HC Deb 26 July 1977 vol 936 cc539-72

2.28 a.m.

The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)

I beg to move, That, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 16th March 1976 and certain Recommendations made in the Second Report of the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting— (1) the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority ('the broadcasting authorities') be authorised to provide and operate singly or jointly sound signal origination equipment for the purpose of recording or broadcasting the proceedings of the House and its committees subject to the directions of the House or a committee empowered to give such directions ('the committee'); (2) the broadcasting authorities may supply signals, whether direct or recorded, made pursuant to this Resolution to other broadcasting organisations, and shall supply them to any other organisation whose request for such a facility shall have been granted by the committee, on such conditions as the committee may determine; (3) no signal, whether direct or recorded, made pursuant to this Resolution shall be used by the broadcasting authorities, or by any organisation supplied with such signal, in light entertainment programmes or programmes designed as political satire; nor shall any record, cassette or other device making use of such signal be published unless the committee shall have satisfied themselves that it is not designed for such entertainment or satire; (4) archive tapes of all signals supplied by the broadcasting authorities shall be made, together with a selection for permanent preservation, under the direction of the committee. As the House will be aware, the report from the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting that we are discussing tonight stems from the decision of the House in March last year in favour of the principle of the permanent sound broadcasting of our proceedings.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Before the Minister embarks upon his speech, may I inquire whether he proposes to take the two items on sound broadcasting together or singly?

Mr. Smith

That was my intention, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

To take them together?

Mr. Smith

Yes, this one and the next one, which is: That it is expedient that the powers of a committee of the House in relation to broadcasting authorities and other organisations for which provision has been made in the Resolution of the House this day relating to Sound Broadcasting be exercised by the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting. That decision by the House followed the experiment in the public sound broadcasting of our proceedings that took place during the summer of 1975.

What this report, and the motions before us, are concerned about, therefore, are the physical arrangements and other detailed matters that need to be decided before any permanent sound broadcasting of our proceedings can begin.

These matters are, of course, matters for the House rather than for the Government. Ministers have throughout emphasised that the whole question of the broadcasting of proceedings is one on which they will be guided, whether on questions of principle or of detail, by the wishes of Parliament.

We have, however, as a Government, certain special responsibilities in this matter.

In the first place, it is up to us to provide an opportunity for Parliament to come to a conclusion in this matter. This we are doing tonight, and perhaps, at least so far as sound broadcasting is concerned, we shall now finally settle a matter which has been before the House for several years.

Secondly, the sound broadcasting of Parliament and the implementation of the recommendations proposed in this report inevitably involve the expenditure of public money. The House will, therefore, probably expect from us an indication whether, if these motions are approved, the necessary funds and accommodation would be forthcoming.

We have accordingly, in the period since the Joint Committee reported, been in touch, on behalf of the House, with the broadcasting authorities about the Committee's recommendations in order to establish, in consultation with them, what might be the timetable of possible implementation, and the expenditure involved, if we were to proceed on the lines proposed in this report.

The Joint Committee has recommended that broadcasting should begin in the autumn. I am afraid, however, that, because of the time necessary to prepare the specialised accommodation required for the preparation and selection of recorded material, this would only be possible on the basis of occasional "live" broadcasts which do not make use of recorded material. Regular broadcasts of proceedings, including edited daily summaries, on lines similar to the programmes during the 1975 experiment could, I hope, begin in February of next year, by which time temporary studio and editorial accommodation in No. 1 Bridge Street could be made ready.

The broadcasting authorities would be willing to proceed on this basis, provided that they were assured that work would begin forthwith on the adaptation—including sound-proofing—of permanent accommodation for them in the Norman Shaw South building. This is a considerably more extensive building operation, and will inevitably mean some inconvenience to hon. Members.

Taking into account the time it would take to get hold of the necessary specialised equipment, and the need to restrict certain major work to the long recess, this permanent accommodation could not be available until about October 1979. I am satisfied that this long delay is unavoidable, and I am grateful to the broadcasting authorities for indicating their willingness, if required, to work in temporary accommodation meantime.

The broadcasting authorities have indicated that they would be prepared to pay the full costs of the capital equipment required and to bear the running costs involved. The BBC's capital costs were estimated in August 1976 to be £400,000 and its running costs £275,000 a year. The BBC has, however, stipulated that it would expect public funds to bear the cost of the adaptation of its permanent accommodation in the Norman Shaw South building, and to share the costs involved in its moving into temporary accommodation in No. 1 Bridge Street.

It is estimated that the cost of the specialised permanent accommodation required in the Norman Shaw South building would be nearly £200,000. Taking account also of the Government's share of the costs of preparing temporary accommodation in No. 1 Bridge Street, the wiring of Committee Rooms, and the provision of listening and archive facili- ties proposed in the Joint Committee's report, the overall cost to public funds of the implementation of permanent sound broadcasting on the lines proposed in the report would be about £310,000. In addition, there would be some comparatively minor staffing costs connected with the listening and archive facilities, and the coverage of Committees, as well as some maintenance costs. These are matters for the House to decide.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

The Minister has referred to the cost that will fall upon the BBC. Presumably some cost will fall upon the IBA. What cost will fall on the IBA?

Mr. Smith

I believe that the initial cost to the IBA will be about £70,000 and that running costs will be about £60,000 a year.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

How much money has already been spent? If we do not vote for this motion, how much money will have been lost?

Mr. Smith

The money spent is that which the House authorised and amounts to about £70,000 for accommodation. The Government's attitude is that no money shall be spent until the House authorises the motion.

I can accordingly say that if the House endorses these motions the Government will not place any financial obstacle in the way of their implementation, and that we shall do our best to carry out the wishes of Parliament as soon as possible.

Apart from the questions of timing and costs, there are perhaps one or two other aspects of the Joint Committee's report on which it would be helpful for me to comment. In the first place, perhaps I might say a word about editorial balance.

It is clearly essential before the House takes a final decision on this matter for us to be satisfied that, if sound broadcasting of our proceedings goes ahead, we can be assured that the balance of selection in summaries of our proceedings should be fair as between the parties; between the front benches and the back benches; and between the various aspects of parliamentary proceedings. I might say, in passing, that of course there was never any suggestion that broadcasts should be confined to Front Bench speeches, and the broadcasting authorities have confirmed that they are fully aware of the need to maintain a fair balance in this respect. The Joint Committee came to the conclusion that in these matters of editorial judgment responsibility must rest with the broadcasting authorities. It has accordingly turned down the idea of a parliamentary broadcasting unit, and recommended that parliamentary oversight should be exercised by a Standing Joint Committee. This, again, is a matter for the House. But I think that I should say that we believe that the course recommended in the report is the right one, not least because of the costs involved in establishing a broadcasting unit.

Moreover, I believe that the experiment and the continuing experience of sound broadcasts such as "Today in Parliament" have demonstrated that the broadcasting authorities are fully aware of their responsibility in this matter, and are fully capable of exercising a proper judgment. I am sure, too, that the Joint Committee for which the motion provides would exercise an effective check, when necessary, in this field, as well as serving as a valuable source of guidance and advice to the broadcasters.

I believe also that under the terms of the motion the Joint Committee would be able to ensure that proper control was exercised over the appropriate use of parliamentary material.

Apart from providing for the establishment of a Committee to oversee sound broadcasting, and indicating its powers, the report also recommends that broadcasts of our proceedings should, as appropriate cover proceedings in Committees as well as on the floor of the House. I have indicated that the Government would provide the necessary funds for the wiring of Committee Rooms if the House so decided. The—

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

What do those last three words mean? If this motion were to be passed today, does it mean that Committees would be broadcast?

Mr. Smith

Yes. It means that we cannot provide funds until the House wills and that if this motion is passed the intention is that Committees will be broadcast.

The Joint Committee's proposal that individual Committees should not have power, any more than the House, to decide whether the broadcasting authorities should have access to particular sessions would seem reasonable—

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

There are certain Select Committees which meet in private. Would they continue to do so?

Mr. Smith

Of course. So far as select committees meet in private, the decision would be up to them whether they continued to meet in that way.

Mr. Ben Ford (Bradford, North)

What the Minister said is very much the case. The proposal is for two Committee Rooms to be excluded from wiring so that secure proceedings can take place.

Mr. Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because there are Select Committees dealing with things like defence matters, which are classified, which are not suitable for broadcasting and Committee Rooms are set aside for that purpose.

Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)

Paragraph 31 of the report deals with exclusions from Committees. It says: The Joint Committee has given consideration to the proposition that it should be for individual Committees to decide whether the broadcasting authorites should have access to particular sessions. To give such a power to individual Committees would be to give them a power which it is not proposed should be available to either House. If a Committee wishes to exclude Strangers from its meetings, it may resolve to do so but the Joint Committee can see no justification for the selective exclusion of the broadcasting media from public access to Select Committees". Does that mean that there are occasions when a Select Committee may decide that it will hold a session or part-session in private and exclude members of the Press but that the recording would have to go on?

Mr. Smith

Rather than be drawn into hypothetical matters I would rest on my general proposition, which I have already given to the House.

The recommendations with regard to the passing of connections to the signal origination room through the Hansard Control Room, and the arrangements for Committees to be made aware that their proceedings are being recorded or broadcast would seem to need further consideration by the proposed Joint Committee in consultation, as necessary, with the broadcasting authorities.

The proposals in the report with regard to the creation of listening facilities for Members, for the creation of an archive of recordings, and with regard to the questions of copyright and parliamentary privilege are again matters for the House, and perhaps I might just say that the Government would, of course, as necessary, implement the decision of Parliament. The making of an archive tape is specifically provided for in the motion before us.

I should in conclusion, however, point out one difficulty that has arisen over Section 4 of the Independent Broadcasting Act 1973, which is referred to in paragraphs 48 and 49 of the Committee's report. The Independent Broadcasting Authority regards itself as precluded by this provision from including in its coverage of parliamentary proceedings speeches or extracts from speeches, made by directors or officers of programme-contracting companies. This affects, 1 believe, two hon. Members of this House and a number of Members of the other House. We propose to bring forward the necessary amendments of the Act as soon as a suitable opportunity occurs, but it is unlikely that such legislation could be enacted before broadcasting begins, as the Joint Committee suggested.

Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)

I happen to be a director of a television company. Does that mean that if I speak in the House, say, next November, the portrayal of my voice over the radio will. not be permitted?

Mr. Smith

As I understand the position, the IBA would take the view that the hon. Member's voice should not be conveyed to the public through its agency, but the BBC would, of course, transmit the hon. Member's voice to the public. There is a difficulty here. I must be frank with the hon. Member and say that, until legislation is amended, the IBA takes the view that it will not be able to transmit his voice to the public over its system of communication.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

The Minister mentioned the question of privilege. When the actual broadcast goes out, will that have privilege or qualified privilege? Secondly, the Joint Committee is there to oversee fair play. It can obviously look at the background rules, but can it put on any form of mandatory sanction if it does not consider that those rules are being observed?

Mr. Smith

On the first point, broadcast proceedings will have qualified privilege in the same way as Press reports of Parliament's proceedings have qualified privilege. The privilege of hon. Members will remain absolute in that what is conveyed over the medium will have conferred upon it the same privilege as hon. Members have in the House.

On the point about the effect of the control of the Joint Committee, the Joint Committee can, in effect, turn off the switch if it wants to do so.

Mr. English

The Minister said that broadcasts would have qualified privilege in defamation. How will they get it? Presumably, legislation will be passed to give it to them.

Mr. Smith

No. My understanding is that they will have qualified privilege under the rules of the law on defamation as they presently stand, and there is no requirement to have other legislation on this matter.

Mr. Freud

On the point about directors of broadcasting companies, I believe that it was very correct for the Act to stipulate that they may not broadcast on their own. Will the Minister give an assurance that this matter will be brought before the House and that we shall be enabled to vote on it? After all, it is very easy for a director to resign, rather than for us to change an Act.

Mr. Smith

What I have said is that the Government believe that the Act should be amended if a suitable opportunity occurs. I cannot say when a suitable opportunity will occur. The position is that the hon. Members affected by it will not have their contribution to the proceedings broadcast while the Act remains as it is. The Government will give an opportunity to amend it, but I can give no assurance about when it will be amended. As the hon. Member said, if hon. Members affected by this disability wish to rid themselves of it, there is another way in which they might do it.

Finally, I wish, on behalf of the House, to express my thanks to those hon. Members who served on this Joint Committee for the work that they have put into this very thorough and workmanlike report, and to the broadcasting authorities for their very ready co-operation. I hope that what I have said will also have made some contribution towards providing the House with an informed basis on which to reach a decision on this longstanding and important matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not questioning Mr. Speaker's ruling, but I should like to point out that the content of the amendment was a specific recommendation—No. 18—of the Joint Committee. It is a separate and distinct proposal. The House will have no means of dissenting from it, although it may agree with the general report. There was a general expectation that there would be a debate on this matter, and I apprehend that a number of my hon. Friends have stayed here until this late hour especially for this purpose.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It will be in order to refer to the amendment in the debate. The way to deal with the matter is to vote against the motion if hon. Members feel so inclined. The amendment itself has not been selected for debate.

Mr. Whitehead

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I am sure you will be aware, a previous Committee set up by the House recommended the contrary procedure. It suggested that there should be a broadcasting unit. Therefore, it seems to many of my hon. Friends and myself that this is a fundamental point which does not in any way impinge on the issue whether we have broadcasting of our proceedings. This concerns two recommendations put in contrary fashion by two successive Select Committees. It must, with respect, be wrong that the House cannot have an opportunity of choosing between these two recommendations, as well as deciding on the motion itself.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is not for me to interfere in any way with the selection that Mr. Speaker has made—or non-selection in this case.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Does this mean that we have to either buy the total package or turn down the total package? Mr. Speaker's ruling places one in an awkward situation. I speak as one who is not concerned with this issue, but it would be a tragedy if the House lost broadcasting because of this, or got broadcasting of the sort that it did not want because it was not able to consider the matter. Is there any way in which one can ask Mr. Speaker to reconsider this, even at this early hour of the morning?

Mr. English

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It might be possible for the House to have its fears calmed. I think it is said that the broadcasting authorities need four-months' notice to start. They could not start in November if the motion was not passed tonight. They could start in February, and do it on a proper basis, and not on the ad hoc basis that my right hon. Friend wants.

Mr. Rathbone

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I asked whether there was a point of appeal, even at this early hour of the morning, to Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No. Mr. Speaker has made his decision.

2.49 a.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

Whether we have our own parliamentary broadcasting unit or whether the unit is controlled by the BBC or the IBA is not a matter with which I am particularly concerned, but I can understand that others are concerned about it, and it seems to me that the points that have been made emphasise the unsatisfactory nature of this debate.

I make my position clear. I opposed sound broadcasting. I accept that on 16th March 1976 the House voted by a fairly considerable majority in favour of the principle of sound broadcasting, but it did not establish details of the method, the timing and the cost. It was not clear to me from the motion that was tabled that tonight was the great night of decision, the turning point, the conclusion to which the Minister referred.

It seems to me that in many ways this is a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter, first because of what has been represented already by a number of hon. Members. We have to accept the package. We cannot choose between one alternative and another. I can understand supporters of sound broadcasting being discouraged by that proposition.

I had thought that tonight was not the night of final conclusion because the motion does not embody many of the details the House is entitled to have before reaching a conclusion. The Minister gave some very helpful information; he gave details of the proposed accommodation and he gave us a rough idea of costs. It is strange that, though the Joint Committee and the Services Committee have been giving great consideration to the question of accommodation, when the proposition is finally put to us the details of the accommodation are not presented in printed form to the House so that we can consider them in depth. The details were given quickly and easily in the Minister's introduction.

That gives the impression that the whole thing once again has been rushed right at the last minute. I am not saying that the whole procedure has been rushed, but the impression is that this has to be got through at the last minute so as to allow work to start by the BBC, for example during the Summer Recess. I can understand the desire to do that by those in favour of sound broadcasting, but it emphasises the unsatisfactory nature of the proposition. We are entitled to a Joint Committee report on the accommodation prospects and much greater precision on the cost involved.

I shall vote against the motion. I do so on the one fundamental ground of cost. The House has not yet reached a conclusion in terms of approving the expenditure. It has approved the expenditure but not yet provided the means. This is where the House and the public should be able to have second thoughts.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

What is my hon. Friend's objection to costs? I assume that he expects the operation to cost something.

Mr. Moate

I believe that the cost will be excessive. People might be in favour of sound broadcasting, but when told that it will cost £1 million they might say it is not worth it. That is the cost we are talking about. The capital cost to public resources of all descriptions—in that I included the BBC because that is a public corporation—is at this stage £750,000, according to the Minister. Most people would expect that to reach £1 million by the time broadcasting starts in a year or 18 months' time.

Mr. John Smith

Is the hon. Gentleman's objection to the spending of any money on sound broadcasting? Would £10 be objectionable? Would half the projected cost be objectionable?

Mr. Moate

As I stressed earlier, the House has expressed a view. Even though I objected to the principle of sound broadcasting, if the cost were nominal it would be folly to oppose it on that ground, for the House has expressed its clear and decisive democratic view.

What I say is that to spend £1 million when we are making such extensive public expenditure cuts elsewhere is not justified. It is not just £1 million. That is the initial cost but we shall be committing the BBC, and perhaps the House, to spend several hundred thousand pounds more every year on the maintenance of the broadcasting system. I know that many members of the public say that they would like sound broadcasting of the House. When I have asked them whether they valued it to the extent of paying £1 million capital cost and several hundred thousand pounds more every year they have changed their minds and said that they did not know that it would cost that much money.

I do not believe that it is right that we should spend that sort of money on this proposition. The Minister said, when the expenditure was incurred on these handsome broadcasting boxes that it was being done on the basis of a specific authorisation by this House. That was right. On this occasion he tells us that tonight we have to reach a conclusion. He has said that the consequence of this will be the expenditure of many hundreds of thousands of pounds of public funds. Where is the motion? It is not contained in what is on the Order Paper. This is a broad authority to proceeed with broadcasting arrangements, but we need a specific proposition authorising the Government to spend the money. That point emphasises the unsatisfactory nature of the motion we are discussing and the unhappy arrangements for discussing a matter of this magnitude.

2.57 a.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

We all know what is the proper procedure for this proposal. In a totally different context we have just been through it all earlier tonight. First there is a report from a Select Committee. The Minister moves that the report be taken into consideration and there are motions suggesting that the report be approved, maybe with certain modifications. Once that has happened, amendments are tabled and the issue is determined. That is the proper way of going about this. The Government should not attempt to put legislation through the House in this way at nearly 3 a.m.

I suspect that there is a somewhat nefarious reason for the Government's behaviour in putting this issue on at such a late hour. It could have been debated even later but for the forbearance of my hon. Friends and myself in not taking up the time we could have taken on earlier matters. We could have been discussing this at breakfast-time.

Why do the Government not want us simply to approve the report of the Joint Select Committee? They have sufficient confidence in the Committee to table a motion suggesting that it should be set up again and used as the "oversight" committee for broadcasting. I believe that the Committee has produced an excellent report, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) on his chairmanship of the Committee and its report. I agree with nearly everything in the report. It would have been worth while for the House to consider that report in the normal way. The subject is sufficiently important to warrant at least a half-day debate, not one of 1½ hours.

My hon. Friend has tabled a motion and fairly explained that this does not mean that broadcasting can start, as was envisaged by all of us, in the manner envisaged by all of us—with edited versions. The motion means that such broadcasting can start in February. I sat on the first Committee to consider this issue. Barring the late Lord Stephen King-Hall, I think I was the first person in this House ever to raise the issue of broadcasting, way back in the 1964 Parliament. That was when we discovered that an exiting Committee, the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports, the "oversight" committee for the Official Report, Hansard—which has some relevance to this debate—had the power to consider broadcasting. We did consider broadcasting. We produced the first report on that subject. We recommended a broadcasting unit akin to Hansard, which so successfully serves us in terms of the verbatim report of Parliament. But we then said that that was only in the prodction of the feed—the radio noise and, eventually if one has television, the visual signal that goes out from this place.

For various reasons we did not want a full version. I know that some hon. Members do, but we explained why we did not recommend that. We did not recommend it on specific advice from Australia, among other places. If we had an unedited signal going out to the viewer or the listener it would change the procedure of this House. In the case of Australia, for example, ministerial statements are made at 7 o'clock at night because that is the maximum listening time. Australia has changed its procedures so that Ministers can make their statement when there are more listeners. One can well understand why Ministers might want to do that, but we do not want any changes in our procedures of that character.

Mr. Rathbone

I fear that the hon. Gentleman may have misled the House, because Australia has continuous broadcasting. That would not be the case here and, therefore, a change in the procedure would not apply.

Mr. English

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. We are not going to get an edited version when this starts. All the Select Committees have said that there should be editing and that there should not be continuous broadcasting. We have always said that. The Government are now saying that between November and February—and who is to know that it will not be later?—it will have to be continuous because there are no editing facilities.

They are not suggesting that there should be continuous broadcasting throughout the day from start to finish. But the editing facilities will not be available. Because of that, a considerable problem arises. The biggest single problem is that the BBC will have to decide in advance what it considers worth recording and, one trusts, sending out.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend is talking about a very important principle. Is he telling the House that during the intervening period there will not be the reintroduction of the experimental facilities which we had during the summer before last? I think that a lot of hon. Members assumed that during the intervening period there would be temporary operations and not, as my hon. Friend is now suggesting, full extracts and no editing.

Mr. English

As I understand it, that is the basic situation. As I understand it, the BBC is being asked between November and February to pre-select newsworthy items. One mentioned to me by a governor of the BBC was Prime Minister's Question Time. He put that forward as an illustration of how Back Benchers would be served. He pointed out that Back Benchers would get their opportunity during Prime Minister's Question Time. I pointed out that Back Benchers would have reservations about Prime Minister's Question Time being necessarily an occasion for adequately displaying the virtuosity of Back Benchers.

Mr. John Smith

Since my hon. Friend has raised this matter, and has put down an Early-Day Motion relating to a fair balance between Front Benchers and Back Benchers, I would tell him that I have checked with both the BBC and the IBA specifically about that question and received the assurances from them that I mentioned in my speech.

Mr. English

I am aware of that. I suspect that the fact that 200 Members so rapidy signed that motion may have suddenly caused that assurance to surface, because it was not mentioned before.

But these are side issues. The main question is why do the Government suddenly want to hurry this? The editing facilities and rooms were not given to the BBC or the other broadcasting authorities because the Services Committee and the Property Services Agency had to consider intricate arguments about whether Cromwell Green or various other places should be used. Ultimately the Government said they would not allow these editorial facilities. Then, suddenly, they speed up and want to reverse the process. They want it so soon that the facilities not provided by the Government will not be there so that it cannot be done in the way that every Select Committee has wanted.

One ebullient junior Minister tells us that we do not know what will happen by next spring. There might be an election, and Front Benchers must get on the radio before that comes to pass. Maybe that is the reason. Whatever it is, this House would far prefer to have what it has wanted and voted for for the past 10 years—a properly edited version. I have always voted for that sort of broadcast—not something ad hoc to serve the purposes of the Front Bench.

It is not only that. I mentioned the House of Commons Broadcasting Unit in my amendment which was not selected. Here I part company with the Joint Select Committee's report. I quite understand that if the BBC sends out the feed for radio it will not play around with it. I do not believe that the BBC is capable of acting like President Nixon with tapes. That is not the problem.

Hon. Members forget that it is always possible in five or 10 years, if the radio broadcasting goes well, for the House to agree to television broadcasting. The reason why we suggested a unit akin to Hansard was that then there would be a producer in control of six or eight cameras, and he will have to choose which camera picture goes out on the feed. That is the first stage in the whole process. Before any editing is done, that should be done by the broadcasting unit, which should be akin to the Official Report, which has served us so well for more than a century.

The news media can select what they want from the feed. No Select Committe would dispute that the media have editorial rights. Hansard prints our proceedings verbatim, but no newspaper ever prints it all. They select what they want. The same should apply to radio and television broadcasting.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

Will the hon. Member agree that while the official version of the proceedings of this House is now recorded in Hansard, there will, in future, be two versions if this motion goes through. We shall have the tape and the printed word. Hon Members have the opportunity to check the printed word, which is tidied up a little. Presumably the tape will not be tidied up, so we shall have the difficulty of two different versions. The version to which the public will have the most access will be the wrong one.

Mr. English

The hon. Gentleman raises a point of great substance. It is mentioned in the Joint Select Committee's Report—a report which I should like to see considered by the House, partly under the heading of copyright and partly in other ways. Suppose the copyright of the signal does not inhere in this House. Hon. Members will remember the court case when the Attorney-General came to the House to seek permission to quote the Official Report in court, which permission was refused by the House because the House did not wish it. But the copyright of the tape, if it were in hands other than those of the Official Report, would not be our copyright. Therefore, those proceedings off the tape could be used in court proceedings, even though the House did not wish that to happen.

It has always been said that the broadcasting authorities need four months' notice to start and it is understood that their facilities will be ready in February. We all have experience of the dates for building work not being adhered to. In other words, we may assume that the facilities will be ready early next year, unless something goes wrong with the constructional work. When that constructional work takes place, the BBC will be able to go into its facilities, even though they may be temporary rather than permanent. They could start on a somewhat "scratch" basis, and there will be plenty of time when we return in November to give four months to the organisation to undertake the job so that it can start more or less on time.

All that will be lost is the ad hoc selection of news in advance. I do not know how one selects news in advance. It means that if a Prime Minister is to make a statement it will be news and one can tell it in advance, whereas if somebody throws a CS gas container from the Gallery that is not news because it was not thought that it was about to happen.

The Minister refrained from quoting to the House the fact that the BBC itself would be happy to start in the manner I have suggested in the spring. It is also true that everybody is happy with the BBC handling the "feed". I understand that the ITN wants nothing to do with it becaue it is none of its business. But IRN conspicously did not want a pre-selection of news in this way. Eventually it was forced to fall into line, and the broadcasting organisations are now willing to do it if forced to do so by the Government. But why should they be forced? Why do they have to be pushed into doing something they do not want to do? It would be better done properly in the spring. The broadcasting organisations will accept the decision of the House, and it is only fair that the Government should say so, otherwise the BBC could be drawn into what I suspect might be the overtones of a political problem. Therefore, I suggest that we should wait until the spring, pass the necessary resolution when we come back after the Summer Recess, and then act on the basis of considering the Report from the Joint Select Committee, amending it if we choose to do so. I suggest that we should do the job properly, as has always been advocated by every Committee that has examined the matter, and that we should not pass this resolution now.

Mr. John Smith

The House should be aware that if the motions are not passed now, it will not be possible to start broadcasting in February 1978.

Mr. English

It has always been said that four months notice is necessary. If that is not the case, will the Minister say so?

Mr. John Smith

My hon. Friend is working on the assumption that four months' notice is all that is required in order to get the temporary accommodation constructed and adapted in time, to order materials and various other matters, whereas I am advised that if the motion is not passed tonight it will not be possible for No. 1 Bridge Street to be available in February 1978. I think that the House should be aware of that before it takes a decision.

Mr. English

Again, the broadcasting organisations say that they can do it if given four months' notice, but the Government say that they must have longer notice. That is what is said. It always stems back to the Government not providing facilities for editing, the Government suddenly deciding to hurry ahead—one wonders why—and saying that they want much more notice for the provision of such facilities as they were not providing. They want more notice than the broadcasting organisations themselves want, since they want only four months to do it. I still think that this motion ought not to be passed tonight.

3.16 a.m.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not follow exactly the line of argument presented by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), since I rather hope that the House will pass the motion tonight as an important step forward in carrying to culmination the decision in principle which was taken in March last year by a very substantial majority that the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House should take place.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech, but it is important to get this right, especially in relation to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). Is it not correct that when the House agreed in principle to do that—I accept that—it was on the basis of the experiment, but the basis of the experiment was an edited version and not what I understand we are to get for the first three months if the motion is passed tonight? Is that not of itself something which should cause the hon. Gentleman to reflect?

Mr. Rathbone

That is right—it does—and I shall develop that point.

In its report, the Joint Committee considered many of the matters which were raised as objections or points of worry during the debate in March last year, and I shall touch on one or two. In that debate, I expressed a preference for a parliamentary unit to control the signal origination. The Joint Committee considered this, and I find the arguments which the Committee put forward immensely compelling. I feel that I should now endorse the recommendation of the Joint Committee that the BBC be the originating unit for the broadcasting, though it is important to establish the Joint Comittee as a standing committee so that, control of that still remains in the hands of the House.

I believe that that will have the advantage that well-trained professionals will be carrying out these very technical operations, while control of those professionals remains in the hands of the House. It is acceptable to the broadcasting organisations—that is as the Joint Committee reported—and the Joint Committee, which would be controlling those technologists, would be able to pick up and act on the many points which have already been raised in the debate and will, I am sure, be made later as well.

That arrangement will avoid the one immense disadvantage of a parliamentary unit with parliamentary responsibility having to hire, train and develop the career structure of technically qualified people in a unit within the House.

I suggest that the parallel with Hansard is quite inexact in that Hansard is a record, not a mass public communication of what goes on in the House, and it is not what we are talking about tonight.

There seem to be no difficulties of copyright. In so far as there were originally any difficulties, these were mentioned in the First Report of the Joint Committee, and they seem to have been overcome in the consideration and preparation of the Second Report.

Mr. English

It has been given away. That is the point.

Mr. Rathbone

That interjection is not entirely correct. It is a question of who should own it, and I take it from the Second Report of the Joint Committee that where the ownership lies is not an important question. So it is not a question of giving something away, although the Joint Committee did mention that one would be able to control—[Interruption.] Does either my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) or the hon. Member for Nottingham, West wish to say something?

Mr. Tebbit

My comment was that a remark of that kind will take a great deal of tidying up on the tape before it can mean anything whatever, whereas we know that the good folk who work for us on Hansard have an unerring knack of making some sort of sense out of what hon. Members say.

Mr. Rathbone

I do not think that that got the argument very much forrader.

Mr. English

The Select Committee said that taking copyright in the archive tape should be considered, but merely because it is a bit difficult to find someone to own the copyright for the House, the matter should not be dismissed as being of no importance. I am surprised to hear a Conservative hon. Member utter the phrase that the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) used a moment ago—that the matter of ownership was of no importance. I shall be glad to quote him in a subsequent debate on another issue. It is of vital importance. It is a question of who can use the material or give it away.

Mr. Rathbone

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the Report of the Joint Committee. Perhaps I have misunderstood it, but I think not because I have read the Report carefully. Its conclusion was that the ownership of the copyright was not important. It is not necessary to vest that ownership in a body. If I am wrong I should be most grateful if the Chairman of the Joint Committee would elucidate this matter. The Committee said that it was not important and that control over what was broadcast should be vested in the joint committee that it suggested should be established. That is one of the reasons why I believe that such a committee should be established, and that would also happen to fit in tidily with the lack of necessity for a parlia- mentary unit to control the broadcasting. The matter is not, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, West suggested, unimportant—

Mr. English

No. You suggested that.

Mr. Rathbone

No. The Joint Committee said that it was unimportant.

One question of worry remains and that is a technical matter. It concerns the reproduction of the so-called atmosphere of the House. I am less certain that the Joint Committtee that the atmosphere microphones should be left on. Hon. Members will recall that the original broadcasts from the Houses were extremely noisy and that there was an over-accentuated background of noise. That was corrected somewhat during the one-month trial but it was not entirely corrected.

It was reassuring to find that it would be relatively inexpensive to broadcast Committee proceedings. That reassurance went down well following the expensive predictions of the original report. A figure of £43,000 was mentioned for acoustic improvements, but that is a small price to pay to broadcast this workshop of Parliament.

I should like to touch on two points which have already been raised in the debate. The broadcasting of the whole House must be available when broadcasting starts and not just the broadcasting of the Front Benches. I was a little unclear when the Government introduced the Report to the House this morning whether it was planned that only the Front Benches would be broadcast initially under the new time scale that was outlined. The Minister is shaking his head, and that is reassuring. It will be possible to start broadcasting Committees in advance of the proceedings of the whole House. However, that should not be a part of the introduction of broadcasting. Broadcasting should not start until the whole House can be broadcast. The start should be simultaneous.

Another point that has been correctly raised concerns costs.

There will be considerable costs to the House, to the BBC and to the IBA. Much of that will be one-off expenditure. However, it is not correct to say that the element of cost was not considered when the House voted for broadcasting in principle. The question of cost was mentioned very often in that debate, even to the extent of a projected cost of £2 million for two or three years' time being put forward. It was against the background of that appreciation of the cost that the decision in favour of the principle of broadcasting was taken.

It is appropriate that we are discussing the subject at the end of this Session. No more important advance of parliamentary democracy could be made than a positive decision on the motion, and this has been a Session that has not been noted for democratic processes and practices. I hope that the House will wholeheartedly and emphatically support the motion.

3.26 a.m.

Mr. Ben Ford (Bradford, North)

I am pleased to support the motion. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) on a thoughtful and reasoned speech. Perhaps I can deal with some of the points that he raised.

The hon. Gentleman asked about microphones in the Chamber. This topic is alluded to in the evidence to the Joint Committee. It was taken up by the broadcasting authorities who agreed that, in conjunction with the Tannoy authorities, they would have to look at the microphone system. They agreed that the atmosphere microphones were unsatisfactory and that the problem would have to be overcome.

The interpretation of the hon. Member for Lewes in relation to copyright is correct in the opinion of the Joint Committee. That point is also referred to in the evidence of the Attorney-General who confirms that it is the use of the signal rather than its ownership that is important.

On the question of Hansard and its standing in comparison with the broadcasting authorities, paragraph 52 of the Committee report says: It has been suggested that the existence of such a tape may cast doubt upon the authenticity of Hansard as the official report of Parliamentary proceedings. The Joint Committee doubts that a real difficulty exists. Under its proposals, the tapes will not be produced by Parliament and therefore will have no official status as Parliamentary records even if a court or other body chose to take cognisance of them. More importantly, it would appear that to use other records to challenge the Official Report would be in breach of the Bill of Rights.

Mr. Tebbit

I am prepared to take a small bet with the hon. Gentleman that, in the event of this proposal going through, it will not be long before that which the public hears through its radio sets becomes recognised in the public mind and, eventually even in the official mind, as the official record whereas that which is written down and is seen by comparatively few will be gradually brushed aside. Sooner or later, we shall have to come to the question of who is to tidy up and correct the tapes.

Mr. Ford

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion, but he has reinforced the importance of passing the motion and ensuring that there is a Joint Committee to oversee the output.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) asked about the broadcasting of only Front-Bench spokesmen. The chief assistant to the Director-General of the BBC wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, saying: The BBC had hoped that, from November, we would be in a position to do occasional live broadcasts, but in doing these we had never intended to broadcast only Front Bench speakers. This is a misunderstanding on the part of the sponsors of the motion. He was referring to the motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West. Nevertheless, if MPs are concerned on this point, and fear that Front Benchers might receive undue prominence in such live broadcasts, the BBC is quite happy to wait until the temporary accommodation is ready in No.1. Bridge Street and to do no live broadcasting at all until permanent broadcasting can begin in January or February 1978. I ask the House to note that the paragraph commences "The BBC had hoped". That indicates that it was not under any pressure or compulsion from the Government to commence broadcasting.

Mr. Spearing

Although the balance of Front Benchers and Back Benchers might be assured, the very nature of the parliamentary occasions that are selected would have its own weight. That is what concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and others. Will my hon. Friend tell us why it is not possible for the temporary facilities that are to be introduced in November, if we get that far, to be the same as those used in the summer of three or four years ago, whenever it was, when we had the proper edited version from the word go?

Mr. Ford

That is because we cannot obtain permission to obtain the temporary hutted encampment upon Cromwell Green that would be necessary.

Mr. English

Who decided that?

Mr. Ford

I hope that the House will reach a conclusion today and finish the long process that began in 1964, which latterly I have had the opportunity of following through as Chairman of the broadcasting sub-committee that originated the sound experiment and Chairman of the sub-committee that evaluated the pilot scheme. Lately I have had the honour of being the Chairman of the Joint Committee that has presented the First Report and now the Second Report.

The Joint Committee has spent a good deal of time taking evidence from expert sources. It is most grateful to all those who gave their time to the Committee, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. I draw attention to paragraphs 17 and 18 of the Report in which are discussed the provisions of the signal from the Parliamentary Broadcasting Unit. The Committee went into this issue extremely carefully and came to the conclusion that the most efficient method, and the method providing the least charge upon public funds, is the solution that we propose. A parliamentary unit would involve legislation to give it a legal personality and to enable it to be invested with copyright. It would involve the employment of highly qualified staff, who would be occupied for only 34 weeks or 37 weeks per year.

Mr. Roper

Did the Committee consider the possibility of secondment of staff rather than the idea of full-time staff? It seems that the BBC staff will be occupied for only 30 weeks a year. Is not their position exactly the same?

Mr. Ford

I think not. The BBC has holiday rotas, for example, that would enable it to absorb the spare capacity available at the House.

Mr. English

Will my hon. Friend tell me of any respect in which the arguments used against the broadcasting unit of the House cannot be used against the existing Hansard? The Hansard staff are professionals. They are employed for 30 weeks a year in the House. They are officers of the House whom we have to find and recruit outside.

Mr. Spearing

They are expensive.

Mr. English

They are expensive. They cost a lot of money, and rightly so because they do a very good job. But what is the difference?

Mr. Ford

As I understand it, Hansard is a private firm, or it was for a long time.

Mr. English

It has not been a private firm for nearly 70 years. It was years ago that it was a private firm.

Mr. Ford

I am not acquainted with the internal operation of Hansard so I cannot make a direct comparison for the benefit of my hon. Friend.

Mr. English

The Committee never studied it.

Mr. Ford

I bring to the attention of the House the agreement that is outlined in Appendix 6, which has been arrived at between the BBC and the IBA, about the origination of the signal. Both organisations have given clear undertakings about the use of the signal. The Committee's propositions would also provide a channel of communication between the House and the broadcasting authorities. The Joint Committee was most concerned with the broadcasting of Committees and the Minister has indicated that the Government are willing to find the resources to accomplish this if the House approves the Report.

Broadcasting authorities themselves attach considerable importance to the broadcasting of Committees. I am sure that the arrangements for this will go forward in parallel with the broadcasting of the Chamber.

I foresee a number of developments arising from the commencement of broadcasting. Apart from the distribution of clips and edited editions to local radio stations and to overseas stations, there will be an increasing requirement from the public for extracts from broadcasts for the purposes of education, research and possibly propaganda.

Upon another occasion the House may be discussing its relations with the public. It seems to me that eventually we shall require to think in terms of a parliamentary information department, and a substantial part of its work would be to process and handle recorded extracts on a commercial basis.

Finally, I should like to express my appreciation of the hard work and splendid support given to me personally by members of the Joint Committee. I also thank the joint secretaries for their expert and willing assistance.

I commend the report to the House, and urge the passage of the consequent motions on the Order Paper.

3.37 a.m.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I oppose the motion on the ground that it would totally alter the character of this House. It would also be expensive, and we do not know how long our continuing commitment to these new expenses would be.

This debate illustrates the point that the House sometimes agrees to a principle on general grounds and then, when it comes to tackle the matter in detail, finds all kinds of problems. The more I have sat and listened to speeches by hon. Members tonight, the more worried and troubled I have become over the whole project. The physical difficulties are considerable. We have the problems of editing the spoken and the written word. Above all, we have the problem of utterly changing this Chamber as it has developed over the centuries.

We all know that this House has a unique character. We know that it has an atmosphere of its own. The cut and thrust of debate here exists nowhere else in the world. Hon. Members still have considerable independence, despite Whipping, particularly when non-partisan subjects are being discussed, as we have seen for many hours earlier today.

When we debate here, despite what the experts tell us, thank goodness, we are speaking not to the world or even to England but to each other. I believe that all this would be utterly ruined if our debates were to be broadcast. It would bring a totally new element into our discussions. The temptation, of which we are all aware, to play to the gallery, already evident in some of our colleagues, would be immeasurably increased. Members would want their constituents to hear them on the air as often as possible, whether or not they had anything useful to say.

Reference has been made to Prime Minister's Question Time. I believe that Question Time in general is getting out of hand, and Prime Minister's Question Time particularly so. Yet that apparently will be one of the highlights of this new non-stop variety performance.

A further powerful objection is that our proceedings would increasingly have to be subject to editing, with all the pressures for the sensational to take precedence over the serious contribution. I have heard the word "newsworthy" mentioned several times in the debate. That little word worries me almost more than anything else. Of course, once we get editing, with the best will in the world, bias is bound to come in.

The last objection is what I should describe as the social one. I like broadcasting. Sometimes I even look at television. I fear, however, that once broadcasting takes place, television is bound to follow with even more problems, difficulties and dangers.

We have too much broadcasting in our ordinary life. Certainly we have too much television. These Molochs of the media already tend to dominate our lives too much. They dominate the lives of children, and the young in particular. If we in this ancient House give way to this new fad there will be no end to it. There will be a demand for everything to be broadcast—the law courts and all our institutions.

We are in danger of becoming a nation of lookers and listeners instead of doers. There is far too much news and current affairs broadcast already. In the old days we made the news in this country. We did not listen to it every hour of the day. Our job as hon. Members of this honourable House should be to make a success of our lives and of our service to the nation and to play our part without bowing down to this craze for instant news coverage and the constant titillation to which we are subjected in public affairs.

3.42 a.m.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) in his argument about having too much news. Every time he speaks he tells us how the past worked. The predominant media of the day is broadcasting. In our votes we have acknowledged that it should have a role in taking the proceedings of the Chamber to a wider world and moving the House back into the centre of the forum of public debate from which it has been shifted by radio and television studios.

Nevertheless, the procedures adopted tonight are extremely unsatisfactory, not merely because we are being asked at 3 o'clock in the morning to debate the fundamentals of an issue upon which we spent a whole day but because the motions are confused and need not be passed in their entirety. We should approve Motion No. 7 and not Motion No. 8. I understand that it will be possible to have separate votes.

I say that because I believe that the House should be able to think again about the question of a broadcasting unit which has been rejected by the Joint Committee but which was recommended by the 1966 Committee. That is the only major point of substance on which I depart from the excellent work of the Committee, I pay tribute to the Committee.

The Committee was wrong on this issue. It was railroaded by the Government. It followed the false assumption that there would be a financial saving and that the experts should be let in. Someone has to operate the signals. As a producer, it would be natural for me to side with the professionals in this respect, but I am cynical about their claims about the origination of the signal and what should be done with it afterwards.

I wish that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) had been selected. If we examine the motion and the Report upon which it is based we see several unusual features. First, broadcasting is in a state of flux. I speak with some feeling as a member of the Annan Committee on the future of broadcasting. We do not know what the next three or four years will bring.

The Report suggests that the IBA and the BBC will be the only outlets in the future. That might not be so. Perhaps there will be a plurality of outlets. My hon. Friend the Member of Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) suggested that it is not posible to have a broadcasting unit because staff would not be employed for a sufficient length of time each year.

In response to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) he said that secondment would not be the answer. But secondment is the answer for the Open University, which works on terms that are similar to ours. It does not occupy people for all the year and it allows for some autonomy in broadcasting outside the large existing institutions.

That autonomy in broadcasting can be extended to mean a broadcasting unit which was recommended for this place in the previous Report but which for erroneous reasons was rejected by this Committee.

If we look at the Report we shall see that such a unit virtually exists in spite of the recommendations of the Joint Committee, in the effect of paragraphs 29 and 30 of the Report and the description we have there of what is to happen. Who is to pull the switches in the Committee Room? Who is to decide what is broadcast and what is not—because a feed is coming in all the time. In some cases it would merely be supplementary to the work of Hansard reporters and purely for the work of the House, and not for outside transmission.

Nevertheless with the feed using the same equipment, we shall find the Joint Committee proposals a clumsy way of doing it. We should think again and not pass the second motion.

A number of complex issues are not gone into sufficiently in the Report, of which the role of the proposed joint committee is only one. I have been able to touch on that concerning the broadcasting unit.

If we look at paragraph 23 we see slightly sloppy phraseology about the nature of programmes for which extracts are forbidden, such as political satire and light entertainment. During the previous experiment we had an occasion during the filming of "The Nearly Man" series where extracts were used in drama greatly to the rage of some hon. Members. We do not know what other programmes may be in this category but then selection is a matter for careful thought. It should remain within the remit of the House.

That is essentially the case for a broadcasting unit. We should pass the first motion and reject the second.

3.48 a.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I should like to support very much what the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said. The House should remember that when the question of broadcasting was debated at a much more realistic time than 3.50 a.m. there was a substantial majority in favour of broadcasting the House. I would also remind the House that the experience we had two years ago, despite what people say, was, by and large, very successful and that all the fears expressed in the debate before the experiment we re found to be groundless. I accept that there were a number of points which aroused controversey, such as the variety programme in which they use a tape, but every transgression will occur only once.

We have only eight more minutes left for debate, and this is a shoddily tabled motion on a matter of great concern, not only to hon. Members but to the whole country. This is an inappropriate time to take a decisions which is important. The chances are that there will not be 40 hon. Members present so that our time at this unhappy hour of the day will have been wasted.

I hope very much that hon. Gentlemen will remember that when this matter was debated in a full House there was a large majority in favour of it. Let us vote, as was said by the hon. Member for Derby, North, for Item No. 7 on the Order Paper but let us wait until the second motion is tidied up properly and let us then look at it again, when perhaps we have given the go-ahead to the BBC and the IBA to put their building works in process so that we can get the recordings of the business of the House without too much delay.

3.50 a.m.

Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)

I support very much what has been said by the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud.) It is inappropriate that we should be reaching this important subject and this decision so late in the day. None the less, it is extremely important that we agree to the proposals in Item No. 7 on the Order Paper tonight, even though, as the hon. Member said, these are not altogether satisfactory. There are a number of details which many of us would have liked to see changed. However, this is something that the House has clearly willed, and I believe that we should broadly go ahead with this at this stage.

As the hon. Member and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) have said, we should not agree to the precise form of Item No. 8 on the Order Paper, and then we can return and find what is the appropriate mix between the joint committee and the broadcasting unit that would be appropriate in the House.

Concerning broadcasting, I do not think that we shall be able to parallel the structure of Hansard. For many matters we shall need to use the broadcasting organisations as our agents. However, I believe that a small unit of perhaps one, two or three persons, working probably to the Joint Committee, in order to give supervision—not a large broadcasting unit but a small one—would probably be the appropriate compromise.

I very much hope that tonight we shall be able to give approval to the proposals in Item No. 7 and that we shall therefore be able to ensure that work is undertaken in the next few months and that once again we shall have broadcasting of our proceedings.

3.52 a.m.

Mr. John Smith

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I may reply to some of the points that have been raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) raised some points about the Front-Bench and Back. Bench relationships. I hope that I was able to reassure him about that. There is one point that I must qualify. That was regarding an intervention of mine to the effect that if we did not pass the motion tonight we should not be able to have the arrangements at No. 1 Bridge Street by February 1978. I think that it is possible that that might be done, but it is perhaps looking towards the realities of when we may return to this matter after the recess, and it might be very difficult. I did not want to mislead my hon. Friend. Perhaps I was more emphatic on that point than the circumstances justified.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) was generally in favour of the Report of the Joint Committee. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford), who was the Chairman of the Select Committee, answered some of the points that the hon. Member raised.

Perhaps I may say how grateful I was to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North for intervening in the debate and putting so succinctly some of the points that had been in the Joint Committee's Report and answering very helpfully a number of questions raised by hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) raised again the general principle of sound broadcasting. The House took a very clear decision on this matter in March last year. What the House is being asked to do tonight is to will the means whereby that decision, which it made by a clear majority, may be carried into effect. I think that the hon. Member will accept that what he was doing was making a cri de coeur about the whole business of broadcasting. He even extended the matter to the televising of the law courts, which I am glad

Question accordingly agreed to.

to say is not a matter which the House is called upon to decide tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) raised an important matter about the sound broadcasting unit. A serious argument is involved in this matter. The Joint Committee came down against that proposal. It raised questions of cost and some other matters. At this hour of the morning one does not want to deploy a full battery of arguments against that proposition, although I understand that it was a serious matter put forward by hon. Members.

I understand the way in which the matter has been put forward, but the basic question that the House has to decide is whether it will follow the decision that it took in March last year. I have tried to outline the costs involved in the operation. Some hon. Members have expressed fears about the cost, but these matters have to be put into perspective. I suspect that some hon. Members would not be in favour of spending even one penny on broadcasting our proceedings, but if the House decides to have sound broadcasting, certain costs follow. The costs are reasonable, the estimates are realistic, and the House must take these into account in reaching its decision, which I hope it will do tonight. I hope, too, that the decision will be in favour of carrying out the decision that was taken in March last year.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 37, Noes 0.