never hear it, but am told that is so.

That is a strictly edited version. I should be extremely sceptical, with all the knowledge that I have from many years of working in this House, that once the process of editing or, a more unpleasant term, "censorship"—a dirty word in this House—applied to what was said in the House and any kind of equity was shown as between one hon. Member and another, I should require a great deal of convincing that it was being done either judicially or fairly. I say that for good reason. One knows that the contacts and links that exist between television and radio authorities and certain hon. Members are too close for the health of this House. The House is rather silent at the moment. I do not want any applause or opposition. However, many people are aware that there are little kissing rings of all kinds going on between the publicity authorities and hon. Members. One or two who take part may be present tonight. If they are they will probably speak.

I do not think that it is a good thing for the health of the House if selectivity, which is also a very difficult word for my right hon. Friend in other connotations, is to be applied to editing of the programmes. Before any of my constituents could hear my voice, I imagine I should have to be on better terms than I am at the moment with some members of Her Majesty's Government. That is putting it rather bluntly, but I think there is something in it. That is not because I want anybody to listen to me. I want to be free to say what I believe to he true, whether people listen or not.

A great many things have happened in connection with this House in recent years, in the post-war years in particular, which in my honest opinion have reduced the status of the House in the country, not only in what has been said and done, but in a great deal of the gimmicking and playing up to the Press which has sometimes disfigured our debates in a most undesirable way.

I spoke about the effects of the proposal on the country and said that the country might not like it. If the country wanted it it would have asked for it. I should like to know from the Leader of the House of any evidence that has been presented to our Select Committee or to himself or to any member of the Government to show that the country is stumbling over itself to have our beautiful voices recorded on sound radio. It is perhaps a lesser risk inflicted on the public to have our voices rather than our faces recorded. Here I am speaking for myself. I am not speaking for any clique or cabal. What I say I say temperately, moderately and modestly. I hope, for myself and I am not stooging for any clique. We all know what goes on in this place. [Interruption.] I understand that my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) is most anxious to elaborate on what I am saying if he catches Mr. Speaker's eye, and he can say it on the basis of greater experience than mine and say it in a rather different way.

I wish to convey to the House in general and my right hon. Friend in particular that I am not prepared at this moment, even on an experimental basis, to accept the Motion, first, because I do not think the country wants it, secondly, because I think that if the country got it it would not like it, and thirdly, and finally because—

Mr. E. Shinwell (Easington)

We have other things to do.

Mr. Price

—this is no time to be playing about with any more gimmicks. The country is facing grave issues of major importance, and I do not think we get any great credit in the country for occupying so much of our Parliamentary time with these matters of the convenience of hon. Members and the procedures of the House when much of it would be better employed and give a greater lead to the country if we were dealing with the major issues confronting us.

Tonight we are witnessing another little move to introduce into the House something that many of us feel in our bones is wrong. It is not being done by a frontal attack. I am sufficiently well versed in the tactics of politics to know that one does not often achieve one's objectives anyway by making a frontal attack. If one is faced with opposition and has had a bump on the nose, one goes round the corner and approaches the objective by a more indirect route. That is what is happening tonight. For the reasons that I have stated I shall feel obliged to oppose the Motion, and I hope that I shall have the support of the House in doing so.

6.50 p.m.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I was unable to attend the debate on 24th November last year and this is the first time I have spoken on the question of the broadcasting of proceedings. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) for providing me with yet another term by which to express the public opinion of this House. He said that he did not wish it to become a performing flea pit. There are some who regard the House as a gasworks while others say that Guy Fawkes was the only man of sense about the whole thing. I like to think that we are not just a warehouse of wafflers but that we try to make this a workhouse for wisdom. But I am not sure that we are likely to be the best judges of that.

What worries me about this proposal is the idea that the final decision on whether or not the experiment is a good one which can be conducted on a wider basis is to lie with us. I am inclined to think that the public should be the final arbiters. They send us here and, through their taxation, pay us. Therefore, whatever is the outcome of the experiment and however important it may be that we ourselves should see the early results first, I hope that no final decision will be taken until, when we have done our best with the experiment, the public have had an opportunity of having a say.

But there is one great danger coming out of this. Some hon. Members like to speak in this Chamber whenever they can. Others do not often speak in the Chamber, if at all, and all too often the public has the impression that those hon. Members do no useful work here. Yet we all know that there is an immense amount of work going on in the Palace besides what goes on in this Chamber. I therefore want to pick up with particular relish one point made by the right hon. Gentleman in the debate last year, when he said that Standing Committees would not be overlooked. He was talking in the context of television.

There was the decision of the House in the last Session, and repeated in this one, to establish these new Select Committees—the Select Committee on Science and Technology, in which I am particularly interested, and the Select Committee on Agriculture, which did a useful job in studying preparations in the Ministry of Agriculture towards the Common Market. I am sure that these Committees will have very great public interest—an increasing interest as the years go on. They are distinct from some other Select Committees we have had in that their proceedings are open to the public anyway.

If we are to make this experiment, then, wherever the Press attends a meeting of a Standing or Select Committee, in fairness to those hon. Members—not least—who do an immense amount of work in these Committees but do not often speak in the Chamber, we should consider making sure that these Committees get a fair share of any recordings made.

I am not worried about the technicalities involved in this. I am sure that the B.B.C. technicians will be able to overcome any difficulties. But some of our best debates will be the hardest to record, because when a debate is showing a certain amount of vigour and hon. Members are perhaps more rowdy than we would think entirely desirable, it will virtually make it impossible for anyone to pick up with a clarity which would be desirable the principle speaker at the time.

Those of us who occasionally occupy the Chair know how difficult it is, when presiding over a Committee of the House, if a large amount of conversation is going on on the Government Front Bench—as is often the case— for even the Chair always to be able to hear what is being said if the hon. Member speaking is below the Gangway and rather far away.

There may be technical difficulties here. It must be ensured that the supporting noises and the opposing noises hon. Members make from time to time in some of the bigger debates do not completely drown the one person who perhaps ought to be recorded and whose remarks are perhaps more interesting than those of some others.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Would not my hon. Friend agree that there may be another side to this, in that in these great debates a Member may make a remark Mr. Speaker does not hear but which is very audible to the public at large?

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

That is a legitimate point. There are occasions when asides become the principal observation because a microphone happens to have picked them up, and occasionally it would have been much better if those asides had not been uttered. But I take the point. However, I am sure that these difficulties can be ironed out and I do not wish to stop this experiment.

But the House must consider the financial stringencies of the nation. We must consider the full cost in a year. I would say that the initial costs are likely to be heavier than the continual running cost over the years. Therefore, we should be rather careful to make sure, if there is to be large capital and running expenditure, that it is relevant to the economic stringency of which we are all too well aware.

Finally, there is the question of editing. I understand that the B.B.C. will be responsible, and I am certain that hon. Members, be they a Sub-Committee of the Services Committee or any other ad hoc Select Committee, are not the right people to edit a Parliamentary programme. That is essentially a matter for those experienced in editing. Whether we eventually go on to television or only go as far as sound recording, the job must be done by expert editors. Hon. Members may have other things they do better, but they certainly could not do editing. I hope that we shall be quite clear about that.

Reading Senator Fulbright's book, "The Arrogance of Power", I came across the following quotation from Mark Twain which seems appropriate: We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.

6.58 p.m.

Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)

The proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is very modest. Indeed, I did not expect much of a debate and came into the Chamber hesitating to speak because I felt the decision might have been taken on the nod. But obviously my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) is very much opposed to the idea.

We should bear in mind that, apart from anything else, the House of Lords is to experiment with television. We are only experimenting with radio. I can foresee a situation in which the House of Lords may decide to televise its proceedings for the public while the House of Commons decides not to televise its own. The public will thus see the House of Lords in action but not the House of Commons. That does not frighten me in the least, because if that situation occurred and the House of Lords were televised, that would be the greatest incentive for the Commons to be televised.

If we knew that day after day the proceedings of another place were being televised, I am certain that most hon. Members, even though they might now be anti television, would say that we must televise the Commons as soon as possible, that the televising of the Lords was unfair competition. Therefore, I am all for having the Lords being televised as that should speed the way to our being televised.

I was very sorry when last year those of us who wanted the Commons to be televised lost by one vote. Perhaps we should have organised ourselves better than we did. However, we did not do so and, on a completely free and non-party vote, we lost by only one. I was sorry to hear the Leader of the House say that the issue of televising the Commons would not come up again this Session —perhaps I misunderstood. It would be rather unfortunate, but perhaps continued pressure from both sides of the House by hon. Members in favour of televising our proceedings may make him change his mind.

It seems to be part of our rather conservative attitude that in the age of mass television we are tonight discussing without much enthusiasm, whether we should experiment with radio. This is remarkable. I could understand the House in the 1930s or 1940s debating with some hesitation whether to experiment with radio, but today, ten years after mass television, it shows how conservative our attitude is towards various experiments that we should be considering whether to bring our proceedings to the majority of the electorate.

I want people to know about the workings of Parliament. It is true that personally I have not received any request from constituents on this issue, but it is not a matter of receiving requests from the electorate. In the present state of politics I want to ' sell "the House of Commons. [Laughter.] I do not mean "sell" in that sense. I want people to understand and appreciate the workings of Parliament, because already in the present economic crisis certain people in certain sections of the community are saying that they have no time for Parliament or that Parliament should neet only once a year. There is an anti-democratic feeling among certain people, although I see from some of their letters that they are rather keen to deny that accusation. It is all the more important that, rather than being on the defensive, we should go over to the offensive and explain what Parliament means, and the best way in which to do that is to let the electorate see the workings of Parliament—the putting of questions and the debating of issues of today.

A rather interesting article on Parliament appeared in the Sunday Times yesterday. Written by Ronald Butt, it concluded: The party politicians, for all the seemingly idle chatter of their arguments, preserve our liberties as no junta of business men or technocratic administrators could do. That is obviously right. All hon. Members agree with that, or they would not be here.

But in this age of mass communication we tend to isolate ourselves. Our accommodation for visitors upstairs is extremely limited. Constituents cannot cone to listen to Question Time unless they first write to get a ticket. Some years ago it was suggested that there should be closed circuit television of the Commons upstairs which would allow 1,000 more people to watch our proceedings. The programme "Today in Parliament", which is broadcast in the evening and again the following day, seems to be very popular with many people. There is an interest in Parliament and at a time when so many anti-democratic and anti-Parliamentary voices are being raised, we should do our utmost to demonstrate the necessity for Parliamentary democracy. The best way to do that—and this was my view last year—is to televise our proceedings.

If this experiment is a foot in the door —and I am not willing to deny it, although I do not know what the views of the Leader of the House are—I am all for it, and the sooner we agree to this proposal and to televising our proceedings the happier I shall be.

A century and a half ago there was bitter argument in the House about whether the Press should publish our debates. Some hon. Members objected at that time, saying that it would undermine the dignity of the House if our proceedings were published. They were obviously conservative in their day, but if they were in the House now, they would be arguing against this modest proposal and certainly against televising the House. Just as it was inevitable that sooner or later reports of our proceedings would be published in newspapers and newspapermen allowed in the Gallery, so the time will come inevitably, I hope not too far in the future, when our proceedings will be both broadcast and televised.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)

I am entirely opposed to the Motion, on a number of grounds. First, it appeared on the Order Paper only on Friday and we have not had very much time to consider it. Perhaps the Leader of the House does not appreciate that hon. Members have to go to their constituencies and engage in other things over the weekend. This Motion has been brought on much too soon.

Mr. Crossman

I announced it when I announced the business of the House on Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

It may have been Thursday afternoon and I am sorry that I did not hear that announcement, but, even so, the debate has come very soon after the announcement for a subject of this importance.

Secondly, I believe that the experiment will lead to many other undesirable experiments. It would lead to the public listening to our debates and that would have very grave consequences. The experience in Australia, for example, should be sufficient to prove that the public does not want it, and Australian Members in Canberra would be very glad to get rid of it.

My most important reason is that this is a time above all times when we should be considering expenditure. Everybody knows the parlous state of the nation's finances and the stringent financial conditions now obtaining. I do not know how much the experiment will cost—perhaps only a few thousands, which is not very much—but thousands add up and at a time when public expenditure should be cut, it is wrong that we should add to it. The House would do very well to scrutinise all public expenditure from now on and not add to the burdens of the taxpayer. I should like to know what the Leader of the House has to say about that.

I have two general observations. If we get either T.V. or radio in the House, two things will follow: the Front Bench will be strengthened against back bench Members; secondly, let us bear in mind that both are monopolies.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

At the beginning of the debate I found myself in the unusual position of disagreeing with one of my hon. Friends and agreeing almost entirely with an hon. Member opposite. The remarks of the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) were particularly sensible. I did not share the view of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison). I appreciate his sincerity when he says that we should not take this decision now, because it might cost some money, although that argument could be, applied to almost any of our decisions on any subject. As the principle of broadcasting has been with us for forty years or more, it is time that the House took account of the possibility of broadcasting its proceedings.

The reason why I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) is this. Our words are already broadcast. I do not say that the Motion will lead to the House having its own words broadcast. It is purely an experiment. But we recognise that it is an experiment designed for the purpose of broadcasting our words. I advocate this. I have advocated it consistently ever since I was elected, for a very good reason, namely, that our words are already broadcast. The question is not whether the words of hon. Members will be broadcast this week, but whether they will be broadcast by themselves speaking or by somebody else.

On "Today in Westminster" or "The Week in Westminster" there are innumerable spoken quotations from hon. Members. The question is: should it be somebody else's voice or our own? That is the only substantial difference. Hon. Members may say that that is not necessarily true with television, but that is not what we are discussing tonight.

I should congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on the simplicity of his Motion because it avoids a lot of problems. It was suggested in the Committee on Broadcasting. It was rejected for reasons which I need not go into. My view is that it is better to proceed by easier stages and for the House to deal with the problems of communicating its proceedings by radio before it attempts to tackle the much more difficult problems of television. Although I am an advocate of both, I would say that we should take the simpler medium first and deal with the problems which that involves and then proceed to consider the problems of the more complex medium.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton asks, "Who wants it?". He merely illustrates the fact that many opponents of the idea have not read the Report of the Committee on Broadcasting. In an Appendix to that Report, the results of a public opinion survey were quoted. Several were produced in newspapers at that time. It was clear that people who had any opinion at all were in favour of the broadcasting of our proceedings. There is no real doubt about that. For hon. Members to say that that is not the case is gilding the lily. They may legitimately argue that it would alter or have an effect on our proceedings or that they do not want our proceedings to be broadcast, but to argue that the public at large do not want them to be broadcast can be disproved by the public opinion surveys which have been published.

I should like to raise two points on the Motion with my right hon. Friend. The implication of the Motion, just because it is simple, is that any facilities which the broadcasting authority, the B.B.C. in this case, requires will be granted to it by the House of Commons Services Committee. My right hon. Friend is nodding his head and therefore I gather that that is the case. That is a good thing. That is the proper way to do it.

The second point which is not so clear is this. My right hon. Friend said that the House must decide whether the experiment shows that we should broadcast our proceedings to the public. Does the House make up its mind simply from what it hears—the specimen broadcast—or will there be a Select Committee to advise the House?

Mr. Crossman

When we have had the experiment—and I want to discuss later how long it should last—if it has been a success we should put another Motion before the House saying, "In the light of the experiment, we should have broadcasts by the B.B.C.". But that would be a separate Motion and a separate debate based on the experiment. This Motion is limited solely to the experiment.

Mr. English

I thank my right hon. Friend. In that case, I agree with the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan), who mentioned the question of committees. Very much will depend on how the broadcasting authorities interpret the fair degree of freedom which the Motion gives them. As we said by the Select Committee of which I was a member, if they completely ignore the proceedings in committee and merely devote themselves to certain features of the proceedings of the House, I shall be very much more concerned with what may happen than I have been up to now. I say that as one who in principle advocates this experiment but who believes in proceeding by finding out ways in which it can be done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton said that this is not a matter of major importance. That has been implied by hon. Members opposite who have said that the experiment will cost a small sum of money and, therefore, it should not be made. In my view, this is a matter of very major importance. The public image of the House was at its highest when it was being made known through all existing means of communication—in the nineteenth century and the early part of this century when in every newspaper Parliamentary proceedings were published and there were no other means of communication.

The beginning of the decline of Parliament in the public eye can be traced to the time when it ceased to appear on media of communication and when other media of communication grew up in which Parliament was not specifically presented. There is no doubt about that. One can argue about whether there is a connection, but there is no doubt that the two events are concurrent in time. In my view, there is a connection.

There is no doubt that there cannot be effective democracy unless we have an effective means of communication between the electorate and the elected. For that reason, I am in favour of this idea in principle. One can argue that there may be difficulties and that there are problems. I spent many hours in the Committee discussing the problems. I agree with all that. But the one argument which I do not believe is true is that this is not a matter of major importance. Whatever the outcome—whether it is to broadcast or not to broadcast to the public—the effects will be considerable and of major importance to democracy.

7.18 p.m.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

If I have learned anything since becoming a Member of the House, it is that one can never count on anything going smoothly, however innocuous it may appear to be at first sight. If I had not learned that yet, I should undoubtedly have learned it tonight.

I wish briefly to offer my warm support and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends for the Motion. I should like to endorse very strongly everything said by the hon. Members for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and dispute the remarks of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price).

The main objection raised in the original debate by hon. Members on both sides of the House was that having television in the House would be a nuisance and that it would result in Members being heated by lights, with wires all over the place, and suffering inconvenience. One thing is crystal clear: there is no possibility of hon. Members suffering inconvenience from this experiment. Without doubt, it can be done virtually without hon. Members noticing and certainly without their being inconvenienced. That argument can utterly be dismissed.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton rested part of his attack on selection. He asked, "How are the programmes to be selected?" I believe—and this has been said before—that in a matter of this kind one ought to trust the people who are doing the job. It is purely an experiment to decide whether we are satisfied that they can make an acceptable kind of selection which will not distort the House in any way and which will not be unfair. It is my belief that the people engaged in broadcasting, whether television or radio, are engaged in broadcasting rather than in politics. They are anxious to do a good and efficient job in presenting a programme and in presenting a balanced programme.

I believe that the right action for the House to take is to have confidence in these people in the B.B.C., who have such an excellent record, and in their ability to do this with fairness. Nevertheless, I share the view expressed by those hon. Members who have said that to ask hon. Members themselves to try to do what is a professional and technical job would be a terrible mistake.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton also said that there was no evidence of public demand. If we were never to do anything until the public had made their clamour about it very loud, we should never do anything at all. We should still be watching the magic lantern and we should never have had the cinema. It is for people like the B.B.C. to lead the public in this kind of direction, and, whatever the Leader of the House may say, we should remind ourselves that this experiment is not entirely for hon. Members but is also for the benefit of the B.B.C. They may decide that it is not very good and that it is not the kind of programme that they want to put out. If they so decide, it does not matter very much what we say. We should leave that side of it to the B.B.C. and not worry about waiting for the public—

Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)

In view of the hon. Member's remarks about public demand or the lack of it, may I ask whether he is not aware that less than 5 per cent. of the Members of the House are present to debate whether their voices should not should not go on the air? What conclusion does he draw from that? Does he not realise that the majority of Members, as is obvious by their absence from the Chamber, are not in favour of the broadcasting of debates?

Dr. Winstanley

I should not be so naïve as to make any assumption or deduction from an arithmetical calculation of the number of hon. Members on either side of the House at any particular time. That would be as misleading as attempting to divine what is or is not public opinion on this matter.

The hon. Member for Westhoughton is a Member whom I know and we all know to be very jealous of the rights of the House and very proud of the House, and to have a great affection for the House and all its proceedings. I understand his fears. He does not want it to be changed. I do not altogether agree with him. But if he thinks so highly of the House—as I know he does—why is he so afraid of letting people see it?

There is, I am sure, misunderstanding at the moment. People do not properly understand what goes on here. But I can see nothing but good coming from allowing the public more fully to know what happens and what does not happen. In saying that I fully take the point made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) that things go on in other places than the Chamber, and I hope that Standing Committees, Select Committees and Specialist Committees, too, would share in this kind of experiment.

The cost of the experiment would be minimal. I admit that we must not squander money unnecessarily, but the B.B.C. could mount an experiment of this kind for a very small sum indeed. Indeed, they are constantly mounting experiments of this kind to decide whether other matters are right and proper for broadcasting. They have to have such a budget for these experiments and we should not be put off by that difficulty.

May I put two points to the Leader of the House? If the Order is approved, I hope that we shall persuade those responsible for carrying it out and for doing specimen programmes to do some regional programmes so that hon. Members may see some experiments on a regional basis. I do not want to suggest that my foot is in the door, as so many hon. Members have said. Indeed, I hope that my foot is not in my mouth when I mention this. But perhaps the B.B.C. could also consider, purely for experimental purposes, offering the sound tapes for use in conjunction with pictures on television—purely as an experimental process and at a later stage. I am not saying that this should happen straight away, but it is a possibility worth considering.

I warmly welcome the Order and I hope that it is approved. Hon. Members have referred to the fact that the previous Motion was defeated by one vote. It is ironical to note that to my personal knowledge five hon. Members were away from the House doing television programmes at that time. I hope that not too many hon. Members are away this tame doing sound radio programmes.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

I sometimes despair of the conservatism and reaction of hon. Members in many parts of the House, and in the most unexpected quarters, whenever we discuss problems of this kind. I was not altogether surprised by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westhaughton (Mr. T. F. Price), because he his a cynical and suspicious trait in his character almost as great as my own. I, too, view the actions of Government—of whatever political nature—with the greatest of suspicion always, and therefore I do not take amiss the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton when he voices suspicion that this might be the foot in the door, the attack from the rear which can often lead to trouble.

But I believe that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will go down in history as the most radical reformer of the House we have ever seen or are ever likely to see, and this Motion is a step in the same direction. One can advance all kinds of reasons for not taking it—for example, calling in aid the lack of public interest or the lack of interest in the House. But my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) knows that we can have a foreign affairs debate in the House, when we are discussing matters of peace and war, with a smaller attendance than the present attendance, and that does not necessarily imply that hon. Members are not vitally concerned and interested in questions of peace and war. It is no indication whatever of the lack of interest in a topic. If a conclusion may be drawn at all, I draw an opposite conclusion to that of my hon. Friend: that the House found this Motion so agreeable that they thought that it would go through virtually on the nod.

After all, it is an experiment for two or three weeks. It commits nobody to anything. After the experiment the Leader of the House will have to report to the House what further progress, if any, might be or should be made and whether the whole idea should be dropped or whether it should be extended. For my part, I hope that it will be extended, and in a minute or two I will suggest ways in which it might be extended.

The second argument— a rather specious argument—is that there is no evidence that the public want it. There is no evidence that they wanted the National Loans Bill which we have lust debated. There is no evidence that they want many things which the House does. The House is not here merely to follow the public. To some extent it must lead the public. When my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton expresses terror that the public should find out what happens in this place. I remind him that we are not a monstrosity and that we do not belong to the Trappist order. We are here to say what we think on behalf of our constituents, and if they do not agree with what we say they will very quickly find out about it by other means.

The great danger at the moment is that they get a distorted view, very often from the Press. There is an alleged disillusionment with politics and politicians. If there is disillusionment, it stems in large measure from the distortion and the treatment of what happens in this House by other organs of dissemination of information. I think the Press is very largely to blame for this alleged disillusionment about what goes on here. I am as interested as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison), and others who have spoken in this debate, in expenditure on this matter. Of course we must all be concerned with public expenditure, but we must strike a balance between the money we have to spend as an elected body and the benefit that accrues to the public from it.

If this limited, closed, narrow experiment succeeds and we extend it to the public, the public will assess whether they are getting value for money. They will very quickly tell us whether they think they are getting value for money. Those who do not like it can switch it off. They have that recourse if they do not like it coming into their homes.

In answer to the question, "Where do we go from here?" I agree with the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) that the period suggested is much too short for any worth while experiment. We should think rather in months than weeks. I sympathise with the view that the Press should be allowed to see and to assess the experiment. That is the way in which one builds up public opinion. The Press could make comments on the experiment, on how the techniques could be improved, what the dangers are, and so on. If we are allowed to see it, there is no reason why the Press should not see it also.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) was speaking, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explained the procedure which would follow the experiment. I hope that there can be further experiment within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. I sometimes look at Westminster Hall and see a grossly under-used mortuary, almost. If this experiment proves a success and worth extending, I wonder if we could extend the radio broadcasts of the proceedings of the House to Westminster Hall. I wonder if we could heat it and provide accommodation for the public there so that when there is a big occasion—perhaps Budget day—it would be possible for a very large number of people in Westminster Hall to hear what the Chancellor is actually saying. That is the kind of extension I should like to see.

I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) about extending the process to Committees. I take the view that even more important work takes place, unpublicised, in Committee upstairs. I am very much a believer in Committees. Almost all the Select Committees have now made their proceedings, in all or in part, accessible to the public and the Press. A logical extension of that, if the proceedings of the House were broadcast, would be also to have the proceedings of either one or all of those Committees broadcast.

From these remarks my right hon. Friend will conclude that I am very much in favour of the experiment. I wish it the best of success. I hope that it will go much further than the inadequate and limited experiment proposed to the House tonight.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Victor Goodhew

(St. Albans): I speak as one who voted against televising the proceedings of this House, but I am beginning to doubt the wisdom of that decision. The reason why I voted against at the time was simply that I was worried about the question of editing. When I listen to "Today in Parliament" on my radio, if I have been present throughout most of the debate, I begin to doubt whether the description of that debate is a description of the debate I heard.

On the other hand, when I analyse the situation I realise that however hard I might try to be impartial and objective in balancing the factors during a debate I am being partial because I cannot possibly avoid being partial. My anxiety was how anyone else could be impartial, because all people have political views, even if they are television commentators or radio reporters or editors. Therefore, I had in mind great anxiety as to how any editing of a television performance would come about and whether it would give a balanced view.

One trouble now is that the vast television viewing public gets only one picture of this House. It is the picture of Ministers and shadow Ministers being interviewed by a television commentator. It is not very difficult for a commentator, perhaps having failed to get elected to Parliament, to think up one or two questions which a Minister or a shadow Minister cannot answer at a particular moment and to make him look a fool, to make it look as if the commentator or interviewer it all-wise and the Minister or shadow Minister is all foolish.

I am not certain that the so-called lack of interest in Parliament and the impression that people today consider all politicians are unworthy does not arise from this picture which the public generally get of Ministers, shadow ministers and Members of Parliament being made to look shifty, foolish or ignorant merely by clever questioning whereas, were we televising the proceedings, it would be possible for the public to see hon. Members in their own surroundings.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I rapidly bring myself back into order by saying that, having changed my view, I think this must be a step in the right direction and an experiment well worth making. My only anxiety is, as the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said, whether the period is quite long enough to assess the success of the experiment. I also agree with those who have mentioned Committees upstairs. It is most difficult to get a balanced idea of who is doing the work in this place if one merely knows the number of Questions an hon. Member Las asked at Question Time or the number of speeches he has made on the Floor of the House. I hope that these matters will be considered by the Leader of the House and I hope that the House will accept this Motion.

7.38 p.m.

Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)

I welcome this Motion. I was present at the last debate when we discussed televising the proceedings, but I did not take part in it. One thing which disappointed me more than anything else about that debate was the fact that the House turned down a simple experiment

It is my impression that after that debate the general public were in some confusion about the fact that we did not turn down the actual televising of this House but merely an experiment to see whether we wanted to do it. I therefore hope that the House tonight will make good that previous decision by accepting this experiment for what it is—something which will give us and, as the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) pointed out, the B.B.C. an indication of exactly what is possible in these circumstances.

In wishing that this experiment will go ahead, may I hope that it will continue for longer than my right hon. Friend has suggested? A longer period than three weeks would give us a better opportunity to judge the matter fully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) claimed that our constituents do not want this experiment. One of the advantages of being a new Member of Parliament is that one's constituents like one to go to talk to them about one's first year in Parliament. I have done a great deal of this. I must tell my hon. Friend that on each occasion the indications were that my constituents very much wanted to have the opportunity of seeing Parliament at work or of hearing Parliament at work, and I believe that this is very important.

Some people argue nowadays that Parliament's prestige is going down. One of the reasons for this, I think, is the feeling that the work of Parliament and the work of the people are two separate things. Any means of communication which can bring them closer together is something which we, as Members of this House, ought to examine very closely. I suggest that televising and the broadcasting on radio of our proceedings will be a help. I know that there are problems associated with it and I think we would be foolish to ignore these, but I suggest that an experiment of this nature will give us a good idea whether it really is a possibility or not.

I submit that any form of editing of reports of our debates by television and radio would be less partial, less biased, than the present reports of our debates which are, as it were, broadcast through the Press. I cannot believe that any editing done by the broadcasting authorities could be as biased as the reporting of our debates in the Press. Therefore I cannot help feeling that, whilst there is a problem connected with editing, it is something which, in terms of our everyday work, will be much more fairly done by radio or television than could possibly be the case in a biased Press.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton also talked about this place as being a performing flea pit—or wishing it should not be considered a performing flea pit. Again, I would say to him that we already have in the Public Galleries members of the public coming to see us at work. Therefore I cannot see any logical reason why we do not extend this principle to embrace a wider audience. It is surely important if Parliamentary democracy is to he held in high repute. Once we allow the public to see us at work here I do not feel there is any reason to argue against extending that principle further, or that, by doing so, we should be doing anything harmful to this place.

I re-emphasise the point that if we are to televise the work of this Chamber it is very important that we give a balanced picture of Parliament as a whole, and the only way to do that is to look at the Standing Committees and Select Committees as well. I hope that when my right hon. Friend winds up the debate he will be able to give us some sort of guarantee on that matter.

That is all I wish to say. Like others, I hope that this experiment is the beginning of a process by which we can look to a number of ways in which Parliament can draw closer to the electorate. This is a limited experiment. I urge the House to take a look at it. Then, on the basis of that, we can decide where to go from there.

7.43 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

This is the first occasion when I have had the opportunity of following in a debate my own. Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe). I regret therefore having to disagree with a great many of the things he has said, especially as this is the first time I have had to disagree with him since he came to this House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said that reactionaries were found in strange quarters of the House. I am told that I have some sort of label as a "moderate" who occasionally goes mad and criticises the Government. I must warn my hon. Friend that on this issue he has a reactionary right behind him. I was one of that gallant band of 131 who some months ago wandered into the No Lobby to cast votes against televising our debates. It was the most reactionary vote I have ever cast in this House, and I have cast some strange ones, but I have never enjoyed a vote more, and I think I was right at that time.

I began by being in favour of broadcasting and televising, but then I found that it seemed that we were not going simply to broadcast the proceedings of Parliament but that we were going to make our place, our Chamber, our House, our Parliament, available for some other people to decide what they were going to say happened in this place and what picture they were going to show of it. This was confirmed when I found, after the negative vote of the House, that television sets had already been ordered, and we have them in various parts of the Palace. I understand that certain enunciators were on order as well. We have had other things on order as well, before the vote of the House.

Mr. Crossman

I think perhaps my hon. Friend was not present when I carefully explained to the House at the beginning, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), that this was a completely untrue statement. The question of the enunciators is a totally different thing. It has nothing whatever to do with broadcasting proceedings here. I am sorry if my hon. Friend did not hear my previous explanation.

Mr. Ogden

My apologies to the Leader of the House that I did not hear that explanation when he first gave it. I had anticipated that this debate would take place later than it has. I am very grateful for the explanation he has given and I am sorry he has had to repeat it. I accept entirely what he has said. All I can say is that it would be very easy to convert the one kind to another.

I concede entirely that the logic of the argument and the theory against televising or broadcasting is precisely the same as that of the argument put up against recording proceedings of Parliament in HANSARD or in the Press or anywhere else. The same argument applies, but I am entitled to ask, For what purpose? Then we come back to this point. I am told by one of my hon. Friends that "democracy is imperilled" unless the experiment goes through. Is it that 630 Members of Parliament are not able to convince people outside this House of the importance of Parliamentary democracy unless we have the broadcasting and televising of our proceedings? I cannot accept that explanation.

We are told that this is an experiment limited in scope, limited in time, for which we are to have the spectacle of television screens in Westminster Hall—and we criticise vandals outside. And there should be reporting of Committee proceedings, too, it is said.

We shall need Channel 1 for the House of Commons and Channel 2 for the Lords. If the Lords want to televise their House, let them do it. But let them also pay for it. Let them pay for it if they want to televise their House. Then, for the Committees we shall need Channels 3, 4, 5, 6—perhaps up to 13 to include the Services Committee. Who is going to listen to all this?

And what will be the cost? I am sorry I did not hear the figures which my right hon. Friend may or may not have given. —[An HON. MEMBER: "None of us did."]—But the suggestion apparently is that it will cost only a few thousand pounds. I am not a Scot, but perhaps the newest hon. Member, the Member for Hamilton (Mrs. Ewing), representing the latest opposition party in Scotland, would agree that "mony a mickle mak's a muckle"—every little bid adds up. So this may cost £6,000, £10,000, £20,000 at a time when the B.B.C. wants the licence tees to be increased from £5 to £6, or whatever it may be.

I agree with the hon. Member who said that it is never a good time to make changes—it is never a good time to raise the salaries of Members of Parliament, it is never a good time to raise pensions, it is never a good time to do anything eke; but I would draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to an article which appears in The Guardian this morning by Mr. William Davis, the Financial Editor, who has been right before! We a -e asked to tighten our belts, and Davis forecasts that before we are through this economic crisis there may be higher taxes, higher Purchase Tax, higher taxes on tobacco and drink, and higher Income Tax, hire purchase controls, with restrictions on overdrafts, and so on. With all this economic difficulty, are we going to spend £20,000, perhaps, on a limited experiment here?

If any hon. Members want to hear their own voices, let them buy a tape recorder. If they want to see their pictures, let them buy themselves a camera. This experiment can well be held over for another twelve months.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)

To my great regret, I have heard only part of the debate. However, while I have been present there have been references to the last vote when the Motion before the House related to the televising of our proceedings. Great play has been made with that decision, and there have been a number of actual or implied accusa- tions made against those hon. Members who voted against it.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will make nothing of the fact that some of us were not here at the beginning of the debate. He seemed to be about to make something of it, but I would remind him that we were not to know that the previous debate would fold up so early—

Mr. Crossman

I did not mean any implication in what I said. I wanted to explain why, having already said it once, I did not want hon. Members to feel that I should say it twice.

Mr. Mendelson

My right hon. Friend now wears a sweet smile, and I accept his friendly intervention in the spirit in which it is made.

I want to express regret that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) has told me that he intends to desert those of us who voted against the Motion last time. It means that we are now even, and my hon. Friends and I will have to work hard to find a replacement for him. However, it should not prove difficult.

The argument is an extremely serious one. While one may have one view about the limited experiment in broadcasting being proposed today, it would be illegitimate to broaden the argument from there to television and other kinds of experiments which might be proposed. I understand that the Government are not putting forward the Motion about televising our proceedings again because they have not a majority in favour of it, any more than they had last time. They are well advised to take that view, because they are not likely to get a majority in favour of it.

When they refer to the last vote, hon. Members do not make life easy for themselves by giving the impression that there are 131 fuddy-duddies who are not "with it" and who have not moved into the second half of the twentieth century. There were serious grounds for their opposition, and, since the vote, I have had occasion to discuss the matter with a number of people who are active in television and broadcasting companies. They do not take that view, because they know the seriousness of the problem involved.

Any support for the Motion before the House tonight must not be taken as an indication that the same support will be forthcoming for an extension into television, and I hope that my right hon. Friend does not dissent from that. The differences must not be blurred. The one very powerful argument which has not yet been adduced and which moved a very small majority of hon. Members to reject the previous Motion is that there is a clash between media. It is an objective argument which has nothing to do with particular predelictions about the House of any individual hon. Member. It resides in the fact that television is tied to its main function of providing entertainment.

There is an element of education in the B.B.C. Charter and the I.T.A. arrangements, but, essentially, in a highly competitive way, television has to provide entertainment. One of the pre-conditions of success is that viewers should be riveted to their chairs. It may affect the commercial companies first, but Auntie B.B.C. will have to follow, because she has to take into account her own position as a competitive organisation. After a number of months, if it is shown to the senior executives of the companies concerned that there is no audience for the programmes, they will have to consider whether there ought not to be something else in their place at those times. As a result, the proposition to televise everything being done in the House will go out of the window very soon.

As soon as it becomes a firm proposition, however, the question immediately arises: how much, and what is to be shown? It is at that point that it becomes a matter of selection. The present quarter of an hour of "Today in Parliament" is no guide to what might happen in the selection of material for television. "Today in Parliament" is a useful programme which is listened to by a very small number of people who bear no comparison to the mass audience of television programmes. The man who edits "Today in Parliament" is under strict instructions to produce as objective a report as he can without regard to its entertainment value. Entertainment plays no part. As we know, the most enjoyable reports in "Today in Parliament" are those which report us or our closest friends as having taken part in a debate. That does not mean, however, that it is of great entertainment value.

Dr. Winstanley

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not mean to mislead the House, but he intends to do so by suggesting that there are only ten or 15 minutes of broadcasting of Parliamentary reporting. In fact, the average is 4 hours a week of radio broadcasting which stems directly from this place.

Mr. Mendelson

That intervention is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. It is wrong to suggest that I might mislead the House. I was addressing myself to one programme, "Today in Parliament". That programme is often quoted as a reason why people should not worry about selectivity, but the point is that "Today in Parliament" bears no comparison to what we are discussing.

What was in the minds of the 131 hon. Members who voted against the previous Motion and what has not been disproved is that, if a clash of media occurs, the consequences may be that there will be the kind of reporting of the proceedings of the House which leave out most of what is most important. I have in mind the quiet work and the interventions of many hon. Members, very often influence debates and policies much more than other hon. Members, but who would not be great entertainment on television.

Mr. Coe

Would my hon. Friend agree that one way of finding out whether this is likely to happen is to have an experiment?

Mr. Mendelson

I do not think that that would help at all. These propositions have nothing to do with technical experiments.

The other main point argued on the previous occasion was that, if there have to be certain changes introduced into the House, if the whole machinery has to be changed because people outside find that they are more interested in certain types of procedure than others, if it is found that some of our procedure is out of date and has to be made more comprehensible to people outside, what of it? My answer is that the procedure of this House exists for the purpose of passing legislation. Is is not there for entertainment. If there are to be changes in our procedure, they must be made by the House to provide better government and not in order to satisfy pressures from outside. That was the argument. It was powerful then and it is equally powerful today.

My right hon. Friend has already agreed that any suggestion of supporting his experiment in broadcasting implying future assent to another start on the attempt to televise the House does not follow. He said that these two matters are completely dissociated from each other. I welcome that, but I warn the Government that they must not in any way in the future try and foreclose a debate or make any technical arrangements whatsoever or provide any public Honey either in this Chamber or in another place without the prior approval of this House. They would meet the pierce opposition of many hon. Members in this House if they did not strictly adhere to this principle.

8.1 p.m.

Mr. Crossman

With permission of the House, I would ask leave to speak a second time.

I would like to give the two assurances that my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) asked for. First, I emphasised in the brief remarks I made at the beginning that this was strictly a debate on a proposal for an experiment in sound radio, and involved no implication about television. I may have gone too far for some hon. Members by saying that we did not propose to make any proposals about television during this Session at all. We think that is something to be thought over.

Secondly, on the question of estimates etc.—I will speak about costs in a moment—I will give that assurance as well.

I should like to comment on something else that my hon. Friend said. At the conclusion of his comments, he summed up a point of view put by a number of h Dn. Members—not always those who were opposing. I agree that the medium of television is a different medium from that of sound radio. In a sense, I was nurtured in sound radio. I spent six years doing sound radio. I am aware that I shall never be as at home on television as on sound radio. I belong in that sense to the sound radio epoch, which is a different technique.

From the point of view of education and getting people to listen to the guts of the thing, there is much to be said for sound without the picture. To-day in Parliament "on sound radio, for example, will give just about double the number of words in a quarter of an hour that one would get in quarter of an hour on television. If one wants to provide a service for those interested in Parliament, then a service on sound radio with live extracts may give one a better service technically than a television programme. This is why I was careful in opening the television debate to make a distinction between the two, and to plead with the House to take note of their respective merits, because they are not the same issue. I was sorry when hon. Members seemed to get so enmeshed in the television debate that sound radio almost got lost in the discussions.

I am not prejudging television. I am saying that taking sound radio on its merits, one can make a strong case for saying that it is a medium well suited for those who are really interested, but not for the mass of people who are not. I suspect that people who want to know what was said in Parliament will switch on sound radio rather than television, as long as sound radio exists. There is a lot of evidence for this, because, despite television, sound radio still has an enormous public. What for? For news and information. It is a good service for news and information.

What we are discussing now is whether, on a sound radio service, the live voice of the M.P. should be used. One can either have live broadcasting of a debate or extracts. But this is not the same as saying "Shall we have it on television as well?" We are right to discuss it separately.

I am delighted that we have had a rather longer time than some expected for this debate, because it has been interesting. I am grateful to hon. Members for the number of extremely useful suggestions that they have made, and I want to go rapidly through them. I start with the very helpful speech of the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan). In ten minutes he put over half the relevant points which need answers.

Concerning the length of the experiment, I am encouraged in one sense. I said two or three weeks. That was not in my brief. I put it in, and perhaps on reflection I should take it out again, because he may be right in saying that two or three weeks is too short a time for a test. Since these tests on radio cost so little compared with television, a more prolonged test, if it suits the House, is something I will consider.

The reason we have not been able to give an estimate is that we do not know the number of weeks this will take. I might, however, be able to answer the question about what a day of radio will cost after a fortnight's experiment, because capital investment is tiny. We have the place wired, but the B.B.C. has to test whether this wiring is good enough. We shall then be able to see the difference of capital cost between a radio experiment in a place already wired for sound and a television experiment where cameras have to be built into the walls. One is a relatively cheap and easy thing; the other demands major capital investment. Before coming to a conclusion on whether we introduce it permanently, there must be estimates and an agreement with the B.B.C. as to who pays for what and what the relations are.

The hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) was right when he said that this is not only an experiment for M.P.s, but that this is an experiment for the Corporation as well. It has to solve a number of technical problems which were raised by hon. Members, including the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). There are a number of technical problems about sound broadcasting of this lively place which we can only test by experiment. We will have a live closed circuit, and we will be able to go into a room and hear what one of our violent scenes sounds like. We shall then be able to hear what happens to the voices, and we will hear what the B.B.C. can make of it in a programme on the same evening and hear whether it is fair or not.

I say to the opposers that I still think it is a bit unreasonable not to be prepared even to see what it is like on closed circuit, although one would be nervous if one thought of trying it out without first seeing it on a closed circuit.

The hon. Member for Howden also pointed out that one of the lessons we do not know about yet is waste. The figure of 2 per cent. usage which I optimistically gave is probably more than that on ordinary television. On sound radio, provided it is a success and the B.B.C. wants to use it, the estimate would depend on whether it went out regionally as well as centrally. I can see only a large scale use of the voice of a Member if we have large-scale regional use. The B.B.C. has regional services, and it is prepared to try regional as well as national programmes.

I come to the question which several hon. Members raised, including the hon. Member for Howden, concerning the Press. This is something that I have to discuss. I have discussed it informally with members of the Gallery already. When I announced last week in Business that we were to have this debate, they asked, "Are we excluded?" I said that it is difficult, because it has to be a closed circuit experiment. Before making up our minds about it we do not want it prejudged from outside. It is equally true that I regard the Gallery as very good Parliamentary critics, and it would be unrealistic to say that they should be excluded from listening, whereas an M.P. could listen and give a report to a paper. I am sure that we shall be able to reach a friendly arrangement with the Gallery whereby they join in with us studying this, and seeing it as an experiment and not as something for the public. This seems possible, and I want to discuss it with them. I feel sure that I shall have the support of the other side of the House in going to the Gallery in that spirit, and saying, "We want you, in listening with us, to play the game in trying it as an experiment and not giving it to the public as though it was news."

I was also asked about the House of Lords experiment. That is quite different. The House of Lords experiment will be for three days in each of two weeks—six days of televising. We are making arrangements, if the House agrees, to have a committee room wired up so that we can have the House of Lords experiment on all the time and we can watch it. I felt sure that Members would like a place where they could see the House of Lords experiment for themselves on closed-circuit television. That will be available in Westminster Hall for us to look at, although I am dubious whether in six days we will be able to draw any conclusions. However, we will have a chance of seeing what it is they are doing and how they are doing. If this Motion is approved we shall be doing our radio experiments as fast as we can.

Mr. Ogden

So far my right hon. Friend has answered points raised by his supporters. Does he know who will pay for the cost of the Lords experiment?

Mr. Crossman

The House of Lords experiment will be paid for by the Government, by the Budget, and by money voted for the experiment. It is, I think, £18,000, and was announced about eight months ago. We decided not to go on, but the Lords decided that they would.

I do not feel that I need to answer one part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), because my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) gave a much better answer than I could. This was to do with the evidence of the demand for broadcasting. I think that on reflection my hon. Friend would agree that there is some evidence that the public, in so far as it is interested in politics, likes to have its politicians live rather than secondhand or dead. It likes them live, and the evidence is to be found in that there is a greater public desire for seeing on television or hearing on radio a live controversy between politicians than there is for a reported discussion by a journalist.

Mr. J. T. Price

How does my right hon. Friend know that?

Mr. Crossman

For the very simple reason that the public look at those programmes a great deal more than it looks at programmes that merely discuss.

If I may take a concrete example, there is an admirable programme on B.B.C.2 called "Westminster at Work". I suspect that it has very small number of people listening to it, who must be very interested in Parliament, because it does not have much live controversy. My suspicion is that all the evidence suggests that live controversy, whether in the studio, on the Floor of the House, or in Committee, is something which appeals to the public. It is more interested in that than in an account of it, just as people like to go to a football match rather than to read a newspaper report. Although it may be thought to be offen- sive to compare our proceedings with sport, it is a fact that, by and large, the public likes to see things. If it cannot come to see us, the only thing that it can do is hear or see on radio or television.

There is some evidence of what the public taste is. This does not mean that we shall give way to the public taste. My hon. Friend raised the point whether the public taste existed, and I would say that it does.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many approaches or letters he has had from his constituents in Coventry about radio or television in connection with this place, because I have had none?

Mr. Crossman

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to the argument. The evidence is to be found, for example, in the attitude of advertisers to certain kinds of programmes. They only place their advertisements near the programmes they feel will draw an audience, and there is overwhelming evidence that this kind of programme has a great appeal. Ask the journalists and they will say that this is so. I am not saying that we ought to do this, I am answering the point about whether there is evidence of demand.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely asks a question about Select Committees and Standing Committees. He reminded me of what I said in the debate on television. We are wired upstairs in three of our Committee rooms. This was done, as the House knows, mainly for HANSARD purposes. It would be just as easy—in many ways easier—to record for the B.B.C. from a Committee room than from the Floor of the House because of interruptions. Intrinsically there is no technical difficulty that I know of in extending the experiment from the Floor of the House to a Committee room upstairs, or to a Committee room outside. It is up to those on Specialist Committees to decide whether they want to be treated in this way. I will discuss, through the usual channels, with both parties, who have been very helpful to me on this subject, about what should be clone on Standing Committees, and if the House have no objection it would be a great mistake not to have an experiment with at least one Standing Committee to see whether some of the technical problems could be met. This also would be on closed circuit. I can see no intrinsic reason for failing to do this, and I am grateful for the suggestion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) said he was very sad because he felt that we were too late in the race for radio. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton might agree with me when I say that the experiments in radio have not all been successful. When one talks to Australians and New Zealanders, they are very critical of their radio experiment. This is because they were very ambitious. They provided a separate channel so that one could listen day and night. We have learned modesty from that. We have learned that the allocation of a channel to ourselves would be aping for ourselves an attractiveness which we only possess at rare moments in our lives. There are moments when everyone wants to televise us or to put us on: there are moments when they do not.

Mr. J. T. Price

They would put us out of this House if they heard this.

Mr. Crossman

It is by no means proven by the previous experiments that we could not make mistakes later. But we will not make the same mistakes as the Australians, the New Zealanders, or indeed the West Germans. This is a limited experiment on closed circuit to start with to see how it works out, and whether the technical difficulties can be solved, and the verisimilitudes of the debate, and the back-bench interruptions, which are of the essence of our House, can be retained. If we do not have them it would be a pretty poor reflection of what actually went on.

One of my hon. Friends said that I was putting a foot in the door for television. I am not, I am not entitled to do so. I can only carry the House as far as it is thought right to go in this. On this project it has been agreed through the usual channels, that this is the right distance to go. If the House agrees, they agree that I should put forward these suggestions in this form, and it is therefore in this form that I do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) gave an excellent definition, and stressed the difference, between live radio and television in the treatment of news. He asked me a number of detailed questions. He asked who would be responsible. This would be the same as we proposed last time. Then it was proposed to have a Sub-Committee of the Services Committee, largely recruited from the Select Committee, which did the excellent work on television and broadcasting. We will have this matter under the control of this Committee, which will have, as it goes along, to take the House into its confidence and ask how long it should go on and what kind of programmes we want.

I hope that Members will go regularly, and give suggestions to this Committee especially set up for the purpose of giving the House the kind of experiment that it wants. I do not know how long it will take or how we shall get on.

I was also asked about tapes for television programmes. This is a new idea, and I rather suspect that it will be stretching the definition, but I will consider it and put it to the Services Committee—whether the use of tapes from the sound radio should be allowed on a television programme of the B.B.C. I do not know what the answer is, but I will look at it. I suspect it will be looked upon as "chiselling" and trying to go a bit too far.

I was asked, too, about extending broadcasts to Westminster Hall. That is a question which ought to be asked when the experiment is over. I see no reason why the public who are waiting outside should not have some radio as well as something to eat and drink. This is the kind of thing in which the Services Committee is keenly interested, and I am sure that hon. Members opposite would agree that it is worthy of examination if we go beyond the experiment and reach the actual thing.

Lastly, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West said, quite rightly, that this is a matter of major importance. I think that he was answering my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton, who tried to imply that we were doing this in a hole-and-corner way. Let me tell my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton frankly that I think this is very important. Maybe I am wrong, but I have a feeling that by the time we tabled the Motion the House had already made up its mind about this and that we would not need to have a long and controversial debate, because I believe that basically people realise that we would be thought to be a little timid if we did not do this.

We have thought this out carefully. We have made the difference clear in our own minds. This is to be judged on its own merits. Of course it will influence the decision on television. Who doubts that? However, it might influence it by making people say, "This is the kind of service we need from the House of Commons. We do not need anything further". This may be the conclusion which will be drawn. The answer is—do the job, have the experiment; make up our minds about live radio; leave television for later, when we have seen first how this experiment works and whether we want to apply it to the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House approves the making of sound recordings of its proceedings for an experimental period for the purpose of providing for Members specimen programmes.

  2. c137