§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call on the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford) to move his Motion, I have three things to say. First, I am not selecting any of the Amendments. Secondly, I have a list of 40 speakers, so I hope that there will be rigid self discipline in regard to length of speeches, and that conciseness will be the order of the day. Thirdly, I understand that there is to be a free vote on the subject—it is not a party affair.
I will therefore call hon. Members in such order as to make a debate, which means that two hon. Members on the same side may be called one after the other, but at the end of the day I will see that an overall balance is kept between the two sides, not only of the argument but also of the House. I shall do so without the aid of a computer, so I hope that the House will be tolerant.
§ 4.6 p.m.
Mr. Brian Botsford (Ealing, South)
I beg to move,That this House recommends that there should be an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by sound and television.It is a great privilege for me to open the debate. I say straight away that I am not an authority on radio or television and that my only real qualification for moving the Motion is that I served on successive Select Committees appointed to consider this problem. That is a record which is shared by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) who was with me for many years on those committees and was, indeed, the Chairman at one time.
I do not believe that any useful purpose will be served this afternoon by going into the history of this affair or referring to all the debates we have had on this subject. However, it is necessary to recite a little history. Many hon. Members will remember the occasion in November, 1966, when we had a debate on a Motion moved by the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), then the Leader of the House, to approve a closed-circuit experiment on television. The Motion was defeated by one vote.
Since that date six years ago there have been no more reports on this subject 466 from Select Committees, apart from two from joint committees about the legal aspect of the affair. I shall not refer to those.
An experiment on televisison took place in another place in February, 1968, the result of which was inconclusive. An experiment in sound broadcasting took place in this House, also in closed circuit, a few months later, but that was not followed up by the Services Committee. Since then there have been two debates on Private Members' Motions. One was frustrated by the quorum and another by the clock. There have been a number of Early Day Motions.
There is one main difference between the Motion which was before the House in November, 1966, and that which is before it today. In 1966 we asked for a closed-circuit experiment. Today we ask the House to recommend a public experiment. This is because we believe that the public and the Press should have an opportunity to express their opinions on this matter.
On 16th March, 1959, an Early Day Motion was placed on the Order Paper deploring the televising of our proceedings. That Motion was in my name. I hope to show today how I have changed my mind on this subject in the intervening years.
The subject falls into two distinct parts. I propose first to deal with the question of principle as to why or whether to allow our proceedings to be broadcast and, second, to mention some of the technical aspects. The question of principle must come before the question of technical feasibility.
When the Select Committee first considered this problem in 1964–65 there were under 13 million licensed television sets. Today the latest figure is almost 17 million. I suppose I should emphasise that the operative word is "licensed".
Most hon. Members will agree that during the last 10 or 15 years television has become the most powerful, the most important, and therefore the most influential, means of communication in modern society. For better or for worse, television sets virtually monopolise the leisure time in many homes. Whether we like it or not, the box provides a large part of our entertainment and our education.
467 I therefore believe that it is wrong that the political discussion and debate which takes place on television programmes—there is plenty of it—should be conducted not here in the Chamber between Government and Opposition or between back bench and Front Bench, but in a different and entirely unnatural environment—in a television studio, where those who are invited to take part are selected, not by you, Mr. Speaker, but by the broadcasting authorities. We know what difficulties they have in making those selections.
Nobody has put this better than one of the principal interviewers himself, Mr. Robin Day. In giving evidence before the Committee on 8th February, 1966, he gave as one of his basic arguments in favour of televising our proceedings—I quote from page 62:to enable the public to see what I would describe as an authentic political debate on their television screens, instead of substitutes devised and cast by television producers.It is also wrong if the opportunity for making use of this vast means of communication, which is what television is, is denied to the one place above all others where it is necessary to have communication and understanding between the people we represent and where politics are real and to be seen at first hand.
As Mr. Aneurin Bevan said in November, 1959, when advocating the introduction of television:Would it not be an excellent thing if, instead of speeches being made in comparative obscurity and, in fact, never heard at all except by the few Members who assemble here to hear them, they were heard by their constituents? … All I am suggesting is that in these days when all the apparatus of mass suggestion are against democratic education, we should seriously consider re-establishing intelligent communication between the House of Commons and the electorate as a whole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1959; Vol. 612, c 866–67.]Right hon. and hon. Members will agree that during the last 10 or 20 years, when the television has made this big impact, people have become more and more critical of Parliament and of politicians. We are witnessing today a mounting lack of respect for authority in many walks of life, and Parliament is no exception. Ignorance of our procedure, of what we are trying to do here, and of our work in general, will create a 468 lack of respect for politics and politicians. Where there is lack of interest and respect, there will be lack of ambition and people will not be driven to the same extent by ambition to come here. There will be less competition for what we have always rightly considered to be the privilege of membership of the House.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
My hon. Friend has spoken of television being accepted in other fields. Does he believe that in those other fields outside Parliament the entrance of television has confirmed the truth or distorted it?
§ Mr. Batsford
I can speak from experience of only one or two spheres—for example, publishing. Television has had nothing but a good influence on the publishing world. It has aroused a tremendous amount of interest in the educational side of publishing.
Television is a means of restoring the people's interest in Parliament. It is a means of enabling hon. Members to speak to a much wider audience. Above all, it will create interest in the work of this House. I do not mean by that only this Chamber, because it is essential that anything broadcast by sound or on television must include proceedings not only in this Chamber but also in the Scottish Grand Committee, the Welsh Grand Committee, and many other Committees. The introduction of the cameras will bridge the gulf which has widened so much between Parliament and the people. I hope also that amongst the younger generation there will be hundreds of thousands who, through watching us on television, will be able to acquire some of the atmosphere and the quality which we all respect in this place and which we want to share with those outside. Those are some of the reasons for the Motion.
One principal argument against bringing television cameras into the House has always been that they will change the character of the House. I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order to quote something that you said in a debate on this subject some years ago:… I think that the House of Commons is the best instrument yet fashioned for democratic parliamentary government and we must be careful not to change it character."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th May, 1965; Vol. 713, c. 1066.]Nobody would disagree with that.
469 We are now watched by a Strangers' Gallery and by the Press Gallery. We never acknowledge their existence. We "spy" them only if we want to get rid of them. We do not even refer to those who sit there, but they are watching the House at work. Every day, in spite of the weather, there are thousands of people outside waiting to do exactly the same. The introduction of television would surely basically mean that thousands of others would be able to do just that—[Interruption.] I see that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) is employing a visual aid; he is holding up a placard saying, "Not true" and by so doing is anticipating a more technical point to which I shall be coming.
If I may interrupt the hon. Member, it is true that on one evening alone more people could watch the proceedings in this House than all of those who have ever been admitted to the Strangers' Gallery in all the centuries it has been open. I have always thought that one of the most successful types of programme is that in which the cameras or microphones eavesdrop on the people taking part so that they do not know they are there. Because of that they are more natural. It is important to realise that after a time hon. Members would appreciate that television was there and would be no more aware of it than we are now of the Strangers' Gallery, provided—this is important—there is no obstrusive physical interference by cameras and equipment into the House.
That brings me to the more technical aspects of the question.
§ Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)
Is the hon. Gentleman envisaging a continuous broadcasting of all proceedings in Parliament from beginning to end, or does he, like his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, favour selection by TV companies?
§ Mr. Batsford
I am coming to the alternative sort of programmes in a moment. On the technical side, I have no doubt that many hon. and right hon. Members will remember that in November, 1966, when we came into this Chamber for the opening of Parliament, we found it ablaze with lights and exceedingly uncomfortable on account of the extra heat. Cameras were much in evidence. There was one here behind the 470 curtain and another over there. We learned subsequently that this was due to an unauthorised film in colour which required far more light for the cameras. As a result there were shown in the weekly Press a lot of rather bad colour photographs, with all the benches rather blue and the carpet between us a pale mauve.
Many hon. Members felt with justification that this was an unwarranted intrusion into our affairs. I say at once that if televising the House meant a lot of camera and equipment and a lot more light, then we might well be apprehensive and not agree to this Motion.
I have been assured by the BBC—and we have all had information from the IBA, too—that the equipment is much more modest and is presumably becoming much more so. There is a big difference between the type of installation we would want for an experimental installation and that which would be required or visible for permanent televising. What would be required for a permanent installation would be almost invisible under the panelling. The BBC has said that for the experiment what it would require are two remotely controlled cameras slung beneath the galleries behind your Chair, Mr. Speaker; it would want two manually controlled cameras un in the Galleries, and it would also want one manually controlled camera in the bench we normally refer to as "below the Gallery". There would be no cameras and no equipment on the Floor of the House.
As for lighting, it reckons that only a little extra lighting will be required and could come through the clerestory windows on each side. It is true to say that the Plumbicon miniature cameras we were promised as long ago as 1966 have not yet materialised, but as technical progress continues there need be little inconvenience to Members and there must be plenty of space behind the panelling here. Perhaps there are some chimneys above those great fireplaces in the Lobbies.
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
On this question of cameras, is the hon. Gentleman envisaging that Press photographers would also be allowed into the Chamber and, if not, what would be the logic of exclusion?
§ Mr. Batsford
My association with Press photographers tells me that their photographs are normally accompanied by a flash which I do not think would be very good in this building. I see no reason why the Press should not have access to stills or to the video tape of our proceedings, which is more or less the same thing. We must now consider what is the most important part of the question, and that is how and in what form—
Mr. James Welibeloved (Erith and Crayford)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the technical argument, is he telling the House that it is the professional opinion of the BBC that the additional lights required for televising in the Chamber would not seriously affect the temperature, the atmosphere, or produce glare and that we would not need to make any alteration to our present air-conditioning system because of the temperature increase?
§ Mr. Batsford
The hon. Member is quite right; that is what the BBC does say. That is also the point of the experiment—to find out what the conditions are like.
We have now to consider in what form the programme should reach the viewer. The Select Committee of 1966 reached certain definite conclusions on this point. I am speaking personally now and not for Members of the Committee, but I see no reason to depart from those recommendations six years later. They can be summarised as follows. We totally rejected the continuous live broadcasts of our proceedings, either in sound or on television. We thought that would be entirely undesirable and impractical and that a lot of people would think that it was deadly boring. Nevertheless, we thought that on certain occasions, such as Budget Day, for example, there could be a continuous live broadcast. For all normal occasions—and this is the most important part of our argument—we recommended that there should be a feed—a technical term for piped or video tape. This would be a straight uncut picture on video tape made available to the BBC, the IBA, and any other interested organisations. This service of the supply of a continuous feed would be in the hands of a special House of 472 Commons broadcasting unit, not necessarily based on Members but based on broadcasting experts. I noticed this morning that the Fabian Society has come to the same conclusion.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, is he aware that he seems to be in conflict with his own argument? He points out that the Committee which reported in 1966 entirely dismissed the idea of a continuous broadcast of our performances, such as they are in this place, yet at the same time he suggests that we should have a continuous video tape running, if necessary, for a 24-hour session. Thus Members would still be subjected throughout the proceedings to all the inconvenience referred to, in a technical sense, to produce a tape which may be edited into small sections at very great expense. How does he reconcile those two points of view?
§ Mr. Batsford
I do so in this way. We have rejected continuous live broadcasts of sound or television, which is one thing, but we are recommending that the continuous video tape should be made of our proceedings and fed out to the various organisations such as the IBA, the BBC and anyone else interested.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)
Will the hon. Gentleman explain one point? When he is talking of this continuous video tape, does he visualise that each of the five separate cameras will have its video tape or that there will be shots selected by the camera man or the remote control men and fed into one single video tape which can be edited and used?
§ Mr. Batsford
The hon. Member knows more about this than I do. I was coming to that point. This parliamentary control unit would control the programme tape and the programme would be produced, as it is now, by a TV producer. The hon. Gentleman knows that the picture from these five cameras would be in the control room and that the producer would select which picture would go out to make a continuous programme—
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that this process of selection is not as sinister as my hon. Friends suggest in that those five cameras are not offering five separate pictures, all of which could be transmitted? Some are changing focus, some changing shot, while one would be giving the clean feed picture which the director would put on the video tape.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and I am grateful to him. It is what happens after this which worries a lot of hon. Members—that is, the further editing—[Interruption.]—and the way in which the final tape is edited.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There is a free vote and the rules of order may be freely interpreted but not too freely.
§ Mr. Batsford
I come to the way in which this is edited before it is broadcast. This is the crucial point. I believe that the final editing of this broadcast feed must be left to the broadcasting organisations and that we should not attempt to impose any restrictions on what they select, any more than we impose any restrictions on what the Press select and print. We impose no restrictions whatever on the way in which HANSARD is published. The initial video tape feed is producing selected, edited material by the House of Commons unit and any subsequent cutting or editing must be done by the broadcasting organisation.
One other point which worries hon. Members is that the requirements of radio and television will alter our procedures for the timing of debates. This might happen if we were to have long, exclusive and continuous broadcasting on one channel as is done in Australia. I do not believe that an edited version or recorded extracts will restrict or alter our procedure in any way.
This Motion recommends a public experiment. There is one special reason why I want to emphasise the word "public". Hon. Members may remember that when the closed-circuit sound experiment was made in 1968, it began on 23rd April, with the opening speeches in the Second Reading debate on the Race Relations Bill. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who was then the Home Secretary, was 474 followed by the then right hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, now my noble Friend, the Lord Chancellor. A few members, I cannot remember how many, of the Select Committee were in the control room at Broadcasting House at that time.
We heard their speeches going out from this Chamber for the first time in history. I am sure that the other Members present with me felt that it was an impressive and significant experience. Ever since then I have thought what a pity it was that those voices were not going out to a greater audience. I have always felt that the time must come when the speeches we make here are heard by a larger audience, by people in their own homes.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I am sure that all those of us who are opposed to the proposed experiment will thank the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford) for his speech. We are asked to indulge in an experiment. No figure has been given as to how much it will cost. We have heard no details about it. I read an article only the other day in The Times written by Mr. David Wood, in which he attempted to forecast the answer to the unanswered questions which Ramsay Macdonald used to call "The consequences of the consequences".
I agree with the hon. Member for Ealing, South—and I hope that we all agree with him—that the principle is far more important than the technical feasibility. I hope that I shall not be called elitist, in spite of my European connection, but I profoundly believe that while this Parliament belongs to the nation, the ethos of this place belongs to the Members. How we behave, how we conduct this place, with Mr. Speaker in the Chair, maintaining the tone of the debate—these are the things which really count here. We do not allow Her Majesty to come between this House and its voice, and no one else should come between Mr. Speaker and the conduct of this House. This may sound rather high falutin, but I am old enough to remember that, wherever democratic forms are degraded, wherever assemblies are sold short, that is the place of the dictator.
§ Mr. Pannell
That sounds all right, but I tell my hon. Friend that on 28th October I went into the Lobby with a great sense of responsibility. I do not grant my hon. Friend a lesser sense of responsibility because he disagreed with me. I paid far more for my vote than he has had to pay for his. I do not want friends to criticise me on this occasion. We may as well keep Europe where it is and come back to the House of Commons.
The hon. Member for Ealing, South suggested that one of the debates which might be televised in full was the Budget debate. I should have thought that that was the worst example to give. I never invite friends in when I get tickets for Budget Day.
We are entitled to ask "What do we want at the end of this? What benefits would this confer either on the nation or on this place?" It was suggested in the Evening Standard last night that there were two places where cameras should not intrude. One was a court of law and the other was the House of Commons. If we have cameras in the House of Commons why not in a court of law? Why not televise the marvellous drama of a murder trial? Why not allow the cameras to linger on the judge's face? Is it not a pity that he no longer dons the black cap? That would be a real drama. It is worth remembering, even though it is often cited in aid, that in the home of television, the sessional committees in the United States, neither the Senate nor Congress in full session has been televised. I hope that we shall show a similar sense of seemliness.
§ Mr. Pannell
No, I do not want to give way. The speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, South suffered from too many interruptions. I recognise the peculiar interest of the hon. Member for Hendon. North (Mr. Gorst).
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) is not here. He made a speech about six years ago and he repeated most of it in The Times yesterday. But he has adduced no new arguments. He always harps on the theme that this place has fallen from a previous high level. As a 476 student of Parliament, I have challenged that belief before. What is the point in history from which we have fallen? Where is the peak? In yesterday's article he refers to the decline in Parliament in the last six years. That is since his Motion was defeated by one vote. On that occasion he proceeded buoyantly on his way in the sure and certain knowledge as he thought, that many people would range themselves behind him. In dialectics he is a master of the place, and I have a great deal of admiration for him. If the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East could not carry the House, I am sure that the speech today of the hon. Member for Ealing, South will not do so.
What is the high point from which we have declined? Is it the 1880s? Is it the 1930s? Is it the 1920s? It has been said generally that the worst parliaments of this century or since the Reform Bill have been the Parliaments of 1918 and 1931, with their mammoth majority. Historians agree on that. There is not a major literary figure who has ever written about this place—Pepys, Dickens, Hazlitt, Lamb, Carlyle. George Bernard Shaw—who has not always referred to it with the utmost contempt.
§ Mr. Pannell
I shall not mention him because the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is yearning to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
However, Parliament has lived on and has been venerated by the people. Although in the main we have been the subject of attack—and that is our strength—in moments of real emergency people say, "Recall Parliament".
I shall cut out much of what I propose to say because I do not want to deal with the technical aspects. However, if all the problems about lighting, cameras and heat were overcome, I would still oppose this proposal. We may handle them, but we shall not overcome them.
It is said in The Times this morning—and this shows the blind faith of their Lordships:The reason for their lordships' reticence in 1968 was that they did not want to move ahead of the Commons."—477 they knew their place—One factor which caused some peers concern was the level of lighting, and the House was assured that within a short period of years cameras would be invented which would not require extra lights (which necessarily means discomfort to those sitting beneath the glare). Since then, colour television has ' arrived ' and this needs, again, extra lighting, according to the broadcasting authorities.In this curious business, we seem to go one step forward and three steps back. However, as I say, even if all those problems were overcome, I would not rest my argument there.
The argument is that that if all the technical difficulties were overcome people would see no more and the feeling would be just the same as if one were sitting in the Public Gallery and the Members would behave in exactly the same way. That would not happen at all. Things would not be the same. They forget the Members. Some months ago I put into my Press cuttings a lettet written by Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge in The Times—and I always quote The Times and Malcolm Muggeridge when I agree with them. Mr. Muggeridge said:I note that"—a Member of Parliament—assumes that it would be possible to televise the proceedings of Parliament in such a way that the viewer would be in the same case as occupants of the public gallery in the House of Commons. This, in fact, is not so, whoever or whatever might be the agency responsible for filming, editing and presenting the requisite footage. The best way to illustrate the point is by means of a practical example. When I was a journalist in Washington in the days of President Truman, the White House press conference was a valuable source of news and of contact with the Administration. One gathered informally round the President's desk, and he answered questions off-the-cuff. Supplementaries were cheerfully accepted, and a lot of useful and sometimes diverting unrehearsed exchanges took place"—as they do here.Later, the press conference was televised, and thereby inevitably turned into an occasion for the President to present himself to the American electorate. He is made up"—Mr. Speaker might be made up—laboriously briefed, on his dignity"—Mr. Speaker is always on his dignity, without effort—the journalists come with what they propose to ask meticulously prepared, they, too, conscious of being in the public eye. Spontaneity is lost, and the whole thing becomes lust one more boring political spectacular.478 Mr. Muggeridge goes on to retail that Mr. James Reston, one of the most distinguished journalists, does not think it worth going on with any more.
§ Mr. Pannell
No, if my hon. Friend does not mind. I know that he is trying to be helpful, but he must let me get on o my own bumbling way.
Mr. Muggeridge continued:Without a doubt the same thing will happen to Parliament if ever it allows itself to be televised. Some foretaste of the consequences may be glimpsed in Canberra"—and I note that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), who has some experience there, is nodding his head—where the proceedings of the Federal Parliament are transmitted in full on a special radio channel. It is fascinating to watch from the press gallery how, round about peak listening time, the House fills with honourable members, who cluster round the microphones with a view to shouting out something that might be listened to with pleasure or amusement by their far-flung constituents.There is a moral in this story. Looking through The Times hooks of Members of Parliament, I came across the name of Mr. Balfour, who was Member for Stirling from 1945 to 1949. He increased his majority in all the elections without ever saying a word in Parliament. He did rise once, and Mr. Speaker Morrison said:"Mr. Balfour, I presume".
§ Mr. Pannell
I do not wish to make a long speech, and I would sooner make it without interruption.
I do not wish to bore the House but I ask hon. Members to consider this matter profoundly. A man must be here as a free man. Above all things, he must be able to live with himself. The House of Commons must be able to live with itself.
This is not an élitist doctrine. The House must have command of its own ethos. How I am regarded by my fellow Members counts with me rather more than certain plaudits outside. I ask hon Members to search their experience. As 479 they get older, they find that the occasional friendly word or the receiving of a note from somebody who is pleased with one's speech pleases one more than a great deal of outside admiration. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has said, we are 630 Members who all see our job in a different way. That is the strength of the place. It is not only what a man says but what he is that counts in this place, and we give a certain weight to that sort of thing. We do not need to have the glare of the cameras upon this place. Generally speaking, television has been not an elevating but an enervating influence on most of the institutions which it has touched.
I finish with a quotation from something which I read last night:The truth is that until the totality of British TV becomes a more responsible and committed instrument of social values and education, it is essential that the major institutions of order and reflection stand aloof and disdain from being tempted to conform to the box's standards and demands.There must be somewhere in our land where the citizens' problems and future can be weighed, debated and discussed, without the camera glaring to hinder reflection and the need for instant popularity intruding to jostle contemplation and confuse objectivity.Such bulwarks against the telly takeover should obviously be the law courts and Parliament. If and when TV changes we can all think again.I think that that will be a very long time. I ask the House at the end of the day not to fall lower than those who formed the majority—a majority of one—who rejected this monstrous Motion six years ago.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
We have had a characteristically robust and entertaining speech from the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) in opposition to the Motion. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take it amiss, for I mean no disrespect when I say that he is one of the most traditional and traditionalist of Members.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is a fundamental question of principle whether we wish to see the proceedings of the House transmitted directly to a wider public. I have no doubt about it. I have always held the view that 480 the House should allow this medium of communication access to the homes of the general public.
I was Chairman of the sub-Committee in the last Parliament which was responsible for conducting the experimental sound broadcasts referred to by the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford). I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one important word in the Motion is the word "public". It will always remain my belief that, had that experiment been used for transmission to the public, we should never have looked back, and we should probably have had sound versions of our proceedings available to the public during the last few years. It was always my view that it was preferable to begin with an experiment in sound broadcasting before moving to the more dramatic experiment or invasion of visual broadcasting.
It is fair to say that few hon. Members listened to the output of that experiment. Very few came upstairs to where the broadcasts were assembled. The few who did were, I think, impressed not just with the straight recording of the voices and speeches in this place but, more important and significant when we are considering this Motion, with the use which was made editorially by the BBC of different parts of the recordings to assemble regional news bulletins.
Members are sometimes frightened—I have heard this said in conversation many times—that one of the effects of editorial selection of broadcasting would be that only Front Bench speakers and one or two prima donnas would be seen and reported on television. Those Members would do well to remember that one of the greatest values of allowing a continuous tape to be used freely by the broadcasting authorities is that subjects which are little reported or only of regional or local importance, which receive scant attention from the national Press, would be well reported and used from the continuous tape by the regional television stations and local broadcasting authorities. That is one aspect of the experiment which should be firmly borne in mind when we consider whether it should be allowed.
It is always my regret that the work which the Sub-Committee carried out was in a sense stymied by the majority of 481 the House of Commons Services Committee which supported the then Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) in opposing a report to the House, which would have enabled sound broadcasting to begin. The right hon. Member for Workington, like the right hon. Member for Leeds, West, is one of the more traditional Members. I am devoted to him, but I remember the long debates which took place in the Services Committee about the introduction of the television annunciators which now exist throughout the House and Members' rooms. We now accept them as a great convenience. They give us more information and greater flexibility than the old pieces of ticker tape which were assiduously repaired by little men in dark rooms somewhere in the City of London.
The right hon. Member for Workington wished to preserve that system. He was opposed to the introduction of the annunciators which after a few years we all accepted as a great convenience. I always consider that the right hon. Members for Workington and Leeds, West, had they been alive at the invention of the wheel, would have regarded it with the deepest distrust and suspicion.
We are not today debating whether television should be invented. We are not debating what should be the general quality of television. Television exists in most of the homes in the country and it is the most effective medium of communication. It is used by the sporting organisations, the churches and every other walk of life except Parliament. Parliament is the one organisation, the one focus of the nation's life which has stood aloof from the use of television. That has been a grievous mistake.
§ Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)
Does the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) agree that, while Parliament may have stood aloof, Members have done anything but stand aloof?
§ Mr. Steel
The hon. Gentleman is correct. However, Members should pause and consider whether they wish the system to continue whereby a certain number of hon. Members selected by the television and radio editors should be those who appear constantly on different programmes. They do so not because of their contributions in the House but 482 because of the peculiar quality which they may possess of being able to appear on television, which is a different matter.
To speak in the House or to participate in Question Time, if that participation were shown to the television public, would be seen as an entirely different matter from an hon. Member appearing on television in a studio or under a rain-soaked umbrella on the other side of the street. That is the system which has been used so far. It would be far more effective if we were to accept that the natural proceedings of the House should be shown to the viewing public.
One of the fears of those who oppose the Motion is that it might change the character of the House and the way in which we conduct ourselves. There is no evidence that that will happen—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We had the same argument when we were considering whether to allow television to cover the party conferences. I remember the grave fears of many right hon. and hon. Members: that the introduction of television into the party conferences would totally ruin the character of those conferences as we had known them, that the exhibitionists would hog the cameras, that the worst aspects of our respective parties and the cranks would get more attention. I recall all the discussion that went on. It is fair to say that in the first year or two when the television cameras arrived at the party conferences the cameras and lights were obtrusive and had a marginal effect on the character of the party conferences. But I aver that today both delegates and viewers accept television at the party conferences as a normal pattern and that it has had no long term effect in altering the character of the freedom of debate generally at the party conferences.
I should like to deal with two technical points raised by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West. He told us that even if all the technical objections were met he would still vote against the idea, but he raised some technical objections.
One important point which should be made concerns the House of Lords' experiment. I went to watch it. I was horrified by both the amount of lighting and the placing of the television cameras which their Lordships accepted on the Floor of their Chamber. It must be clear that there will he no television cameras 483 on the Floor of this Chamber and that the great bulk of the lighting will be outside the windows on either side. Therefore, I do not think that we would suffer the same degree of disruption or discomfort which the other place did on that occasion.
There is then the basic question: who will edit and select what is to be shown to the public? Again, I imagine that, as a matter of permanent decision, this would have to await the outcome of an experiment if Parliament decided to have one. However, I see no objection to having the BBC and the IBA deciding what is to be shown under their general obligation of impartiality. After all, that is what happens with the Press today. Nobody dictates what it does or does not report from Parliament. This applies to the radio programme, "Today in Parliament". I find that many Members of Parliament listen to that programme. We all think that the editor of the day has been perhaps a little lacking when our own speeches are not included for mention. Apart from that, rarely are there any complaints from Members of Parliament that bias has been shown by the editors of that programme in selecting what they choose to report. I do not see why we should not accept the editorial control of the BBC and the IBA over what they would wish to show.
Throughout history this House has shown a strong resistance to allowing the public to have access to what goes on here. In 1641 we passed the Resolution making it a breach of privilege to report our proceedings. In 1771 we were still despatching printers and publishers of the proceedings of this House to the Tower, including the Lord Mayor of London of the day. In the course of that debate there was a minority of the House who averred:That the practice of letting the constituents know the parliamentary behaviour of their truest representatives was founded on the truest principles of the constitution.They lost on that occasion, and the prohibition on the publication of our proceedings remained for a very long time. I believe that statement is true. We ought not to be afraid—for that is what it is—to allow the public direct access to what happens here. We should no longer accept the secondhand interpretations, the secondhand accounts, by the broadcasting authorities, however expertly 484 done, and, in my view, it is done extremely expertly. We should allow direct access from here to the people because—here I disagree fundamentally with the right hon. Member for Leeds, West—this House belongs not to us as some kind of exclusive club, but to the nation. If we believe that, we cannot deny the most effective medium of communication today between the politician and the public.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
I recognise the persuasiveness of the speech by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) which we have just heard, but I believe it to be founded on a number of misconceptions.
It is as well that we should narrow the debate to understand exactly what we are discussing. First, we are told that this is to be an experiment—yet a public experiment, not a closed-circuit experiment Inevitably, this will be the thin edge of a pretty considerable wedge, and the thin ends of wedges are always dangerous.
The hon. Gentleman said that if we had once done this it would have been very difficult to go back. If we once do it now, it will be very difficult to go back. In my view, we have no right to say that this is only an experiment, we can see how it works, and then make up our minds. We may be deprived of the opportunity of making up our minds effectively. It is the duty of right hon. and hon. Members to make up their minds now whether the televising or broadcasting of the proceedings of this House is right in itself and, if they are not convinced of that, to reject the Motion.
Clearly, we are not talking about continuous televising or broadcasting live of the proceedings of this House. I do not think that anybody has ever suggested that the enormous cost and inconvenience of tying up one public channel of television all day would be worthwhile.
Continuous sound broadcasting of the proceedings of Parliament, to which I had the misfortune to have to listen from time to time during three years in Australia, is a mistake on almost every count. Not only does it provide unbelievably dull broadcasting, but it is almost impossible for the public to understand what is going on by sound alone without a linking commentary all the time. So we 485 can clearly limit ourselves to the question of continuous recording from which an edited summary will be produced for half or three-quarters of an hour, or whatever it may be, at the end of the day.
I do not want to go into the question whether we feel we can trust individual producers at the BBC, ITN, or wherever, to make a fair summary. This is perhaps the least important of the questions of principle involved, because, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said, we have seen that the BBC programme, "Today in Parliament", provides a fair and balanced summary of a day's proceedings in this House. I do not think anybody has any complaint about bias or selection in that programme.
But those who have instanced that programme have failed to realise that its fairness, balance and impressiveness springs from the fact that it is a condensed summary in indirect speech of a continuing debate. The moment we try to turn that into a series of recorded direct speech extracts from a debate, the whole nature of the programme will be changed. Not only will the dangers of selection and the distortion of balance enormously increase, but it will be more difficult to obtain a coherent summary of what has happened in a debate if the medium is tied to live extracts.
If we are to get over this problem, inevitably we shall be forced to change the nature of our debates and individual speeches. Perhaps it is a fault in us, but how many hon. Members, when they are on their feet making a speech, consciously think, "I must somehow get into one paragraph the whole substance of my speech so that it can be reproduced and sound effective by itself"? Of course, we do not, and it is quite wrong that we should construct our speeches with that end in view. It would distort the nature of speaking in this House if we did.
There is another point that is worth bearing in mind, which I hope the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles will consider. It has been said so often that it is the right of the public to hear and see what happens here, that we are public servants and that the public have the right to watch us at work and to judge us by how we are seen in our Chamber. But the purpose 486 of this Assembly is not to speak from these benches directly to members of the public. The business of hon. Members is to address themselves, sometimes in general terms to specific problems, but more usually and more importantly to the business of improving legislation line by line and Clause by Clause. That is not a matter which can be transmitted with any likelihood of producing an exciting or interesting television programme, and to do so, would inevitably distort the nature of our deliberations.
It is not our business, except perhaps for the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition in an important Supply Day debate, to speak in this House directly to the nation. We are speaking to each other and addressing ourselves to a highly complicated technical task for which this place is suited and for which it has built up a technique over the centuries which will be fundamentally changed by an experiment of this nature.
I do not believe that it is right to say that there should be no place to which cameras have no access. I agree with the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) that it is important precisely that there should be some places where the cameras have no access and where people, without having to consider the popular appeal which the television cameras require and the element of drama which makes for good entertainment, can consider the business of the House on its merits and in its own right.
There is the question of using the television camera or the sound broadcasting microphone to produce a recorded summary of extracts at the end of the day. I can conceive of the "Today in Parliament" programme occasionally using a small number of recorded sound extracts where at present it uses a direct extract from an hon. Member's speech. That is the absolute limit to which I would be prepared to go, and in no circumstances could I ever support the introduction of television cameras into the House, not just for general reasons that I have already stated but for two other reasons which are, I believe, extremely important.
Without trying to make too much of a case about the hard life that hon. Members lead, there are occasions here, and sometimes long periods, when the work of 487 Members of Parliament is not without a considerable element of strain. For example, when we have an all-night sitting on an important Committee or Report Stage, some people, in particular Ministers and Shadow Ministers, and, perhaps, the chairmen of backbench committees, have to be here all the time. That is a strain, and there were occasions during the last Parliament when some hon. Members were working a 15 or 18-hour day, including sittings in the Chamber, Standing Committees, party commitees and the rest.
To add to that the thought that a camera man is trying to catch us unawares, trying to catch us asleep during one of our Front Bencher's speeches will add to the strain, which, as we all know, can be considerable over a period.
Without going to the lengths of the former hon. Member for Stirling, Mr. Balfour, to whom the right hon. Member for Leeds, West referred, we all know there have been and are hon. Members who are first-class constituency Members and first-class House of Commons men but who do not spend the majority of their lives in the Chamber. They spend a great deal of their time not only in Standing Committees but on Select Committees, dealing with constituency correspondence and so forth. Once it comes to be thought that the test of whether a man or woman is a good Member of Parliament is how often he or she is seen in the Chamber by a television camera, then a great many good constituency Members will be disadvantaged to the disadvantage also of their constituents.
Taking all these factors into consideration and considering all the disadvantages of this experiment, which I believe may well be irreversible if once it is allowed. we must ask what are the advantages which are offered to us in exchange. They seem to me to be minimal. It is no use saying that hon. Members cannot be seen on television or that the regional television and particularly the local radio stations do not deal with local items of news and issues which come up in this place. In my experience they do and in very considerable detail.
I do not believe that the amount of interest among the viewing of or listening public would be sufficient to justify either the cost of the experiment or the 488 disadvantages which we, the House and politics would suffer as a result.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
The speech we have just heard and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), whom the television cameras would have picked up coming back after having disappeared immediately after his speech, show the conservatism and traditionalism which bedevils the House whenever it is discussing changes in procedures.
§ Mr. C. Pannell
On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) made an accusation against me which was frankly not true. He is a friend of mine and I do not dispute that immediately after my speech I passed along the end of the bench to hand over some notes. But I have been in the Chamber ever since.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
As the right hon. Member already knows, these matters are, mercifully, not points of order for me.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I apologise immediately to my right hon. Friend. I was about to point out, without being accused of "leaking" party meetings—a thing which never happens on our side of the House—that the speech he made this afternoon was very different from the speech he made at the party meeting yesterday. His speech yesterday indicated that this place belonged to us and today he modified that view because he was speaking in public and saying that it belonged to the people.
Let us be perfectly clear that the people of this country have a right to know far more about what happens in this place than they get to know from the present mass media. I take a simple example. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. John Smith) made two speeches in the debates yesterday on the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill relating specifically to Scotland and which were of great importance to Scotland. There was not a word in any of the Scottish newspapers this morning about those speeches. Similarly, there are other defects in my right hon. Friend's present thesis and I shall deal with them in due course.
489 The House must, understand from the beginning that we want an experiment. I do not believe that it is irreversible. My own party has said that joining the EEC is not irreversible. If that is not irreversible, who is to say that we cannot take out five cameras? We are sovereign, are we not? We can take the cameras out if we do not like them.
We do not know the technical problems and difficulties until we have had a look at them, and we can only have a look at them when we have seen them here in operation. Let us have a go. Let us not be like a child crying in the dark. Let us not turn ourselves into a monastery and pretend that we are in holy orders and that people outside must not see what we are doing, that they must not see the empty benches. Why should not they? Why should not the people in the constituencies ask their Members why they were not in their places? [Interruption.] The action of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) in holding up a handwritten notice asking, "Where's Ted?", is the kind of exhibitionism that seeks to express the extreme conservatism of my hon. Friend. He pretends to be a radical. Some of the most radical people on my side of the House are the most irresponsible persons. They are terrified of trying something new. When someone says to me, "Protect traditionalism", I tend to reach for a gun. That is the damnation of this House. We want to rid of all these traditions—[HON. MEMBERS: ' Not all."] Well, most of them.
What I want to see is not an experiment but a series of experiments over three or four months, because what is needed is a process of education. The Government gained power because of their promise of more open Government, and this will be a step in that direction, provided the experiment is not limited to activities in this Chamber. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) is right to say that some of the more important activities of this House take place outside the Chamber. I hope that the House will not seek to give the editing of the broadcasts exclusively to the outside profesional media, but that we shall retain a large measure of editorial control within our own hands. The media, the Independent Broadcasting Authority and the British Broadcasting 490 Corporation, must be given to understand that it is an educational process in which they are engaged, and that we shall see to it that if they treat it only as an entertainment we shall stop it. That will be in our power, and we shall retain that power.
I hope that there will be a series of experiments. One would be televising the House live. Another would be televising live some of the work that goes on in Select Committees, where Ministers are questioned and challenged in depth on their policies. The Press is now allowed into those meetings, and there is no reason why the television cameras should not be allowed in. As for Standing Committees, why should not we have the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh televised in Scotland? I suspect that that will have almost the unanimous approval of the House. There is no reason why that kind of thing should not be incorporated in the experiment of televising Parliament, which does not mean exclusively televising what happens in this Chamber.
There should also be, what already takes place, the televising of a Member in his constituency, travelling from door to door or at his surgeries. The experiment should involve a whole mass of education of the public in the working of Parliament, which does not exclusively take place in this Chamber. For Heaven's sake, let us give it a try.
I am not bothered too much by the technical problems. If they are oppressive, if the lighting, heat and so on are intolerable, we shall wait until there has been sufficient technical advance to eliminate the problems. Meanwhile, let us see what they are in the experiment on which I hope we are about to embark.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)
My hon. Friend is making a very valid point, but his speech seems to be very much in favour of not televising the House. Does not he agree that the Motion is woolly and wild? It obviously attracts the Liberal Party. Cannot we have a positive Motion to decide what we want to do if we have an experiment? We do not know what we are trying to experiment about.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The Leader of the House will take part in the debate, and I presume that he will tell us what is in 491 the Government's mind. I do not know what he will say, but I am saying that I should like a series of experiments not only in this Chamber but in the Committees of the House and the outside work of the Member, to justify the sight of empty benches, so that the public may know that some of the most important work of the Member takes place outside the House. What I want is a series of experiments, and not one.
The Motion is a generalised Motion that we accept the principle of televising some of what takes place in Parliament.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I must get on.
We have in this building a mausoleum that stands empty—Westminster Hall, which is completely useless. Why cannot we incorporate into our experiment closed-circuit television screens in Westminster Hall, thus transforming it into virtually a theatre? That would be especially useful in the summer months, when there are queues of people outside the building waiting to enter the public gallery, many of whom are unable to do so. Such an internal television circuit could be in addition to the experiment now proposed.
I beg the House to let the experiment go forward. It is not irreversible. We can tell the professional media people that we intend to retain editorial control over what goes out. Let us not be afraid of the modern media. Whether we like it or not, the modern medium is television. The immediate past Chairman of my party recently criticised the public media and particularly the Press. I think that he was right in saying that we get a bad deal from the newspapers. The view that most of the newspapers are Tory-dominated and extremely biased against us is shared by most of our supporters outside. If we get the television medium in here and retain control over it, they will see things in the House that folks would never believe happened, and that is a damned good thing for democracy. Let us have rich red blood flowing throughout the country. Let us have more open government. Let us not don the sackcloth and ashes of a monastery and pretend that we are something separate from the people outside. We are sent 492 here by the people. They have a right to know what we are doing.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robert Carr)
I fear that there will now be less good red blood flowing and a rather thinner diet for a few moments. But I thought it would be helpful if I intervened as briefly as possible to give information on a number of points, information which is needed for the House to make up its mind.
First, I want to make it absolutely clear that the Government are not seeking to influence the decision of the House in the matter in any way. They have no interest in doing so. The Motion will be decided by a genuinely free vote, and the Government are entirely content to abide by the decision of such a free vote.
Secondly, perhaps I may say something about my personal position. Hon. Members may recall that on past occasions, and again quite recently, I have made known my personal conviction that the televising of our proceedings would be in the best long-term interests of the House and Parliament as a whole. But I am sure that it would not be right for me as Leader of the House to elaborate on this occasion on why I strongly hold that view. I itch to participate in the argument, but I think I had better restrain myself.
However, I want to make it quite cleat that there will be a free vote for Ministers just as much as for other Members, and I shall be supporting the Motion in the Lobby.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
In view of what my right hon. Friend has just said, perhaps he would make it clear that while he has his views and has expressed them, some of his colleagues on the Government Front Bench, whose service in the House is as long and whose experience is the same, take a diametrically opposite view to his.
§ Mr. Carr
I have just said that it will be a free vote for Ministers as much as for all other Members. There is no doubt that that is the case. Therefore, I do not think it proper for me to enter into the argument.
493 What I do believe is that it will be helpful if I, as Leader of the House, briefly deal with one or two important aspects of any experiment in broadcasting our proceedings, and in particular if I tell hon. Members of some of the discussions we have had with the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority in preparation for the debate. These are important matters, which the House might like to know about in coming to a decision.
First, the Motion proposes that the experiment should be a public one, broadcast on public television and sound channels, and not just on closed circuit as was proposed in 1966. The only view on merit that I will express is that I believe very strongly that if we are to have an experiment we should have a public experiment. I say that because it seems to me that otherwise the House would lack important evidence on which to make its ultimate decision. We cannot judge the way in which the broadcasting authorities incorporate live extracts from our proceedings in daily summaries of parliamentary proceedings, news broadcasts or feature programmes, which is what the public will see if we ever go in for it on a permanent basis, unless this experiment, if we have it, is a public one. Perhaps even more important, nor can we judge the public reaction, or our reaction as Members, unless we see what the experiment looks like on the public screen outside rather than on a closed circuit.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I am sorry to have missed the right hon. Gentleman's first few sentences. Can he explain in greater detail what is the difference in visual terms between the image on the closed-circuit screen and on the screen outside? Can he also say what the experiment will cost, if and when it is carried out?
§ Mr. Carr
I shall come to the cost in a moment. But there is no difference in what one sees on the screen. The difference is in who sees the screen. If we are to make up our minds, it is necessary that the public should see the broadcast and that we should get the reaction of the public; for otherwise I do not believe that we can decide whether our proceedings should be broadcast on a permanent basis. That is the only point of 494 merit that I shall put. If we have an experiment, I strongly advocate that it should be a public experiment, as is advocated by the Motion.
§ Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
In the unfortunate event of the House deciding to engage in the experiment, if the BBC finds that the popularity ratings of the experiment are so low that it is not worth continuing—because the broadcasting authorities are interested in popularity ratings—what power has the House to compel the BBC to continue with the broadcasts?
§ Mr. Carr
That is no doubt an interesting question but one to which we shall not know the answer, or find one, until or unless we have had an experiment.
The central matter on which the House needs to be satisfied today is that during any experiment the proceedings of the House will be seen by the general public in a fair and balanced way. I do not simply mean by that that there should be a reasonable party balance in the programme as a whole but also that the proceedings of the House should be known to the public in a way that is representative and fair to the general reputation of Parliament. The use of a record of our proceedings, particularly a visual one, in producing summarised parliamentary reports undoubtedly poses considerable and delicate problems of editorial balance and judgment. It is no good trying to deny that.
As the House will be aware, the broadcasting authorities are already under an obligation to treat political matters with due balance and also with accuracy and impartiality. These obligations are embodied in Statute and also in past official correspondence. I believe, however, that if the experiment takes place the broadcasting authorities might justifiably be asked to give specific written undertakings relating to these general obligations and how they would be interpreted in the special conditions of the public experiment of broadcasting our proceedings.
I think the House should know that the broadcasting authorities have assured me that they would be willing to provide such undertakings if that were to be the wish of the House. It is my belief that the House ought not to attempt to lay 495 down a detailed—and if it were detailed almost inevitably a contentious—series of rules governing which parts of our proceedings can and cannot publicly be broadcast, but I think that it might be useful to discuss this with the BBC and the IBA and get some general guidance and agreement laid down in correspondence. All I would suggest at the moment is that the guiding rule might be that our proceedings as broadcast should be as open to the cameras as to the eye of someone sitting in the public galleries, neither more nor less.
If we have this experiment and it is subsequently decided that it justifies a permanent arrangement, the House might then, of course, eventually wish to decide more detailed permanent rules governing what should or should not be broadcast, but I think that as far as the experiment is concerned an exchange of letters with the authorities might possibly give the House all the safeguards that it would need.
For the experiment it is inevitable, I think, having talked to the broadcasting authorities, that the cameras would be limited to this Chamber. Again, however, if the experiment were to lead us to conclude that we wished to have a permanent arrangement, the whole question of broadcasting various committees, particularly perhaps those with regional interests, such as the Scottish and Welsh Grand Committees, or the Northern Ireland Committee if we have it, is something which might well be included. But we must realise that what the broadcasting authorities can inject by way of resources for an experiment must have some limit, and therefore for the experiment we would have to be content with cameras in the Chamber alone.
The other principal issue on which the House will need assurance is the question of how far the physical requirements of television, particularly in relation to lighting, cameras, cables, and so on would affect the convenience of Members and so on. On this I have had considerable conversations with the broadcasting authorities, and correspondence, too. It is no good denying that the 1968 experiment in the House of Lords showed that this was a very real problem, not least perhaps because of the rise in heat- 496 ing levels brought about by the increased lighting required for television at that time. I think it was generally accepted that the problems would be intensified by the subsequent introduction of colour television. I think, therefore, that it is worth underlining what my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Bats-ford) said, that I am assured by the broadcasting authorities that technical developments since that time have improved the position considerably.
In particular, as my hon. Friend made clear, it is hoped not only to minimise the glare but also perhaps to remove the heat level problem by the use of indirect lighting, with the lights situated outside the windows and reflecting diffused light down from the roof into the Chamber. It is also true that the introduction of more sensitive colour cameras would avoid the increased level of lighting which in colour television would have been expected only a short time ago. This technical advance is still going on, so in a year or two the lighting requirements should be less stringent than they are at the moment, when they are less demanding than they were a few years ago.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
Is there any truth in the rumour that if the lighting came from outside and was reflected down, we would have to have something like what the Dutch Parliament has, a plastic roof to catch the reflection and bring it down?
§ Mr. Carr
I cannot say. This is why we must have an experiment. We can discuss these things and have opinions about them, but during the course of the experiment of a few weeks no doubt the broadcasting authorities would want to try out various types and intensities of lighting in order to discover which were the best. However hard we try, we cannot theorise sensibly about these things. It is only when we try them out that we shall discover whether they are likely to be tolerable on a permanent basis.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Many of us are genuinely troubled that the introduction of the experiment will lead to the permanent installation of cameras in this House. Can we be assured, when it comes to the question of cost, that there will be no question of saying, once we have the cameras in and the lights installed, that they must stay 497 until we have made up our minds? Could they be removed so that we would not be under the pressure of being told, "We have to save the cost"?
§ Mr. Carr
I certainly give that assurance absolutely. There is absolutely no reason for anything of that kind. Indeed, this was one of the next points I was coming to.
For an experiment in the near future, simply because the cameras would be temporary they would be far more obstrusive than they would have to be if the system became permanent. If we were to decide, following the experiment, to have permanent broadcasting facilities, it would be possible to build into one or two places—under the galleries, for example—cameras smaller than those which would be used in the experiment and in a way that they would be scarcely noticeable to us. But apart from wanting the threat of them overhanging us, as it were, in our considerations whether the experiment should be made permanent, it would mean a totally unjustified expenditure for the experiment if the cameras which would be used in permanent broadcasting were to be installed. So during the experiment there would have to be cameras in the Chamber, which would be rather annoying to us. But, as I have said, if we were to decide after the experiment to go on with broadcasting permanently, the degree of discomfort and annoyance could be greatly reduced.
However, even for the experiment the trouble caused by the cameras could be less than we might have feared. Not long ago, it was the view of the authorities that they would need probably eight cameras to cover the Chamber adequately and to give a proper variety of shots and so forth in making a worthwhile programme. Now it is felt that five would be sufficient. Probably three would be, I understand, as it were, at our level, and of those three two would be remotely controlled; while only one, for the purpose of the experiment, would have an operator, and that camera might be under one of the galleries. The other two of the five would be at a higher level. Therefore, there would probably be, even for the experiment, only one camera manually controlled within what for normal practice we regard as the precincts of the Chamber. That is much better 498 than could have been expected some time ago. On a permanent basis, as I have said, the conditions could be made better still.
Furthermore, it would be one of the intentions of the broadcasting authorities in the experiment to try out various types of lighting to see what was necessary and what was not. I have a feeling, speaking purely as a layman, that the degree of lighting required to provide technical perfection may not be necessary to produce a picture which is readily acceptable to the viewing public. I very much hope that we would be able to persuade the broadcasting authorities to try various intensities of overall lighting as well as various methods of lighting, just to see what level of lighting would produce a generally acceptable picture to us and to the public.
I now wish to outline briefly the framework of what the experiment itself might be like if we were to decide to go in for it, the sort of thing which the broadcasting authorities have suggested to me as a basis for further discussion if today's vote goes that way. I think that the House would wish, for the purpose of making up its mind today, to know, from the viewpoint of the broadcasting authorities, what they would see as a viable experiment. If the whole proceedings each day might be broadcast, we should be very much concerned with what the broadcasting authorities think they might actually show to the public.
Such an experiment, I am told, could take place in the early summer of next year, if that were the wish of the House. It is suggested by the broadcasting authorities that it might last for about three weeks.
The BBC and the IBA would propose to provide quite separate programmes. I think that we should welcome that because, again, it would create more variety for us and the public to judge by. The BBC envisages that it would hope to show during the experiment a series of nightly half-hour televised summaries of the day's proceedings. They would be shown after 11 o'clock at night and would be repeated at the following lunchtime. Extracts of the proceedings would be included during the experiment in television news broadcasts and, in addition, the BBC would hope to show additional programmes 499 covering perhaps one or two Question times and/or a major debate.
The IBA would propose to include recorded visual extracts for nightly news bulletins and also regional news magazines, and would include a "Week in Parliament" item in a weekly news magazine, would show one or two late night longer summaries of the day's proceedings and perhaps would also cover a full debate in addition to any that might be covered by the BBC. All these television broadcasts by both authorities would, it is proposed, be in colour.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Can the right hon Gentleman explain whether this blue print for the experiment, in the form he envisages it, is the form on which we shall be voting tonight, or whether it is ideas and proposals that he is now airing and he will listen to other views in the House as to the form which the experiment should take?
§ Mr. Carr
I am glad the hon. Member raised that point. What I am indicating to the House at the moment is the sort of thing which the broadcasting authorities have indicated to me they believe they could do. It is not a final blueprint, and certainly not laid down by me or the Government or the authorities. I thought it would be helpful to the House to know the sorts of thing on which there might be further discussion. In just a moment I was about to say a word about how that further discussion with the authorities might be conducted if the House were to decide in favour of the experiment.
In addition, during the experiment, the BBC says, it would like perhaps to include recorded speech of the proceedings in both the House of Commons and another place in its sound radio programmes, "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament" and also, presumably, in sound news bulletins as well.
If I may refer briefly to the costs, the costs of an experiment would be borne principally by the broadcasting authorities themselves. Providing we agree to its being a public experiment—I think it would be quite different if we were to say there should be a private closed-circuit experiment before we were to agree to a public experiment—then the broadcasting authorities would be pre- 500 pared to bear the bulk of the costs themselves, and the cost to public funds would be related entirely to the temporary provisions needed in this Chamber. I am advised that the amount would be no more than £2,000. I am, of course, referring to an experiment of about three weeks' duration.
In our discussions with the broadcasting authorities we have made clear that we think the House would wish that there should be sufficient coverage of proceedings during the main viewing hours, so that we should be able to get in a fair assessment of general public opinion—and not just specialised opinion such as those who would be likely to watch or listen if all the programmes were broadcast only late at night. The authorities have agreed that in any experiment their coverage of our proceedings during the main evening hours would be as generous as possible, and this, too, is something we might wish to pursue with them further if the House decides in principle on the experiment.
They have also intimated—this takes up a point raised by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton)—that within any experiment of the nature I am talking about they would seek to vary the format and treatment of the programmes as much as possible during the three weeks or whatever period, so that we and the public could try to get as wide evidence as possible of the various possibilities open to them and to us if it were ever to become permanent.
§ Mr. Gorst
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could make it absolutely and emphatically clear that if we vote this evening we shall be voting on an experiment and that subsequently, after the experiment, this House will have opportunity, regardless of any argument this evening, to have a further debate on the results of the experiment.
§ Mr. Carr
I have said that, and I say it again, and I shall say something more about it before I close.
I believe that these proposals would form a reasonable basis for an experiment, or at least for discussion about an experiment, if the House decides in principle.
I have already said that it is not a matter for the Government to decide. Therefore, I do not think it would be 501 appropriate for the Government to conduct these further discussions with the broadcasting authorities if the House votes in favour of the experiment. So what I would suggest is that, if the House does pass this Motion this evening, the question of detailed arrangements and the further discussions with the BBC and the IBA about the form of the experiment and of the sorts of things I have been talking about should be entrusted to the Services Committee acting on behalf of the House. I would think that to be the right way of dealing with it.
I would emphasise again that all the ideas I have been putting forward, following our discussions with the broadcasting authorities, are simply to be the basis on which the Services Committee's discussions would start and are not in any way the final product, unchangeable; they are indications of the sorts of thing which might be possible. It would then be for the Services Committee to have any further discussions between now and next spring with the authorities to see what they can agree.
§ Mr. Proudfoot
Can my right hon, Friend say whether the experiment will include closed circuit to the queue outside?
§ Mr. Carr
This is the sort of trouble which arises when one gives way because one seems to cover then most of what one was going to say anyway. I was going to deal with that in a moment, but I will deal with it almost straight away.
I want to suggest that it would be appropriate for the Services Committee, or a special sub-committee, to be given in those circumstances the task of assessing the results of any experiment; and that Members should, therefore, be able to raise complaints with that Committee during the experiment, or after it—and give them their impressions about what happened, or what should have happened. Therefore we should leave to our Services Committee first of all the 502 planning of the experiment and if it takes place the assessment of it. The Committee having considered the experiment would then report to the House, and there would have to be another debate, and we should make our decision whether or not we wish to go in for broadcasting on a permanent basis on the basis of the Committee's report to us I think that is essential.
To deal with the point my hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot) raised, I think that during the experiment there would clearly be a need for special arrangements made to ensure that Members of both Houses had adequate opportunities of viewing the programme, and also possibly, whether in Westminster Hall or elsewhere, that members of the public, waiting to get into the Public Galleries, or wishing to come in, were able to view the telecast on closed-circuit screens.
Another matter—and this is the last thing I want to say—which it would seem appropriate for the Services Committee to consider would be the question of copyright in the visual record of our proceedings, whether it should be vested in Mr. Speaker or a Committee, and the conditions on which it would be made available to other bodies such as educational bodies, overseas parliaments, and the like. This is clearly something which needs going into. I think it is a matter which the Services Committee ought to look at in detail, just as it would quite probably wish to look into the whole question of any issue of parliamentary Privilege which might be raised on the broadcasting of our proceedings.
I hope that what I have said about the discussions with the broadcasting authorities is not seen in any way as prejudging this issue but only as an attempt to help the House by forming the basis of a proper debate today. I made clear at the outset and I repeat as I close that the question of broadcasting our proceedings is a matter which is entirely for the House to decide. I hope that all I have done is to lay before the House the considerations and information which it genuinely needs to make up its mind.
Finally, I would remind the House again that the Motion before us at present is one for an experiment. I believe that we have the power, if we have the will, 503 to have an experiment and to make our judgment upon it, and I do not believe that we need be as weak-willed or lacking in confidence in ourselves as to believe that if we have the experiment we have committed ourselves willy-nilly to continuing it permanently. I want to stress that this Motion is for an experiment and for an experiment only, and that is the matter which. I hope, the House will decide, with a full, free vote tonight.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has made abundantly clear where he stands on the question of the experiment to televise the House, and stressed that it is only an experiment. But it is the view of some hon. Members that once we have agreed to this proposal this evening, if we are unfortunate enough to do so, this experiment will become a permanent feature of the House. I wish strongly to object to any possibility of that happening.
I asked the right hon. Gentleman in an intervention what would be the position if the BBC, over which we have no control in terms of the broadcasts it sends out, reaches the conclusion that the televising of parliamentary proceedings is not very popular and decides to drop it. Have we any power to ensure that the BBC under its charter must give half an hour, or whatever the period may be, to the televising of parliamentary proceedings if the BBC thinks that the public does not want to view such programmes?
We are assuming that there is great popular demand for the televising of our proceedings. But that has yet to be established. The BBC has decided to hold the experiment in the summer, which is a time of poor viewing audiences, and has safeguarded itself by saying that it can vary the experiment from day to day to see which broadcast has the highest popularity rating. Those responsible in the BBC may emerge from the experiment and say to the Home Secretary and to those who are in favour of this proposal that they do not think there is any need for this unfortunate departure from what has been the system in the House of Commons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) raised an 504 important point. He said he would like to see televised everything that happens in the House of Commons—no doubt including Members asleep or snoring, deserted benches and sparsely attended debates without people being given any explanation about where Members may be.
§ Sir M. Galpern
That is what follows from what my hon. Friend said. At the time of such broadcasts hon. Members may be sitting in Select Committees or attending afternoon sittings of Standing Committees. For example, I spent a whole week chairing the Prices and Incomes Bill and I could not get into the Chamber at all. Yet my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West is anxious to show these expanses of empty benches so that my constituents could well say, "Our Member is not in his place". They would not, of course, know that I was upstairs carrying out a much more onerous job than simply being glued to the benches of the House of Commons. That is one danger that may arise. It will mean not only that Members will have to be more often in the Chamber, which may be a good thing, but also that Members will refuse to serve on Select Committees and Standing Committees because they will realise that if they are upstairs they will not be seen to be in their places in the Chamber and will not be able to take part in interventions in televised debates in the form of points of order and other devices of parliamentary procedure.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Does my hon. Friend not recognize that this process will be part of the great understanding among the electorate of the workings of Parliament? Does he believe that his constituents are incapable of that type of increased understanding? If he holds that view, I am sure that not many other hon. Members share it. I am sure that those who have the intelligence to elect my hon. Friend to this House will also have the intelligence to appreciate what is going on.
§ Sir M. Galpern
The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford), in moving the Motion, said that parliamentary procedures were not understood and that the general public were ignorant of them.
505 I do not see how half an hour of television will be sufficient explanation for the viewers to understand precisely what is going on and to realise what is happening under the Standing Orders of this House and all the rest of our procedural system. If 15 minutes of the half-hour telecast is to be spent in commentary explaining exactly what is happening, it will so sicken the audience that nobody will want to watch the programme.
I should like to refer to an article which appeared in The Times yesterday containing the personal view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) on the televising of Parliament. He referred to the defeat in 1966 by only one vote and said,It was a lamentable episode and my only hope was that it would cause such a public outcry that supporters of television would be encouraged to try one more heave. But the public could not have cared less.He went on:This time the circumstances are even less favourable. The prestige of Parliament has declined still further. And so has the public demand to see it in action on their television screens. But the case for the change is not to meet public demand, but to counter public neglect.Does the BBC take that view?
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend referred to there being no public demand, but the Select Committee Report mentioned the results of a poll in which 52 per cent. of the electorate liked the idea of televising the House and 34 per cent. liked the idea very much. There is, therefore, a public demand which has not yet been satisfied.
§ Sir M. Galpern
That poll was not infallible. I took a poll in my own area and I found that many of my constituents were satiated with the personalities hogging their screens and switched off whenever they appeared because they had seen them so often. I was quoting the words of a former Leader of the House who was at one time responsible for these matters and who is of the view that the public could not care less. He said that there was no public demand. Who is prepared to ram down the throats of the public something people do not want to view? Does not the public already get enough in the way of programmes of this nature? We already have 15 minutes of "Today in Parlia- 506 ment" from 10.45 to 11 p.m., then we have it again in the morning, and there are current affairs programmes by the score. We also have a wide array of political programmes, as must be agreed by everybody.
Is there any evidence of an inadequacy of reporting of Parliament at present? The only difference under the new proposal is that the face of the speaker will be seen on the screen, but, as was said the the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel), there are two classes of performers. On the one hand, there are those who appear regularly on programmes because they are photogenic or suitable for television purposes, but the difference in terms of the House of Commons is that those who are less fortunate in appearance or approach may not get an innings.
I believe that the same standards will be applied by those who are to edit the proceedings as now are applied to the people who appear on current affairs programmes. They say, "So and so is no use. His speeches are dull and he does not show sufficient anger. We shall not use him in the edited version but shall use somebody more flowery in style who has at his command the well-polished phrase, or somebody who gets up and creates a scene. "These are the things my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West said he would like to see recorded—not to enable the public to have a better understanding of what happens in Parliament but for them to be allowed to see the cranks and comedians. That is what we shall have. It will change this place from a debating chamber into a stage for performers. That is precisely what will happen.
There is an even stronger argument than the arguments which applied when the proposition was defeated by one vote. Since then, Parliament has passed the Sound Broadcasting Act. I had the honour of chairing the Standing Committee that considered the Bill for five solid months. We spent all our time, day and night, debating the content of the programmes. One requirement was that ample time was to be devoted to political broadcasting.
Where is all this to fit in? We have already agreed to set up five central commercial broadcasting stations, with one 507 in London devoted exclusively to news items and feeding news to the other stations. If that is to be the position, there will be a surfeit of news items. How will they broadcast for all these hours on these commercial radio stations unless they broadcast what the local Member says or does or what he tells them in the Lobby he intends to do but never does, anyway? These are the sorts of thing the public will be told about. The passing of the Sound Broadcasting Act is one of the most powerful arguments against televising our proceedings, because if our proceedings were to be broadcast people would get far too much of what is happening in Parliament.
I am fortunate and privileged, Mr. Speaker, to be a member of your Chairman's Panel. Over the last six years I have chaired a wide variety of Committees and in that time I have learned quickly to predict, if the Press is present, the type of speech which will be made and which speech is made purely for the purpose of attracting the attention of the Press. The Press knows that the wilder the allegation, the more atrocious the statement, and the more outrageous the behaviour the more newsworthy it is.
There is a certain type of Member who will serve on Standing Committees only if there is likely to be publicity. I see one hon. Member shaking his head, but he has served on Committees which I have chaired and they have always been concerned with such things as abortion, not mundane matters like the Finance Bill.
If the proceedings of the House of Commons are televised, my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) will become even more outrageous than they can be at present, and we shall have shaking of fists and people running across the Floor of the House, because that is what the BBC will say that the public want. We shall be told that the public do not want a humdrum speech, with an hon. Member talking about museums, for instance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West cited the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill, which we discussed yesterday and which was not the 508 subject of much reporting. What guarantee does he offer the House that, if it approves the Motion, such matters would be reported in television, anyway? Of course the BBC would not report such a matter, because it would have no interest from the point of view of those who would edit the programme.
The leading article in The Times today reads:There are occasions now when the House of Commons would benefit from more reasoned argument and fewer antics. It might be hoped that behaviour would improve if Members were conscious of the cameras bearing down on them. But that argument can be used both ways. Some hon. Members would become aware of their dignity. Others might respond, as people elsewhere have responded to the presence of television, by seizing the opportunity for a little cheap publicity.I believe that that is what will happen and it is what the BBC will argue it must show because the public will not watch the proceedings otherwise.
I will give an example. On Tuesday, when winding up the debate on the EEC Summit talks, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster spoke to a House that was fairly full. I could not hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman because of the buzz of conversation all around me. In the last few moments of his speech, the right hon. and learned Gentleman threw away his script and made an abusive attack upon my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. That led you, Mr. Speaker, to call for order because of the din which was created and the slanging match which ensued. If our proceedings were televised, that would go out as the effective part of the speech, and it is all that would go out. The televising of our proceedings could be conducted in such a way as to convey a wholly distorted impression to the viewer.
I will give a second and more modest example. At the conclusion of the debate on the Museums and Galleries Admission Charges Bill yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science said that he would be brisk in his concluding remarks. The hon. Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Suttaford) said this:I hope my hon. Friend will not be too brisk, because many of us on this side are anxious to hear what he has to say so that we may know which way we are going to vote.509 The Under-Secretary said this:I am glad to know that, but it would have been more helpful if such hon. Members, in addition to the few who were here today, had been also present to hear the matter more fully discussed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October 1972; Vol. 843, cc. 391–92.]If our proceedings yesterday had been televised, that is all of that debate that would have been reported, as a slap in the face to any hon. Member who came into the debate late, without the public being told that the hon. Member might have been sitting on a Committee all evening upstairs. It would be legitimate for such an hon. Member's constituents to draw the inference that their Member was not present in the House at that time and was doing something quite extraneous to his parliamentary duties.
I hope that my view will be shared by the House that we already have ample coverage and that we should not agree to this experiment. If we do agree to it, we shall regret it. If the Motion is carried, I am satisfied from research that I have done among my own friends that, if we move from the stage of experiment to permanent televising of our proceedings, in view of what is coming on commercial broadcasting very shortly, and without our having any powers to force the BBC to televise whatever part of the proceeding we determine, the BBC will drop the whole thing and the House will look pretty silly.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I will return presently, if I may, to some of the general arguments which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) has been using but I begin by commenting on the speech of the Leader of the House. Whatever may be the views of hon. Members in different parts of the House—and it is evident from the debate that strong and sincere views are held on both sides of the argument—everyone will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for having presented the conclusions which have arisen from the discussions that have so far taken place with the broadcasting authorities.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman agrees, as he underlined, and I would seek to underline it, that there is nothing decisive about the discussions on the form in which this experiment should take place. Much less is there 510 anything decisive about what might happen after we have the results. It might well be that the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr Whitehead) and the other arrangements on how to control the broadcasts will have to be discussed by the Services Committee before there are fresh discussions with the broadcasting authorities. Therefore, discussions on the technical arrangements are still wide open.
What we are discussing today, following a request from back-bench Members on all sides, is whether there should be a public experiment. If that is carried out there will need to be fresh discussions with the Services Committees to see what is the next step to be taken and whether we will be able to proceed with the experiment roughly at the time suggested and for the length of time suggested. All of these matters are still open for discussion and may be for further votes in the House. It may be that it will be discovered that this is the only way it can proceed. I say that so that no one should be in any doubt. Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), have pressed strongly the view—I have heard it from some of my hon. Friends, too, and I understand the argument—that once we have agreed to the experiment, that is the end of the matter.
I do not think we should necessarily take that view. I would put it the other way. When I give my support to this Motion I do it entirely as an individual and I do not speak for anyone else. I am not voting on the suggestion, the idea or the understanding that the experiment will be a fake. Not at all. The very opposite. The experiment must be genuine. The Press, the House and the public and all others concerned must be able to comment upon it fairly. As a result we will be able to decide as a House whether we proceed with the televising of this Parliament and how we do it. That is the situation and everyone who votes tonight will only be voting, curiously enough, for what is said in the Motion and not for anything else.
I want to direct almost the whole of my remarks to the major question of principle which is what we should be discussing. The Leader of the House properly and naturally gave to the House the result of the discussions he has had with the other 511 broadcasting authorities and most of his speech was devoted to that. Most of my speech is addressed to the question of principle. Of course the technical arguments are important and if they are such that the idea became impossible, or physical disturbance was great, that will alter the principle. Moreover, if it were found that the methods of sub-editing what is produced here were too difficult, that, too, would affect the principle. What we have to decide is the principle itself and that is what I want to discuss.
We are discussing a matter of considerable importance for the sustenance of democracy: the question of the relationship between Parliament and the people. I have been surprised to hear the complacency with which some who have contributed to the debate view the present situation. I am as strong a supporter of Parliament as my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who opened the debate on this side of the House for those opposed to the Motion. I also believe that there are many highly creditable factors which enter into the character of this House. I wish to preserve those but I do not believe that the relationship between this House and the people outside at present is one with which we should be satisfied.
It is deeply unsatisfying, in that decades ago more and more people looked to this House of Commons, partly to this Chamber but also to Parliament as a whole. Years ago the public looked with enthusiasm or affection upon this institution. I believe that there has been some change in the relationship and that part of the change is due to the way in which the affairs of this House are reported to the people—not solely but partly. It may be partly due to the powers which Parliament has but that is a different question.
If anyone says that what we are discussing is whether television should be brought in as a reporter of the House, that is not the case. Television already reports the affairs of this House. Television today—this is not primarily its fault but ours, because of our decision not to permit orderly televising of our proceedings—is bad. It is insulting and insupportable. I have made a considerable part of my income over the years by going on television, so I do not have 512 any personal complaints. Indeed, I almost feel like declaring my altruism at this point.
I think it is a demeaning process that after a major debate in the House Members of Parliament—I have done it on numerous occasions—have to be taken by the BBC or ITV or whoever it may be to appear on a programme and to be asked to compress what they have said in the debate into a couple of minutes or so and to be subjected to questioning by a chairman who perhaps has not the faintest notion of what has happened in the House. They may have come from a debate knowing perfectly well that someone else has made a much better speech, yet that person is not there.
Parliament is presented in a caricature. [Interruption.] I am first trying to get clear what happens now. I was addressing myself to why I find it so surprising that hon. Members, particularly those who may say that the distortions may be greater in the future, should be satisfied with the distortions that take place now.
§ Mr. Foot
If they do not like the distortions, let us understand that we are agreed that there is some failure in the relationship between Parliament and the people which we have to overcome. The method by which at present parliamentary discussions are reflected outside, not only on television but in the newspapers too, leaves much to be desired.
When Aneurin Bevan made his speech in 1959 on this subject his argument was partly that our affairs were conducted almost incommunicado. If that was so in 1959 it is very much more the state of affairs today. The popular Press has almost abandoned the reporting of Parliament. The Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Mirror—the popular newspapers—hardly trouble to report Parliament at all. Take the so-called "posh" papers, The Times and the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Telegraph gives extensive reports, as does The Times. Perhaps it is a subjective feeling but I think that compared with some time ago they are giving a decreasing proportion of their space to the reporting of Parliament and that this is coupled with 513 an extension of the amount of commentary and discussion about what has happened in the Lobby.
If we take The Guardian—my favourite "posh" paper if I can give such a restricted compliment—it redeems its reputation through the individual brilliance of its parliamentary sketch writer and the pertinacity of some of its Lobby correspondents. But its parliamentary reporting! I sometimes think that the curious views expressed by the Editor of The Guardian on what happens here derive from the fact that he takes literally what appears in his paper's parliamentary report! That is the only explanation I can think of. In some respects this is supposed to be a House of leakages. Journalists—I am a journalist—are supposed to live on leakages. In some ways the safest place in which to utter something one does not want to be leaked by any journalist is in the secrecy of this Chamber. I say that seriously.
The debates of this House are quite inadequately reported to the people. I am not in favour of dictating to newspapers how they should deal with this and I hope they will not be too sensitive if we comment on the way they conduct their affairs. We are entitled to do that. This House has seriously to consider the major question of whether we are satisfied with the way in which this new medium of expression reports the debates of this central forum of debate in this country or whether we want to seek means by which it can be much better done, particularly when we know how powerful this medium is.
If we could have a situation in which the debates of this House were much more consistently reported through this medium, preferably through the system advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North—that is, a unit devised by this House, but not necessarily by that means, possibly through the procedures proposed by the right hon. Gentleman—that would be much better than we have now. It may also have some influence on the newspapers, because to some extent in some other areas the invention of broadcasting and the distribution of ideas and the discussion of certain subjects has had a beneficial effect on the newspapers, even though it does not appear to have had any influence so far as Parliament 514 is concerned. Perhaps one of the reasons for that may be that television is not permitted by this House properly to report what happens here.
We have to make up our minds as Members of Parliament whether we want that to happen. Some hon. Members have said that this will alter the character of the House. The character of the House alters from generation to generation, from decade to decade. No one need imagine that the character of the House will remain the same. The decision of the House to embark upon the publication of debates altered the character of the House. Before the decision was made to allow journalists to report the affairs of this House, Henry Fox, the father of Charles James Fox, made a famous speech in which he said:I will speak so loud I will be heard outside this House.That was regarded as an outrageous statement for a Member to make at the time. The idea that a person's voice should reach people outside was insulting to the whole character of the House. But the character was changed by the radicals of those days who said "We cannot be content with a Parliament which regards itself as a closed, magic circle. "Parliament was altered and it was those who altered the character of the Commons in the eighteenth century who prepared the way for all the great democratic reforms of the nineteenth century.
In the same way, if we conduct this experiment properly and if we are shown to be successful, I do not believe that Members will behave in the way my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston suggested. We all know that we have such scenes in the House. If the scenes happen it is not improper that they should be reported. But it is not possible for my hon. Friends who are against the experiment to argue strongly about the authority, tradition and dignity of this House and in the next breath to say "Once you turn on the cameras we will turn into different creatures overnight. "That is not very likely to happen.
Most of the best speeches which I have heard in this House—things may have changed in recent times—have been made from the back benches. I am in favour of keeping alive the spontaneity and surprise which can derive only from the 515 proper reporting of back-bench speeches. Under the proposed new system backbenchers would have a much better chance—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] My hon. Friends ask "Why?". We shall be experimenting with a system whereby the reporting of this House will be under a body partly controlled by the House. The back-bench Member has a better chance with HANSARD, which is controlled by the House, than with the newspapers. Nobody knows for certain, but I should not be in favour of the experiment if I did not think that that was a good probability.
§ Mr. Ashton
Is my hon. Friend aware that the problem of back-bench Members often is that they cannot get called? My hon. Friend and I will be on "Midweek" on television tonight at 10.45 p.m. arguing the point and we shall both have the same length of time. But in this Chamber my hon. Friend is likely to have half an hour and I shall have nothing because I am on the back benches.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand my hon. Friend's feelings and it is partly for that reason that I am putting this case. It is the position of back-bench Members in this House which differentiates this Parliament from most other Parliaments in the world.
I was illustrating how I believe—no-body can prove it, and that is why we must have an experiment—that such a development in the way in which Parliament is reported can increase the power of the back benches and of the Opposition against the Government. In my time, Governments of different complexions have all too often been ready to drive through Bills just because they thought they had an automatic majority. Disraeli said that a majority was the best repartee. That is the view of the Treasury benches.
I should not like to take any particular example of such a Bill; it might be thought to be invidious. However, take the hypothetical example of a Bill of major constitutional importance which seeks to change perhaps the powers in this country, the powers of Parliament itself, a Bill on which there are big divisions on both sides and for which perhaps the Government have no mandate from the country and which they are seek- 516 ing to drive through under a guillotine—and this shows how fanciful is the illustration—introduced by the Liberal Party.
A Government with all those advantages in such a hypothetical case would be strongly tempted to say "We do not have to answer these people. Let us try to reduce the House of Commons and the discussion to as boring a process as possible. We will not even attempt to answer the arguments. We will simply try to drive the Bill through and hope that the Press and everybody else get bored with it". If such a hypothetical example were to occur when the television cameras were operating, at least the Government spokesman would be required to a much greater degree to answer the arguments.
The House need not be defeatist in this matter. Why should we say "If we permit television to come in, we shall have to adapt ourselves to television"? Why do not we say "We can adapt television to suit our requirements"? That is what Parliament can do.
I hope that the House will agree to the experiment on the basis that it is a genuine experiment. If the experiment appears to prove the case of those who are against the general proposition, their arguments will be fortified when we come to the later decision and the later vote which will be needed to ensure that this happens. But if we reject the idea of any experiment, we shall be saying by implication that we are content with the relationship between Parliament and the people and with the fact that the argument about politics in this country is more and more being transferred from this central forum.
My belief is that the status of Parliament is in much too tender a position for us to take that attitude. If the country cannot see that its clashes, arguments and cleavages of interest are reflected in the debates, votes and arguments in this House, I believe that Parliament will decline. If Parliament declines, if people cease to have faith in Parliament, the only way in which such clashes of interest can be setled is by bloodshed. Therefore, how Parliament wishes itself to be presented to the nation is a matter of major importance.
We would make a grave mistake if we said "We shall not even have an experiment for another 10 years or more to see 517 whether a job which many of us believe is being done quite inadequately can be done better". Is there any hon. Member who believes that what we debate in this House is properly reflected and in such a way that the public can see what we are doing? I think that very few Members would come to that conclusion. If they did, they would be mistaking the general mood in the country. Therefore, I hope that the House will not make any mistake on this proposition this time.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Sir Fitzroy Maclean (Bute and North Ayrshire)
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has presented himself most convincingly as a champion of the back bencher. However, one could not help noticing that there was an interesting unity of view between, if not the two Front Benches, then the two Front Bench speakers. They both reminded us that we were voting only for an experiment.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, who in my opinion is an extremely honest man, said that this was not necessarily the end of the matter. I particularly noticed the word "necessarily". I should be prepared to bet quite a lot that if the Motion is passed it will be the end of the matter and that we shall have television with us for ever. On the other hand, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that what matters is what he called the "sustenance of democracy" in this country. I agree that that is threatened and that it is important that we should sustain it. The question is how.
I wish to begin by declaring my attachment to television. Perhaps I am not as firmly glued to the "box" as some people, but I get as much enjoyment and quite a lot of instruction from it. Like the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale, I also make a certain amount of money out of it. I have appeared on quite a lot of programmes, and I have made programmes myself. Therefore, I can quite honestly say that I have no prejudice against it as a medium. What I do have is a realistic appreciation and healthy respect for its immense power and immense impact on the affairs and life of the nation, an impact quite different from that of the Press and certainly quite different from "steam" radio.
518 Speaking as someone who has been much concerned with television, I have no doubt that any reasonably skilful television producer could get out of our debates a quarter or even half an hour of entertaining edited viewing three or four times a week, with snippets from serious speeches and from less serious speeches, with interesting shots of the brisk exchanges which we sometimes witness between the two Front Benches and, if we had a good cameraman, with plenty of enjoyable reaction shots.
Think what promising television material we have had in this Parliament alone: the exciting "demo" by hon. Members opposite, with some of them snatching at the Mace; the "Red Flag" being sung, though not very tunefully, on the Floor; the Leader of the Liberal Party being physically assaulted; the hon. Lady the Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) shooting across the Chamber like an avenging fury to pull the hair of the Home Secretary, and hon. Members on both sides of the House snatching at her, too. All that would have made first-class television, and no doubt hon. Members opposite could add some equally edifying incidents from their own experience.
From a producer's point of view, such a programme would clearly be money for old rope. But the editing of such a programme would put immense power in the hands of the producer, the editor and the cameraman—and I have done quite a lot of work myself for the BBC as a cameraman. The camera may never lie, but it can be used selectively and partially to place or displace emphasis and to produce results which bear very little relation to reality. Anyone who has watched, let alone made, a documentary or even a newsreel, especially in less democratic countries than this one, knows that. The camera can, and often from an entertainment point of view should, be used to soup up or dramatise a situation, to foreshorten it, to telescope it and so on, all in the cause of good television but not necessarily of democracy.
The question which we must ask is how advisable it would be to give powers of that kind to anyone outside this House and, further, to what extent it is the function of this House to produce entertainment for viewers. In The Times 519 yesterday the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) gave it as his view thatif the decline in the public esteem of Parliament is to be halted, there must be a radical reform of Parliament, including the regular televising of debates on the floor and in committees upstairs.I make no apology for saying so, but I am inclined to view with caution any suggestion which comes from that quarter, and this one is no exception. Indeed what strikes me forcibly, quite apart from my native caution, is the lack of any weighty or convincing argument from that quarter or from anywhere else in favour of televising our proceedings and I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale had to say in a most eloquent speech. In fact the only argument in favour seems to be that nowadays everybody and everything has to be on the "telly" because otherwise they are not "with it".
A leader in The Times this morning suggests that televising our proceedings would help tomake people much more aware of what was happening at Westminster.But this I very much question. I believe that the impression which people would derive from their screens would inevitably be partial—all too probably in both senses of the word.
It is true of course that we could have a complete unedited television record, a television HANSARD—that seems relatively unobjectionable—but the question is who would look at it and how and when? If it went out on the ordinary channels, if that were feasible, I doubt whether it would get a very high popularity rating. And were it to be greeted with a 90 per cent. switch-off, I doubt whether in a society where television popularity ratings count for so much, it would do Parliament's image very much good.
Of course, if it is a question of televising everything, one could make a strong case, not only for televising the proceedings of the House, but also for televising the proceedings of the Cabinet. It is many years since I attended a Cabinet meeting, and then only in a subordinate and incidental capacity, but my recollection is that, depending on the com- 520 position of the Cabinet, it could provide very good viewing indeed, reaction shots and all.
My own feeling, quite frankly, is that television viewers see just about enough of us as it is. Some would say too much. It is well known that any politician, from the Front Benches backwards, would jump at any opportunity to appear on television and be bully-ragged and cross-examined by television pundits and by political interviewers. Politicians will do anything to get on the "box". And quite right too. This, I think, is much the best way for the viewing public to get their politics presented to them. If I thought that by looking in at a few selected shots of our proceedings they would get anything like as fair and balanced a view of politics as they do already, I should vote for the Motion, but, quite frankly, I do not.
I do not believe that, practically speaking, television is capable of producing a really fair, balanced and comprehensive picture of our proceedings and, what is more important, the workings of the House or the atmosphere which prevails here. And to give the viewing public anything less than that would in my view, be very dangerous indeed. I am also, whatever anyone may say, afraid of the impact which television would have on this House. One has only to watch or go to a party conference to see the effect it has on them. Inevitably, I believe, it would have a powerful and not at all salutary effect on our proceedings. Surely we in this House, of all places, should be talking to each other and not talking to the television? But that is what inevitably would happen once our proceedings were televised—it is only human nature. I liked the phrase used by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) when he talked of struggling after a liability. That is exactly what we should be doing if we approved the Motion. And it would be a liability that would stay with us.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
I agree with the sentiments and principles put forward by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). Excellent as his arguments were and good as his presentation was, it is the fact that the hon. Member is in favour of the Motion which perhaps carries the greatest 521 weight of all, because, although one might criticise the hon. Member on a variety of grounds, no one could criticise him on the ground that he does not care about this House. I comment on only one point which he made. He said that the Daily Mail had ceased to report Parliament. I took that as an arcane and cryptic tribute to the fact that Mr. Andrew Alexander has recently been translated from the Daily Telegraph to the Daily Mail to write those colour pieces which sometimes are more coloured by the views of the observer than by anything which has taken place in the Chamber.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford) on what I thought was a masterly presentation of the case. I thought that the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) also made an extremely effective speech, marred only by one infelicity when he compared the contribution which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South with that made some years ago by the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). My mind goes back to that debate and I recall that it was the speech of the right hon. Member for Coventry, East in support of the proposition that did more than anything else to bring about its defeat. I noted also, for the record, the right hon. Gentleman's reproach against his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East that he held the same views today as he did six years ago. That must be the first time that particular reproach has been levelled against the right hon. Gentleman.
It is no exaggeration to say that the decision which we are to take today is as important as any decision which the House has had to take in recent years. I am sure that everyone, whatever may be his views on the merits of the proposition before us, is actuated only by the one desire—the Whips are off in this debate, it is a free debate—to do what is best for the House of Commons and for the country. It is not a party matter. The most odd alliances could be formed out of this debate.
I am delighted that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benny, who is not here today, is in favour of televising the House. At least, if we 522 are not able to have anything to read, we shall have something to view. I often wonder where the joint activities of Lord Longford and the right hon. Gentleman will lead us, and what will be left for us to read, except, perhaps, Chicks Own.
The case for televising the House is simple and cogent. I was struck by something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), who has the most subtle and corrosive intellect in the House. Were there such an institution as Anglican Jesuits, he would have a high claim to be superior-general of that Order. My hon. Friend, with his subtle and searching mind, asked the Question which really is the nub of the issue: What does the House of Commons gain by admitting the television cameras into our proceedings?
I answer in this way. In an era when television has, for better or for worse, become the principal means of mass communication, we exclude the television cameras only at immense cost to ourselves, for only by using television can we restore to the Commons that place from which it has undoubtedly slipped, the place which it had over the centuries as the forum of the nation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon talked about the functions of the House, but in an extremely narrow way. He talked of those functions as being technical in character. He talked, in effect, about the legislative function of the House, which is but one function only. It was Walter Bagehot—if I may dare to mention that great man's name—who pointed out that the principal function of the House of Commons was an expressive and informing function, to inform the nation on the great political issues of the day. I part company entirely from my hon. Friend—I cannot believe that he means it seriously—when he says that the discharge of that function is confined to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the other persons who decorate our Front Benches.
§ Mr. Maude
I did not say that. I said that it was not the business of the House of Commons to speak directly to the people from this Chamber through the medium of television cameras or in any other way. When my hon. Friend says that we cannot restore the lost influence—if it be lost—of this Chamber except by 523 admitting the television cameras, will he tell me of any institution in this country which television has either advanced or made more reputable?—our universities, for example?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
In my view the the effect of television on the life of the country has been much more beneficial than harmful. We have a public better informed about politics, for example, than we have ever had in the past. It has succeeded in raising the standard of appreciation of our political life and a whole range of other subjects to a level never before seen in our history.
The argument for admitting the television cameras is all the more powerful because of the gap which undoubtedly exists, and is widening, between the legislature and those for whom we are elected to legislate. I am not of that pessimistic school which looks back to the good old days when the House of Commons was something better than it is today. But we ignore the various forms of protest at our peril. We ignore the clamour for participation also at our own risk, for unless we find a positive means of filling this gap we shall face a situation in which the whole foundations of the democratic State as we have known it will be threatened. So let us make this positive and constructive step and use the new medium which is available to us.
Not only the nation but the House of Commons as an institution will benefit. I believe that everyone in it will benefit. This is true of Ministers and Shadow Ministers. They will be able to communicate much more freely; they will not be subjected to what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale referred to as one of the humiliations of being interrogated by people who have nothing to do with the elected Chamber of the people.
I believe that back benchers will be even greater beneficiaries, because after a century of centralising and of increasing the authority and power of the Government they will have this new means of communication with the people. It will be open to every back bencher, so that we shall no longer have a handful of back benchers who are more equal than others and who have access to television, but the right will be the right of 524 every backbencher, subject only to one thing, his choice in exercising it in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
The hon. Member is emphasising a point already made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), but will he explain how he reconciles what he is now saying with the practicalities of television, which he knows a bit about? How can that opportunity be exercised when, even at the best so far suggested, about eight hours of proceedings in the House—let alone proceedings in Committee—would be shown in a half-hour summary later in the evening?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I hope that I shall be permitted to make my speech in my own way. It has a structure which may eventually become apparent. I wish to deal with the principle first and then come to the technical consideration which the hon. Gentleman raises.
It has been—curiously enough—a matter of reproach during the debate that the House of Commons is, or might be, "good viewing" and that somehow we would be demeaned if we were able to make a dramatic impact upon the country. I ask hon. Members to look around them. The whole Chamber is designed for dramatic impact. It is made for confrontation. The whole design in which we speak and the framework in which we move is shaped to make the greatest possible impact on the nation as a whole.
Without doubt the Commons will be very good viewing. There is something to view. There are people here with a great deal of dramatic talent. I think for example of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). She conveys something of the essence of her contributions through the cold print of HANSARD, but the impact which she makes through HANSARD is nothing to the impact which she would make, and rightly make, if the nation were able to see her in full pursuit of a Minister in defence of her beloved North-East.
It does not seem to me to be any reproach to the House that people will want to see it in action. It was Matthew Arnold who said that a work of art has two functions, to instruct and to entertain. Those two functions can be fulfilled together.
§ Mr. Faulds
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has some feeling for the professional proprieties. The very reference which he has made to his hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) pinpoints the danger of the operation which we may undertake. It is the character actors in the House who will get the attention of television and, oddly enough, being one of the best character actors in the House myself, I do not want to see television in this place.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I have some sympathy with the thesis advanced from the point of view of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds), but if Members are characters—and there are many characters in the House—it is right that the nation should see those characters and that they should be able to communicate. If a Member is a tame grey steam engine, he may end up on the Front Bench, but if he is a character, he very well may not. Why should not the characters also have their day?
It is the clash and conflict in the House of Commons that would make it, such compulsive viewing. People would want to see the House of Commons and as they saw it and became interested in it, they would understand it more and more. It has drama, it has conflict, it has a changing cast of characters. After all, Members die—the cardinal mistake in politics is to die, for in politics one is never finished until one is dead. I know that if I dropped dead tomorrow—which Heaven forfend—after a decent interval—say 24 hours—300 or 400 people would be applying for one's seat. In this situation one need never fear that the House of Commons would bore the public.
526 I have listened with great care to the important objections to admitting television into the House. It is not a clear-cut issue. It is an issue in which the arguments are finely balanced. I believe that on the whole the advantages in letting the television cameras in outweigh the disadvantages, but one has to consider the objections.
First, it has been said that television would destroy the intimate character of the House; the special and precious entity that it constitutes. That is a matter of opinion; it cannot be a matter of fact. If I believed that opinion to be correct, I should certainly not advocate even the nose of a television camera coming into the House. But we cannot resolve that question until we have seen the effects of the experiment.
That fear—a very right and proper fear for anyone who cares for the Commons—has nothing to do with the constitutional fallacy that the House of Commons somehow exists for itself, that we exist to talk to each other and to no one else. We exist as a club, certainly, a very special club, but a club which exists not for its own sake but to serve the nation. That was the point made by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) who got so worked up and annoyed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West. The hon. Member became so furious that I thought at one moment that he had mistaken his right hon. Friend for a member of the Royal Family!
The constitutional fallacy appeared in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon when he spoke in terms of great horror at the change in our style of debates. Of course the style of our debates would change. Styles always have changed and they always will. I wondered whether my hon. Friend was representing the Royal Shakespeare Company in his constituency, or the D'Oyly Carte Company.
It is no good addressing the House today in the style of Gladstone, it was no good Gladstone addressing the House in the style of Pitt and it was no good Pitt addressing the House in the style of Bolingbroke. The only place in which there is a total preservation of style is the graveyard. There indeed the style is fixed. If an institution is alive, one of 527 the signs of its being so is that it changes and adapts itself to the century in which it happens to be.
A second criticism concerned playing to the gallery. Those Members who would play to the gallery are doing it already. One must distinguish between playing to the gallery, which I take to mean looking for cheap applause for ill-thought-out and inapt arguments, and those who believe that they must, through the House and its Members, address the nation as a whole. One is merely playacting and the other is fulfilling what is an honourable calling.
The ultimate sanction of playing to the gallery—and no doubt there will be those who will do so—remains the same with or without the television cameras. If Members play to the gallery, they achieve only one thing—they lose the esteem of their fellow Members. That is a sanction more effective than anything that could be put on paper to restrict the access of the cameras or in the editing of programmes once the cameras were moving.
The third objection with which I wish to deal and which is important is that through the televising of our proceedings people outside would get a distorted view of the Commons. This objection was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. They do not have any view of the Commons at the moment. I do not believe that anyone who follows politics with any closeness or any intelligence will think that the entire sum of parliamentary activity is carried on within this Chamber alone. I think that they will realise, in future as in the past, that the secret of being a successful Member of Parliament is balance.
We all know what calls are made upon our time and if a Member spends his time in the Chamber and neglects his constituency, in the end he will lose both constituency and Chamber. That is the reality of the matter. The only effect that may be safely prophesied is that the introduction of television cameras will effect an improvement in parliamentary manners, and perhaps we shall see that we have passed the high tide of rowdyism and intolerance which, unfortunately, has risen to a new peak in recent years.
I have been dealing with the principle of why. The question of how is sub- 528 sidiary and may be left to technologists and Ministers and others. But the point must be made—and this answers the question of the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing)—that it is only an edited version of our proceedings that is a practical proposition. We could not have, as has been advocated, a continuous transmission of the proceedings of the Scottish Grand Committee. Nobody would look at that and I doubt whether even in Scotland that would hold the viewers enthralled for more than a minimal time.
That means that there would be a heavy responsibility of those who had to edit, but those responsibilities would be exercised subject to the watchful eye of the House of Commons. If those responsibilities were not adequately discharged, the House would be the first to intervene.
An edited version should cover not only the Chamber but, in due course, Committees upstairs, the Committees mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern), Committees on some of which I have served—the Abortion Committee, the Divorce Committee and so on. Those Committees have great interest. The hon. Member seemed to imply that I served on them to gain some form of publicity. I admit that I have never been a believer in doing good deeds by stealth. I served on those Committees because they interested me, because they were dealing with Private Members' Bills. I am not a member of the Monday Club, but I am a member of a more distinguished club—the "Friday Club".
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
On a point of order. Would it be in order to remind the hon. Member that although he has been speaking most interestingly and entertaininly, he has been doing so for 25 minutes?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am about to finish. That intervention has delayed me for a few seconds more.
One heard the reproach levelled in this debate that television would result in Committees being depleted and this Chamber being filled once again. Committees have practically killed the House of Commons. A move away from Committees and back towards the Chamber would be a move in very much the right direction. It would increase the prestige of Parliament, not diminish it.
529 Ultimately all these questions can be decided only after we have seen what an experiment produces. Therefore, I hope that the House will allow the Motion to go forward so that, after the experimental period, we shall be able to take a decision in this House not on dogma or prejudices of any kind, which we all share in different ways, but on the facts and experience as we shall know them. Let us give ourselves the chance to have this experience.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
I will try to be reasonably brief because so many hon. Members want to speak.
Next week I shall have been a Member of this House for four years. When I came here I was a fervent supporter of its being televised. My opinion has been drastically changed since.
I will list a few of the incidents which I have witnessed in this Chamber during that time. I saw an hon. Member who represents a Kent constituency walk into the Chamber during a speech by the Prime Minister and start to eat apples. He said that he started eating apples and ruined the Prime Minister's speech on a very important occasion because he wanted to draw attention to the plight of the apple-growers in Kent. This afternoon, and I apologise to the Chair for doing it, I have been holding up signs such as "Where is Ted" to show how a debate can be reduced to a ludicrous level in an attempt to hog the attention of the cameras and ruin the purpose of this House. I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for holding up the signs, but it was one way of making my point. I intend to make a serious speech. The hon. Member who walked in eating apples was probably driven to distraction because there was no opportunity of raising the issue, about which he felt deeply, in the Press or in the House.
I felt the same way earlier this year when 5,000 miners in my constituency were on strike. I was not called to speak in this Chamber although we debated the coal situation on four successive days. I accepted that. It is one of the hazards of being here. But if those debates had been televised, obviously my constituents would have been wondering what I was doing to earn my £85 a week. Anybody switching 530 on the television now and looking at those benches would probably say "Look at them, £85 a week! Where are they? Why do we pay them that sort of money?"
People would listen to some of the speeches in this Chamber and within five minutes or so would switch over to "Coronation Street" or "Top of the Pops". I should not blame them. Let us face it. About 90 per cent. of the time speeches in this place are so dull that we do not listen to them. We can read them in HANSARD the day after in half an hour in any case.
I have seen an hon. Member raise a row about free snuff being given out at the entrance. Somebody else who had a snuff factory in his constituency raised a point of order in the House because he wanted publicity for that snuff factory.
I once saw an hon. Member try to bring two chickens in a little cage into this Chamber for a debate on cruelty. He got his picture on the back page of the Daily Mirror the day after. He was refused permission to bring in the two chickens. I am sure that if the television cameras had been here we would have had more of that sort of thing taking place.
One hon. Member comes in a white suit. I do not want to malign him in any way, because he is not present, but I have heard it rumoured that he is a sponsored Member of Parliament or something to do with the textile industry.
This is a magnificent place for gaining publicity for any cause under the sun. Some hon. Members have spoken in this Chamber because, I am absolutely certain, they were being paid by outside business interests to push those interests.
We have suggested that there should be a list of Members of Parliament who receive money from certain businesses and that they should declare their interests, but they do not always do so. I will declare mine. The Draughtsmen's and Allied Technicians' Association, my union, pays 50 per cent. of my agent's salary. I would say that on television and put it in my election address. Not everybody here will do the same.
How is the public to know, when an hon. Member defends the action of the Distillers Company, that he is not being 531 paid by the Distillers Company to fight their case on thalidomide? How is the public to know, when an hon. Member defends a drug company in his constituency, that the company is not paying him to do it? We do not have a compulsory register of Members' interests, but many hon. Members take retainers and push the interests of outside firms, businesses and causes. Some of those causes are very good. They range from charitable causes onwards. But how is a television viewer to know?
It is all very well saying that we can educate the public concerning the empty benches in this Chamber. However, the commentator cannot repeat every 10 minutes that the reason the benches were empty at six o'clock this evening was that the Parliamentary Labour Party was meeting upstairs. The 1922 Committee also meets upstairs at that time. If that was not explained to the television viewer he would probably switch on for 10 minutes and say "Look, £85 a week and not 20 of them there". There are 50 million potential viewers. When they turn on their sets for five or 10 minutes during the afternoon we cannot have commentators explaining all the time—we cannot educate the public all the time—that the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries is sitting upstairs, that there are four other Committees sitting, that Members have to visit constituencies, that some are chasing Ministers, have letters to answer and speeches to prepare, that upstairs there are 15 study groups considering the environment, the ports, and so on, and that Members have to study the business that is taking place every day. The public will believe what they see. One picture is worth 1,000 words. The public will look at these benches and make certain assumptions. We will not be able to stop that.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Does my hon. Friend agree that the public can read about these things in papers like the Daily Mirror which constantly snipe at the House and point out that very few Members are present? What people do not read in these papers is an account of the Committees at work. What we want is Committees televised too, so that the public which sees the House knows about the work of the Committees also.
§ Mr. Ashton
Local newspapers report Committee proceedings but television will not. It is an instant picture. The man at the party conference who talked about the dung beetle received sensationalism in every newscast.
There are times in this Chamber when people throw leaflets from the Gallery. We take no notice. We are used to it. People stand up and shout "Down with so-and-so", or "Good old so-and-so." We ignore all that. What will happen in the Gallery when the cameras are here? The man who threw the CS bomb down into the Chamber received massive publicity for the cause he thought he was pushing.
§ Mr. Ashton
Exactly. What sort of publicity would he get with television? We shall get every homeless family in the country going into the Gallery and shouting "Find us a house" or something like that when the Housing Minister speaks. They may be entitled to do that.
One of the greatest deterrents to politics is a protest which is shown in television where the trade union leader is always shown on a box talking down a mike in a regional accent to his brothers and there is a crowd behind him pushing and shoving, chanting and marching through the streets. Inevitably the cameras zoom in on a man shaking his fist. Hon. Members in this Chamber have shaken their fists and advocated violence. I should not like to see that on television. If one hon. Member does something and it is shown on television, we are all classed in the same way. People will say "They are all a bunch of mugs. There is nothing between any of them."
The biggest thing we are fighting in politics is apathy. I have seen it in local councils. We are fighting apathy all the time. I am almost certain that if we let the cameras in we shall see the apathy.
Let us look at some things which have suffered with the advent of television. Since television came in cinemas have virtually vanished. The theatre has suffered because of television. About 15 years ago there used to be "shorts" of three or four minutes duration covering football. I used to like them. They have 533 now grown to mammoth proportions. Consequently gates are falling. The football authorities are beginning to wish they had never seen television. There is a surfeit of it. There is now "Goal of the month" and such things which one repeated three or four times a week.
There could be a show called "Row of the Day". It could start off with the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Miss Devlin) going across and grabbing the Home Secretary, pulling out his hair because she was not called to speak. In ten years we shall have all the show biz razmataz with the canned laughter and all that sort of thing.
Let us consider something which is similar to politics—religion—[Interruption.] There is nothing funny about this because politics and particularly socialism happen to be my religion. Look at what has happened to religion since television took a hold of it. It has degenerated into "Stars on Sunday" with Shirley Bassey singing "Ave Maria" and Tom Jones singing "Land of Hope and Glory". That is show business. Churches in my constituency have given up evening services because of the competition from the "Forsyte Saga" and they now open on Sunday afternoons. Look at the position of horse-racing. No one goes to it because it is on television. Rugby League has been killed stone dead.
The way that television handles politics at the moment has done politics a great deal of good. I relish seeing the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas) on television. In five minutes he is decisive and he gets his point across. He is there with someone from this side of the House, and it is good. But he has just made a 25-minute speech in here that he could have made in four minutes.
If we reduce this to its basic principles, who else in this country would agree to have a camera pointed at them at their place of work all day long? Everyone would walk out on strike. They would say, "We are not having that snooping eye looking over our shoulders". I do not mind telling my constituents what I am doing. I will clock in and fill in a time chart with pleasure. But I resent the idea, perhaps because, as one of my hon. Friends said, we have characters in the House. The newspapers cannot print the four-letter words but television can 534 soon broadcast them if they are shouted out.
The only reason that television cameras are wanted in the Chamber is vanity. We would all like to see ourselves on the box and to know that people were hanging on to our every word. But people are very sensible when it comes to politics. They know the important issues and they are satisfied with the interviews on "Panorama" or "World in Action". I do not believe that they want to watch the party conferences or the TUC conference all day and every day, and in the same way I do not believe they want to watch Parliament. It is all very well to say that a poll has been in favour of televising Parliament, but who asked for the poll? It was not the public.
I intend to vote against the Motion tonight because I think it would be derogatory to Parliament to introduce television. We shall have the evils of sponsorship, the protestors from the public gallery and the show-offs and I do not want to see politics degenerating in the same way as that in which I have seen religion and sport degenerate after going on to television.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
If the television cameras had been here tonight what we have seen and heard would have been classed as "good television". For most of the debate almost 100 Members have been present all the time. The last time we debated the subject one hon. Member took a count and said that not enough interest was being shown in the debate because only 72 Members were present. The attendance has been good because the performances have been good.
I did not agree with the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). His argument was sincere, though, and there was an awful lot to it. I declare quite openly that I go along with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and not with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-onAvon (Mr. Maude). They both have a radically different concept of what the House of Commons is about.
I do not believe the House of Commons is a place where we principally try to speak to our constituents. When we 535 do we usually make a boring speech and empty the Chamber. The House of Commons is a place where we debate and hope that our arguments will perhaps reach a wider audience. I have gained the impression during the debate that those who oppose the concept of televising the House do so because they are afraid of changing its atmosphere and its character. Surely this point has been answered many times by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale who have explained that the House is a constantly changing place. Maybe if we introduce television cameras the House will not only change but will change quickly. But why should we think that it will change for the worse?
I do not agree with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw that we shall have an outbreak of ridiculous characters. In this House we do not speak to the television camera but to each other. An hon. Member speaks in front of men who can criticise him. This is the most critical assembly, the most critical audience in the world. I do not want to make a fool of myself either in front of the camera or in front of other hon. Members. But we have all done it at times, we have all made a hash of a supplementary question and we have all delivered a boring speech and bored the pants off the House at some time. We have all made such mistakes and the television camera would pick them up. But I am not afraid of the television camera picking up the mistakes, the sparsely occupied benches or my dozing in the afternoon. I am not afraid of the camera not even finding me here and of my being conspicuous by my absence. That is the House of Commons. Let the public see what the House of Commons is like—warts and all.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The hon. Member has put his finger on it. I do not mind the public seeing us as we are, warts and all. But I do not want the public to see only the warts and for that to be represented as Parliament. The question of the editorial balance and the editorial control is involved.
§ Mr. Crouch
I accept the hon. Member's point and it has stopped me in my tracks. May we look for a moment at the reporting of Parliament by the BBC 536 in "Today in Parliament". In 15 minutes every night, repeated every morning, are the contents of a six-hour debate and the BBC have had very few complaints about lack of impartiality in the reporting. In those 15 minutes they usually manage to cover about half the speakers who have taken part.
I know that hon. Members feel their gems of oratory and their most telling points are omitted, but the broader spectrum of the debate is covered. The BBC does not pick on every little incident of character acting that might make it good television or good radio broadcasting. They are instead achieving in a quarter of an hour what I believe to be a good report of the whole substance of the debate. The BBC is doing so by means of an editorial judgment. Why should not we allow the television camera to attempt to do the same? The time has come when we must do so. Not to do so, to decide today to refuse entry to the cameras, would be for the House to turn its back on the reality of what is happening in society today.
I believe that we are turning our back on the reality of communication and how people want to receive communication today. I believe that the public are greatly interested in our activities in the House, and in the voting Lobbies. It is a pity, and we are the poorer for the fact, that the public are not sufficiently interested in the argument and debate which go on before we take our place in the Lobby. It is because we have denied them for so long this opportunity to see how we conduct debates in this greatest assembly, this greatest debating chamber in the world, that there is a decline in the interest in this place.
The right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) has written recently that there is a decline in the interest in this Chamber by Members themselves, that at about tea-time, when the two Front Bench speakers have sat down, the Chamber empties and the tea room, smoking room and party committee rooms begin to be filled. He is right. Members tend to come back into the Chamber at nine o'clock when the Front Bench speakers are up, but even then less and less are the benches crowded, because there is less and less emphasis on this Chamber in the whole of the Houses of Parliament. That is not only felt by 537 Members but is strongly felt by people outside.
There is another thing which takes Members out of the Chamber. At eight o'clock on Monday night if the leader of the Opposition or the Prime Minister should be on "Panorama" or "World in Action" the most crowded rooms in the House are the rooms with television sets. That is to get the emphasis wrong, and that is what I am so sad about. I want to see Members returning to this Chamber, with all the possibilities and dangers that have been properly suggested today.
I respect very much what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw said might happen, and what has been said by those others who are against the proposal. I want to take the risk, the risk only of an experiment. I plead with the House not to turn its back this time on the opportunity to bring the centre of gravity of Parliament back to where it belongs—in this Chamber. I want to involve the public. We are talking in this monastic-like place, cloistered, separated from the world outside. I ignore the Press gallery. I was once told that the best bench to find in the Chamber was the one where I could be seen by both the Press gallery and the public gallery. For some reason, I happen to be standing in just such a place.
As we debate and vote tonight, I want us to think that there is a third force outside, the public. Let us give the public a chance to take part in the experiment, which is a public broadcasting experiment. We must not deny them the opportunity to see what we, their paid servants, do on their behalf. If they have that opportunity, I am not afraid if they do not see me here. I am prepared to tell them what other things I was doing, and thus to enlarge their knowledge of the whole activity of myself and all other Members of Parliament. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) could tell his constituents that he is on Mr. Speaker's Panel and a very valued and distinguished member he is. I hope that his constituents will recognise that.
We have much to preserve in Parliament. We know in the privacy of this great cloister what a remarkable place Parliament is. We know that we create 538 the atmosphere. No architect created it. We create it as we live, work and talk here; we create it by our debates, not just by our voting. Our debates can be both fascinating and famous. This place can be capable of great dignity or great derision. There can be expressed in this House sincerity or deceit. There can be revelations; there may be refutations. This is the place where we are sent to speak, and where we are sent also to listen, argue and to debate.
Are we now to deny that there is the means of communication today to allow the public to see us doing these fascinating things? This is a place where every Member, from the Prime Minister to the most remote back bencher, has to be on his toes when he is speaking. I do not believe that opportunities will be taken to fool about any more than we do today. Of course, there will be some such instances.
Six years ago I was convinced that we should televise the House. I listened to the debate on the matter as a new Member who had loved and admired the House all my life and had quickly grown attached to it as a Member of it. As the debate proceeded and I heard the arguments go to and fro I found myself being persuaded that it was too precious a jewel in our democratic treasury to risk losing by exposing it to the television cameras. It was my noble Friend the present Lord Chancellor who swung my views that day. There is perhaps no greater defender or lover of this democratic centre of the democratic world than the Lord Chancellor, and his speech then moved me not to take the risk.
After six years, I feel certain that I was wrong then. I am in no doubt that as a politician I, and I hope a majority of Members present, am prepared to take the risk and so enable the House to make greater communication with its constituents.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
I believe that democracy is about communication and that the most important form of communication is the communication between those who elect and those who are elected. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said something with which I profoundly agreed when he said that we 539 must move with our times. But what he failed to do was just that, taking the view that what was good enough in the past was all right for today. The whole history of the democratic process is in the use of means of communication as populations have increased and society has become more complex. The city state was one of personal communication between a few people and the leader.
The arguments which have been put forward today against the proposed development are the same arguments, mutatis mutandis, as were used against the introduction of Press reporting of Parliament. I have been looking up some of those arguments. It is astonishing how close today's arguments are to those presented then. Parliament was then a sort of secret society, and there was great resentment against the idea that the people should know anything about what they did. It was Burkeism taken to its absurd point, where the Member, once elected, is by himself, with nothing to do with anybody else for five years. That sort of democracy was popular in those days, but we ought to have got out of that way of thinking.
Yet the attitude that the electorate must be kept away and not allowed to know what we do, because if they get to know the truth they will lose faith in the system, is still here. I am sorry that in four short years my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) has become so corrupted as to lose faith in the intelligence of his constituents. That is a sad state of affairs. I hope that today's debate and the debate in which he will no doubt appear on television—he has himself become a television personality of considerable magnitude in the past few days—
§ Mr. William Hamilton
That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Basset-law (Mr. Ashton) does not want it in the House.
§ Mr. Jenkins
—will convince him that we should televise our procedings. My hon. Friend is a personality not only on television but in the House. Some hon. Members appear on television more than others.
The real question is, will the situation change very much if television cameras enter the House? I do not think so. But 540 if we were going to decide tonight irrevocably once and for all that we should have television in the Chamber for good, I should be in great difficulty to know how to vote. If I knew that I could not think again, I should be in grave doubt. But I do not believe that the House is incapable of changing its mind. There will be another debate in which we shall be able to think the whole thing over in the light of what happens during the experiment. So why do hon. Members take the view that we must not even see what happens, that we must not even test how strong the lights are, that we must not even find out whether the cameras do pull people in, that we must not subject ourselves, our public, or the members of our parties to the experience of seeing us on television, that we are frightened even to put the matter to a three-weeks test? Surely, we are not so pusillanimous as that?
Therefore, I take the view that it is a real test, but I think that on balance it is likely that in the end of it, even those who are now doubtful—I respect their doubts and to some extent share them—will be persuaded. I pulled my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw's leg a bit, but I do not want him to think that I do not understand thoroughly his doubt about the nature of television as it is now.
I address myself to his objections because they are real and proper. I believe that when they are examined they will be found to be objections to the nature of our media today rather than to televising Parliament. I think that my hon. Friend would say, "If I could rely on a medium, if we had media which I could trust, if we had the sort of programme which would fully examine the rôle of a Member of Parliament—that would turn to his role as a member of a party, would consider him in his office dictating and answering the telephone, and in his constituency, a medium which would educate the public, I would be all in favour of it." What he is saying is that he does not trust the media, and I think that he is right to say that.
But I believe that by televising Parliament we shall educate not only ourselves and the public but also the media, that we shall improve the media. With my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), I believe that 541 the consequences of televising the House will be to bring about an improvement in Parliamentary reporting in the Press. I believe that to be particularly true of the local Press. No doubt some hon. Members enjoy satisfactory relationships with the local Press and are reported will in their local papers. Not all of us enjoy that. We had a very large rally in Roehampton about a fortnight ago which was addressed by hon. Friends the Members for Ebbw Vale and Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). We have two local papers. One ignored it completely and the other misreported it.
Some of us do not have the opportunity to address ourselves fully to our constituents. I believe that the more communication we in the House can have with our people, not only our own constituents but the whole country, the greater do we extend the processes of democracy, just as was done when printing became available and the newspapers began to appear on the streets. Indeed, the development of the modern Press is the result of parliamentary reporting. If there had not been the struggle to report Parliament the development of the modern Press would not have taken place. The fact is that the Press has run away from its original rôle, which was firstly the reporting of Parliament, helping to create a modern democracy in which people could participate . In those days there was no full franchise and the development of the modern newspaper and of a fully franchised democracy have gone together. The Press has become corrupt since then, but that has nothing to do with democracy; it has to do with capitalism. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw really knows that at heart, and that is what he is complaining about. My hon. Friend is complaining against the system under which newspapers are sold purely on questions of circulation and advertising. These are the factors which have corrupted the nature of the Press and therefore what it publishes.
But do we in these circumstances say that we must run away and not allow the new medium of television in on our proceedings? Not at all. We must allow it to happen; we must also accept that there will be a certain amount of misreporting. But as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale has pointed out, 542 we have the power to create safeguards. I differ somewhat from my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) as to the precise nature of such safeguards. He thinks that there should be a parliamentary broadcasting unit. I think that a parliamentary committee in close touch with the media would be sufficient. But these are matters of detail and could be satisfactorily ironed out.
I hope that tonight the House will decide, despite all the difficulties and problems, which I do not underestimate, to recognise that we cannot afford to ignore the fact that communication is fundamental to the democratic process and that we must use what is now the most popular means of our time. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw talked of the effect of the media on various other forms of entertainment. But he cannot avoid the fact that television is the main form of communication with the people of our country and that we must fully accept it, go along with it, and try to improve it. That should be our role—not shrinking back and living in the past. I hope that in 1972 we shall reverse the error made by a one-vote majority six years ago and decide on this experiment. Whatever the outcome of the experiment may be, we should do it. Let us try it out.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
All the views expressed in this debate flow from instinct. Whether one is for or against the experiment, the reaction is instinctive. Having got our instincts, our hunch, we produce various arguments in support. It is not a question of rabid differences of view based upon clear fact or of not having the right views, or of not having a good view of one's colleagues. It is a matter of instinct.
My instinct is against the experiment. I think that it would be detrimental to Parliament and to the people's view of Parliament. Indeed, if I were practical, perhaps I would add that it would be an infringement of the Trade Descriptions Act. If we brought cameras in here and tried to give the impression that the cameras were looking in on Parliament, we should be wrong. This Chamber is not Parliament. It is an ingredient of Parliament, but I doubt whether it is 543 even the most important part of Parliament, although it is an essential part. The Parliament which one would pretend one was representing on the cameras is made up of committees and private discussions, of personal interviews and of visits to Ministers. This sometimes gives the impression from the Chamber that Parliament is being neglected by its Members, when the opposite is the truth.
Of course the televising of Parliament would interfere with the intimacy of exchange. I defy any ordinary person to be as natural before a camera as he would be without it—and that applies whether one is in one's own dining room or garden or here. I defy any normal person to be as free before a camera as he would be without it.
It has been suggested that televising our proceedings would help discussion. I believe that it would drive under cover the real discussion of the differences which exist. That has happened with local councils. I sat on a local council for about 16 years, when we did not allow the Press in for Committees. Then, in "the General Purposes Committee of that Council" there would be a difference of view, one would change one's mind in the light of argument and one was able to do so in the intimacy of a private meeting. Now the Press are allowed in at those meetings and too often a more rigid stance is taken; now the real discussion on local councils does not take place any longer in the council chamber but in the caucus meetings of various members before they go in. It is all cut and dried before they get into the chamber. If we had the television cameras in here, all the intimacy of exchange that remains would be driven out. We would be driving discussion in Parliament into hole-and-corner methods which used to take place and which would be to the detriment of Parliament.
§ Sir Harmar Nicholls
The hon. Gentleman must show some signs of tolerance. He is supposed to be a great democrat but he only wants to listen or read about himself. I am only suggesting that this is an instinctive reaction that we are experiencing and that my personal instinct 544 is against the experiment. The instinct, like that of the hon. Member, is based on years of experience here, and we are all trying to put out points of view on record.
I believe that the loss of intimacy would be a dangerous thing. Nor need we have an experiment here to know what it is like. When the hon. Gentleman's namesake and I were in Canada last month we found that the proceedings of the provincial parliament of Nova Scotia are televised. Knowing that this Motion was to come before the House, he and I made some inquiries and discussed it with people there. They advised against the experiment. They said, "It makes us look juvenile and it is not in the best interests of our Chamber." I asked them why they did not stop it. They replied, "If we stop it at this stage it will give the appearance of our running away and of cowardice on our part, which is even worse than looking juvenile." I do not see why we have to have an experiment here when experiments have already been tried elsewhere, giving us every chance of knowing what it is all about.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) always makes an interesting speech, interlaced with a certain amount of wit which is only sometimes out of place. He suggested that if we had cameras here, somehow it would end the interviews, which are sometimes unfair to Ministers and others. There is no suggestion that normal practices would not go on if the cameras were here. He also seemed to indicate, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), that we would have the cameras in only when great matters of moment and principle were being debated. He seemed to concede that the majority of the hours we spent discussing legislation and various details—when indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, we are talking to one another—would not be on the screen.
That is not what I understand the Motion to say. As I understand it, the cameras would be here during the hours we were discussing legislation just as much as on the great days when those who are the ornaments of Parliament and are worth listening to as performers—I look at the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale 545 (Mr. Michael Foot) when I say that—would be on the screen. But these are rare occasions. I do not think that the televising of such rare occasions would go far towards repairing the damage done by interfering with the intimacy of the majority of our discussions.
The shape and size of our Chamber reflect its life. It is not capable of seating every Member. The reason is clear and sound. It is recognised that most of our discussion is on intimate matters when usually few Members are present. It is small enough so as not to look stupid if only a small number of Members are present to carry on with the work. If, like other Chambers, we all had a desk with the intimate sort of work we usually have to do, it would be like discussing one's shopping list in St. Pancras Station. The Chamber allows intimacy of discussion among a few Members but equally, on big occasions with crowded steps, reflects the great occasion.
If we had the cameras in over the whole of our parliamentary proceedings, the result would be dull. It would interfere with our constituents' belief of what Parliament is. Consequently, it would interfere with the authority of Parliament, and I think it important that parliamentary authority should be maintained. I think that many people accept the edicts which come from Parliament, often uncomfortable and sometimes seemingly unfair, because their impression of Parliament is one which gives it a stature which they are prepared to accept.
If Parliament, composed as it is of ordinary people, were brought into the sitting rooms of viewers, with some of its Members looking dowdy and some not looking effective, it would interfere with some of the acceptance by the people of its decisions. I believe that now their imagination and belief of what Parliament is and from where those decisions come; helps acceptance of those edicts.
I believe that the trimmings and the crimson and the wigs of the judges make insignificant-looking men capable of giving judgment and leadership which is accepted but which would not be accepted to such a degree from people in lounge suits under the probing eye of a camera. I believe that the American courts stand less high in appeal and authority because they are conducted with the participants 546 all dressed in lounge suits and a court robbed of its mystery.
This is something that the apparent truth of the camera would interfere with. I would not risk it, because it would be a bad thing. If it is right to make better and full and proper use of this great new medium of television, I would harness it to help Parliament without bringing it into Parliament. My plan would be to improve the outside television programmes which relate to politics. For example, I think that is a good thing that when a Minister has made a statement in the House he should go on television and talk about it. But that can be done without interfering with the general image and feeling of Parliament. I believe that we can obtain all the benefits which television can give without interfering with the separateness of Parliament.
I believe that it would be stupid and wrong to pass this Motion. I believe that we can have both the penny and the cake; we can retain the authority, the strength and the separateness and specialness of Parliament without putting it at this risk. Parliament is separate; it is different. It does not impress me that television has gone into the churches and all sorts of other places which at one time were looked upon as separate. They were not separate in the same sense that Parliament is separate.
It is only Parliament, and no other institution, which has the power over people's lives. No other institution has the power to pass laws which the nation and the individuals in it have to accept without question, otherwise they are not considered civilised in their general approach. We have to recognise Parliament as separate and to treat it as such. Let us use the television cameras on individuals. Let us when we can, go before the cameras to explain ourselves as Members of Parliament. But do not let us do it when there is even the slightest risk of undermining the value and strength and message that can come only from Parliament as a law-making institution. If there is that element of risk, we should not be doing our duty if we allowed this experiment. I suggest that there is indeed a real risk. No genuine benefits on balance would flow from the experiment. I believe and hope that we shall tonight give the same answer as we gave six years ago—that it is not acceptable.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
As the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) has not indicated that he intends to do anything this evening different from that which I am going to do, I hope that he will not think me discourteous if I do not refer to his speech and to the points he made. In the limited time available, I want to address myself mainly to my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who has made a case, as we have seen, particularly among hon. Members on this side of the House but also among hon. Members opposite, and as usual he has found a ready response. There can be little doubt of that, however, much we may disagree. But I believe that he has made life easy for himself today, which is rather uncharacteristic of him.
My hon. Friend said several times, very effectively, that we cannot be satisfied with the present position. It is very difficult to disagree with that. That is what I mean when I say that my hon. Friend has made life easy for himself. But he was singularly lacking in addressing himself to the real problem before us, and that is the question, what if the remedy is worse than the disease? That is the real problem which faces the House before coming to a decision tonight, and that is the subject that we have to consider. In my submission, there are only two problems which face us tonight—first of all, the precise nature of the proposal, and secondly, the principle involved in the remedy which is suggested to us, and I want to confine myself to those two points.
First of all on the precise proposal. It is not legitimate for us to vote tonight in the belief that there might be certain developments which might happen later that would confine to the House control of what ultimately happens. I am only saying it is not legitimate because there is more than one point of view on this. I do not say that people who argue that are wholly wrong. I am merely submitting that they have no right to be so sure as they appear to be when speaking in this debate.
I pray in aid an article by the senior political correspondent of The Times who moves in circles of the people who put the proposals to the Government. We 548 know that the managing director of Yorkshire Television was heading a committee of managing directors of various television companies and they put certain proposals to the Leader of the House some weeks ago. I think the Leader of the House might have given us a little more detail about that memorandum. He did not. If this is such an important decision that the House has to make, then the documentation before the House should be more complete than it has been. I am sure I carry my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale with me in advancing that argument—that documentation should be as complete as possible when the House is asked to make a decision.
It is my opinion that the chief political correspondent of The Times, in his article on Monday, 16th October last, was rather well informed, and that he knows what is going on in the circles which produced that memorandum for the right hon. Gentleman and which the House of Commons has not seen. I want to quote what the political correspondent of The Times writes of what might happen in the future. He says:Undoubtedly some of the ablest executives in television are going to press, once the cameras have breached the ramparts of Westminster, for a freedom of editorial and production freedom equal to that of the newspapers; and by a gradual erosion of the limits set upon them they will eventually get their way. It is to be hoped that they will. But they should not demand too much at the beginning.That is his advice. This is what we see this afternoon—do not demand too much at the beginning. We on this side have always warned the House not to fall for such an early beginning but to be on our guard right away when a proposal is first introduced. Mr. David Wood goes on to advise us, and those executives to whom he has talked about what is going on, how to behave tactically this afternoon:It would be absurd, for instance, to kick against the likely decision that the House should itself make a complete television record of each day's proceedings, with the copyright vested in the Speaker or in a select committee. In that way, the Chamber and precincts would not be overrun with technicians and equipment as each regional television organisation. BBC as well as ITV, competed like newspapers for full facilities. And the copyright would arm the House with a sanction against those organisations, home or foreign, that flagrantly misused or corrupted the House's record. In 549 turn, the House should come to a sensible decision about the freedom of television to make the fullest and quickest use of the videotape. Many back benchers are obsessed with the idea either of a parliamentary channel on which everything would go out from chaplain's prayers to Who goes home? ', or with a half-hour programme 'In Parliament Today ', on the model of the deservedly admired 15 minute radio programme.He goes on to make some other suggestions. He says we are obsessed with wanting something which might be similar to the Today in Parliament "programme on the radio. What is the implication of that? The implication is that we in this House are a lot of silly fools if we believe that the television companies want to confine themselves to that kind of reporting. That is what the phrase "obsessed" in reality means. And the political correspondent of The Times is right. What is intended here is a decision which would mean that in the long run, on the argument of editorial freedom, it will be the television companies which will decide what they do in this House. That is the real argument which we have to consider tonight.
The second point I want to put in this connection concerns the principle which is involved. I would agree at once with those right hon. and hon. Members who have argued this evening that we cannot be too concerned about detailed impressions which might be made by hon. Members in the Chamber. I agree at once with my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) that we cannot base our decision upon considerations of that kind. I do not think it would stand up in any serious discussion that, because there might be incidents or because there might be bad speeches or because there might be publicity hunting—that merely because of that—we should say that it cannot be done. I accept that.
However, I believe there is a much more fundamental case against the Motion. It is the clash of the media. Television cannot be compared with any other kind of reporting, because of the particularly powerful nature which it implies. It is at the same time riveted to the proposition that it must keep the viewer in his seat. If they cannot do that, then they cannot do anything.
If I may give one slight, brief example, to the House, this was brought home to 550 me about eight years ago when I did not have a decided view upon this matter. I was invited from Sheffield to go to Manchester by the producer of a programme called "Under Fire". There must be in the House some Members who remember that programme. About 30 of us were invited to take part in the programme. What I disliked about the programme was that he said," You must be cocksure in shouting whenever you want to. Interrupt quickly. Do not wait to be asked. Do not let an opportunity pass. "I was a little taken aback by that. I thought it might be that one would make a brief, quiet contribution to the discussion. However, he was the boss and everybody behaved as he encouraged them to do, and there was a lot of lively shouting going on.
After that, when the other 29 had gone, the producer asked me to stay behind and have a drink with him. He did not have time to finish his drink because after about 60 seconds he was told there was a telephone call for him. When he came back he was a little pale. It was his boss who was on the telephone. When I asked what was the matter he said that his boss had said, "The programme was not lively enough. It ought to be livened up".
That was the attitude to a programme which I considered to have been intolerable because there was so much shouting in it. But that was why that producer was a little pale. He was a little pale because—and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), who has experience of television will understand—there was a very important advertising programme coming on immediately after "Under Fire" had finished, and a whole programme is judged, so far as a television boss is concerned, by only one consideration, and that is, "Are you keeping the listeners or viewers to their seats for when the next programme goes on?"—never mind about the programme being a report on Parliament. In the last eight years we have seen "Aunty BBC", having experienced the spirit of competition so much beloved by hon. Members opposite, being driven to the lowest depths—depths to which nobody who is an admirer of television, as at one time I was, would have expected them to fall. 551 If bad money can be said to drive out good money, then we may well see that in time bad television will drive out good television. That is the reality of the position and this is what we must consider when we make our decision.
I wish to deal with a more important point. I have spoken about a clash of media. It is not the fault of individual executives in television companies in ITV or of staff in the BBC that they are pledged to the principle of having to be mainly an entertainment medium. To be effective on television, everything must be extremely dramatic. If it is not dramatic, it is of no use. This is the result of the medium, not the result of the misguided attitudes of television producers.
What will happen is that, as soon as the power is given, there will be a gradual erosion of whatever arrangements the House might try to make. In two years' time it may be said, "It is wrong of a committee of Members to censor each other and to select from each other's speeches what they feel should be reported. "They will say," In the interests of traditional freedom, this power must be handed over to editors who will not be Members of the House and who will therefore be unbiased. "I challenge any journalist in the House to say that when the time comes he will resist this argument.
§ Mr. Pannell
My hon. Friend might bear in mind another ingredient. There will be a great many teething troubles in the first two years; every small failure will be blamed on the amateurs and it will be said how much better and how much more perfect things would be if only the professionals were allowed to come in.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I come to my third point which relates to the situation in which the House will find itself and which we can now foresee. This place is a workshop. I know it has been argued that the actual work is done mainly in the Government Departments and that this place is like an assembly line which puts together the final pieces of the car. Even if one accepts this far too limited analysis of current practice in the House—and I do not accept it—ti must be said 552 that most of the useful time in this House is spent in our acting as a workshop. That makes it completely different from many of the institutions which have been mentioned.
For the same reason I would be completely opposed to televising of the law courts. I would not wish to have it on my conscience that when a man is fighting an obviously bad case in a court, fighting for his rights, anybody involved in the process should be concerned with what in other countries is called "people's justice" just because people are looking over their shoulders while they are doing the job. This is why television must not be allowed in the courts. However bad the case, it is the essence of justice that people should not feel that they have to face any kind of popularity contest in the work they are doing.
I am arguing that the House of Commons, since it is a workshop, is in a similar position. I have sat in this House on many occasions when I have seen the late Sir Eric Errington change the whole course of a debate by addressing the House for six or seven minutes in his quiet, squeaky voice, a voice that did not carry very far. He did not make a dramatic speech and his speeches would never have been reported on television. But I have known those speeches change the whole nature of a debate and affect the vote and everything else. The workshop clashes with the media of television.
I am not worried about the Front Benches getting the lion's share and the back benches not being fully reported. We have to fight even now for proper reporting of our speeches by the Press, so the situation would not change very much. That is not so important. But what is important is that there might well be a gradual tendency to make everything dramatic and personal, far remote from the idea of providing better education of the people at large about the nature of the parliamentary process; in other words, the whole concept may move in the other direction. I regard this as the fundamental objection and I shall vote against this Motion.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) has tried to make our 553 hair stand on end by saying that eventually, however we start, it will be the television companies which will decide how these programmes will be presented. If I believed that to be the case, I would not support the proposal before the House. I believe it is the duty of the House to make sure that it is not the television companies but the House itself that decides what goes out. That is cardinal to the whole debate and I shall have more to say about this aspect a little later.
The hon. Member for Penistone, unusually for him, kicked through his own goal. He described a programme in which he had taken part where the emphasis was on the drama and the punch-up. If that is the way in which political programmes are presented at present, and I do not accept that is so, surely it is better that the public should be able to see the House in operation. This is the place where the real decisions are made. We are the forum of the nation and this House should be seen at work rather than that the public should have to rely on the sort of programmes which the hon. Member described.
The hon. Member then referred to the televising of the law courts and a little earlier in our debate the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) also referred to this. The right hon. Gentleman asked why, if we were to televise the House, we should stop there and not go on to televise the courts. Would it not make splendid drama, he asked, for the camera to use a zoom lens to show the face of the judge as he sentenced an accused person. That betrays a false assumption about the object of televising Parliament. As I see it, the emphasis will not be on the drama. The purpose of televising Parliament will be to strengthen democracy. [HON. MEMBERS:"Oh."] I shall return to that aspect in a moment, if I may be allowed to develop my argument. I suggest that the object will be that of strengthening democracy. We are here as representatives of our constituents and this is what distinguishes considerations affecting the law courts from those relating to Parliament.
I suspect that many of the arguments which have been advanced against this proposal are much the same as those that were advanced in the eighteenth century against the proposal that the pro- 554 ceedings of the House could be reported in the Press. We cannot tell whether that is so because there is not a very good record to show what arguments were advanced in the House before the reporting of its proceedings was allowed in the Press. It seems astonishing to us 200 years later that the House could have denied to the major medium of communication, which in those days was the printed word, access to its own proceedings and communication between it and the public by means of that then most powerful medium.
It was only after the reporting of proceedings was allowed that Members of the House came to recognise the tremendous advantages for democracy, for the House and for the people in having the proceedings of the House reported. Erskine May was able to say in the 1860s thatNo circumstance in the history of our country—not even parliamentary reform—has done more for freedom and good government than the unfettered liberty of reporting.Some years from now when the House is being televised, because I believe that the televising of its proceedings must surely come before long, we will be able to say the same sort of thing generally right across the country about the televising of its proceedings as Erskine May then said about the reporting of its proceedings in print.
Many of the arguments which have been advanced against this proposal have rested upon the assumption that those who will present the programmes concerned will be the same sort of people as those who are responsible for presenting the Alf Garnett show, the wrestling matches or the entertainment side of television. I do not believe that this will be so. The programmes will be presented—the House can insist on this—by responsible people who are used to presenting serious current affairs programmes. If the House owns the copyright in the tape which is made, it can insist on whatever conditions it thinks appropriate from the television companies or any other users.
That is also the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), who claimed that we would be misrepresented. Walpole in 1738, opposing the proposition that the proceedings of the House could be 555 reported in the Press, said that it would be impossible to prevent misrepresentation if any reports were authorised. Hon. Members may or may not believe that we are misrepresented in the Press now, but I think we agree that there are higher reasons than that for recognising that the publication of reports of the proceedings of the House is of overwhelming importance.
One hon. Member asked where was the public demand. I believe that there is a tremendous unsatisfied public demand to see the proceedings of the House. A programme called "The Great Debate" was presented on BBC television in October last year. It concerned the Common Market and lasted for three hours. It had a panel of distinguished people who discussed the question of the Common Market in the studio. The panel included many distinguished Members of the House and others. At 9.30 p.m. when the programme began the audience was 5½ million. Half an hour after midnight, three hours later, the audience was still 3½ million. That demonstrates that on important issues there is a tremendous demand to see serious political discussion. Why did those people have to watch three hours of less authentic discussion in the studio? Why could they not see the real thing in the House?
The main argument for televising the proceedings of the House is that, if it does not happen, in the eyes of the people the House will become increasingly irrelevant. We should be the focus of the nation's political life, but we are becoming less and less so. The public feel that the people and the events that they see on television in their own drawing rooms are part of their life. One of the very few things they cannot see in their drawing rooms is the House of Commons. Why should we be practically the sole exception?
We should be forming and crystallising the nation's political opinions but we are being increasingly elbowed out of the way by the television pundits. The right hon. Member for Leeds, West quoted a letter from Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge. I understand Mr. Muggeridge's sentiments because one of the first consequences of the televising of our proceedings will be his devaluation as a television pundit. I say that with no disrespect to Mr. 556 Muggeridge because he is a great entertainer and I know him personally.
We have a generation growing up in whose lives television is the dominating force, who cannot remember the time before television. It is the dominating force because it is so much more powerful than the written word. On it the young can see everything—entertainment, educational programmes, sport, shootings in Ulster, violent picketing—except Parliament. Will it be surprising, if this situation continues, if they grow up assuming that Parliament is one of the less important features of our national life? Will it be surprising, when they see violence around them without any antidote in the form of rational discussion, if they assume that violence is the natural way to get one's will?
This is the most powerful argument, which has become increasingly strong ever since we last debated this matter. All of us are worried about the growth of petrol-bomb democracy. The antidote, I believe, is to show the people in their drawing rooms what parliamentary democracy is all about.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I am sorry that Mr. Speaker was unable to accept my Amendment to the Motion because that robs me and, I suspect from the speeches I have heard, a number of other hon. Members from putting forward an alternative to the straight "Yes" or "No" in the Motion. It apparently reflects a chord of opinion, which has run through this debate, that it would be perfectly acceptable—certainly to me and, I suspect, to others—for Parliament to be televised if we could be sure that what the camera saw was what the viewer would see.
The real difficulty is the editorial control of what goes on to the screen in the home. In 1966 when this matter was last debated I was unable to get back in time to register my vote, but I would have voted for televising Parliament. I have altered my view since then because we now have an indication of what goes on in Parliament through the media, television and radio as well as newspapers. We would all agree—certainly I agree—with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that the product of that communication is 557 very bad and is derogatory of Parliament as a whole.
It is bad because of the editorial slant that goes into the way in which the material is communicated to the public at large. Yet the editorial control which the television producer would have would be enormous even though more circumscribed than the editorial control within the Press. The producer has to reduce the whole of our debate into a very short compass indeed, mostly short snippets for news broadcasts, and at the best a half-hour programme at the end of the day, something like" Today in Parliament".
If that were to be done by someone genuinely in sympathy with what we had been talking about, aware of this forum being the centre of our democracy, someone who really wanted to communicate that to the public, who understood what was the nature of Parliament, who were the important people speaking in any debate—and they vary from debate to debate—who balanced the debate and who contributed to the movement of opinion across the Floor, I would accept that. It was for that reason I tabled the Amendment asking that the preparation and editing of the broadcasts should be controlled by a parliamentary television unit, comprised not of Members of Parliament but of people skilled in broadcasting but whose loyalty was to the House, who were officials of the House and under the control of the House.
It would not be censorship because there has to be an editor of some kind; it would be an editor whose loyalty was to transmitting faithfully to the public what went on in the debate. If we could get that I would vote for it. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) wants to get something like that, but that is not what the Motion says and it is not what this experiment will be about. That was made plain by the Leader of the House. What will go out will be three weeks of unrestricted diet to the television companies for them to show us how they can handle it. Anyone who thinks that at the end of that period we will be able to withdraw it and say "No, you cannot go any further because we do not like what you did" is living in a fool's paradise.
558 The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) was absolutely right. Once we say that this can go on for three weeks, we shall have committed ourselves for ever to an unrestricted diet for the television companies. On the other hand, if we were to say to the television companies "Yes, you can have a picture of Parliament but one which comes through the editorial control of the parliamentary television group", it may be that in time we could reach a state of trust which would enable us to dispense with that intermediate control. That stage is not yet with us.
Before we can go to that extreme we have to go through the process of exercising control through our own unit. When we have done that, shown the public what Parliament is and explained the nuances of this Chamber and the way in which opinion is moved, not so much by the great rhetoric, the great orators, by the Front Bench even, but by those in the Chamber whose judgment can be trusted as sound—the kind of things we all learn over the time we are in this place—there may be an unrestricted diet for the television companies because the people will be able to judge whether the editor has gone wrong in his handling of the subject matter. Until we reach that stage it must be a restricted diet.
For that reason I would, as the first stage, vote for a Motion which contained my Amendment with the possibility of moving further in due course. Unless that Amendment is in, I shall not vote for the Motion. It is not in the Motion at present. What is in the Motion is an unrestricted diet subject to any concession which might be made in discussion with the Services Committee. That is altogether too unrestrained. If the Select Committee wants to continue this discussion with the companies for another six months and return to the House with a much tighter arrangement carefully spelled out in a Motion, I shall vote for it. But until then I am not having it
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)
In the two years that I have been a Member of this place I cannot recollect a day when I have more enjoyed sitting on these benches listening to what hon. Members had to say. Never before have I seen with such clarity the benefits of the 559 traditions which have been built up in this House, nor what a splendid fellow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) is and what terrible thoughts my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has. If nothing else, the time which we have spent on debating this matter, whatever conclusion we come to, has for me been well spent.
Before we admit cameras to this Chamber, we must above all ask ourselves what has been the experience in other areas where the cameras have been admitted. Is there anything, with the exception which I suggested earlier of show jumping, which has not been trivialised and, to a large degree, spoiled by having the cameras trained on it? There are events in the streets which would normally attract little notice. They are usually the sort of events which we would all regret. If one brings in a television camera, there is a confrontation. The camera trivialises and introduces violence and tensions which were not there. Even the appalling tragedies of war and of natural disaster are now flicked on and off in living rooms all over the country as little electronic shadows. Often they have even less meaning to those who view them than they did when we heard of similar events through the disembodied voice speaking to us from those scenes and describing them to us
We talk about conducting a television experiment in this place. Experiment indeed! I had something of a scientific education. I thought that before one conducted an experiment one had clearly in mind what one was to do, the manner in which it would be done, its objective and on what standards one would judge the results which flowed from it. I have heard nothing of that today. As an experiment, this one ranks with the sort of experiment which a young chap would propose to a girl when he took her to Brighton for the weekend, and the results are nearly as unpredictable in terms of what happens to those who participate in it.
§ Mr. Tebbit
As my hon. Friend knows, I always speak for myself, as surely as he always speaks for himself.
It is a comment on the relationship between the medium of television and our- 560 selves that we have heard from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the implication that we should be rather grateful for the fact that the television companies will not charge us for broadcasting our proceedings. I understand that they pay the all-in wrestlers with whom they fill in the time gaps. It seems that we should be almost the only category, apart from the commercial advertiser, which should be jolly grateful for the time we are afforded. Is that the right way in which this experiment should be conducted? Is that the basis on which this House should go as a supplicant to the television companies? I doubt it.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
If I may make a comment on the hon. Gentleman's very shrewd observations, this is a proposition to give the television authorities the "Match of the Day" without paying any fee.
§ Mr. Tebbit
It is just that proposition. If the hon. Gentleman has watched football on television he will know where the cameras always focus—on the punch-up, on the chap lying on the ground shouting "Foul", or more likely shouting foully. The experimenters do not even say whether they want to change Parliament's procedures in general by introducing the cameras. There is doubt over whether Parliament will be changed. But nobody is prepared to say whether he wants it changed or, if so, whether there is any agreement on the way in which it should be changed.
Much of the argument on the inevitability of admitting the cameras to this place is based on the entirely false analogy of Press reporting. Let us be clear that we are not proposing anything which is the equivalent to the freedom of the Press, because behind the freedom of the Press to report as it will what it wishes of these proceedings there is also freely available to the public and published every day the official record of the proceedings of the House, of Standing Committees and, eventually, of Select Committees.
Will there be available to the public, without the intercession of any person the tapes of the proceedings of the Chamber, of Standing Committees or of Select Committees? If not, there is no true comparison between the freedom of the Press and the freedom which it is 561 proposed we should give the television cameras. Unless everything is shown to the public—what is called, full frontal exposure, in television terms, with nothing concealed—it would not be what is happening here.
The television medium has exciting possibilities of fake combativeness, the irresistible urge of mixing the image of speech and visual image not necessarily of the Member speaking, and no producer worth his salt would resist them. Undoubtedly the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) is right. Sooner or later we should lose any control—in many ways rightly so—of what is shown. God forbid that we should have a Committee of the House arranging such control or that officials of the House should be given the task of arranging it. I fear that all they would have to arrange the next day would be the broadcasting of the points of order that had been raised about the conduct of the Members and officials of the House regarding what had been broadcast.
If our proceedings were to be understood, they would have to be interpreted. If they are to be interpreted, someone will stand between us and the people. For that reason I must cast my vote against the experiment. In fact, it is not an experiment; it is a reckless escapade from which we would never free ourselves.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Because of the lateness of the hour, I shall not follow the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Tebbit), except to say that he thinks it is unarguable, in the nature of television that it must trivialise, damage and ultimately destroy everything which it touches. Television will still be with us after the destruction of our liberties in this place, saying to us, as the scorpion said to the frog in the Arab proverb as they both fell struggling to the bottom of the stream, "I stung you because it was in my nature to do so".
It is not in the nature of television to destroy or damage this place and for us to be unable to do anything about it. We can control our own destiny in these matters. I shall identify the arguments of principle and the arguments of the terms of entry, which we have been having in a rather different form in great debates 562 recently. I can only say to those who are opposed in principle that I assert the principle which the late Aneurin Bevan raised in 1959 when he said:All I am suggesting is that in these days when the apparatus of mass suggestion is against democratic education, we should seriously consider re-establishing intelligent communication between the House of Commons and the electorate as a whole.He was right to think of television in that context and we are right so to think of it now.
Those who think that television will drag us down and trivialise our debates are right to put arguments of principle against us. I can only say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) that his speech today, distinguished though it was, was one of which Colonel Onslow would not have been ashamed in 1771. We had these arguments before. We had them 200 years ago on the question of the Press, and most of the comments now levelled at television could, on the argument of principle, have been levelled, and could now be levelled, at the Press as well, for the Press equally is a trivialiser and equally, if given its head, can belittle our debates.
To those who say, "Yes, we would like television in if the terms are right, if nothing would be changed, if we could have the medium entering our Chamber neutral in every sense, not altering our formalities, our style and our procedures", I would say, with my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who made a most distinguished speech, that the House is constantly changing, and there will inevitably be technical details to be dealt with—the intensity of the light, the presence of the cameras, and so on. Television is still in its infancy. The medium itself is changing. The technology is developing, making it easier for our proceedings to be covered unobtrusively rather than obtrusively, and all this means that we should have less of the kind of intrusion which some hon. Members fear.
Some hon. Members have said that our empty benches would be shown, that there would be riot and disorder, that Members would be crossing the Floor to fight one another. Right hon. and hon. Members behave here as they do because they are the men they are. Some wear 563 bright yellow shirts, some wear striped shirts, some have handlebar moustaches, according to their predelictions. If television came in, it would not be the presence of the cameras which made some Members thereafter do all these things. We behave as we do because we are the men we are. Sartorially, for example, we behave in different ways now. My hon. friend the Member for Pontypool Mr. Abse) is today wearing a flower in his button hole because it is in his nature to do so, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he may be going on a television programme afterwards.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
As soon as the cameras come in, every hon. Member, I suspect, will be asking me for the name of my tailor.
§ Mr. Whitehead
That would be a better bargain for the House. If I may say so, it is an illustration of one of the admirable side-effects of allowing the television cameras in.
Before he departed to go on television tonight, my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) made great play of the argument that the presence of television cameras would gravely alter our proceedings. But there is selection already, selection as between one Member and another, gravely damaging for some of us, which goes on because of what Aneurin Bevan called the ipse dixit of the television bureaucracy—choosing the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) or my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw to go on television instead of other hon. Members who have made worthwhile contributions in the debate today.
What we are suggesting is that if there is to be proper coverage of the affairs of the Chamber, we should have fair editing, and, if there is to be editing, we here must be satisfied about it. If we cannot, in the course of the experiment, arrive at a definition of fair editing which is acceptable to us, we must have whole debates, selected occasions, or nothing at all, so that all back benchers get in and have their segment of the debate.
The experiment outlined to us by the Lord President tonight did not seem very satisfactory to me. It seemed too short and too limited. We should be paying to 564 do this ourselves. It would not cost much more than the ridiculous car park which we are constructing outside. We should not be doing this on the broadcasters' terms but should do it ourselves. We should experiment with live feed, with the transmission of whole debates, as well as looking at the matter ourselves and letting the public judge a series of edited programmes.
If we do that, we could come to some conclusion ourselves about the way to establish a parliamentary broadcasting unit directly responsible to the House, not responsible to the man on the end of the telephone to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone referred, not responsible to the values of sensationalism, news trivia and so on in Broadcasting House. If we can establish such a broadcasting unit, a further Motion could be brought forward. We could vote upon that, and then, in the fullness of time, decide what form the experiment should take. But, today, let us at least take the decision in principle.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
I begin my few observations with a quiet comment which lies at the base of my root and branch objection to the Motion. One cannot have worked in this ancient Parliament for half a lifetime, as I have been privileged to do, without having developed a genuine love for the place and all that it has stood for in our history. I sincerely believe that the focussing of cameras and the lights and other apparatus of modern communications on our debates would completely destroy the atmosphere of the Chamber and our ability of conduct affairs uninhibited as we should wish.
On 24th November, 1966, I took part in a similar debate when my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), then Leader of the House, fully expected the formal Motion proposing an experiment with closed circuit cameras to result in an almost desultory debate and to go through almost "on the nod". But I am an old enough politician and sufficiently experienced in the ways of the House to have some respect for the old political dictum which is the base of all democratic politics: the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. I know that the foot in the door is only 565 the first stage for those who wish to destroy our ancient traditions, which have led us to enjoy the reputation of being the Mother of Parliaments.
I returned to the Chamber about an hour ago, having been away for a short time. The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford), introducing the Motion in his usual mild and pleasant manner, and his colleagues have suggested that there is a tremendous demand from those who send us here for the televising of our proceedings and that they are straining at the leash to cast their beady eyes upon us via the television cameras, so that our every movement and gesture will be recorded on a million hearthstones.
In that event, I expected on my return to the House to see a long queue of people awaiting admission to the public gallery. If there is a mass lobby that supports the televising of our proceedings, one would expect a queue of at least 5,000 people, as on the occasion of other great debates when people have queued on the off-chance of a seat in the public gallery, to which many of us do not often refer. But at this moment the public gallery is not even full. In my 22 years' membership of the House I have never received one personal letter from any constituent or organised body of opinion in my part of Lancashire demanding that I sponsor the televising of the House.
I want better evidence than the sponsors of the Motion have produced to give it any support or modest toleration—and I am very tolerant, as my hon. Friends know. But to ask me to tolerate a spectacle of some prefabricated cocked-up Motion of this kind, which is the brainchild of the top executives in Broadcasting House and the Independent Television Authority and their particular friends in the television lobby in this House—they are the progenitors and sponsors of the Motion; it is not the result of public agitation—is asking too much.
The Motion was drafted by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and myself. No member of the BBC staff or anybody else had anything to do with it.
§ Mr. Price
I know what a mild-mannered man the hon. Gentleman is, 566 and we all like him; but on this occasion I think he is misguided and has allowed himself to be led into channels which I should have resisted if I had been similarly approached.
I want to treat this occasion seriously in the short time at my disposal, as I have on previous occasions. When I consider the performance of television and its impact on public affairs, I am deeply concerned about the impact of edited versions of our proceedings. Whether such edited versions were by the television experts and professional people or by some kind of almighty Committee of this House which might be given the task of conducting such an editorial process, the outcome would merely be a fragmentary and partial record of our proceedings.
What takes place here? I am proud to be regarded as an old parliamentarian with some experience of this place, with many friends in all parts of the House, and free to say what I believe to be true whether anybody agrees with me or not. However, there are occasions in this House when Members of Parliament have the great privilege—one of the cornerstones of democracy—of saying what they feel to be true without any risk of prosecution outside on grounds of defamation or libel. If our proceedings are put into the media and are parked on 5 million or 6 million hearthstones, if so many knobs are switched on at the appropriate time, one shudders to think, if that is not a cliché, what would happen if the kind of exposés which are sometimes made on these benches go out to those 5 million or 6 million hearthstones. This is a serious point which I should like the Home Secretary to consider. I am glad to see him in his place.
I am deeply concerned for the traditions of this House, not because I am an elitist and not because of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said in a most interesting and effective speech. I see that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has just come in. I am very pleased to see him. He has a trick of breaking my thread of narrative, but I will try to resume where I left off. I was referring to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, 567 West, who is a considerable parliamentarian. He spoke about the ethos of this place. I do not want to follow him into the higher ranges, the stratosphere of academic discussion on this matter, but there is something about this place—its sovereignty. The fact that we are sent here at the will and pleasure of the people is sufficient for me. So long as I can express my views freely in this House without the beady eye of some mechanical device interposed between me and my constituents, that is good enough for me. If they do not like me at the end of my spell of duty, they can get rid of me and send somebody else. That is as much as I require, so long as my time goes in this House.
Unfortunately—I do not say this with malice or with any wish to hurt anybody—the invention of this wonderful medium which is in people's homes, now increasingly in colour as against black and white, and its use by the professionals who operate it, has tended to demean and belittle some of the greatest achievements of which we are so proud. It has sullied the image of people who are trying to do honest work and has glamourised the trivial at the expense of the serious and what is of value to the country.
Unfortunately these trends have persisted. Unfortunately it has made mountains out of molehills. Unfortunately, the clowns and the acrobats have been picked up at times and have been turned into spell binders.
If I may be reminiscent for a moment I can recall in our last debate six years ago when I was on the Government side of the House, I directed my remarks to a well-known hon. Member who has a glamorous and hirsuit appearance. He possesses whiskers and other things and he was annoyed because I said that once the medium was introduced and the cameras were focused upon hon. Members, those who were hirsuit and who possessed those histrionic qualities would rush to get their undistinguished profiles projected over the television screens.
The hon. Member in question, whom I have not named—I leave it to the House to guess his identity—came to me after that exciting and interesting debate, for which the benches were packed, and 568 he growled in his stentorian voice, "You did me a great injustice and I quite agree with you." I put that on the record for the researchers to make what they like of it. On that occasion I took my stand and was a teller in the "No" Lobby and the Motion was defeated by one vote.
I shall avoid the arguments about the heat, the light and the technical apparatus which would be offensive because they have no doubt been dealt with already and we have had unsatisfactory answers to the criticisms that have been made. I am glad to see that you have returned to your Chair, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Price
I know I have your full sympathy, Mr. Speaker, in the struggle I am having to keep order in the House, but that is your function and not mine.
The function of hon. Members who have the great privilege of being sent here to represent their constituencies does not consist in the main of sitting in the Chamber and listening to hours of technical debate on matters in which they have no particular expertise. My functions as a Member of Parliament are numerous. My first duty is to assist in the redress of grievances of those I represent in Lancashire. Those people express their grievances to me and I am the vehicle for expressing them here. That is my first duty and I have always understood it and tried to carry it out.
My second duty often consumes a great deal of my time. I serve on all kinds of Committees upstairs. There are certain matters on which I am competent to hold views. I claim that on quite a range of questions I have a point of view. I may have more impact on legislation before the House by expressing my views temperately in a closed Committee Room than by making a big stir on the Floor of the House.
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), I serve on Select Committees, which are an important part of our administration. I spend a great deal of time examining witnesses and producing reports on matters of national importance, which sometimes have a great impact on the policy of this country.
569 I spend a great deal of time writing letters, investigating grievances, interviewing Ministers, and travelling to my constituency and other parts of the country. Other hon. Members travel to other parts of the world, but I love this country so much that I have not left it for seven years. Not many hon. Members can say that. I must also spend time eating, drinking and sometimes, if the Sitting lasts for 24 hours or more, having a sleep somewhere.
Yet, because the mandarins of the television authorities are to bring their apparatus into this place, if I am not sitting here I am likely to hear people say when I return to my constituency at the weekend and go into one of my Labour clubs or another place, "We were looking at television last night, Tom, and we didn't see you on the green benches". That sort of thing will be a great injustice to some of the most industrious and useful Members of the House.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
In preparation for the debate I perused the admirable reference sheet produced by the House of Commons Library. Starting with the summary of events in the years 1965–68 and going on through the long list of the debates, the reports of the Select Committee and so on, it seemed that everything that could be said about the matter must have been said. I had the feeling that the time had come to stop talking until we had something new to talk about. The debate has confirmed that view.
We have had in effect the same debate as we had in 1966. It has been a rather better debate, with livelier speeches. It has been livelier and better attended, but in substance we have been talking in circles about exactly the same things—whether the lights would be too bright, whether the cameras would get in the way, whether we should be properly reported, the question of the editing and who would make the records, and so on. We have all posed those questions once again, and posed them in a way to suit our own convictions.
In the debate of 1966 you made the wisest remark, Mr. Speaker, when you said:We should try to consider those things but not decide them before taking a decision on 570 the experiment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 1641.]Until we have seen an experiment we can ony continue to speculate, which is what we did then and what we have been doing today. Today has bees: a debate of speculation. I shall not go any further into those arguments. I shall try instead to answer the arguments against the experiment which have been presented today.
The first is that there is nothing to be learnt from an experiment. For the reasons I have just given I am absolutely certain that hon. Members have plenty to learn from the experiment. Our debate has come to a full stop for lack of fresh evidence.
The wiser professionals in the broadcasting organisations show a greater humility. When asked whether the BBC and the IBA would want to produce a daily television programme on the lines of "Today in Parliament", Mr. Oliver Whitley of the BBC is reported to have said:We are resolutely determined that the proposed experiment should be an experiment for the broadcasters as well as for Parliament, and not to commit ourselves in advance of it to any particular continuing representation. In other words, we do not want to say at this stage that we would or would not have a regular daily record of Parliament. We have much to learn from the experiment as well as the two Houses of Parliament.That is a good example of exactly the sort of thing both we and the broadcasters will learn from the experiment.
I very much doubt the wisdom of the assumption that a daily "Today in Parliament" programme can be maintained. Imagine, for instance, a day when the business of the House was Welsh Questions followed by Scottish housing, with perhaps local government Committee stage in another place. I challenge any editor to produce a "Today in Parliament" type of report from that material which would be of general interest to the whole country, of interest to, say, East Anglia. We must get down to the importance of the regional broadcasts. On a day like that it would be possible to produce an interesting programme for Scottish Television and the regional programmes of the BBC as well as an interesting programme for Wales, but not for the rest of the country. That is one 571 point we have not discussed enough. Today, only the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) really talked about the regional aspect.
You will know, Mr. Speaker, that the BBC was compelled some time ago to strengthen its regional coverage to compete with the success of the regional ITV companies. Compact and crowded as this island is, nevertheless our people retain strong regional loyalties and interests. The broadcasting of Parliament would affect the regions in three ways. First, listeners in the regions would be interested to hear their own Members in general debates. Secondly, they would be interested to hear subjects relevant to their areas debated in the House. Thirdly, and very important, they would see on television for the first time back-bench Members from their region who have toiled here for years unreported. I agree with the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that televising our proceedings would be of much greater advantage to back benchers than to those on the Front Bench.
With all these matters in mind, I question whether three weeks will be enough for an experiment. Three weeks means 12 working days, and I doubt whether that is sufficient time to provide the variety of circumstances and material on which the broadcasters can work, especially to do justice to the regional problem. I wonder whether the Services Committee will give second thoughts to the duration of this experiment, especially in view of the small cost involved.
The other argument deployed against the experiment is that it is not an experiment at all, that once television has been tried in the House it is bound to take root for good and all. There is no logical way one can support that argument. In fact, all the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) could say was that those who wish to destroy the traditions of the House—I would like to know who they are—want to get their foot in the door. That is not a convincing argument. It is an argument of fear. Those who make it fear that the experiment will prove them wrong and dare not put their opinions to the test; or they have lack of faith in the House in which they claim to have faith.
572 You, Mr. Speaker, in the last debate said that you approached the question on the clear understanding that it was far from being a formality and a prelude to an inevitable decision. That is our approach. I agree with my hon. Friend the Leader of the House that if we see from the experiment that the reputation of the House is to be lowered, we shall be quick to remove television from the House.
In the last debate, the present Lord Chancellor—then Mr. Quintin Hogg—said simply that his objection to television was it would change the nature of the House and that he did not want it changed.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to raise a point of order at this late hour, but I think that it would be in accordance with the traditions and practice of the House if the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) would at least declare his personal interest in television. I believe that he is connected with it. [Interruption.] I do not care, but if he has an interest it should be declared.
§ Sir P. Bryan
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me what my interest is, because I have no personal interest in television whatever.
§ Mr. J. T. Price
I accept that. [Interruption.] Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that if an hon. Member gives such an assurance, it is not debatable by whoever challenged him. If I were in a position to debate it, I would ask the hon. Gentleman when he divested himself of the interest he had.
§ Sir P. Bryan
It is not worth pursuing. I was a Minister for some time and as a Minister one does not have commercial interests.
I return now to what Lord Hailsham said. His objection to television was that it would change the nature of the House and he did not want it changed. But we must face the fact that our House is always changing, as the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale said. We have built in machinery to make sure that changes can be made, and made smoothly. The Select Committee on Procedure constantly works to try to make sure that the changes are for the better.
573 If the House's authorisation for the experiment leads later to the televising of our proceedings, that will not be the end of the matter. We shall merely have entered a new stage of change; I do not doubt that within a year hon. Members will want further adjustments made. There will be nothing alarming about that. It will be a continuation of the process by which the House has always adjusted itself to the spirit of the times. I hope and expect that our experience will eventually lead us to authorise and encourage an even wider distribution of the recorded procedings of the House. I believe that we can do a lot to help in education. I was delighted to hear from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the suggestion that television screens will be in Westminster Hall should the experiment be proceeded with.
I will not anticipate these things any more for fear of sinking any floating votes. But to calm their fears I will add that I believe in a step-by-step approach. I am convinced that in the interests of our House the first step we should authorise is the experiment so well proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford).
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
I very much agree that this day has been well spent—except perhaps since nine o'clock, when the House seems to have gone into a number of committees debating in various parts of the Chamber. My only regret is that the debate is taking place on a Thursday. We are having what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House called a genuinely free vote. I am delighted to get that official distinction between a free vote and a genuine free vote. At the end of the day, whatever happens, we should take note of the number of people actually present and voting.
I would also have liked to see the television lights on during the whole of the debate so that we could see what it was like. Most of us have studied the reports of the Select Committees and many of us saw the experiment in the House of Lords a few years ago. Most of us have probably made up our minds.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr St. John-Stevas) —[Interruption.]—curiously enough, I do 574 agree with him—that this has been a reasonably balanced debate and that in the end it is very much a question of one's opinion. However, I think that the slight difference in the balance of the debate is one which is deeply held indeed.
There is one question which has to be asked. It has already been asked. Who wants the House to be televised? Clearly, some hon. Members do and they have told us today why. Clearly, the television authorities want it because it would be, they hope, good entertainment. I somewhat agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) when he asked how many letters hon. Members had received asking that the House should be televised. I have not received one such letter. I take the point by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) when he says that there is no queue waiting to see us. Perhaps that is because at lunchtime I went on television to talk about the forthcoming debate. That may have put people off, but I think there is no genuine public demand for this proposal and that it comes only from certain hon. Members and the television people themselves.
My basic objection, which I think is that of most of us who object to the proposal, is that television would change the character and atmosphere of the House. I concede the unusual combination of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), and I should perhaps add that the objection really is to the change in an unnatural way. We do not mind change. It is the unnatural way of the change we mind.
§ Mr. Marten
This change would damage the informality of our Chamber, which is one of the pleasures of debates in this House. One has to ask seriously whether it would be for the benefit of our proceedings if we were televised. Personally I do not think so. This is the only Chamber in the world. I have been to which has our friendly chitchat across the Floor. I like that, and I would like to keep it like that.
Let me give one example of the sort of difficulty which would arise from televising our proceedings. A Minister—it does not matter which party is in Government—goes to the Box. Somebody 575 asks a question and the Minister says "Of course the hon. Member does not understand what he is talking about". That happened to me the other day from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, on television that sort to reply from a Minister at the Dispatch Box would be a pretty snide remark to make about a Member and it might be observed in the hon. Member's constituency. The hon. Member concerned does not usually have the chance of a second supplementary question to come back at the Minister. On the occasion when it happened to me the other day, Mr. Speaker most kindly afforded me a chance on a different Question, and I got my own back. That, however, is an example of the sort of danger which could arise.
Thirdly, and from the point of view of Ministers, while we are talking about them, I think they do not want to be judged on television by their performance at the Box as their performance comes through on television. Of course, some Ministers have off days—some more off than others. I remember that when I had the privilege to be a very junior Minister I was answering Questions one day when I had the 'flu coming on. My performance was terrible, much worse than my usual performance. Ministers should be judged not on their obvious performances at the Despatch Box but by the effectiveness of their policies and of their Departments; they should not be judged by their performance on television.
Then we should ask this question of ourselves fairly seriously. Why should Parliament conform to the passion for potted life on the "box"? My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford), in his very good opening speech, referred to the wide area of life covered by television. I pose the question whether we want to extend this process to include the House of Commons. Television is mainly an entertainment medium. If Members of Parliament want to provide entertainment, let them go into a studio with somebody like Robin Day. He is an excellent interrogator and will draw all the entertainment out of hon. Members. The studio is far the best place in which to do this. One reason is that in the studio, apart from somebody like Robin Day being present there are no rules of order. But 576 in the House an hon. Member's arguments are often frustrated by the rules of order, particularly at Question Time when an hon. Member cannot ask a second supplementary question.
The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale argued that by televising Parliament we would give the people a new sense of participation in the process of communication. Such participation by the nation in political life is not a real entity. It is only one way. Participation is a two-way matter. If the Government or the House of Commons really want the nation to participate, they have just missed a supreme opportunity by turning down the proposal for a referendum on the Common Market.
The main problem behind what is being discussed in this debate is what will actually go out from this House on to the television screen. We know that there will be a potted edition of our proceedings lasting 30 minutes which will allow only small snippets of speeches to be broadcast.
I should like at this point to relate what happened to me at the Conservative Party conference since it illustrates the danger we are running into. The House recognises that for a long time I have been against joining the Common Market. At the Blackpool conference an anodyne and wet motion on the order paper was chosen for debate. It was so wet that even I said I could support it. When I got to the rostrum I was allowed to speak for four minutes and I made two points. The first point was a nice, friendly one in which I said that throughout all the arguments on the Common Market, although hon. Members on this side of the House disagreed violently at times, we did not lose any friendships. The second point I made was to repeat my old plea for a referendum, which was turned down flat. That is what my speech was, and after delivering it I departed from Blackpool as quietly as I could.
Then, on the Monday morning my mail arrived. I will not bore the House by quoting from it all, but I received three particularly interesting letters which sum up the situation. One letter said:Dear Mr. Marten, I watched your disgraceful performance at the Conservative Party conference. You are a dirty swine to let us all down like this.577 The viewer thought that, because I said in the debate that I had lost no friends, there was something wrong about it.
The next letter I opened said this, and it illustrates the danger of editing:Dear Mr. Marten, Your speech today on the Common Market was splendid and to the point and not like the waffling and vague promises about the tremendous advantages to come of the pro-Marketeers. But what did the BBC do—report it and quoted it all out of context. Indeed, they implied that you had reservations on keeping out.I did not see it on television—I did not bother to—but I imagine that it was the except that went out in the evening, a condensed versison, and that is the sort of thing that we would have. The excerpt gave that impression.
That illustrates how editing—it is not editing; it is cutting—and taking only a few sentences would be dangerous. If I am misreported in the Press, I write letters to the editor. However, I hardly ever watch television. I do not think I should look at the potted television misreporting of Parliament. If I were misreported in a newspaper, I should write to the editor and I am sure that he would publish my letter. If I were misreported, or mis-extracted, on television, in the first place I would not see it. I should have to go and see the videotape next day. How would I get a correction published? Editing as practised by the newspapers is a matter of summarising, as The Times does. Television editing must be by cutting and taking live expressions out of the speech, therefore making things out of context and irrelevant. Editing is, therefore, one of the greatest dangers in the whole project. That is why I do not even want a trial. Editing is a great danger, and it is impossible to find the perfect editor who will make it absolutely right.
I understood my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to say that extracts would be edited for peak viewing hours. I do not know whether I have the right end of the stick. If it were on the same day, it would create a rush of Members to speak before editing time, which is very much what happened in Australia and caused such trouble.
§ Mr. R. Carr
My hon. Friend must have misunderstood me. I said that whatever programmes, following discussion with the Services Committee, were finally 578 agreed upon it was important that the broadcasting authorities should broadcast a reasonable proportion of them, not only late at night but during ordinary viewing hours, so that we could get the reaction of the public as a whole and not only the reaction of the minority public, but certainly not to encourage certain Members to seek to speak at a particular time.
§ Mr. Marten
In view of the shortage of time perhaps we can follow this up on a different occasion.
My next point concerns the question of parliamentary humour. From time to time my wife comes up to watch us, and she is amazed at the way we suddenly burst out laughing for no apparent reason. It happened this afternoon when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) said on a point of order that the Serjeant at Arms was blushing. That caused a great guffaw, because we all know what it related to. If that went out on television, what would anybody think? Perhaps it would not matter what people thought.
From your point of view, Mr. Speaker, the guffaws and the laughter often save the parliamentary situation and calm things down. Anything which inhibits the spontaneous sense of humour in the House would be a great mistake.
The hon. Members for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) and for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said that we must not be afraid of televising our proceedings. We are not afraid of it. We just do not want it.
Would the television of our proceedings in the Chamber alter the style of our debates? Would they be adversely changed? If they were, we should not have it. Thirdly, would it unconsciously place restrictions on our speeches either directly or indirectly? If it did, we should not do it. And we must not forget that the main purpose of our asembly is to deliberate and legislate and not to put on a show for television.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
I am greatly obliged to the three hon. Members who have preceded me for keeping strictly to the times they set themselves. I hope that I may be forgiven if I do not give way to interruptions. Usually I am 579 glad to do so, but I have very little time in which to answer or to comment upon some of the speeches that have been made in a most interesting debate. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) has just referred to his party conference, perhaps I could make that the reason for answering what was possibly his main point and one of the main points made in other speeches, that television will change the character of this place so much that it will be unrecognisable. He particularly instanced the informality, the humour and the friendliness of this place.
I do not believe that we shall be so self-conscious that we shall become a totally different kind of assembly. We have had some years of experience of party conferences being televised and I have found that as the years have gone by the delegates speaking at the rostrum have become less and less conscious of the distant eye of the camera. They are much more interested in convincing and persuading other delegates, the people around them in their immediate neighbourhood rather than bothering about the unseen audience beyond the camera. That is my impression of conference television. Conferences are just as informal—our conferences are, I am not sure about the Conservative Party conference—as the proceedings of this House and, almost always, just as friendly.
It is a good many years since the Select Committee of which I had the honour to be chairman had this subject brought to its attention, first I think by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). We have gone on and on over the years discussing it. The same arguments have been rehearsed over again, although not all hon. Members who have spoken seem—perhaps it was an impossible thing to expect—to have read the report of the Committee on this subject, which was admittedly published six years ago. However, it contains all the answers to all the questions. The project outlined by the Leader of the House today in essence follows the recommendations of the Select Committee, with one important exception, with which I entirely agree, namely, the change from closed circuit to public viewing.
580 It is an admirable idea at least to sound out the public and to get their impressions. It is for this House to decide when there has been an adequate period of experiment. I agree with the hon. Member who said that three weeks was not perhaps quite adequate. If we are to have programmes devoted to the Standing Committees, the Scottish Grand Committee and so on it is certainly essential that we have about six weeks but not much more.
What I cannot understand is why some hon. Members seem to be so incredulous about the genuineness of the experimental character of the project. We have had assurances not only from the Leader of the House but from the broadcasting people, from everyone concerned, that this is a genuine experiment. If it turns out to be unsatisfactory, I for one will certainly vote against having any permanent arrangement. I cannot see why people are apparently doubtful about having the opportunity of voting "No". All this is on record and there is no doubt in my mind of the genuineness of the experiment.
Let me deal with the "foot in the door" argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) developed this in an interesting and thoughtful speech, although it was, I felt, an unduly sinister speech. There were terrible warnings of a rapid decline which would take place as soon as this evil genius of television got its tentacles around this House. We would collapse almost immediately—at any rate, there was an inevitability of gradualness in that decline. I cannot accept that. Apart from anything else, the BBC and ITV are not so totally black as they have been painted by some today. I agree that their greatest evil is triviality, the tendency to trivialise everything. No one can deny that there have been a number of perfectly serious and important programmes on both channels from time to time, not as often as I would like. The trivial still outweighs the important in total content. None the less, ITV and in particular the BBC have produced a lot of good stuff and these will be some more very important programmes for them to produce. We shall be helping in this experiment to raise the quality of the television programmes; at least, that is my impression.
581 I do not accept my hon. Friend's theory that we shall inevitably decline into triviality and that the reputation of this House will be ruined by these wicked bosses, like the boss who turned his producer pale because of the programme "Under Fire". That was a terrible programme. It was severely criticised by the critics and the public and after a time it was quite rightly taken off and buried. It was a disgraceful programme. But it was the commercial boss who rang up the producer in that case. In the case of this experiment, and if we were to approve, after the experiment, we should be the boss, not some commercial producer.
The whole essence of the experiment and the way in which it is done is that a House of Commons broadcasting unit will be responsible for choosing the material which is to go out, in the feed or signal, to the various broadcasting organisations. If the broadcasting unit does not do its job properly, we shall complain; and ultimately Mr. Speaker could dismiss the unit. But I do not see any likelihood of that happening, certainly not in the experimental period. If it did happen in the experimental period, we should all vote "No" to any continuation of the experiment.
There is a slight misunderstanding about who would be in the broadcasting unit. One hon. Member opposite said that it should not consist of Members of the House. Of course not. That is not proposed. It would consist of experts in this field who are either seconded to the service of the House or employed directly by the House, as the HANSARD reporters are employed by the House under Mr. Speaker.
Therefore, most of the apprehensions which have been expressed today are illusory. This experiment can be extremely useful. I personally think that it will be a success. I hope that it is; I do not make any secret of that. But we can vote "No" after we and the public have seen it.
Another hon. Member who was a little pessimistic was my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who made by far the most robust and lively 582 speech of the day. It would have been a marvellous speech to put on television. He is fairly frequently on television in various programmes. But he got things a bit wrong. Like other hon. Members, he commented on the well-known phenomenon of empty benches. He said that during the coal debate, when he was not called, if we had been on television his constituents would have said, "Why did you not speak?". But they would have seen him getting up each time trying to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
The other point which is raised repeatedly concerns the question of exhibitionists. I see no difference between the situation in television as it would be, or could be, and the situation in the Press. We already have exhibitionists in the House who are always speaking to the gallery, which sometimes is perfectly legitimate. If an hon. Member is making a constituency points perhaps in a half-hour Adjournment debate late at night, his speech may not be reported in the national Press; but there is no reason why he should not make a constituency speech. That is what Parliament is partly about. Therefore, I do not think that is a valid point, particularly as we are not proposing, and nobody has proposed, continuous live televising of all our proceedings.
That answers the point about Australia. There could be no rush to get into the picture at the peak viewing hour because it would not be a continuous programme. It would be edited extracts—the only alternative and the one which the Select Committee came down in favour of. With edited extracts, the exhibitionists would not necessarily get into the programme every time they got up and started to shout. The editors and producers—the experts—would take note. They are not complete fools.
I do not want to deal only with the technicalities. In my view, this is basically a democratic issue. Like justice, parliamentary democracy—and imperfect though it may be, it is the best democracy we have—should not only work but be seen to work and be seen at work.
§ Question put:—583
§ The House divided: Ayes 165, Noes 191.585
|Division No. 340.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Fox, Marcus||Orme, Stanley|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Armstrong. Ernest||Fraser, John (Norwood)||Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)|
|Atkinson, Norman||Freeson, Reginald||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)||Gardner, Edward||Pounder, Rafton|
|Barnes, Michael||Golding, John||Prescott, John|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Gorst, John||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton)||Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Batsford, Brian||Grant, John D. (Islington, E.)||Raison, Timothy|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Reed, D. (Sedgefield)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Hannam, John (Exeter)||Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hawkins, Paul||Rees, Peter (Dover)|
|Blaker, Peter||Hay, John||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hayhoe, Barney||Richard, Ivor|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||Heffer, Eric S.||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate)||Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher||Howell, David (Guildford)||Rost, Peter|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Huckfield, Leslie||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.)||Sandelson, Neville|
|Buchan, Norman||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Buck, Antony||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechtord)||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Butler, Adam (Bosworth)||Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)||Shelton, William (Clapham)|
|Carlisle, Mark||Kaufman, Gerald||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Kerr, Russell||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||King Tom (Bridgwater)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Kinnock, Neil||Skinner, Dennis|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Kirk, Peter||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Knox, David||Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Lamont, Norman||Speed, Keith|
|Clark, David (Colne Valley)||Lane, David||Spence, John|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Lawson, George||Stallard, A. W.|
|Cockeram, Eric||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Steel, David|
|Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)||Leonard, Dick||Stoddart, David (Swindon)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Crouch, David||Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geoffrey(Sut'nC'field)||Strang, Gavin|
|Davidson, Arthur||Luce, R. N.||Sutcliffe, John|
|d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||McCrindle, R. A.||Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.)||Mackenzie, Gregor||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)||McLaren, Martin||Torney, Tom|
|Deakins, Eric||McMaster, Stanley||Trew, Peter|
|Dean, Paul||McNamara, J. Kevin||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.)||Madel, David||Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Driberg, Tom||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)|
|Dunnett, Jack||Marshall, Dr. Edmund||Wallace, George|
|Eadie, Alex||Mayhew, Christopher||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Ellis, Tom||Meacher, Michael||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Emery, Peter||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Ewing Harry||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Eyre, Reginald||Milne, Edward||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Mitchell,Lt.-Col.C. (Aberdeenshire.W)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Fenner, Mrs. Peggy||Money, Ernie||Worsley, Marcus|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Foot, Michael||Neave, Airey||Mr. Michael English and|
|Foster, Sir John||Nott, John||Mr. Ian MacArthur.|
|Fowler, Norman||O'Halloran, Michael|
|Abse, Leo||Channon, Paul||Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead)|
|Adley, Robert||Clark, William (Surrey, E.)||Ford, Ben|
|Albu, Austen||Clegg, Walter||Forrester, John|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Cohen, Stanley||Fortescue, Tim|
|Allen, Scholefield||Concannon, J. D.||Galpern, Sir Myer|
|Ashton, Joe||Conlan, Bernard||Garrett, W. E.|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Coombs, Derek||Gilbert, Dr. John|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick||Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury)|
|Balniel, Rt. Hon. Lord||Costain, A. P.||Glyn, Dr. Alan|
|Baxter, William||Crowder, F. P.||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bell, Ronald||Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Goodhew, Victor|
|Benyon, W.||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj.-Gen.Jack||Grant, George (Morpeth)|
|Biffen, John||Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.||Gray, Hamish|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund||Green, Alan|
|Boardman, H. (Leigh)||Dixon, Piers||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)|
|Boscawen, Hn. Robert||Doig, Peter||Gummer, J. Selwyn|
|Bradley, Tom||Elliott, R. W (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Gurden, Harold|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Farr, John||Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)|
|Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Faulds, Andrew||Hall-Davis A. G. F.|
|Cant, R. B.||Fell, Anthony||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Mackie, John||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Hardy, Peter||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Harper, Joseph||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)||Maginnis, John E.||Roberts,Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marten, Neil||Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)|
|Hastings, Stephen||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Royle, Anthony|
|Hicks, Robert||Maude, Angus||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Higgins Terence L.||Mawby, Ray||Shaw, Michael (Sc'bgh & Whitby)|
|Hill, James (Southampton, Test)||Mendelson, John||Sillars, James|
|Holland, Philip||Mills, Peter (Torrington)||Silverman, Julius|
|Holt, Miss Mary||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||skeet, T. H. H.|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)||soret, Harold|
|Hordern, Peter||Molyneaux, James||Spearing, Nigel|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Monks, Mrs. Connie||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Monro, Hector||Stainton, Keith|
|Hunt, John||Montgomery, Fergus||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Hunter Adam||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Hutchison Michael Clark||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)|
|James, David||Morrison, Charles||Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, w.)|
|Janner, Greville||Murton, Oscar||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Normanton, Tom||Stokes, John|
|Jennings, J.C. (Burton)||Oakes, Gordon||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Jessel, Toby||Ogden, Eric||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||O'Malley, Brian||Tapsell, Peter|
|Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Onslow, Cranley||Tebbit, Norman|
|Jopling, Michael||Orr, Capt L. P. S.||Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)|
|Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Oswald, Thomas||Thomas, John straddling (Monmouth)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine||Owen, Idris (Stockport, N)||Trafford, Dr. Anthony|
|Kilfedder, James||Paisley, Rev. Ian||Urwin, T.W.|
|Kimball, Marcus||Parker, John (Dagenham)||van straubenzee, W. R.|
|Kinsey, J. R.||Parkinson, Cecil||Wainwright, Edwin|
|Knight, Mrs. Jill||Pavitt, Laurie||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Lamborn, Harry||Pendry, Tom||Wall Patrick|
|Langford-Holt, Sir John||Percival, Ian||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Latham, Arthur||Perry, Ernest G.||Weitzman, David|
|Le Marchant, Spencer||pink, R. Bonner||Wellbeloved, James|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Powell, Rt. Hn J. Enoch||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Lipton, Marcus||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)||Wilkinson, John|
|Lomas, Kenneth||Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Loveridge, John||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Lyon, Alexander W. (York)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McAdden, Sir Stephen||Redmond, Robert||Mr charles Pannell and|
|McBride, Neil||Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)||Sir Harmar Nicholls.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.