HC Deb 04 July 1978 vol 953 cc245-51
Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Fan), may I remind him that, although this is a Ten-Minute Bill, he is not bound to take 10 minutes?

3.57 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision with respect to televising the proceedings of the House of Commons. There has been general dissatisfaction with sound broadcasting at Question Time and many people in the country find it generally incomprehensible. Some of us feel that matters cannot be left in the present unhappy position.

My Bill would place the control of the transmission of television pictures in the hands of a vetting committee composed of hon. Members—Front Benchers and Back Benchers—in equal numbers. Probably a 20-minute programme would be available for transmission each day, mainly recorded, with live extracts from especially important debates.

The vetting committee's work would be done eventually by a person whom I would call a dogsbody. When mutual trust had been established, the vetting committee would be formal only. Only five or six cameras would be needed in the Chamber, all remote-controlled. Cabling would he unobtrusive and the lighting no more than the standard we laid down some years ago in the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act.

When I was in Canada 18 months ago I discussed with Mr. John Diefenbaker the struggle he had had to gain admittance for the cameras to the House of Commons in Ottawa. Members will recall that this is now an accomplished and successful fact. Mr. Diefenbaker, too, had to struggle with the fears of some Members of Parliament who felt that TV would be a "spy in the sky". He did nothing to quell those fears when he went on television one evening and said: We, the Conservatives, are fighting for the right of you, the public, to come into the Chamber with us to see who is in his place and who is not. That is no intention of mine. I firmly believe that we have a responsibility in this House to show the public, especially the young public, that in the House of Commons we have a viable, effective and democratic debating chamber which, despite all its age, custom, history and tradition—or perhaps because of those qualities—works as effectively today in the twentieth century as at any time in its history.

About two years ago I was in Strasbourg when there was a debate on a motion of no confidence in the French Government. I was fascinated to see large extracts of that debate televised live, with some telling shots of Deputies cheering and jeering. I could not help feeling at the time—they had some first-class speakers on the television screen—that the whole subject was of great value to young people who wanted to see how democracy worked with the best arguments deployed for and against a specific issue.

The list of countries which allow the televising of parliamentary proceedings is large. No Parliament, having accepted the televising of its proceedings, has permanently withdrawn facilities later. In West Germany television has been accepted since 1953, whilst the most recent television of, of proceedings took place last year in the House of Commons in Ottawa where, to quote the London Evening Standard of 15th March this year: Parliament is the hit show. It went on to say: The new show televised coverage of the Canadian Parliament is holding its own nicely and is showing signs of becoming a long running hit. It went on to say that this has sparked off interest in the USA in the televising of Congress.

Briefly, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and France already have live television coverage of their proceedings.

One final comment about the United States. In all but five of the state assemblies live televising is permitted. Recently, the United States House of Representatives approved by 324 to 44 votes to have its sessions televised, placing the mechanics in the hands of its Speaker.

There is not one Member in this Chamber who is not proud of this House and the manner in which we conduct our affairs. Let us today take a big step forward and let the cameras in to show the country why we have that pride so that people can share it with us.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I should inform the House that two hon. Members have indicated to me that they wish to oppose the measure, the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), whom I am about to call because he informed me on Friday last. Mr. John Stokes.

4.3 p.m.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I wish to oppose the Bill. Judging from the amount of noise, I believe that I shall have the support of the majority of the House. I have been a Member of this House for eight years. I feel that broadcasting, which we experienced recently, has been a bad departure from our previous behaviour and that it is a bad omen for television.

Prime Minister's Questions, as we saw this afternoon, have deteriorated. The length of questions and of supplementaries seems to get longer all the time, as Mr. Speaker frequently points out. Of course, the noise, the scenes, the rows and the exchanges tend to be emphasised, even by sound broadcasting, whereas much of the good work that we do remains unreported. All that would be much worse with television. Above all, it would ruin the character and the intimacy of the House.

I have other reasons for opposing the Bill. Over the centuries we have prayed that we might be "godly and quietly governed"—the words of the Prayer Book. I fear that with television we shall have a daily cacophony—a non-stop variety show which never seems to cease.

The cameras, more than sound broadcasting, are bound to emphasise the trivial. For instance, if a lady Member is speaking, there is bound to be as much emphasis on her dress as on the content of her speech.

Every idiosyncracy of hon. Members will be seized upon. If an hon. Member should be asleep—and sleep is sometimes the best thing when some of our colleagues are speaking—the cameras will not fail to want to have a close-up. What was once the most eminent debating assembly in the world will degenerate into something like the old English sports of cock-fighting and bear-baiting.

Constituents will peer into their screens and scan them to see whether their Members are present, not realising, of course, that attendance in this Chamber is only one of the many duties of Members of Parliament.

Many more of our colleagues will want to speak. There are always more speakers now than there is time for, as we have heard today. If a Member is lucky enough to be called, others will crowd behind him so that their visages are seen.

The temptation for the glib phrase and the striking headline will be much greater than it is now. As for our colleagues' physical gestures before the cameras, the imagination boggles. I fear that too many would try to look and speak as if they were Laurence Olivier.

It is sad that this proposal has nothing whatever to do with the good governance of this kingdom, but is purely an extension of the all-prevailing Moloch of television. Television now intrudes almost everywhere, except possibly into the bedroom and the bathroom, and no doubt it would like to go there, too. Why should it come here?

Finally, to end on a serious note, we have seen decline in this country over the last 30 years—

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

In the bedroom and the bathroom.

Mr. Stokes

We have seen decline in this country's greatness, prosperity, patriotism, manners and morals. I believe that bringing television into this House would be one step further down the slope to the utter triviality and vulgarity of the whole of our public life.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 161, Noes181.

Division No. 242] AYES 4.08 p.m.
Aitken, Jonathan Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Radice, Giles
Allaun, Frank Grant, John (Islington C) Raison, Timothy
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Grimond, Rt Hon J. Rathbone, Tim
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Reid, George
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey Tott'ham) Hampson, Dr Keith Rhodes James, R.
Bain, Mrs Margaret Hannam, John Richardson, Miss Jo
Baker, Kenneth Haselhurst, Alan Ridsdale, Julian
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Hayman, Mrs Helene Rifkind, Malcolm
Bates, Alf Heffer, Eric S. Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Beith, A. J. Hodgson, Robin Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Hooley, Frank Robinson, Geoffrey
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Horam, John Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Bidwell, Sydney Hordern, Peter Rooker, J. W.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Body, Richard Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Sainsbury, Tim
Booth, Rt Hon Albert James, David St. John-Stevas, Norman
Bottomley, Peter Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Scott, Nicholas
Brooke, Hon Peter Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Sedgemore, Brian
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Bryan, Sir Paul Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Buchan, Norman Kerr, Russell Sims, Roger
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Kilroy-Silk, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Canavan, Dennis Kinnock, Neil Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Carmichael, Neil Knox, David Stallard, A. W.
Cartwright, John Lambie, David Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Lamont, Norman Stott, Roger
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Lester, Jim (Beeston) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Clemitson, Ivor Litterick, Tom Temple-Morris, Peter
Corbett, Robin Loyden, Eddie Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) Luard, Evan Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Crouch, David McCrindle, Robert Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Cryer, Bob McDonald, Dr Oonagh Tiley, John
Davidson, Arthur Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Tinn, James
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Madden, Max Torney, Tom
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Tuck, Raphael
Dempsey, James Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mates, Michael Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Eadie, Alex Maynard, Miss Joan Watkins, David
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Watkinson, John
Evans, loan (Aberdare) Meyer, Sir Anthony Weatherill, Bernard
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Welsh, Andrew
Fairgrieve Russell Molloy, William White, Frank R. (Bury)
Farr, John Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Whitehead, Phillip
Flannery, Martin Nelson, Anthony Whitney, Raymond
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Newton, Tony Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) O'Halloran, Michael Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Fookes, Miss Janet Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Palmer, Arthur Wrigglesworth, Ian
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Park, George Young, David (Bolton E)
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Parker, John Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Freud, Clement Penhaligon, David
George, Bruce Peyton, Rt Hon John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Golding, John Price, William (Rugby) Miss Betty Boothroyd and
Gould, Bryan Prior, Rt Hon James Mr. David Hunt.
Adley, Robert Cockcroft, John Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Alison, Michael Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen)
Anderson, Donald Cohen, Stanley Evans, John (Newton)
Ashton, Joe Coleman, Donald Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Conlan, Bernard Eyre, Reginald
Awdry, Daniel Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Banks, Robert Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Fell, Anthony
Bell, Ronald Cormack, Patrick Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Berry, Hon Anthony Costain, A. P. Ford, Ben
Biffen, John Cowans, Harry Forrester, John
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Dalyell, Tam Fry, Peter
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bradley, Tom Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Buck, Antony Dewar, Donald Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Budgen, Nick Doig, Peter Goodhart, Philip
Bulmer, Esmond Dormand, J. D. Goodhew, Victor
Burden, F. A. Duffy, A. E. P. Gourlay, Harry
Campbell, Ian Durant, Tony Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Cant, R. B. Dykes, Hugh Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Elliott, Sir William Graham, Ted
Clark, William (Croydon S) English, Michael Grant, George (Morpeth)
Gray, Hamish Mather, Carol Silvester, Fred
Grist, Ian Maude, Angus Skeet, T. H. H.
Grocott, Bruce Mawby, Ray Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Hamilton, Archibald (Epsom & Ewell) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Snape, Peter
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mills, Peter Spearing, Nigel
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Speed, Keith
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Molyneaux, James Spriggs, Leslie
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Monro, Hector Stanley, John
Hastings, Stephen Montgomery, Fergus Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Hawkins, Paul More, Jasper (Ludlow) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Henderson, Douglas Morgan-Giles, Rear Admiral Stoddart, David
Holland, Philip Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Stradling Thomas, J.
Howell, David (Guildford) Mudd, David Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Neave, Airey Tapsell, Peter
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Neubert, Michael Taylor, Teddy(Cathcart)
Hurd, Douglas Oakes, Gordon Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Hutchison, Michael Clark Ogden, Eric Thompson, George
Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Orbach, Maurice Tierney, Sydney
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Page, John (Harrow West) Trotter, Neville
Janner, Greville Page, Richard (Workington) Urwin, T. W.
Jessel, Toby Pavitt, Laurie van Straubenzee, W. R.
John, Brynmor Pendry, Tom Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Perry, Ernest Viggers, Peter
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Phipps, Dr Colin Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Judd, Frank Price, C. (Lewisham W) Ward, Michael
Kaberry, Sir Donald Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Watt, Hamish
Kimball, Marcus Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Wells, John
Knight, Mrs Jill Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) White, James (Pollok)
Lamborn, Harry Ridley, Hon Nicholas Whitlock, William
Lamond, James Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Lawrence, Ivan Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Winterton, Nicholas
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Roderick, Caerwyn Woodall, Alec
McCartney, Hugh Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Woof, Robert
McCusker, H. Ross, William (Londonderry) Younger, Hon George
MacFarquhar, Roderick Royle, Sir Anthony
MacGregor, John Sever, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Mr. John Stokes and
McNair-Wilson. M. (Newbury) Shelton, William (Streatham) Mr. Michael Brother to.
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Silverman, Julius

Question accordingly negatived.