§ Mr. Speaker
Before we begin the important debate on the televising of proceedings of the House, I should announce that I have not selected any of the amendments on the Order Paper. I should add, however, that no fewer than 34 right hon. and hon. Members have expressed the wish to take part. A number of them are Privy Councillors. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. Speaker
This is not a party political occasion but a House of Commons debate, and, although I shall, of course, take account of views from either side of the House, it will be the Chair's endeavour to balance the arguments for and against in calling Members to speak. So that as many Members as possible may express their views on this important House of Commons matter, I appeal for brief speeches. I hope that Privy Councillors, who may be called early, will set a good example.
§ Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)
I beg to move,That this House approves in principle the holding of an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by television; and believes that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the implementation of such an experiment and to make recommendations.I regard this motion not as a radical departure from ancient tradition but as one more chapter in the long-running saga as to whether, and how, Parliament should have its proceedings reported. Over 400 years ago, when this House was locked in a contest with the monarchs of the day, starting with Queen Elizabeth and followed by the Stuarts, the House became very jealous of its power to keep its proceedings secret. No doubt that made good sense at a time when monarchs had much greater power, but by the end of the 18th century that contest had been well won. By then, however, the tradition of secrecy was strongly entrenched. There were notable debates and there was controversy, with printers hauled before the Bar of the House for daring to report its proceedings.
I do not think that today anybody would suggest, as did some of our 18th century forebears, that the common people are not good enough to be privy to what is happening in this place and that it is enough for them to hear the results of our deliberations through legislation. However, one argument was advanced which I suspect may ring a bell with several hon. Members: that free reporting of Parliament would bring the danger of misrepresentation and trivialisation. I do not think that that word was used, but that is certainly what was meant.
§ Miss Fookes
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is so old, is he?
The same arguments were rehearsed over the sound broadcasting experiment. Although some hon. Members no doubt wish sound broadcasting to come to an end, I think that the general feeling is that it should continue.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Is it not a fact that the radio broadcasts of the proceedings of this House, particularly in the early morning, have trivialised Parliament?
§ Miss Fookes
No. I take issue with the hon. Gentleman. One of the problems is technical. The microphones that are used in this place give a false impression. It is notable that those who sit in the Public Gallery and watch as well as hear the proceedings do not make as many adverse comments as do those who listen to the proceedings on the radio. I understand from the sound engineers that background noise comes up as foreground noise. In television studios we are asked on no account to rustle papers or to pour water into a glass because of the sound that it makes.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue is not trivialisation but censorship? Is she aware that, on the first day of the televising of the proceedings of the House of Lords, I was invited by the BBC to make comments, so I stood at the Bar of the House of Lords for two hours. Then I went into a pub in Whitehall and saw the same debate on television. The two were completely different. The cameras showed the viewer what the producer wanted him to see. If the proceedings of the House are to be televised, the House must be seen as it is, or not at all.
§ Miss Fookes
I have noted my hon. Friend's observations, but I do not wish to be diverted from the main course of my speech.
There is a reason why my motion is couched in modest terms. It seeks not to get an opinion from the House this afternoon about televising in principle for all time, but at least an experiment in televising the House, which is overseen by a Select Committee. That would give those who, like me, believe that it is a marvellous opportunity to make our House more relevant to the affairs of the country the opportunity to see that that is so. It will also give those who are genuinely disquieted about the idea the opportuity to see what happens in practice, and to come to a conclusion after the experimental period. I cannot see any objection to an experiment, knowing that in the end the decision rests with the House and with none other.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
My hon. Friend passed lightly over the question of sound broadcasting of the proceedings of the House. Does she agree that many hon. Members feel that the tone, conduct and way in which Prime Minister's Question Time is now conducted is worse than it was before broadcasting was started, and that it has done great damage to the House?
§ Miss Fookes
The simple answer is that I disagree with my hon. Friend's observations.
Let me labour the point about the experiment. It is important that we at least give ourselves the opportunity to see whether televising the House is likely to work in practice. That is a modest request. I hope that, if the debate goes in favour of the experiment, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will introduce a motion to set up a Select Committee with all the normal powers and general trappings that are associated with it—the power to send for persons and papers, and to have specialist advisers if need be. I have not introduced such a motion this afternoon, because it seemed presumptuous to pre-empt the decision of the House. Nevertheless, if the experiment goes ahead, I hope that my right hon. Friend will act quickly.
§ Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)
On what basis would the hon. Lady consider that the experiment had succeeded, assuming that the House gave its permission to the experiment today?
§ Miss Fookes
The answer will lie in the decision that the House makes at the end of the day. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What do you want?"] In a seated intervention, one of my hon. Friends asks what I want. If I were allowed to proceed, I would tell the House.
§ Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)
Has there not already been an experiment in the other place? Is it not the case that their Lordships would not be sad if the televising of their House were discontinued?
§ Miss Fookes
On the contrary; a survey of peers showed that at least 59 per cent. wanted the experiment to continue, and a further number, bringing the total to 78 per cent. , wanted it on a permanent basis. The grumbles in the other place have not been about the heat of television lights, but have expressed disappointment when those lights have not been turned on. We learn from their Lordships that they regard the experiment as sufficiently successful to wish to continue with it. They have already decided to do that. Indeed, the experiment in the other place is a good reason why we should follow suit. It seems, not to put too fine a point on it, that they have stolen a march on us, and have gained by the televising of their proceedings while we have lost.
If we allow the cameras in, we shall move forward well into the 20th century—[Interruption] No doubt hon. Members are equally concerned about 20th-century medical advances which might save their lives. There is much to be said for the 20th century.
We must face the fact that many members of the public rely mainly on television for their information about politics. It was estimated in a recent poll that 62 per cent. of the people say that most of their information comes from television—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] Disgraceful or not, we have to deal with the facts. If it is a fact that most people gain their information from television, we are losing badly by not having television cameras in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesham)
I hope to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, so I shall not elaborate, but if the close editing, which has been referred to as trivialisation and in various other ways, has to happen as a technique, surely much of the information will be inaccurate.
§ Miss Fookes
I shall come to editorial control later. I do not intend to answer just because someone says, "Jump—here and now." [AN HON. MEMBER: "Sock it to 'em Janet."]
We already lose by not having television cameras in the Chamber, because we hand great powers to television producers. They can call upon hon. Members to come out of the Chamber to take part in various programmes for which they have set the format, chosen the subject and the Members of Parliament to discuss it. In that way, they exercise a great deal of control. They may still exercise such control, but there will be an alternative if the cameras focus on what is happening in this place.
I believe with great conviction that people have a right—just like those who sit in the public galleries—to see as well as to hear what we are doing, since that is now technically possible.
§ Sir David Price (Eastleigh)
Does my hon. Friend's definition of proceedings include Select Committees? If she wishes to ensure a fairer presentation of the hulk of what goes on here, she must include Select Committees. The other place has not yet allowed cameras into Select Committees.
§ Miss Fookes
I have no objection to the televising of Select Committees, nor, indeed, of Standing Committees, where I personally would stand to gain. However, the Chamber is the most central part and the most difficult, and in an experiment one should concentrate on the area which is likely to be more difficult rather than less difficult. In the fulness of time I envisage that if the Chamber is televised Select and other Committees might also be televised. That would have my blessing.
Some hon. Members have expressed misgivings, not least about the intrusiveness of lighting and cameras. If we were to allow a permanent arrangement, there are means—admittedly expensive—of providing coverage of the Chamber without any discomfort or intrusion to ourselves. I can well understand why, in the past, people shuddered at the thought of what I call an extension of the Lime grove studios to this place, where it is an obstacle race to reach the studio and where the arc lights are exceedingly hot and unpleasant to be under for any length of time.
However, it is interesting to note that Lord Whitelaw, in another place, said that, with the Lords experiment, he has not found the lighting intolerable. My understanding is that with modern cameras there would need to be only a modest increase in lighting in the Chamber, and the cameras could be operated from a distance by remote control. Indeed, only four small discreet cameras would be needed, and they would be mounted under the Galleries.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I am sympathetic to the hon. Lady's argument. Would the special cameras be available during the experimental period, and would the lighting be as inoffensive then as we are led to believe it would be if we agreed permanently to televise our proceedings? Is there not a danger that, if that is not the case, the experiment would put off hon. Members who might be willing to accept the long-term arrangements?
§ Miss Fookes
I do not know what the position would be for the experiment, but the cameras are certainly available. Of course, we understand the reluctance of the ITN and the BBC to engage in capital expenditure for an experiment only. Let the House be under no misapprehension—the cameras exist. Some of them are British and it would be a small boost to our manufacturing industry if cameras were introduced in this place—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may hoot, but better British than Japanese.
I hope that no one will refuse the experiment on the ground that life would be so uncomfortable under television lights that it could not be tolerated.
I recall that, 10 years ago, when there was a major debate on this matter, a Committee room was filled with what was then the latest equipment showing what could be done if we were seriously interested in televising our proceedings. I suggest that development will have occurred in the intervening decade. If we were to televise our proceedings, that would no doubt give a spur to the endeavours of manufacturers.
§ Mr. Richard Holt
Can my hon. Friend tell us where she expects the microphones to be, how many there would be and whether they would pick up all the sounds currently picked up by radio broadcasts?
§ Miss Fookes
The plain answer is that I do not know. I am not a technocrat or a engineer. However, I am assured that these things could be arranged if the political will were there and if the money was found. No practical technical difficulty stands in the way.
It has been suggested that one of the disadvantages of televising the House is that it would have an undesirable effect upon the behaviour of hon. Members, and that they would seek to play to the gallery. Frankly, I do not think that those who are likely to play to the gallery would do so any more in those circumstances than they do right now. Indeed, I suspect that television cameras might have a good effect upon those whose behaviour leaves something to be desired. Those viewing our proceedings at home would see through ploys and stunts, and rudeness and unmannerly behaviour would be seen for what they were and would do no good to the hon. Members concerned.
§ Mr. Derek Conway (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene on the important matter of whether televising the Chamber would have an effect on the conduct of right hon. and hon. Members. Does she accept that there are often more hon. Members wishing to take part in debates than opportunities to do so, the opportunity for hon. Members to appear before their electorate on television would result in the necessity constantly to interrupt those who have been successful in catching Mr. Speaker's eye? That may be an innovation which, I suspect, the Treasury Bench would not welcome.
§ Miss Fookes
It is a possibility, but it can be exaggerated. Consider, after all, the number of interventions there have been in my speech, without the benefit of television cameras.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Was the hon. Lady in the Chamber when Bernadette Devlin, the day after the Bloody Sunday, grabbed Reggie Maudling by the hair? She did not lose any support despite that emotional outburst. Let us not forget the Irish problem that we have. There have been other occasions—for example, when a bomb was thrown and when a bag of horse manure was thrown from the Public Gallery. People take actions such as those to gain support or publicity for causes, and sometimes they succeed.
§ Miss Fookes
I would not cite the Irish as a precedent for anything. They seem to be a law unto themselves. That aside, there may be occasions when exciting incidents occur in the House, and I was present when Bernadette Devlin went for Reggie Maudling. I do not think it unreasonable, when those incidents occur—they occur but rarely—that they should be captured on camera. We cannot attempt in a modern democracy to hide ourselves or our faults and failures from the general public.
It should be possible under the ground rules that we might establish that, unless it were impossible to prevent, the cameras would not be expected to focus on the Public Gallery, because there would be a danger of people coming in to demonstrate. They would quickly stop doing that if they knew that the television cameras would not be on them. That would be a legitimate ground rule to lay down.
282 Other ground rules might be suggested. It would be reasonable for the television authorities, generally speaking, to focus on the Member who has the Floor rather than to cut away too much to other parts of the Chamber. It would be reasonable to cut away to some extent, where there was a real reason for doing so, but it should be done with discretion. It would be an important part of the duties of any Select Committee in any experiment to see how that was done and to keep a watching brief thereafter.
We should need a body to act on our behalf, and I cannot think of a better one than a Select Committee. That body would keep a watching brief always on what was provided to see that it met the general criteria of fairness and impartiality. Let us not forget that there is a legal obligation on the ITN and BBC as part of their licences under the relevant legislation to see that that is carried out. If the cameras were focussed on this place, we should be well placed to see that such basic ground rules were observed.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
From a six-hour debate such as this, television, which is meant to be entertaining, would screen 5 per cent. or 15 minutes of television time. I am sure that we should all like 12 minutes of that to be devoted to the speech of my hon. Friend who now has the Floor and who is making a splendid speech. How would she envisage that time being chosen? If only 5 per cent. of a serious debate is to be screened—there are not in the Chamber many Ciceros to rivet television audiences to their sets—how would my hon. Friend suggest the editors choose that small percentage? It will be chosen, surely, on its entertainment value rather than on reflection, which is what this House is meant to be about.
§ Miss Fookes
That is a problem, but it is the same problem that faces those who report our proceedings for the newspapers. In virtually every case there must be a selection of material. It is not an impossible task. The fact that it may not be 100 per cent. to our taste is not a good reason for not doing it.
§ Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)
Is the hon. Lady satisfied now with the press treatment of the proceedings of this place?
§ Miss Fookes
Not altogether, but it is one of the perils of democracy that what one says or does may be interpreted or reported by others in a way that one would not wish. That is a small price to pay for informing people of what is happening, if they wish to learn it. As there is always the pressure of time, one can never get away from the difficulties of selection.
It seems that those who argue against would infinitely prefer that there should be no reporting of the proceedings here, because there might be an aspect of the way it was done of which they would disapprove. That seems to be the logical extension of their argument, and I do not accept it.
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
Does the hon. Lady agree that what goes on in Parliament extends far beyond what goes on in the Chamber? Does she think that televising only the Chamber would create a balanced impression if the essential work done in Committee and elsewhere were not televised?
§ Miss Fookes
I dealt with that point in response to an earlier intervention, when I said that I would welcome the 283 extension of televising to Select Committees and Standing Committees but that I felt that in a limited experiment, such as I am advocating, one should concentrate on the Chamber, which is the centre of our proceedings and which is, in technical and other ways, probably the most difficult to do. In other words, let us tackle the difficult part first, and if the problems associated with that can be ironed out, it can be extended to those Committees with good effect, so giving a better idea of the totality of the work of Parliament.
While I agree that that is important, we must take one step at a time. Had I suggested that there should be an experiment not only in televising the Chamber but in covering Select Committees and Standing Committees, I should have been accused of trying to rush ahead, stampeding hon. Members into more than they wished to have. I have tried not to do that, because it is important to give full consideration to all the issues during the process of an experiment.
I am aware of your request, Mr. Speaker, for brief speeches, in view of the number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate. Contrary to the views of many hon. Members, I believe that the Chamber is ideally suited to be conveyed on television. Television coming into the average lounge does not capture well huge conferences and mass audiences being harangued from a rostrum. It is well suited to the more intimate nature of this Chamber, where there is the lively interplay of interventions and where Members who speak pompously are often taken down a peg or two. It is a good medium to focus on this Chamber.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
I tend to agree that we should televise the proceedings in the Chamber. Does the hon. Lady share my concern, however, about the standard of debate here—I include myself in that—which may cause the public to campaign for a lowering of the television licence fee? Perhaps we should make financial provision for compensation to be paid to the television companies in that eventuality.
§ Miss Fookes
I do not share the hon. Gentleman's gloomy view of the standard of our debates. On occasion, we can rise to great heights. That does not always happen on the great set occasions, and very often the most effective debates are not those that are well publicised in advance of staged occasions. There are many occasions when we could well put over to the public through the televising of our proceedings a great deal more of what we do than is currently the case.
I state again my profound feeling that the Government are entitled in a democracy to see as well as to hear and to read what goes on in this place. I am far more sanguine about the impact on the public than, it appears, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends and some Opposition Members. If we go ahead, if the experiment goes well and if the televising of our proceedings is finally made permanent, I think that people will wonder what all the fuss was about.
I have great confidence in the ability of the House to maintain worthwhile traditions and to absorb new ones. It is in that spirit that I commend my motion to the House.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has 284 brought the motion before the House. I hope that we shall have the wisdom to proceed to establish television in the House as soon as possible. I take that view because of some of the arguments that the hon. Lady has advanced, and for some other reasons.
As the hon. Member for Drake said, many of the arguments against televising our proceedings are the same as those that were used against the original proposals for reporting the House. There were bitter arguments when those proposals were discussed. There were many Members who said that the affairs of the House might be trivialised if they were reported and that great debates might be debased. There was one argument that went beyond that. It was argued that if the proposals were implemented the character of the House would be changed. The character of that 18th century House of Commons was changed by the reporting of its proceedings, and a very good thing, too.
The implementation of the proposals to report the proceedings of the House of Commons constituted perhaps the greatest change in the way in which our affairs were reported to the nation. The moral that we can draw from that is that the House, Parliament and the country have the power, strength and ability to take changes and to weave them into past traditions and to prepare them for the future. If the House proceeds to carry the motion, the Select Committee's recommendations, and the proposition which I believe will come later, that the affairs of the House should be televised, I do not have the slightest doubt that the House will be able to deal with all the problems that will arise. It will not be able to do so in the first week or month, and it will take some time to accommodate them, but the strength of the House is such that it can deal with such changes. It would be a retrograde step if we were not to face change here and now. We should have done so long since, when my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and those before him were introducing their Bills on the subject.
I shall recall to the House what was said a long time ago by my predecessor, who was then the Member for Ebbw Vale. No one can say that he did not understand the ways of the House of Commons and the association of the House with the democratic movements and impulses outside. I shall quote some of his sentences, which continue to set out some of the major arguments. He said:It was said last week"—this was said in the course of the last speech that he addressed to the House of Commons, and much of it is strictly relevant to our current affairs—that there was a considerable gulf growing between this House and the nation. I believe that to be absolutely true. There is a lessening interest in our discussions. We are not reaching the country to the extent that we did. It can no longer be argued that the national newspapers are means of communication between the House of Commons and the public. The fact that Parliamentary reporting has become a sheer travesty. Apart from a few responsible, solid newspapers with small circulations, the debates in this House are hardly reported at all, and such reports as take place are, as hon. Members on both sides know, a complete travesty of our proceedings.I am not making a special attack upon the newspapers"—and that probably went for those who were associated with them. I do not think that there are many Members who would consider those words completely inapposite to the position in which we find ourselves today.
My predecessor then described the incipient system which prevailed at that time, which now prevails and which will continue to prevail if we once again reject the 285 proposition to televise our proceedings. He referred to the method by which television companies select the Members of Parliament who are to be most prominently displayed on the television screen. He used strong language in referring to the method, as he often did in other debates. I am sure that hon. Members will regard the following sentences as apposite. He said:In fact, there has been nothing more humiliating than to see Members of Parliament in responsible positions selected by unrepresentative persons to have an opportunity of appearing on the radio and television.In my opinion, there is something essentially squalid … in Members of Parliament beginning increasingly to rely upon fees provided by bureaucrats in the BBC … and ITV.I do not suppose that any of us reject the fees when they are gracefully offered. None the less, it is much better that the major debates that are reported are the ones that take place in the House rather than those that take place afterwards between Members on both sides of the House who have been selected by those who run Broadcasting House or the ITV.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
I have the greatest respect for the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor. However, when his predecessor talked about a travesty of the truth because an entire debate was not reported in the newspapers or on the radio, how will the travesty be any less when we will be lucky if 2 per cent. of a six-hour debate appears on the television screen? How will the reporting of our debates be any less of a travesty than it is now?
§ Mr. Foot
The real travesty is the way in which the hon. Gentleman has recited what I read out. I suggest that he goes away and reads the passage carefully before he misrepresents it again. The televising of our proceedings will be an advantage, because it will provide a further medium to report what happens in this place. I am not suggesting that we can dispense with newspapers; they will continue to report what happens here. However, we shall have a different and alternative form of reporting. If the affairs of the House of Commons are reported by television—this is my opinion, and at this stage I cannot prove that I am right, because it will be necessary to wait and see—I believe that there will be a beneficial effect on the travesties of reporting that take place in many of our newspapers.
§ Mr. Faulds
Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that if this unfortunate development takes place and the cameras and the microphones intrude further into the Commons, somehow or other we will have hours of responsible reporting of the proceedings of the House of Commons? Is he going to pretend that once the cameras come in that will stop our friends, the broadcasting boys, choosing their favourites, whether nationally or regionally? We can all name them and point at them. There are a few of them around in all parts of the House. Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that that practice will cease?
§ Mr. Foot
I am not suggesting that that practice will cease. I am suggesting only that we shall have a fresh medium for reporting what happens in the House. There will be misrepresentations and misreports and there will be complaints about them, just as there have been complaints about the newspapers' reporting of our affairs. For us to say, in whatever the year is, 1985—[Interruption.] 286 These arguments were brought forward in 1965. For us to suggest in this year that we shall continue to refuse to allow the public to hear what happens in this place by means of television, which is the major form of communication throughout the country, is to deprive the House of its capacities and its rights, and to insult the public.
My predecessor, Aneurin Bevan, went on to say: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. That surely is a democratic process."—[Official Report, 3 November 1959; Vol. 612, c. 865–67.]My predecessor when on to say that he had not watched television very often, but he believed that some of its reports could bear favourable comparison with reports in the bulk of the newspapers. That was said in 1959. I think that it would have been much better if we had decided then to go ahead with television. As the hon. Member for Drake said, if that had been done, the public would have accepted it as being as much a fact of life as the reporting of our proceedings in the newspapers.
I hope that we will proceed speedily with televising the House of Commons, though I know that there are arguments against it. It has been said that Front Benchers and Privy Councillors will have an advantage. That is not necessarily the case with the reporting of proceedings by the press, and I do not see why it should be so with this new form of reporting.
It is said also that televising will infringe the rights of minorities and smaller parties. Sometimes it is said that the Liberal and Social Democratic parties will not have—[Interruption.] Perhaps their attendance will improve with the television cameras. It is said—this is part of a larger argument which I must admit I am always rather dumbfounded to hear—that the Liberal and Social Democratic parties have been unfairly treated by the media. The complaint that the two Davids have been unfairly treated by the media strikes me as the basest example of gratitude since King Lear's daughters, Goneril and Regan, turned upon their father! The House of Commons need not devote too much attention to that aspect. I have not the slightest doubt that minorities and individuals will be able to reshape and guard the process as we proceed.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Does my right hon. Friend remember the serious occasion when he went to the Cenotaph? The proceedings were televised and, because he wore a certain type of jacket, there was an enormous amount of trivialisation. The SDP Members demanded that they should be allowed to go to the Cenotaph as well. Is not this a perfect example of what will tend to happen with televising the proceedings in the House?
§ Mr. Foot
I recall the incident well. I had on a coat which I had recently purchased. I am happy to have this opportunity to disabuse anyone who might have less understanding of the nature of that coat. My tailor has been complaining ever since. It was a very fine coat. It certainly was not a duffle coat. When I returned to the Foreign Office, where we sometimes had drinks afterwards—I hope that this revelation does not cause too much concern—I was congratulated on the coat by the Queen Mother. Ever since, I have always admired her taste more than I have that of my colleague who complained. But that is a different matter. We can all survive such things.
287 I hope that the House will make up its mind. Of course there will be problems about the ways in which we shape this process. I underline as strongly as I can that I think that the power and enduring democratic roots of the House of Commons will be strengthened by this change. It is on that basis that I urge the House, not only to greet this propositon now, but to get it working as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)
I want most strongly to support the permanent televising of the proceedings of the House, including the Select Committees. I want that to be done by the BBC, ITV and any regional company that wishes to do so.
This is a matter for the House, and it is one of those rare occasions when individual Members vote according to their wishes. It is not a matter for the Government or Opposition Front Benches; it is for each of us to form our own judgment. I hope that that is what hon. Members will do.
I maintain this position as a principle of democracy. The proceedings of the governing body should be widely communicated as speedily as possible. I maintain it also as a principal right of the citizen to know as quickly as possible the details of the proceedings of the governing body. The time when the citizens could gather in the Forum to hear and participate in the proceedings are long past. Our responsibility must be to make our proceedings as widely available as possible.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it a fact that a Privy Councillor cannot give way, or is it that my right hon. Friend will not give way?
§ Mr. Heath
I was interpreting a general wish expressed in this debate, Mr. Speaker, that speeches by Privy Councillors should be as short as possible. I thought that I was responding to the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) that the House is a place for reflection. He should spend more time on reflection instead of interrupting me.
§ Mr. Heath
I have very strong views now about the whole question of Cabinet Committees and the attempt to prevent the public from ever knowing that they exist. That has obviously proved in modern times to be absolute nonsense. It would, therefore, be much better if we came clean about a mass of proceedings—for example, the establishment of Standing Committees. That is another bigger question with which we must deal. I have stated my view on this matter before. I have changed my view in the past 35 years. One is entitled to do that.
It has been said that if this is a temporary procedure, we shall not be able to take advantage of the latest technology. I am therefore in favour of hon. Members deciding that this measure shall be permanent. To those hon. Members and the people who have written recently 288 about this and who believe that once we start this as a temporary proceeding we shall never stop it, I say that is absolutely right. Once the proceedings of the House are televised, we shall never be able to stop it. We must therefore face the fact that it will be permanent. Let us have the most modern technology straight away and do the job properly. I hope that the Select Committee will bear that in mind.
We come to the question of laying down the guidelines. I have said that I want the permanent televising of all the proceedings of this Chamber as well as of Select Committees. We cannot have a guideline that says that the cameras will show only the hon. Member who happens to be speaking. The public want to see the whole of the Chamber throughout the proceedings. All the arguments that have been raised against that can be raised against having the public in the Strangers' Gallery. Only a few members of the public sit through the whole of a daily sitting of this House. Are we to say they cannot get a proper perspective of this House and that they can be admitted only if they undertake to listen to all the proceedings throughout the day? Of course not.
§ Mr. Faulds
The right hon. Gentleman has just put forward an inappropriate analogy. The members of the public, whom we never notice in this place, come and go as they wish. They stay as long as they want to. They push of when they want a cup of tea or a bun. The difference in the television presentation, if the cameras come in here, is that the selectivity will be made not by the public coming and going, but by chaps who have political interests to pursue, who have the old-boy network to trade on and who want to represent a certain attitude of Members of the House, not the complete representation of the enormous mixed feeling of the majority of the House on any issue at all.
§ Mr. Heath
It is not Privy Councillors who take up the time of the House. Yes, the cameras will come and go as they please, just like the public. I have no anxieties and fears about that.
Of course, I have been irritated, frustrated and, at times, infuriated by television. We must accept that. I am not prepared to say that on balance television in this country is not the best in the world. It is the best and, on the whole, the fairest. The House should accept that.
A point about "two minutes' time" has been mentioned. I believe that interest in the proceedings of the House will develop to such an extent that television will give much more time to those proceedings.
§ Mr. Heath
Radio gives more time. It covers the whole of Prime Minister's Question Time. If the public's interest is in the House, television will cover it.
289 It is said that television will concentrate on particular incidents. Of course it will. If the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is sitting opposite, jumps up and threatens Mr. Speaker, we all look at the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Heath
The public will look at the hon. Gentleman.
If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence dashes over and picks up the Mace, everyone looks at him. Of course they do. Who is to say that the television cameras must not look at him? That is trying to put television into a straitjacket. I remember very well when an hon. Lady rushed from the Opposition Benches and hit Mr. Maudling. I remember that vividly because I thought that she was going to hit me. She could not stretch as far as that, so she had to make do with him. Of course that would be shown on television. It is right that it should, because it shows the public that some people feel deeply about an issue and want to draw attention to it. Why should the public not know about that? Why should television not cover it? Of course it should.
I remind hon. Members of what happened in the 1950s. In those days it was laid down that no current affairs programme on television could cover any issue to be debated in this House or the House of Lords within a fortnight of the occurrence. For a fortnight television was silenced on anything that was to be discussed in the House. Can anyone imagine that happening today? Of course, that broke down over time. The House has always been slow to accommodate itself to the requirements of public opinion and technology. It is inconceivable that we could treat television in that way today. It is inconceivable that we can continue to treat it as we do at the moment and prevent it from covering the proceedings of the House.
Contrary to what has been said by many hon. Members, I believe that today television and, to a lesser extent, radio are the only firm guarantee of individual freedom in this country. The press which claimed to be so for so long is no longer the guardian of freedom in this country. The power of the press proprietors in this country has never been greater than it is today.
There are those who have said that television will pick out individuals, perhaps for ridicule. I saw one columnist over the weekend who said that people would see hon. Members lying on the Benches and may think that they are asleep; they will not realise that all that those hon. Members are doing is putting their heads against the microphones which are hidden in the backs of the seats. Very well, let us explain to the public that there are microphones in the back of the seats and that Members who appear to be asleep are not asleep. When they are asleep, it should be explained that they are asleep, or they should go and sleep somewhere else.
It is only because press columnists have suddenly realised that this motion will probably be carried tonight that there is this great outburst against the proceedings of the House being televised. It is said that television might try to make fools of us. What do the parliamentary correspondents do in the press day after day? The sole purpose of the parliamentary correspondent of the Daily Telegraph every day is to ridicule what goes on in the House.
§ Mr. Heath
We should look at the last but one parliamentary correspondent of The Times. His sole purpose was to do in politicians. He declared it openly; he told me so. He said that politicians were pompous people who should be destroyed. I told him that in the process he would run the risk of also destroying Parliament. That was too bad.
Any idea that the press today guarantees the freedom of the individual in this country has now become a fallacy and a farce. The one opportunity the public have of judging what we are really like and really say is on television.
By allowing the televising of our proceedings we shall go a long way towards providing once again a guarantee of individual freedom. The public will be able to judge politicians and our political institutions. That is the second principal reason why I so strongly support the permanent televising of all the proceedings of this House.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) touched upon a subject on which he will find considerable agreement in many parts of the House when he pointed to the dangers that now exist in the press and the extent to which we rely upon television. Television has brought great events into the homes of many people. It has given rise to great movements. The enormous British reaction against famine in the Third world owed almost everything to the television pictures in people's homes. I agree with him that television has a great role to play in safeguarding individual rights not just in Great Britain but in many other countries—including, of course, South Africa where there is a determined attempt to prevent television from reporting what is happening.
The right hon. Gentleman and many of my hon. Friends have been advocating the televising of the proceedings of this Chamber for many years. During that time, the press and broadcasting have changed significantly. We must now assess the issue in a slightly different climate. Even with the interests that have been shown in this debate, it would be hard to suggest that today's argument bears any relationship to the public interest in the breakdown a few weeks ago of negotiations between the Football Association and the television companies.
The day is past when anyone assumed that the televising of Parliament would make a huge and dramatic impact and bring about changes. The case for television is straightforward and logical. The proceedings of this House should be open to the public. The public is admitted to our proceedings in person in the form of people who write for the newspapers and in the form of radio microphones. Ultimately, I believe that it will be admitted also in the form of the television camera. Those are proper means of public access which make that access a great deal more widely available. We must set those factors against a background slightly different from that against which the right hon. Gentleman and many of my hon. Friends have 291 argued for television cameras over the years. There has clearly been a decline in what we call the Gallery reporting of Parliament—the extent to which newspapers report our debates and seek to set out what is said. If that were true when Aneurin Bevan made the comments quoted by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), it is much more true now.
Only two or perhaps three serious newspapers have regular Gallery columns, reporting systematically the proceedings of the House. The reports seem to get shorter and shorter and occupy less and less space. The rest of the reporting of Parliament, apart from the news contributions of political correspondents and the parliamentary sketches, which themselves have changed, depends on the occasional line here and there. We see the odd significant or outrageous comment reported in the popular newspapers.
The parliamentary sketch has changed in character. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred to sketch writers such as Frank Johnson. I do not criticise the appearance of sketches like that, which are entertaining and funny, but they have supplanted a different type of reporting. There used to be a serious attempt to portray a parliamentary debate as a supplement to the straight report of what was said in the debate. That was a traditional role of the parliamentary sketch, but is has largely disappeared.
This considerable change in press reporting has been reflected in broadcasting. Hon. Members must remember the row there was when "Yesterday in Parliament" changed its character from a straightforward report of the previous day's proceedings to a report in which there was a great deal of interpretation and comment. The programme has settled down after the initial period of being jazzed up, but it lost much as a straightforward report of our debates and deserved many of the early criticisms made of it.
§ Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)
The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for about five minutes and the House has been listening to him with great interest. I suggest that an editorial director of a television programme would feature the comments of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) about his dress and the Queen Mother's remark upon it, and the observations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), rather than take up the interesting remarks of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). That is what worries me. It may be good for debate, but not for television.
§ Mr. Beith
Those are the facts of life. They will happen tomorrow without the House being televised, but because of them we have to ask questions about how the televising of the House might be carried out. The motion, with its reference to the appointment of a Select Committee, gives rise to important arguments which we must put in the minds of the members of the Select Committee, and which the Committee must consider and bring back to the House.
Some issues came to light in the Lords experiment. People have commented in different ways on that experiment, but the Hansard Society produced an interesting brief interim report in which it made comments about balance. It referred first to a debate initiated by the Official Opposition which was not given the appropriate political balance; the role of the Official Opposition was not properly described. The Hansard Society also said: 292The Alliance might well be aggrieved by the coverage of the two debates they initiated on 15 May. In the coverage of the first debate on trade union balloting the Liberals were allotted 40 seconds out of a four-minute slot on 'Newsnight' and 50 seconds out of a 15 minute edition of 'Their Lordships' House.How the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent could regard that as in any way fair I do not understand. The report of the Hansard Society says:The debate on the strategic defence initiative and NATO, which was initiated by the SDP, received no direct coverage. The Cross Benches also have been particularly under-represented in television coverage.Although there is no direct analogy to the Cross Benches in this House, it is a reminder to Back Benchers of all parties of the problems that will be posed if television coverage of this House has no adequate outlet in television programmes. It is to that point that I am brought by those considerations.
It all depends on whether there is an adequate outlet in television programmes for the material which comes from the House and how that outlet is used by those who do the editing. If I take issue with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, it is on his failure to recognise that the television screen is not the same as someone observing the proceedings from the Strangers' Gallery. The small screen in the corner of the room will cover only a portion of the action in time and in vision. Therefore, the editing role will be important. The importance of the editing role will increase enormously if the amount of time available is limited. If time is limited, what will we see? We will probably see Prime Minister's Question Time. That was what happened in the radio programme. For a long time, the emphasis was on Prime Minister's Question Time. Eventually, it was taken off because there was so much noise that it became an unpopular feature of our proceedings.
§ Viscount Cranborne (Dorset, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman not saying that that kind of war is too important to be left to journalists? Might not his objections be overcome with the aid of modern technology and the allocation of one channel entirely to the proceedings of the House, without the interference of editing? If the public were bored by it, they could switch off.
§ Mr. Beith
I should like to see that, but I do not think that option is on offer. Television coverage on a special channel should not exclude the additional use of material from the House in news and current affairs programmes if it is used properly. It would be complementary to such provision.
If the emphasis were to be on Prime Minister's Question Time, the difficulty of fairness becomes apparent. That has not been shown up in the Lords experiment, because there is no equivalent to Prime Minister's Question Time. How can Prime Minister's Question Time be portrayed fairly if the Prime Minister can be asked two, three or even four questions from the Opposition Front Bench, without the Leader of the Opposition having any difficulty in being called, and only one question is permitted from this Bench?
It would be very difficult to give a fair presentation of political argument. Anyone watching on television at home might wonder why the Liberal Member who had asked a question did not put a supplementary question. The answer is that our procedure does not allow that. The same applies to Back Benchers. Prime Minister's Question Time, as it operates, does not afford an opportunity to 293 anyone except the Leader of the Opposition to follow up a point which has been raised. That is a defect in our proceedings, but it will make it difficult to show Prime Minister's Question Time as anything other than a Punch and Judy show; I do not assign those roles necessarily on a sexually stereotype basis.
Again, when there are statements, the statement from the Government Front Bench is followed by a supposed question from the Opposition Front Bench, often longer than the original statement and raising a houseful of issues, whereas other hon. Members, including the representative of a similarly large section of opinion, can raise only one or two points in the briefest of interventions. Statements will be difficult to portray fairly.
Similarly, what will happen in a major debate—the great occasion when a speech from the Government Front Bench is followed by a speech from the Opposition Front Bench? The temptation will be to stop the television coverage and go on to another programme rather than continue to report the speeches of the party which I represent or of Back Benchers of different points of view.
The Select Committee, if given the opportunity to do so, must consider within what context of programming the televising of the House will be permitted. It would be much easier to present a distorted and limited pattern on television than on radio. Radio affords more opportunities for coverage of the output from the House than television programmes.
I do not think that we can take the Lords experiment as entirely convincing, because it has taken place wholly during a period within which the broadcasters 'were hoping to be able to televise this House. It is my view that a daily programme on the House of Lords on both BBC and ITV—initially it was only on ITV—was transmitted only because the television companies wanted ultimately to come into this House. I may be cynical in that view, but I do not believe that the House of Lords would have had its daily diet of televising had there not been the hope that the cameras would come into this House.
The Select Committee will have a major job to do, including consideration of the technical problems which will arise from the televising of the House, such as the placing of the lights and the siting of the cameras. I support the suggestion that there should be remote control cameras rather than having cameramen scattered about the House. There will be technical problems with the microphone system, which is 40 years old.
§ Mr. Beith
I sometimes wonder in which museum was found this microphone that has been added to the system to make it slightly more efficient. The microphone system has been in the Chamber since it was built and it would need to be examined. As well as technical problems, there are the issues of fairness and balance of presentation and output to be considered by the Select Committee.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is already a form of censorship and that we already depend on editing? Complete pieces of legislation which are not considered interesting by the Lobby are not reported. Even when the House is full, hon. Members discover that the 294 value judgments of those in the press lobby are not the same as those of hon. Members representing their constituents.
§ Mr. Beith
I believe that that is so. That is another reason why I stress so much the need for the Select Committee to consider what opportunities for broadcasting the material will be available. The programmes of debates in the other place are important, and we could have an equivalent system. I may have been cynical about the reasons for the programmes' appearance, but they are good in general and well put together by the professional broadcasters involved. If we have television in this place, we should have an assurance that, each day the House sits, there will be a proper programme such as "Today in Parliament" giving an account of the proceedings, conducted on a fair basis. If we allowed television to proceed without that condition, we should be allowing the opportunity to slip to give what television should be able to give the people—the opportunity to see what is actually happening in Parliament, not an over-selective and limited picture.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Is he suggesting that the Select Committee should look at the right of Mr. Speaker to select those who speak? That will not change with television. None of us would want that to change. Is he suggesting that the business of the House, which is arranged through the usual channels, sometimes including discussions with the hon. Gentleman's party, should change? None of those things is of any concern to the new Select Committee. Its job would be simply to decide whether the House as it is should be broadcast, not whether the House should change its methods to suit the broadcasters.
§ Mr. Beith
The Select Committee will have to face that question one way or the other. If the broadcasters were to select from our debates—for example, if they took the first hour of a debate as at present arranged and constituted—there is no way in which they could discharge their obligation of fairness either to my party or, for that matter, to the hon. Gentleman, who frequently speaks at later stages in debates and makes cogent criticism of Government policy. If the pattern were to cover only one hour of the debate, such a view would be wholly omitted.
Hon. Members would be foolish if they ignored those aspects of the problem. I do not share the view of those who say that, because there are such difficulties, we must not allow television into this place. That is wrong. It was as wrong to say that about the admission of the public as it was of the press and radio.
If we are concerned, and if one of the arguments for bringing television into this place is that the public debate of the nation will be brought into people's homes the more fully to inform them of what is going on in the House, we must ensure that the basis on which it is done makes that possible. To some extent, that involves the way in which we organise our proceedings as well as the extent to which broadcasters have the freedom, in terms of the time available to them, to draw from our proceedings and give a fair and accurate report.
There is a three-way political debate in the country at the moment. If television, when it comes into the House, 295 tries to portray something different, it will give a totally false picture, and I believe that it will be rejected by the public.
§ Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesham)
I agree with many of the cautionary remarks of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). One thing is absolutely plain and certain. If television cameras are introduced into the House, it will never be the same again. If we agree to that move, things will change, and we shall have to accept the change.
It may be known to you, Mr. Speaker, that in a sense I wear two hats. I have announced that I shall not stand at the next election and I have an almost total interest in the electronic media—television and radio—which I freely declare.
Were I outside the House today, I should be speaking energetically in favour of televising its proceedings, but my responsibility, which I feel as a Member of the House, is to say with great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth. Drake (Miss Fookes), who so ably moved her motion, that today is not the time and this is not the right motion to accept, because the time will come.
Right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the evolution to press reporting. There is a check and balance against press reporting. It is called Hansard—the verbatim, written-down word of everything said in the House. I suggest that the same has to apply to television. My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Cranborne) made that point. However, it has been claimed that a channel for Parliament might not be available yet. If not, we must wait for it, because the word that I used—"inaccuracy"—when I intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Drake was meant as no insult or slight to the professional editors of television or radio news. It was meant to describe the inevitable effect of television programming.
Television can never be truly real or truthful. The two-dimensional lens followed by the pair of eyes of the camera man and directed by the director in the Gallery cannot do anything else but select, and selectivity has to mean, in the nicest way, a form of censorship. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said that he wanted to see the whole House in operation. I agree with him. Unfortunately, at this time that cannot be achieved to a satisfactory degree.
Were the motion an attempt to set up a Select Committee in more general terms—not to mount an experiment—we might make considerably more progress because in a matter of years, as technology advances—it may be five or 10 years—considerable progress in cabling, which has already started, will be made. When cable is covering many households, that insurance channel can be there, putting out to the people who want it every mortal and, dare I say, sometimes boring word uttered in the House. That is the check and balance against the inevitability of the technique of editing news bulletins such as "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament". If we go down the path that has been suggested, with luck five Back Benchers might get one minute or one and a half minutes every night at 11.30. If that is so, where is the advantage to Back Benchers of being seen frequently by their constituents? Will not the criticism be, "Why are they not seen more often"?
296 I turn from the personal and political advantages to individual Members to the advantages or disadvantages to the House. I see disadvantage that ultimately has to be surmounted. The televising of the House is inevitable some time, but not yet. The disadvantage is that this is a serious House. I have suggested that television can never be truly real. Others have rightly suggested that television is basically entertainment, illusion and impression. Let us use the illusion, impression, entertainment and excitement that television can bring in the right way and with the right consideration.
If we had an experiment, the first inevitable thing would be that we could not contemplate remote-controlled cameras. It has already been said that they would be too expensive. Will we seriously consider allowing gentlemen or ladies—there are camera women as well—standing behind cameras in three different positions in the Chamber on Budget day or during Prime Minister's Question Time? We would all trip over them, or they would trip over us, but either way it would create chaos. If there were cameras in the Gallery, that would be no good to the broadcasters because all that they would get would be the tops of our heads. Although our faces may not sometimes entertain the public as much as we would like, the tops of our heads might be even worse.
I should like to sum up my feelings. Eventually we must televise the House of Commons. We took it slowly when we allowed the press to come in. We invented a check and balance against the press. Let us do the same for television, because the way in which we introduced radio broadcasting has done nothing but bring the House into public disrepute.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) is the first hon. Member to make a speech of opposition. It was interesting for the House to hear him, but the argument that selection is inevitably censorship cannot be applied to television alone. The essence of publication is selection. The problem of editorship is relevant and difficult for all the media, not just for television.
I have long taken the view that entertainment is inevitable in the reporting of the proceedings of Parliament. A wider view includes the responsibilities imposed on the BBC by the charter. The duty of the BBC is to instruct, educate and entertain. If those three elements lie within the terms of reference of any serious body reporting the proceedings of Parliament, many of the difficulties envisaged by the hon. Gentleman would not occur—or at least not to the extent that he fears.
The motion moved by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) has been welcomed by the House, but from the many interventions it is clear that she does not command universal support although, as she said, the motion is couched in modest terms. The motion is modest because it seeks the approval of the House in principle to the holding of an experiment in the public broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings and to establishing a Select Committee to consider the implementation of that experiment.
Most hon. Members will be voting not merely on the principle of holding an experiment, but on the desirability of bringing television permanently into the House of Commons. That was made clear in the speech of the right hon. Member for Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
297 I must make it plain that I am speaking for myself, and that there is no party view. My right hon. and hon. Friends will vote tonight as their judgment and conscience dictate. I assume that similar freedom has been accorded to Conservative Members. I am now free to say that I am in favour of televising the proceedings of the House. Like others, I am mindful of the great battle fought nearly 200 years ago to open up our proceedings to a wider public. That battle was finally won in 1803, when newspaper journalists were permitted to take notes and report parliamentary proceedings. More recently, in 1978, the House agreed that sound broadcasting should be introduced on a permanent basis. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are far from satisfied with the press or sound radio coverage. They have made that clear in their interventions and speeches. However, only a small minority would support a proposition to banish either the microphones or the reporter's pen from the House today. Once an experiment has been undertaken, the same will apply to television.
By giving access to the press, radio and television, the House is responding to the major changes in mass communications that have transformed our society in many ways. Television is the most influential of the media. Hardly a home is without a television set. People spend many hours watching television programmes, including those on current and political affairs in all their diversity. It is strange and even paradoxical that elected members of Parliament and elected Governments, who are constantly dealing with communication and persuasion, should deny themselves the opportunity of communicating direct with the British public through this almost universal media.
We have heard the main arguments against voting for this modest motion. I wish to deal with them in three main groups. First, there are fears that the televising of Parliament will damage the reputation of the House. That concern is expressed in the amendment on the Order Paper in the names of the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and his hon. Friends. The amendment of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) expresses the belief that televisionwould only trivialise and sensationalise the serious purposes of this place".There are two strands of thought about trivialisation. One is the possible effect that television would have on hon. Members, and the other relates to the behaviour of the broadcasting authorities. I do not believe that the presence of television would encourage or provoke behaviour by hon. Members that would damage the reputation of the House. That is not because all hon. Members are perfectly behaved now, or will be in the future, but rather that the conduct of hon. Members reflects their dispositions and personalities. Those are expressed regardless of the presence or absence of the microphone or the camera.
I do not wish to be partisan in choosing an incident, but my most vivid recollection of disorderly conduct was when the present Secretary of State for Defence seized the Mace and waved it in the air. There were no televison cameras to incite that action, and radio had not been 298 introduced into the Chamber. It happened, and it could happen again, but I do not believe that television will make any difference.
The second strand of the anxiety relates not to the effect of televison cameras on the behaviour of hon. Members, but to the danger of selective reporting and trivialising the reporting of the proceedings of the House by the broadcasting authorities. That is a danger, although it would not arise if major statements and debates were continuously reported, when the problem of selection and editing does not occur. We agree on that. However, we are not defenceless against the BBC or ITV if they offend.
§ Mr. Heffer
My right hon. Friend has put forward important and fair arguments. In the so-called report of Parliament on the radio in the morning, for example, we hear not only what hon. Members say and debate, but the interjections of a journalist, who says what he thinks and makes snide comments about what the hon. Member may or may not be doing. If there was a clear guarantee that there would be straightforward reporting and nothing else, I should have no objection, but it will not be so. We are faced with the manipulation of the media, as we have been by the Gallery and the radio.
§ Mr. Shore
My hon. Friend has made a fair point. The answer is that it is for us to impose conditions and a code of conduct on the broadcasting authorities. Those who understand the business of the Select Committees that were set up to study the introduction of sound radio, and the recent House of Lords Committee on television before its introduction there, will know that a number of basic guidelines are laid down and have been accepted by both television authorities.
§ Mr. Ashton
One of the worst things to come out of politics in recent years has been the growth of the personality cult—the building up of the Derek Hattons, Arthur Scargills and Ken Livingstones, or whoever the media chose to build up into a film star, only to knock them down later on. How can the House stop or control that?
§ Mr. Shore
The cult of the personality was established not only here but elsewhere long before any suggestion was made about the use of television. Obviously we cannot deal with events outside the House. All that we are concerned with is televising and the rules that may guide the televising of the proceedings of this House. The code of conduct backed up by resolutions of the House applied before the 1978 sound broadcasting experiment was made. Among other things, the code specifically excludes the broadcasting authorities from using material drawn from either House of Parliament for any purpose of entertainment in other programmes. There must be no coverage of interruptions from the Strangers' Gallery, and no use of material drawn from the proceedings for party-political broadcasts.
A point made to the Select Committee on Broadcasting by the Attorney-General is that there are specific penalties, and it would be a contempt of the House if the broadcasting material was tampered with or falsified for the record. Further guidance has been given, and those who have studied the Select Committee report that preceded the televising of the House of Lords debates will realise that guidance is given about such matters as the 299 focus of the camera. It is generally accepted that the House of Lords has had a successful and constructive experience of televised broadcasting.
There is a further safeguard. To those who say that the Lords experiment was simply a case of seeing the broadcasting authorities on their best behaviour, the answer surely is that as long as we retain supervision and control through a Select Committee that will monitor and review what is going on, we will always be free to change the arrangements if we seriously believe that the reputation of either the House is being damaged by current practices. The other major anxiety which has frequently been expressed, and which was expressed by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), is about the political impartiality of the broadcasting authorities.
From time to time there are genuine grievances, but most of us accept that in the news coverage of parliamentary proceedings, and in such programmes as "Today in Parliament"—although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) about "Yesterday in Parliament", the one that follows it—selection is carried out as impartially and as fairly as we can reasonably expect. The obligation to be impartial is in the charter of the BBC and is a statutory obligation upon the IBA. I am sure that the Select Committee will consider that most fully, but if we are not satisfied on that score the alternative of setting up a separate parliamentary broadcasting unit is available to us. That deserves the most serious study.
The third and least important of the objections that we have heard relates to the physical intrusiveness of the television cameras. The House of Lords' experiment was undertaken by, I believe, four manned cameras, and an early experiment in the House of Commons would probably require manned cameras as well. In addition, televising of the House would result in an undoubted rise in temperature caused by the lighting. That is certainly unwelcome, but here, too, the experience of the House of Lords is far less unhappy on that count than was expected. Looking only a little way ahead, there is the prospect of remote control cameras and less obstrusive lighting. Those things are not far off.
These anxieties have to be set against the more positive arguments in favour of televising our proceedings. First, it will bring the House into direct contact with the great majority of the homes in this nation. It is certainly not over-optimistic to believe that the level of understanding of issues and the involvement of people in the political process would be considerably enhanced.
The three main functions of this House—statements on Government policy and the cross-examination of Ministers that follows; the presentation of the grievances of the nation, which is the essence of the Opposition Supply days; and the introduction of legislation—are of intrinsic interest either to majorities or to large minorities of the public. The size of audiences cannot be easily predicted, but even the late night reports of the proceedings in the House of Lords attracted audiences of roughly one third of a million, and those debates were late at night. Debates on major issues attracted far larger audiences.
Our proceedings are not adequately reported by the press, and here I echo what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). Many papers give only a sporadic coverage to the affairs of the House, and others, when they do report it, do so with a 300 strong partisan flavour, reflecting either editorial or proprietorial bias. Television will give us more, and less biased, coverage.
Secondly, there is a growing tendency, simply because the House is not televised, for major political debates to be arranged in the television studios. Those debates are governed entirely by rules laid down by the television producers, and the participants are selected entirely by them. A shift of interest away from this Chamber has resulted, and it has affected both the reputation of the House in terms of public esteem, and the level of attendance and interest of hon. Members themselves in the proceedings.
It is in the interests of the House and of the public outside, and also in the interests of strengthening our domestic process, that we should now accept the televising of Parliament.
§ Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)
I oppose the motion. It was generally thought before this debate that the motion would be carried, and some people thought it would be won quite easily. So far, we have heard six speeches and I am not being unfair when I say that the best speech was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton), who knows more about this subject than any other hon. Member. I cannot remember on how many occasions I have opposed the televising of the House, but obviously this debate today is the most vital occasion of all. My sole purpose is to appeal to those who have not already made up their minds to listen to what I have to say. I ask those who are in favour to think again.
I realise how strong the pressures are to bring the lights and the cameras and all the other paraphernalia into this Chamber. Some hon. Members will say it is an inevitable trend of the times. Some will even claim it as progress and others will say that, even if we stop it this time, eventually it is bound to come. Surely we in this House have a free will. We do not believe that history is predetermined; therefore, our decisions here should surely shape our future. I also fully appreciate the strength of the media lobby outside and inside the House. I am talking not just about those people who may have some connection with television or journalism, but about those who believe that television is the most important thing in our lives—so good that it ought to be here.
Television should not cover every facet of our national life. For example, few people would advocate cameras going into the courts. The trial and possibly the sentencing of fellow citizens is considered by most people to be too serious a subject for the screen. Similarly, our business here is too serious to be covered by television reporting as we know it today, however skilful and unbiased that reporting may be. Essentially, the purpose of television is to entertain. As I have often said, television is, in essence, a branch of show business. No matter how absurd or comical our proceedings may sometimes be, we are generally about the state of the nation, which is not a form of entertainment.
Television must entertain, or viewers will switch off. The proceedings of the other place were televised only fairly occasionally and often late at night. There were only about 250,000 viewers because, I believe, unlike us, the Lords have no constituents and generally conduct their affairs in a rather graver and quieter manner. Television 301 producers in here would be bound to go for the scenes, the rows, the conflicts and the occasions when somebody is named by Mr. Speaker. They would not be interested in about 90 per cent. of our business or in the work of Select Committees.
Television in here would alter utterly the character of the place, and for ever. Some hon. Members would crowd into the Chamber the moment the lights were on to ensure that their faces were on the screen. They would try to speak more, they would put down more questions, and they would interrupt more—anything to get in on the act. We have already heard that the broadcasting of Prime Minister's Question Time has harmed the occasion and damaged the institution of Parliament. Why? Because of the gladiatorial nature of that quarter of an hour twice a week, which is by no means typical of how we spend most of our time.
I realise that there might be advantages for my party in televising the House but I shall not go into that. The issue is greater than party advantage. Once the die is cast and the cameras, lights and camera crews are here, even for a so-called experimental or trial period, it will be very hard to get them out again. Can we imagine a Select Committee meeting night and day worrying all the time, wet towels on heads, trying to monitor the performance of the producers? It is quite impractical and we know it.
Television would also alter the timetable and the tenor of our proceedings. Important debates would no longer start at 3.30 pm but would be timed to start at peak viewing times after the tea has been eaten at 6.30 pm, and those who speak will be chosen for their ability to speak and for their photogenic qualities. [Laughter.] These are serious matters. Our dress and appearance would alter. There would be a great temptation for certain lady hon. Members to wear pretty hats—and why not? Viewers might, I am afraid, be more concerned with the length of their skirts than with the length of their speeches.
We know that people tend to behave differently the moment that the cameras are upon them. For example, the presence of television cameras often provokes riots. Goodness knows what their presence would do here. If an hon. Member unfortunately picks his nose or inadvertently drops off to sleep during a boring speech, the cameras will be on him at once. Those admirable hon. Members who are so assiduous in Committee and so attentive to their constituents, who travel on the Government's business and who attend our debates regularly but who rarely speak, would be forced to try to address the House often. Think what a nightmare it would be if all right hon. and hon. Members tried always to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. It is difficult enough to do so now.
§ Mr. Stokes
I think that I am against change and innovation. We should hold on to what is good and not try to change everything every second—certainly not the Tory party.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) is a great House of Commons man, but, despite what he said, I believe that the cameras would change the intimacy of debate here. The cut and thrust would go. Instead of addressing each other, we should be on a giant hustings addressing the 55 million people of these islands. I dread 302 to think what might happen. Hon. Members might feel that they had to alter their hairstyle or wear make-up. Would we all have to be coached in the art of making suitable gestures? Would the amateur and professional actors among us come even more to the fore?
Hard reflection shows that the dangers and difficulties are immense. The longer that this debate goes on, the more those difficulties and dangers will become apparent. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members who love this place, its history, all that it has stood for and the position in which it is held in this country and throughout the world will not put the whole lot at risk by bringing in all the trappings of a non-stop variety show.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I should like to compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on her introduction of this subject. The House has anticipated this debate for some months now. I owe the House an exposition of the history of the issue and the central role that the Select Committee would play. I also owe it the obligation of brevity.
As the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has reminded us, the matter was raised as long ago as 1959 in the debate on the Loyal Address by the then Member for Ebbw Vale, Aneurin Bevan. Since then, the House has had several opportunities to consider the matter, and did so most recently when the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) gave the House, in his ten-minute Bill of 2 November 1983, an opportunity to consider the establishment of a parliamentary television unit to maintain an electronic Hansard. His motion to have leave to bring in the Bill was passed by 165 votes to 159 but, as is the way with Bills introduced under that procedure, it failed to reach the statute book.
Since that debate, some interest in the subject has doubtless been confirmed by the experiment in another place. On 27 November last year, it was decided to hold a six-month experiment in televising proceedings. Hon. Members may have seen for themselves the results of that decision and be able to make their own judgments about it. Since the end of that six months, the decision has been to continue with the experiment until a permanent system has been approved or rejected. I acknowledge immediately that our own procedures and physical surroundings are very different from those in another place. It would be facile to draw a neat comparison between the two.
As for the proposal to establish a Select Committee to examine and report on the modalities of televising our Chamber, I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Drake said about bringing forward a motion to establish such a Select Committee with the normal powers, to consider the televising of our proceedings, and particularly the experiment, and I confirm that, if today's motion is carried, we will be proposing a motion to establish a Select Committee with the normal powers as soon as is convenient.
The decision in another place to hold the experiment was taken after a Select Committee had reported, and its conclusions had been debated. There has already been discussion today about referring the question to a Select Committee of this House. I believe that this is the only sensible way for us to consider fully the implications and technicalities of an experiment.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify my understanding of the motion? It appears that, if we take a decision in principle, the Select Committee's duty thereafter is to proceed towards implementation—the decision on televising the House having been taken this evening, implementation will be carried out subject to details considered by the Select Committee. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that that principle does not apply and that we shall have a second bite before a final decision is taken?
§ Mr. Biffen
The short answer is yes, but if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me for the next few moments he will find that that point is answered in my speech.
If the House so resolved, it would be the Select Committee that would hear and reflect upon all the technical and editorial anxieties. It would be the report of the Select Committee that would outline how an experiment could proceed. At that moment, the debate of principle would be joined by consideration of practicalities. No experiment could proceed without the House endorsing the Select Committee observations.
The issue is so important that I believe that a new Select Committee should be set up so that its Members can be chosen by the House to reflect the range of views which are held about the many different aspects of a televising experiment. That in no way undermines the work of the Select Committee on Sound Broadcasting under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). Members of that Committee will have much to contribute to our future discussions on this topic because of the expertise and experience that they already have in this and related matters.
The unique nature of the prospect before us leads me also to believe that the House of Commons (Services) Committee would not be the appropriate group to look at all the facets of an experiment and that a new Committee is required. Without seeking to pre-empt the work of the Committee in any way, it may be helpful to the House if I suggest two major factors among many that I believe that it would wish to consider. I have heard the broadcasters' preliminary thoughts on these two matters, as there was informal discussion with them before this debate.
On the type of experiment and equipment to be used the broadcasters suggest a six to 12-week experiment, with equipment continuously based in the Chamber. For an experiment, they would be content to pay for cameras and staff between them but would look to the House to provide the cabling and lighting required. That is the basis on which the experiment was agreed in another place. The costs to the Property Services Agency for the experiment in another place amounted to £25,000. The financial arrangements for any permanent system of televising the House would, of course, be a separate matter.
The Select Committee would doubtless wish to look at the effects of television cameras continously inside the Chamber. As I understand it, much would depend on the type of camera used for the experiment. Manned cameras on the Floor of the House would enable an experiment to proceed most expeditiously but would represent the greatest intrusion. Remote-controlled cameras would require more time both before they were available and for their installation. Another possibility might be cameras mounted under the Gallery and controlled by cameramen 304 seated in the Gallery, or a combination of manned and remote-controlled cameras. It would be for the Select Committee to weigh the merits of these and other suggestions.
Another aspect which would physically affect the Chamber would be the provision of extra lighting. In our previous debates on this subject, it seemed possible that a system requiring no additional lighting could be developed. I understand that this is not now believed to be the case, and that while some additional lighting might be set up outside the Chamber more powerful lighting under the Gallery would still be required. This is something which the Select Committee would want to look at in detail when there had been an opportunity for tests to be carried out inside the Chamber.
The physical differences which televising equipment in the Chamber would bring are clearly not the only aspect that needs consideration. The effects outside the Palace would be at least as great. Particularly important would be the effect on the way in which the House is perceived. This would depend largely on the type of programme proposed and the balance contained in the coverage. Both the BBC and the independent broadcasters would suggest live coverage of major occasions, a daily summary of proceedings, use of material in a wide range of news and current affairs programmes and coverage in the regions concentrating on local issues and Members.
The broadcasters assert that they appreciate the importance of presenting a balanced picture of the work of the House. By balance, I mean not merely the way in which the different parties are treated and the amount of time and coverage that they receive but also the division of time between Back Benchers and Front Bench spokesmen. Consideration must also be given to the type of occasion which is broadcast, either in full or in part. They recognise that, for example, Prime Minister's Question Time alone would not be an acceptable representation of the standard of debate or behaviour in the Chamber. They believe that, as in the experiment in another place, they should have editorial control of the material to be broadcast.
§ Mr. Biffen
It would be for the Select Committee to look at the responsibility that this places on the broadcasters, and to recommend whether it would be acceptable would be one of the Committee's most significant tasks. As with all these considerations, I must emphasise that the ultimate decision would lie with the House.
Finally, I should like to say a word about the time scale. If the Select Committee were to report in the spring of next year, we would hope to give the House the opportunity to decide on the recommendations and to discuss the report soon after Easter. If the decision then was to proceed with an experiment, there would be a delay of some weeks before it could start, to allow for installation of cameras and lighting. Just how long this would take would depend on the type of experiment recommended by the Select Committee and endorsed by the House.
I would envisage, however, that the most optimistic timetable would be for the experiment to start in the last weeks before the summer recess. Caution inclines me to believe that a more realistic possibility is for the 305 experiment to begin at the start of the new Session next year. Following the experiment, I would expect the Select Committee to make a further report to the House later next year, offering recommendations to the House as to whether we should proceed to a permanent system of televising proceedings and the form that this might take. The House would then have an opportunity to vote on the matter. That is just an outline of what seems the shortest possible time scale. The Select Committee would, of course, be able to make recommendations about this and other aspects of an experiment.
Finally, I should say briefly how I shall be voting. I believe that a Parliament seeking popular support for its authority should not foreswear what is probably the most effective popular form of communication. Of course we cannot know what the effects will be. A decision to televise is probably as fundamental to Parliament in its implications as was Disraeli's 1867 Reform Bill, which almost doubled the size of the electorate. Like that Bill, it is a leap in the dark. I believe that we have to take that leap, but I remain optimistic enough to believe that this institution can adapt to television and not be mastered by it.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
The most popular television programme featuring politicians must be "Spitting Image", judging from the size of the audience that it attracts. I shall vote against the proposal tonight because I believe that politicians will ultimately end up as the nation's clowns, portrayed as they are in "Spitting Image". That will happen if we allow television producers to take control of the proceedings, because they are interested only in mass audience figures.
I mentioned earlier the growth of the personality cult and named a few people who have been built up out of all proportion by television. I served on Sheffield city council for seven years. In those days councillors never appeared on television. Now, however, councillors and trade union leaders are bigger than Members of Parliament. They have been built up into personality figures, because television is interested not in issues, but in people.
The current political situation seems to develop into a presidential election campaign at election time. That happened at the last general election when all attention focused on the person at the top. If our proceedings are televised, the same thing will happen here. Every Tuesday and Thursday we shall have "The Maggie and Neil show—Scrap of the Day"—an everyday story of people having a bash at each other. Prime Minister's Question Time would become another soap opera, like the "Buckingham Dallas" with Prince Charles and Princess Diana. It used to be said that religion was the opium of the people. We now have the "soapium" of the people, and the House will become yet another soap opera. Television is bound to head in that direction.
The newspapers have reported that the Prime Minister's change of mind has been brought about because of the advice given to her by Saatchi and Saatchi—that the image of the individual woman standing at the Dispatch Box, with the men howling and shouting at her while she tries to give the impression that she is faced with enormous difficulties in running the country because of all the hooligans on the Opposition Benches, will be worth half 306 a million votes. I believe every word of it. The Prime Minister is a shrewd, sharp politician and a very good operator, so I do not blame her. Politicians are in business to win votes.
However, we have to ask ourselves whether the function of this House is to win votes. Is it a debating Chamber or a political soap box that is designed to win the next election? Television will turn the Chamber into a political soap box. Detailed, leisurely analysis by half a dozen right hon. and hon. Members on the Government and Opposition Benches of a weights and measures Bill, for example, or the White Fish Authority will vanish.
During the time I have been here I have seen one hon. Member eating an apple during Prime Minister's Question Time, knowing that everybody would ask, "Why is he eating an apple?" He was eating an apple to draw attention to the plight of the Kent apple growers. Another hon. Member brought in a box to show the kind of conditions in which battery chickens have to live. Yet another hon. Member wore a white suit to draw attention to certain textile problems.
We held a debate on this matter when my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was Leader of the House. I sat behind my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and held up a card saying, "He's daft." It was designed to send up the whole debate and show just how ridiculous it was.
§ Mr. Ashton
Yes. And who appeared that evening on "Newsnight"? I did. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent was absolutely furious that I had sent up the debate, but I did so to show him what would happen. Who interviewed me on "Newsnight"? It was my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). He had to choose who would appear on television after that serious debate, and he chose the comic aspect of it. That is the way that television producers think.
There has been much talk recently in the press about the emptiness of the Chamber. Of course, the press protests about the Chamber being empty. It is not allowed to go anywhere else. It would love nothing better than to go into the smoke-filled plotting rooms of the Tribune group, the campaign group or the 1922 Committee, but it cannot get in. Therefore, it wants this Chamber to be full of controversy, with hon. Members throwing the Mace about and demonstrating so that there is something to write about. If the Chamber is empty, it is lack-lustre. Nothing appears in the press except the merry quips of the parliamentary commentators who want the Chamber to be full, not empty.
We have to ask ourselves why it is empty. It is empty because during the past 10 or 15 years the work load of hon. Members has increased to an enormous extent. When I became a Member of Parliament 17 years ago there was one bloke in my 250-square mile constituency to whom to complain—me. Now there is an army of community project agencies and citizens advice bureaux, and they bring their problems to me. The work load of all hon. Members has trebled.
Hon. Members serve on Select Committees and campaign at by-elections. I was not here on Monday afternoon for the very important statement on the Anglo-Irish summit, because I was visiting a local factory. But 307 how many of my constituents, sitting at home watching television, would have known that I was visiting a local factory? They would have said, "We have been sitting here watching television for four or five hours but we have not seen our Member of Parliament. He is probably out skiving, having a day off, or he is in the bar."
It is difficult to explain to our constituents that, if time were allocated among 650 Members of Parliament, we would each get one and a half hours a year. If the proceedings of the House are televised, hon. Members will not get even that. There will be four statements every day from the Dispatch Box. No Minister will ever again answer a written question; it will all be done at the Dispatch Box. The establishment on both Front Benches will organise it. The Back Benchers will be squeezed more and more. We shall end up sounding like the Cecil B. de Mille chorus from "Samson and Delilah". No time will be allocated to Back Benchers if the proceedings of the House are televised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby, who is a keen advocate of television, is an experienced politician. He has a majority of about 350 over the Social Democratic party.
§ Mr. Ashton
Then his Tory opponent, if he has any sense, will sit at home while the House is being televised and watch how often my hon. Friend speaks. He will watch to see how many questions are asked by my hon. Friend and then write to the local newspaper and say, "I sat watching television and did not once see the hon. Member for Great Grimsby". What is even worse for many hon. Members is that their re-election opponents will be sitting at home watching television and spreading the message about how often they have spoken in debates.
Our experience of television in this country—I have to dash off in two minutes because I am to appear on television is that it has ruined everything that it has touched. It has killed off the cinema; it has killed off football. Football has bitterly regretted ever having allowed the cameras into football grounds. The spectators have vanished. Unless it is Many Secombe touring Whitby and appearing on "Songs of Praise", religion has also had it on a Sunday evening. Everything has been trivialised in order to attract the mass audience.
Television is most effective when a shrewd interviewer like Robin Day or Alistair Burnet gets right to the heart of the question. With a close-up of the face on the television screen there can be no wriggling. That is the best way for politicians to appear on the box and that is how it should be kept. The televising of Parliament will trivialise it and reduce its importance in the chase for viewers.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) made an interesting speech. He showed how prone the Opposition are to lapse into reactionary behaviour. I would prefer Ministers to stand at the Dispatch Box more often and make statements, rather than give press conferences or studio interviews, which means that often the public hear about the Government's intentions before hon. Members hear about them.
The arrival of the cameras will mean that once again this will become a proper debating chamber. It will be 308 answerable to the country. It will be charged with arguing the facts with the Executive, and with the potential Executive on the Opposition Benches. It will no longer be a Chamber of statement and counter-statement, where so much is governed by the application of the Whip. The House should open it windows, as it has already opened its keyhole, to let in the public ear and eye.
We are talking only about an experiment. This was made clear by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). We shall find out whether what has proved to be acceptable in other countries is acceptable here. However, there is a need for an experiment in camera discipline in televising the proceedings of the Chamber. They must not be trivialised in television's continual search for show business or innuendo.
I have changed my mind since we last debated this matter. It is crucial that there should be a parliamentary television Hansard that is answerable to this House for television broadcasts. I believe, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), that we need the best possible cameras and lighting right from the outset. We have been misled about what is meant by televising the proceedings by what happens at the State Opening of Parliament. The television companies wheel in extremely bright football stadium-type lights, and we are all blinded and sweaty after a few moments. We need the lighting that is required by the most modern cameras, rather than those floodlights, and we must have them during an experiment to see their effect. Linked with that lighting, we must have cameras which can be sufficiently discreet not to intrude into our business, unlike those which have intruded to some degree in the other place, and which would intrude considerably in this House if manned in a similar way. Even if they had to be manned during the experiment, they could be manned indirectly by people sitting in the Gallery and operating remote controls.
The methods of using the television feed should be carefully monitored. It should be done so that reasonably objective assessments can be made of it. Co-operation with the broadcasters will be essential for that purpose, and I was delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already had informal consultations with them.
In the end, it is a question, not of playing to the media, any more than the media in the Press Gallery are played to at present, nor of playing to the Strangers' Gallery, where visitors come to see our debates, but of playing to the people in the country, who have elected us to the Chamber and to whom we are answerable.
Television is by far the most potent form of communication. We should try it in the House as a method of building better bridges to those who elect us.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)
I agree with the basic drift of my hon. Friend's argument, but surely he did not mean playing to the people of the country. Surely he wants the cameras to observe what goes on in the House, and does not want to encourage hon. Members to play to the cameras, which is what we fear.
§ Mr. Rathbone
My hon. Friend is the least appropriate person to read more into my remarks than I meant, as he is so successful at playing to audiences both in the Chamber and outside.
If television coverage could give people just a mite greater appreciation of the fact that Parliament is their 309 institution, where their battles are fought and their thoughts can be transmitted, we should be taking a step towards the proper operation of a form of parliamentary democratic government which has been trusted and tried, but which, in the minds of many, has been found to be lacking. Therefore, I hope that an experiment will be undertaken and a Select Committee set up quickly.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
Despite the modesty of the manner and content of the proposal which was laid before the House at the beginning of the debate, and the helpful and judicious examination by the Leader of the House of the technical and experimental aspects, the House is being invited to take a decision in principle in favour or otherwise of the televising of the proceedings of the House.
The present generation of hon. Members who sit on these green Benches are the holders of a trust, which we have received from those who were here before us, and which it is our duty to hand on as little as possible diminished to those who will sit here after us. One of the tragic ironies about human affairs is that we have it in our power at any time to destroy that which we have not ourselves created, that which, if we destroy, we could not recreate.
The unique characteristics of the people whom we represent, and the unique way in which over the years this House has gone about its business, have forged an instrument, which is also unique to our country and this place, to solve the problem of maintaining a relationship and mutual understanding between the Government and the governed. At the heart of that process, which is the business of the House of Commons, there lies parliamentary debate.
There is nothing like the parliamentary debate of this House anywhere else or in any other Chamber. We do not stride to a rostrum to make orations to our fellow Members; we rise where we sit, from among our fellows; we belong, and are aware of belonging, to a collective corporate entity. The corporate entity of the House is the foundation of the power of the debate which takes place in it to bind together the Government and the people, and to render the Government as far as possible intelligible and accessible to the people.
We address the House with the purpose of being heard by, and winning a hearing from, our fellows and equals. Those who occupy offices of state are, for the purposes of debate, no more than the equals of the rest. We address a gathering which knows us, and by all of whom we are known. It is part of the nature of our debate that everyone, as he seeks his own way of bringing his point of view home to the rest, judges the House, and is judged by the House from moment to moment as he does so. Debate in the House is a seamless garment: the whole collectivity of what happens in the Chamber is a single thing. That is what renders any comparison or presumed analogy between this House and another place utterly misleading.
Such being the character of the House and of our debate, the one certain way to falsify it is to abstract from it one element. Partial representation is essentially falsification. We have already learnt to our cost the damaging consequences of abstracting pure sound from the totality to which that sound belongs; sound which all 310 of us participated in creating, knowing, as we did so, the meaning of it and what we were doing. It would be far more a caricature if we should seek to represent the House in visual strips—views taken now from this angle, now from the other, not of the Chamber as a whole and of what we all know is happening and understand to be happening, but of some visual point on which it is necessary for the camera to concentrate. That would be the denial and, in my view, the destruction of parliamentary debate as it has been forged by literally centuries of the history of the House, by parliamentary debate as parliamentary debate is understood; for our proceedings are understood much better by those outside, by the people whose mutual tolerance and homogeneity are reflected in the House, than is sometimes represented.
During the debate it has been said that we owe it to our constituents and to those outside that they are to be informed. Yes, I agree. Every hon. Member knows that his existence here depends on the maintenance of communication with those who sent him here. That is part of his duty, on which he does not need to be lectured. What we have no right to do with that which we have inherited, to do to those whom we represent, is to present a misrepresentation of this place—a caricature, a falsehood. Of necessity and by its nature, that would be the result of televising the House.
§ 6 pm
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith (Wealden)
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) deployed arguments, which he put in his usual profound way, which were used when people objected to the reporting of our proceedings—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I am right. Reports in The Times and the Morning Post were said to betray the House because they were not full.
The House would prefer people to read everything that is said, but we must live with reality. Many people are far too busy or not sufficiently interested to read everything that is said in the House. They do not regard it as a seamless web. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is not strictly relevant to whether television should be allowed to play its part in reporting, albeit partially, the affairs of the House.
Much of the prejudice among right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House towards televising our proceedings is reflected in the belief that television is basically an entertainment medium. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) said. That fear is also expressed in today's Daily Telegraph, which states:above all there is the ineradicable conflict between television as a medium of entertainment, and the Commons as a place of business.Some in the press suggest that the fourth estate—those who seriously deal with the fundamental issues of this nation—is the preserve of the printed word. I do not think that is true. Television is capable of presenting issues seriously and profoundly with the consistency and sincerity found in any printed journal.
It is strange that in the debates about television in the last few years most hon. Members have agreed that we have the best television service in the world. We have the right to infer that there is a degree of respect for those whose job it is to convey serious views to the public. The 311 documentary tradition and the presentation of news on television in the United Kingdom is second to none. That view is shared worldwide.
We cannot have it both ways. We cannot praise those who work in television and believe that their service is second to none, yet, when it comes to using the power of television, trivialise their true intentions. I believe that they regard it as their duty to instruct, educate and. entertain. We do not do justice to the professional operators who serve television.
There are other underlying fears. One is that if our debates are televised, not only will Parliament be trivialised, but exhibitionist tendencies among our Members will be encouraged. Tension has always existed between hon. Members and the media, but the fears expressed today reveal a fundamental mistrust of the media and a lack of confidence in our ability to adapt.
Some hon. Members incorrectly describe what happens when the proceedings of a democratic assembly are televised. I have seen proceedings televised in the United States. Members of that assembly do not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge suggested, wear make-up or try to hog the cameras. The experiment in Canada also belies that charge. Why should we assume that we will succumb to such terrible temptations?
It is sad that this generation of Members of the Mother of Parliaments should be so lacking in confidence that we can behave ourselves. If we reject the experiment we shall be saying that we have no respect for our ability to behave with appropriate restraint, that we have no respect for the professional abilities of those who work in television and that we have no respect for our own professional expertise in devising a system of supervision to ensure that our own guidelines are adhered to. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) made it clear that strong guidelines have been laid down and that there could be sanctions.
I have no objection to the continuous transmission of proceedings. I should not object to it being fed to newspaper offices. The advent of cable would be a useful adjunct.
I accept that some people believe that we should not take too big a leap and that therefore the proposal for an edited daily version of proceedings might commend itself to the House. If it was thought to be too big a leap in the dark for that to be handled by the ITN or the BBC—I declare an interest as a non-executive director of London Weekend Television—the Select Committee might conclude that it should be handled by a parliamentary broadcasting unit. Editorial direction should not be given to individual Members, because that would be wrong. To deny editors of programmes the responsibility of making their own decisions would encourage irresponsibility. However, we might think it appropriate to set up a supervisory board which could ensure on a daily basis that our general guidelines are observed.
It makes sense for special events to be televised. Our debate on entry into the European Community would have benefited from television and resulted in a wider understanding of the issues. Our debates on the Falkland Islands were conducted with dignity, despite strong passions. Televising them would have led to a deeper understanding of the issues at stake. Perennial high points 312 in the parliamentary calendar, such as the Loyal Address, the Budget and debates on defence White Papers, might also benefit from television.
In the days when parliamentary democracy seemed to be at its zenith, in reality Britain was run by a close-knit oligarchy, the members of which were a highly educated elite who communicated easily and naturally. It was a restricted franchise. To that extent, communications between the governed and those who ruled was intimate and prolonged. People knew the rules of the game.
It is sad that today newspapers do not think it right to cover our affairs in detail. It is sad that such is the state of sophistication among our electorate, or the standards of education, that there is not that same close interest that prevailed when the educated minority voted. But those are the problems that obviously come with universal franchise. For that reason alone, therefore, it would be imprudent of us not to rise to the challenge and see how far we could bridge the gap between ourselves and the public—which, whether we like it or not, has increasingly come to accept or to learn from the views and opinions expressed on television.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that television will illustrate, in a way that neither newspaper nor radio can, the under-representation of women in this House? When viewers see the rows upon rows of grey-suited men, will they not do something about it at the next general election?
§ Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith
Long may we have more hon. Ladies in this House. Although it is not my purpose to promote television for that reason, it is not a bad one.
We must bear in mind that every group in this country, be it a trade union or the CBI, has had to come to terms with the fact that, if it wants to communicate its views, it must use the power of television. I find it odd that a nation that prides itself on being a democracy, and we in this House who pride ourselves on our willingness to communicate with our electorate, should shy at this vehicle to demonstrate that.
The use that the United States made of television did a great deal to restore the faith of American citizens in their democracy. Those of us who visited the United States at the time of the Watergate scandal know the effect that the subsequent inquiries had on the American people. They could see on television that those accused of criminal conspiracies were actually brought to book. The witnesses were examined closely by the inquiry and by committees. Indeed, I strongly argue that television cameras should be present to capture the valuable work done by our Select Committees.
Some fear that television will only encourage hon. Members to disrupt proceedings even more than they do now. On the whole, I find that those who want to disrupt proceedings, whether at public meetings or other events, prefer not to be identified. They probably learnt at school that it is usually best to bait the teacher from the back of the class. Far from encouraging exhibitionism, I believe that such behaviour would look even less attractive when viewed on a screen. The most likely effect would be to cast a question in the mind of the viewer as to whether that hon. Member was fit to be a member of this place.
I think that such outbursts would be self-defeating. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is not here to confirm whether I am right, but he 313 never sits at the back of the class. He is most skilled in the art of controlled aggression. I doubt whether he would ever be tempted by the camera to be even more beastly to the Government, because he would not wish to destroy the effectiveness of his interruptions by playing to the cameras.
I conclude that television could strengthen our democratic roots by going to the market place, which, indeed, was the case in the days of the classical Greek civilisation. It was certainly the way that we attempted to do it when we went to the educated elite in the 19th century. In this mass age, we must use television to get to grips with those who, so far, find our affairs unattractive.
Television is an instrument of democracy. I am not sure whether the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) quoted a particular extract from his distinguished predecessor, Mr. Bevan, but I shall quote it now because he spoke during the first Loyal Address debate that I attended when I entered the House in 1959. He said: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, 3 November 1959; Vol. 612, c. 866–67.]I think that he was right. I find that a much greater and nobler challenge than to go outside in the rain and stand under an umbrella while a large number of television people ask us what occurred in this place.
§ Mr. Sean Hughes (Knowsley, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) hinted that the best way for a politician to appear on the box was in debate with Robin Day or Alistair Burnet. That begs the question: why is it not even better for a politician to appear on the box in debate with other politicians in the House?
I am a recent convert to the idea of televising the proceedings of Parliament. I agree with much of what I have heard today of the fears and the projected dangers, for example, the heat from lighting and the obstruction of cameras and cables. All that must be controlled, but are we seriously suggesting that such mechanical obstructions should obstruct the televising of Parliament in the late 20th century?
We have heard much about other dangers, such as trivialisation and sensationalism. Are we not fooling ourselves if we pretend that those dangers do not exist here and now, without the presence of the television cameras? It is argued that television will concentrate on the gladiatorial aspect rather than on the intricacies of parliamentary debate. I wonder whom we are trying to delude. The gladiatorial aspect of our proceedings is already the very aspect on which much radio and newspaper comment concentrates.
I listened with great interest to the compelling speech of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). However, I do not share his romantic description of our proceedings. It does not take a new Member of Parliament long to notice that the Press Gallery empties once the opening speeches have been made, only to fill again, miraculously, once the replies begin. If we are honest, we have to accept that it is not only Press Gallery seats that are vacated once the opening speeches have been made.
314 Change is rarely comfortable, and its consequences are usually exaggerated—as typified by the speech of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes). Just as the coming of the locomotive was viewed in some circles as a demon on the move, so the coming of television cameras to this Chamber is bound to be viewed with suspicion, and even fear.
There are those who fear that the televising of our proceedings involves some basic principle of parliamentary democracy. There is nothing new in that. It is the argument that was used when Parliament agreed to make provision for the presss and radio. Indeed, until the last century it was a matter of dispute whether the public should have the right to watch our proceedings. Yet today we make greater provision for the press and the public than we do for hon. Members. I am told that of the 929 seats in the Chamber, there are seats for only 427 hon. Members as against 502 for others.
We do not have to look only at the speeches of the past 10 years against the televising of Parliament to see the same arguments being advanced. We could go back a great deal further. I have read a debate that took place on 22 May 1834, when the House was considering whether there should be an alternative report of our debates. There is a striking similarity between what was said then and what we are saying today. That raises the question: what are we afraid of?
All those years ago, hon. Members made points similar to those being made by some hon. Members today. I do not have time, though I wish that I had, to quote from some of those speeches. One that grabbed my imagination was a most unusual argument adduced by a Colonel Evans, who said that he felt the plan was impossible in the first place and, if possible, was objectionable in the second place. Within a year of that debate the press was accommodated, and shortly thereafter, by an act of God, the Houses of Parliament burnt down.
I have never ignored the part that tradition plays in our lives. I believe that tradition can enable us to make progress painlessly. I have never accepted the doctrine of inevitability. However, I believe that the day must come when television will be given access to the House, just as the press and radio have been given access to it.
Some hon. Members have expressed fear that televising our proceedings would lead to change, even to a reform of our proceedings. That might be so. But that change would occur not simply as a result of placing a few cameras and several yards of cable in the Chamber. It would come as a result of the reaction of the viewers, the people who have sent us here.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
My hon. Friend argued earlier that the press did not sufficiently report our proceedings. Why does he think that an edited version—it would be greatly edited; the programme would last for perhaps 15, at the most 30, minutes—would portray much of the proceedings of the House? Would there not be the possibility that when, as with "Yesterday in Parliament", it was discovered that there was only a small audience, the edited version would become even shorter?
§ Mr. Hughes
I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) who said that it would be one more Forum. Limited though it might be, one more would be better than none at all. After all, the viewers—the electors, the public—should be at the 315 centre of this argument. Despite all the sophisticated arguments and the weighty views of constitutional experts, we are discussing the right of the British people to see and hear the proceedings of their Parliament through the medium of their choice.
I recognise that there would have to be safeguards, and I appreciate the dangers of editing. We are debating a principle. Many of my constituents never read the so-called quality press and the already brief reports of Commons debates. They do not turn to Radio 4 automatically. The medium through which they get the news is unquestionably television, and we shall be doing them a grave disservice and denying them access to our debates if we do not admit the cameras.
I admit that I have a vested interest in wanting my constituents to witness the Government arguing why there is no alternative to their policies. The issue is simply about the right of people in a late-20th century democracy to see their Parliament in session.
In the debate in 1834 Sir Samuel Whalley said:If Members wished to discharge their duty conscientiously, they would desire those whom they represented to be fully apprised of their proceedings.That sentiment has stood the test of time.
§ Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
Although I am well known to be a sympathetic character, I find it difficult to make my heart bleed for the constituents of the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes) at the news that they are unable to read the serious newspapers. I am sure that they are able, should they wish, to purchase any newspapers they desire and that, should they not be able to do that, to read the accounts of our proceedings in newspapers in their local libraries. There is no barrier to people reading newspapers. Anybody who wants to learn about the proceedings of this House can do so.
I am in favour of having a Strangers Gallery so that people may come to watch us at work at any hour when we are sitting. However, I am against the televising of our proceedings because that is a totally different matter.
§ Dame Jill Knight
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me a few moments to get into my speech, I will then gladly give way to him.
What exactly is the purpose of Parliament? That is the most crucial question for us to ask. This House is, or should be, a place of dignity and serious debate, a place where laws are made and from which the country is governed. It cannot be turned into a form of national entertainment without losing its essential character. My first objection, therefore, which has been referred to by many hon. Members, is the fear of trivialising Parliament.
I join the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) in what he said about our responsibility to history. That responsibility is not to ensure that our faces are on the nation's screens. Like him, I believe that we have a duty, having been elected, to carry on the dignity and character of the House of Commons so that others who come after us may continue it, and we cannot regard lightly our responsibility in that respect.
As we have learnt from televising the proceedings in the Lords, the media's techniques are not conducive to serious assimilation of debate. The cameras there linger for 316 perhaps a minute—I am being kind; normally they linger for far less than 60 seconds—on one speaker. The producers believe that a face cannot be shown for a greater time. After lingering for a few seconds, off the cameras go like frenetic butterflies, alighting on such flowers of entertainment value as a sleeping Member, one showing a little too much yellow sock, or perhaps two chatting together ignoring the speaker.
My second objection is that accuracy would undoubtedly be a casualty. Unless all debates were televised to the bitter end, there would have to be selective reporting, and experience shows that highlights chosen by producers do not present a balanced view. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) brushed that argument aside as though it were a bothersome fly of no account. He said in effect, "If there is an imbalance, we can complain and matters will be put right."
I cannot believe that would happen. Indeed, if we tried to complain, we should be lobbied and there would be banners proclaiming that we were interfering with the freedom of the media to say what they wish in their television programmes. One can imagine the letters that would arrive. If anyone tries to interfere with the media and their ability to choose what they select, there is trouble.
We have experience of what would happen not simply from the televising of the Lords, but from programmes such as "Yesterday in Parliament" and "Today in Parliament". They are examples of the way in which producers allow their natural desire to produce an entertaining programme to take precedence over straight reporting. Those programmes used to be much more accurate than they are now.
I believe that control of the Chamber will slip away from your hands, Mr. Speaker, which means from the hands of us all. Some hon. Members will use the House as a stage on which to project themselves. It was an interesting Freudian slip that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) made when he said that our job is to play to our constituents. We were elected not lo play to anyone, but to do our job. I resent the idea that entertaining is a new role that we should be expected to carry out.
Television in the Chamber cannot give an accurate portrayal of the work of Parliament. So much of our work takes place outside the Chamber in Select Committees, in Standing Committees, in undertaking research in the Library and in our offices. I was interested when my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) overcame that objection by saying merrily, "Let us have television cameras everywhere. Let us have them in Select Committees and in Standing Committees. Let us have them here, there and everywhere."
How much will all this cost? No one has asked about the cost of televising Parliament. There are various estimates—
§ Dame Jill Knight
My hon. Friend says that one estimate is £2.5 million per annum and I know of that one. Will the cost of the licence be increased to obtain that money, or will the Government grant it as a special allowance? If the former, there will be an outcry from those who strongly object when the cost of the television 317 licence is increased. If the latter, I must tell my right hon. and hon. Friends who occupy the Front Bench that there are many better things on which we can spend £2.5 million per annum than televising the proceedings of the House.
I have no wish to bore the British nation to death, and it must be said that most of the screening in their Lordships' House is a crashing bore. Viewing figures bear that out. How many people rush back from the pub, or wherever, and tear indoors to see what is being shown of the proceedings in another place? There are few, if any, who do that. If all our proceedings are shown, the result will be the dullest programme on television. If selections are shown, we shall face the problem of editing for entertainment. It is not the function of the House to provide that.
Where is the evidence that there is any public demand for the televising of Parliament? Has any hon. Member received shoals of letters from constituents begging him to argue for the televising of our proceedings? I am sure that no one has. I have not had one such letter.
Have we seen queues around Parliament square showing the anxiousness of the public to tear into the Chamber to listen to this crucial debate on whether they will be allowed to view our proceedings on television? We do not refer to these things normally, Mr. Speaker, but I must observe, as it is so relevant to the debate, that throughout the course of our deliberations this afternoon the Strangers Gallery has never been more than half full. How is it to be supposed that anyone is keen on spending £2.5 million each year on projecting our proceedings?
§ Dame Jill Knight
No, I shall not give way. I wish to finish my speech shortly.
How would members of the public take to having the beady eyes of 10 million people on them throughout the time that they spend in their offices? How would they feel if they were forcibly subjected to the gaze of 10 million people for hour after hour as they worked? Imagine the reaction of teachers, factory workers, office workers, doctors, gardeners and shop assistants, for example, if television cameras were to be allowed to portray their every move during their time of work.
This is a stupid idea. Why should we put up with it? What an outcry there would be if we expected those outside the House to tolerate what we are now considering should happen to ourselves.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame Jill Knight) was talking nonsense when she said that the televising of proceedings in another place was a crashing bore. One of the reasons why many of us want the proceedings in this place to be televised is the success of the televising of another place, which has aroused a certain jealousy in the House.
I declare a personal interest, because my daughter produces the programme which shows the proceedings in another place. That is a special reason for me to support the motion. Having made that declaration, I believe that most Members watch the proceedings in another place on 318 television and wish that the proceedings in this place were televised. That is one of the reasons why the motion has been advanced.
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), in a typically intellectual and elegant speech, gave me the impression that he was talking to a bunch of masons, as if we were a private elite and had nothing to do with those outside. He could not be more wrong. This is a public assembly and we address ourselves to the public outside the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) came out with one of his typical and characteristic horror stories. He suggested that every bad thing that takes place in the House should be televised. He seemed to be saying that speeches should not be televised, but that everything that his fevered imagination could dredge up should be. He was talking as much nonsense as the hon. Member for Edgbaston.
We know that television producers—I was one for eight years—are extremely responsible people. They lean over backwards to ensure justice for Members of this place and for those in another place. I believe that they bend over too far. They are too responsible and respectful. They should let things go a bit. The charge that they would take the mickey out of us is absurd. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw probably appears on television more frequently than any other Member. He appears every night—sometimes five times a night. He knows full well that television producers will not disregard the conventions of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw mentioned the Prime Minister's conversion. If it is true that the Prime Minister is now in favour of televising our proceedings because she thinks that it will lead to a political advantage for her, she has bought a boomerang. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and shadow Ministers are twice as good as the Prime Minister and her Ministers. The longer this Parliament continues, the more obvious that will become. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that point on board.
One of the main objections is that the exhibitionists and buffoons—some of those who have spoken, but not those who are in favour of the motion—will take over the show. I am sure that Mr. Speaker will not stand for that. He will continue to call hon. Members to contribute to debates as he does now. Like other assemblies, we have our buffoons and exhibitionists. They have not taken over in the United States, Australia, Canada or western European assemblies, and there is no reason for arguing that they will take over here.
It is said that television will trivialise our proceedings. I cannot believe that this legislature will be turned into a comic show merely because we have television cameras in the Chamber. To argue that way is to disregard the function of the House and to insult hon. Members and the public.
We must come to terms with the modern world. We must move with the times. We must stop fighting the battle that our ancestors fought by keeping the press out. Television is the modern press—
§ Mr. Ashley
Yes, it is. Television is the modern means of communication. Without it, we shall continue to cut ourselves adrift from public opinion. We shall become an 319 offshore legislature. We shall legislate for a tribe about whom we know nothing—the British people. We need television because it is the most important medium of communication; we need television to restore our link with the electorate who sent us here; we need television to put us back in the centre of the stage to ensure that we again become the prime forum for public debate; and we need television to restore the lifeblood of public interest.
Ultimately, we are speaking not simply of the convenience of the House. Parliament is not about parliamentarians. The British people have the right to know and see what goes on. We have a duty to them to expose our proceedings and allow them to be televised. The sooner we do that, the better for all concerned.
§ Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)
We have been bombarded with excuses and exaggerations as to why the House should not he televised. We should strip away all the excuses and exaggerations and come to the overriding principle that this is a democratic institution. It is in the nature of any democratic institution to provide access to the population. If access can be provided to the mass of the population through technology, what right have we, in a democratic society, to deny that access?
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) referred to the popularity of the Strangers Gallery. Despite the inconvenience caused to the police and administrators who run the Palace, the security problems and the costs, we encourage people to fill the Strangers Gallery. Unfortunately, that Gallery has a limited capacity. Many other constraints also prevent people from coming to the Palace—for example, the cost of travel and the inability to take time off from work. If the people cannot come to us, we must go to them. The press and radio have provided us with the means of doing so and the logical extension is television.
§ Dame Jill Knight
I must raise a rather important point. Does my hon. Friend have evidence that there is a demand?
§ Mr. Lawler
There is a demand. Many of my constituents would love to look around the Palace and watch our proceedings but are not able to do so because they cannot get away from work or because they cannot afford to come here. The demand is evident from the queues outside the Palace. If the demand cannot be satisfied, television can provide a means of satisfying it, enabling people to stay in their homes to watch what is happening here.
Hon. Members would like more people to watch the proceedings. They are proud when their friends or constituents are in the Strangers Gallery. They are rightly proud of the House. Why are they reticent about letting more people see the House? Why are they suddenly not so proud of the proceedings and want to hide them away from the public?
The public should see us as we are, as they do when they come to the Strangers Gallery. They will be able to do so through television. If the public do not like what they see, we must look to ourselves to change. We must not be arrogant and say, "The public do not understand the nature of our debate, our behaviour and the emotions that are aroused. Therefore, they should not be exposed to us and we should not expose our behaviour to them." If there is 320 a strong reaction to the way in which we conduct ourselves, we should question our behaviour, not the public's view.
§ Mr. Beaumont-Dark
I am fascinated to hear my hon. Friend say that we should change. I presume he means that, because only about 3 per cent. of any serious debate will be shown on television, we should all start to speak in slogans. If television has to cover every hon. Member's contribution, we shall all have to say about four words, or there will be selectivity. What change is my hon. Friend prepared to make in his excellent speech to get his seven-word slot on television?
§ Mr. Lawler
My hon. Friend has made two points. One is about change. I am not advocating any change—
§ Mr. Lawler
No. If the public react to the televising of our proceedings and to seeing more of what happens by saying that our behaviour is unruly and that we do not have informed debates, we shall have to react. That change will evolve, as our behaviour has evolved over many years.
When I look tomorrow at The Times, the Daily Telegraph or The Guardian, I shall have had no say in whether any of my speech is covered or, if any, how much. At the most, the reporters will have picked out two or three paragraphs. The logical extension of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) is that we should deny the press the right to report what goes on in the House because it has to make that selection.
For a body of people who are naturally publicity conscious and only too keen to receive publicity, a number of hon. Members seem to be uncharacteristically shy. Politicians cannot have publicity only on their terms. We cannot be selective about the publicity that we receive when we conduct our public duties. Part of our role is to go around factories and to tour old people's' homes in our constituencies. We like the public to see in the newspapers photographs of ourselves in those places, and no doubt we are on our best behaviour there. If, the next day, we behave in a less than decorous manner in the relative privacy of the House, we should not expect to be unobserved. We should be judged by our performance here just as we are judged by our behaviour in our constituencies.
One argument is that any change in the House is anathema and that the atmosphere is unique and sacred. I do not believe that television will change the atmosphere or our behaviour. If there is a reaction because of televising our proceedings, let it happen. This place is not our House. We have no sacrosanct hold over it. We have no right to say that the present atmosphere is now and for ever shall be. This is not our place. We are its temporary residents. It belongs to the people, and we should not cosset it and seek to possess it. If change is forced upon us, we should accept it and not perpetuate this ivory tower.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does the hon. Gentleman agree, first, that anyone who looks after his constituents cannot be in an ivory tower and, secondly, that we have an obligation to the public to conduct public affairs in the Chamber in a reasonably efficient and proper way, as suits us as public representatives? I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with both statements.
§ Mr. Lawler
Of course we have the right to conduct ourselves efficiently and properly. Exposing our behaviour on television to the public will help us discover what is acceptable to them. As, for example, with the Canadian experience, we might improve our behaviour and make ourselves more acceptable to the public.
On the hon. Gentleman's first point about the ivory tower, unfortunately this Chamber is regarded as an ivory tower by the public. It is irrelevant to the national political scene, in the public's view. With the growth of pressure groups and Committee work in the House, what goes on in the Chamber is almost unknown and mainly irrelevant. That is a shame and something that should be corrected.
We can increase the Chamber's relevance by making people more aware of what goes on here. What is said here is not everyday conversation down at the local public house and shop. We do not find heated debate about how so-and-so performed in such-and-such a debate, or what an hon. Member said. That is a shame. By putting the Chamber on television, we might find that happening. We might find people discussing what happened in the Chamber and how a particular hon. Member made a splendid contribution or point. Suddenly the Chamber might become relevant to the national political scene. I am sure that that change would be greatly welcomed.
If we reject this opportunity to give the Chamber new status and significance, we are in danger of going the other way. We shall lose credibility and be seen to be anachronistic. We shall continue to be irrelevant. Like it or not, television is a way of life for the vast majority of our population.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, hon. Members do not have much time to watch television. When I return to my constituency, I am struck by how out of touch I appear when I cannot join in much of the conversation, which invariably centres on what has been on television during the previous week and what has happened in the latest soap opera. The public do not spend hours pouring over parliamentary reports in the newspaper, reading Hansard or listening to Radio 4.
The House decided a long time ago to allow its deliberations to be made public. Once, the most appropriate medium for that was the newspapers. Today, it is television. We should seek to use the medium which the majority of the population use.
This country has passed on its democratic heritage to many countries. Many of the offspring of the Mother of Parliaments have taken the advance that we are debating, with positive results. It will be a shame if we resist such an advance and refuse to learn and benefit from their experience.
The privacy of our proceedings was originally promoted to advance democracy. To reject the opportunity today to open up our proceedings to the widest possible audience will be undemocratic and will weaken the relevance and stature of the House. People elect us to govern them, and they have the right to watch how we do it.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Lawler) lives in cloud-cuckoo-land if he believes that the public will receive his speech or mine at great length and watch them unadulterated and unedited. My impression is that there is not much demand for the televising of Parliament. People 322 will probably want to see snippets on the "9 o'clock News" or "News at Ten", and that will be the end of it. I am not against the televising of Parliament, but we must be realistic about the coverage that will be achieved.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should not treat the Chamber as if it were a sacred institution, with the idea that it would be sacrilege to alter it. I am only too well aware of the inadequacy of our procedures. Hon. Members must be frustrated by the lack of financial power we have in the House compared with many Parliaments in western Europe and beyond.
We are in danger of taking the debate out of context. I was prepared to vote against the motion because it seemed to me wrong that we should vote for a principle without knowing the practicalities. According to the motion, which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) moved so well, we were apparently prepared to agree to an experiment in principle and then to have running sidesaddle with it, so to speak, a Select Committee charged with the job of implementing it but not with the consideration of whether it would be desirable.
However, the Leader of the House has swayed some of my views, because, if we follow his advice and vote for the motion, we shall not be voting for what it describes. In other words, we shall have an opportunity to consider the principle and the detail when the Select Committee reports. It will then be possible to put the boot in to the proposal if it does not match up to what we expected.
The House, through the Select Committee and the debate that we shall have in six months, can dictate to the broadcasters what it wants to put over. We could make many mistakes. We do not have to look far from sound broadcasting, which I think was one of the biggest gaffes the House has made for a long time. That is saying something considering some of the peculiar decisions that we have made.
Broadcasters naturally look at the most entertaining and lively parts of our proceedings. That must of course mean Question Time. Question Time is entertainment. We should all stagger back in disbelief if we ever managed to obtain some information out of Question Time. It is there. It is prime time. The public desperately want tickets to get in and it is carried to its zenith—if I may use that description, probably incorrectly—at Prime Minister's Question Time. We face each other in an adversarial, indeed gladiatorial, fashion and make a great deal of noise. If we want to get rid of the noise, we must alter the shape of the Chamber and call people to a rostrum to make speeches. We should soon all be preserved in aspic and the quality of many of our debates would decline.
One of the dangers of introducing television to the House without considering our procedures is that their shape may change in a way that we have not determined. Right from the start, we must take on board the fact that we are moving towards television because television is the principal medium of communication. It is the medium for election fighting. It is anachronistic to go around knocking on doors and speaking to our constituents. With one television appearance, we can reach more constituents during an election than we can with all our knocking on doors. Leaflets through the door are not a useful way of imparting ideas. Television is the medium.
I suspect that one of the reasons why we are discussing this issue tonight is that we are in the gravitational pull of a general election. Some people have been looking at their sums and are beginning to say, "We should have coverage 323 on television during the run-up to an election because we may put over our case more effectively." If we introduce this experiment, we should not do it in the run-up to a general election. It would be far more effective to introduce it immediately after the election of a new Parliament.
I have some doubt about what the practical effects of television coverage might be. I take up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on the subject of Question Time. If Question Time gets the television slots, members of a minority party will want to be called, because Question Time receives the coverage. All hon. Members will have to change their priorities. It will not just be a matter for minority parties. There will be competition for a restricted time slot.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
Would it not be better, instead of coverage being slotted into programmes, to have a 24-hour channel so that people could switch on and off when they wished? That would prevent all the problems. It could cover the work of Select Committees and the Standing Committees which do most of the work.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman has raised an interesting point. He must remember that the electorate might not want to watch a 24-hour channel. Heaven forbid that we move to a 24-hour day.
My point is still valid; if we are talking of television we are talking of prime time. Prime Minister's Question Time takes place at the right time of day for coverage in the news programmes. In general debates, if a Member is not called before 5 o'clock, his chances of being quoted in the television news have probably gone. The point has already been made about statements. We will have to re-adjust our individual, party and parliamentary priorities to meet the demand made by the new medium. Many of us may be disappointed and disillusioned by the experiment, and electors may reach a similar view.
Practical problems must be considered. I want to make it clear on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party that we would not be happy to be represented on the Select Committee by a member of the SDP or the Liberal party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] They have vanished to do their plethora of television interviews. At one time we could have trusted members of those parties, because they wanted to further the interests of smaller parties. They now have ambitions beyond their stature. They are imperialist in the sense that they want to aggrandise themselves to get media coverage. That is legitimate, but I should not like to trust our parties to their care on the Select Committee.
The Leader of the House will not be able to answer other specific points, but I wish to put them on the record on behalf of Plaid Cymru and the SNP. What facilities will be made available to broadcasters in Scotland and Wales? Will adequate editing facilities be available? The experiment should not be done purely on a metropolitan basis. Many hon. Members will want their local television stations to have access to coverage of their own speeches as frequently as possible.
Important debates on housing and local government in Scotland and Wales often take place after 10.30 pm. Will the television cameras cover those proceedings in the wee small hours of the night? Those debates will affect our constituents more perhaps than grand debates on foreign 324 affairs. If the cameramen will be there at that time, who will pay them? Will it be the House, the BBC. ITN or the local companies? The local companies would not want to take on that expense.
There are the proceedings of Select Committees, and of Standing Committees too, although heaven forbid that anyone should want to watch what we get up to there. What about the Scottish and the Welsh Grand Committees'? The Scottish Grand Committee deals with some Bills that might otherwise be taken on the Floor of the House. Is the Scottish Grand Committee to be covered? If not, we should insist that all Scottish Bills are dealt with in the House because of the possibility of television coverage.
If the Scottish Grand Committee is covered, will its proceedings be televised when it meets in the Scottish Assembly building in Edinburgh? As the Leader of the House is no doubt aware, it meets in Edinburgh four or five times a year to deal with legislation and other important matters. Who will take the cameras there for occasional visits? Yet it would be wrong if important visits by Scottish Members to the Scottish Grand Committee in their own country were not covered. The gallery is not large enough to accommodate many members of the public, although I must put it on record that my experience of meetings in Edinburgh is that the general public are not keen to inflict on themselves the same masochistic damage that we inflict on ourselves.
I support in principle the televising of the House, but I have reservations about how it may be put into effect. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will support the motion because of the assurance given by the Leader of the House that the principle of coverage will be married to a detailed report from the Select Committee and that we will have another bite at the apple.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
My instinctive belief is that we should be cautious about letting the cameras into this debating Chamber. My view was powerfully reinforced on the evening before the House of Lords television experiment began when I watched a trailer for the next day's debate. There were three scenes on the trailer.
There was a picture of an American Congressman going mad. We moved from Washington to the Floor of the Bundestag in Bonn. We did not see a great speech by the German Chancellor. Instead, we saw a riot by the Green party. We moved from the Bundestag to the European Parliament. There was a picture of our own dear Les Huckfield, whose microphone had been cut off because he had breached a rule of European parliamentary etiquette—he had pulled out a loud hailer and was addressing Members of the European Parliament, who looked somewhat bemused. Clearly the television producer believed that those three scenes were good television, but they showed Parliaments at their worst.
I fear that violence and bad behaviour will spread to this House if its proceedings are televised. My fears were not much assuaged when I watched the first serious debate from the House of Lords on the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill, whose purpose was to abolish the Greater London council and the metropolitan counties. I had reservations about that legislation, but my noble Friend Lord Elton made an admirable speech. When it came to televising the speech, the producers could not 325 allow a shot of longer than 30 seconds from one angle of a speaker at the Dispatch Box, so we had 30 seconds of Lord Elton's left profile, 30 seconds of Lord Elton straight on, and 30 seconds of Lord Elton's right profile. The television producers were clearly getting alarmed about how they would fill the next 30 minutes of his speech.
Relief came in the shape of Lady Seear. The deputy leader of the Liberal party, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), claimed that the Liberals had only 40 seconds' coverage in an important debate in the House of Lords. The Liberal party managed to get 40 seconds in the debate on the GLC because one of the straps of Lady Seear's undergarments slipped over her left shoulder, and she spent the next 40 seconds or so trying to get it back by shrugging her shoulders. The television cameras zoomed in on her because that provided relief from going from one dull-looking Member to another.
That underlines the fact that not only did the producers wish to trivialise the important debate that was taking place, but unfortunately that televising speeches from the Lords or the Commons will be very dull indeed, visually speaking. The producers and the audience will seek relief after a few seconds.
If we must experiment—I am very doubtful whether we should, and I shall not vote for the motion—we would be well advised to follow the example of the United States Senate over the years. Although the cameras, under strict control, have gone into the House of Representatives in Washington, the Senate has always resisted having the cameras on its Floor. However, the Senate allows the cameras into the Senate Committees when the Chairman and Members of those Committees agree. Some of the televised hearings in the Committees have been historic. I was in Washington at the time of the hearings presided over by Senator Ervin, during the Watergate scandal. Undoubtedly those hearings helped to change the course of history.
If we were to have cameras, we would be well advised to begin with the Select Committees rather than on the Floor of the House, because the cross-examination of witnesses, the courtroom scene in the Select Committee, is naturally good television. One does not have to fiddle around looking for odd gimmicks to make it real, attractive and interesting to the audience.
If we pass the motion, I hope that the Select Committee will look with equal seriousness at the televising of Select Committees as at the televising of the House.
§ Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)
The basic reason why the House should be televised is to bridge the gulf between us and the people. After all, we are the people's Parliament. We are not a closed debating society. We are the representatives of the people. We are not speaking for ourselves. We are discussing the issues that matter to the people and making decisions that affect their lives. Therefore, we should be available to the people on the medium from which they now get the bulk of their information about news and current affairs. Lament it how some will, that is the fact. If we are not on that medium, we relegate ourselves to a backwater that is irrelevant to the people and their lives.
Arcane abstractions have been dredged up from the 18th century via South Down, but we are not a 326 19th-century debating Chamber. We are not influencing and persuading each other. We cannot control the Executive, because we cannot bring it down. We have a system of government by party in which the people choose the Executive, and the people alone can bring it down. In that situation, the House of Commons is the open part of the system, where decisions become public for debate. It is the forum of the nation where the issues are discussed. It is the stage for the battle of ideas where the case for and against what the Government are doing is put before the people. All that is done to inform and educate the people. Yet what a farce it is if we do not reach the people.
The popular papers do not report us. The qualities give bald summaries for a small readership. The radio, which is a minority channel, carries noisy extracts of our debates, but television, the only genuine mass medium, carries only sound radio with still pictures. We are the weaker for that. We can be effective and reflect the public's concerns only if we have firm roots outside. We should be involved in a two-way communication process with the people outside, because it is the people who are the root of our power.
All the arguments against televising Parliament have one common characteristic—they are all defensive. There is a strange coalition of opponents. We have hon. Members who feel that their inadequacies in performance, or the lack of it, should not be exposed to the gaze of the public. We have hon. Members who feel that the House is so awful—
§ Mr. Mitchell
Some hon. Members feel that the House is so awful that the public should not be allowed to see it. Some feel that the public are so stupid and ill-informed that they will not understand what we are doing. Over the past few days journalists, men of the written word, have been bitterly hostile to television coverage, which will cut down their importance, their job as self-appointed middle men mediating between us and the people at inordinate profit to themselves. Both the Charles Moore article in the Daily Telegraph and the Hugo Young article in yesterday's edition of The Guardian showed contempt for politicians and television.
In the Chamber, two fears are paramount. There is fear of change in the Chamber and fear of television itself. To those who fear change in the Chamber, I say that, with television, the lighting will be somewhat brighter than it is now, but the House can be unconscionably dim at times, can it not? If we bring in the cameras straight away, they will be operator cameras. If we wait until the start of the next Session in November, the broadcasting organisations will be able to supply wall-mounted remote-control cameras that are unobtrusive.
It is up to us in the House to define the terms of the coverage. We could go for the Canadian style of coverage or that in the United States House of Representatives, where the Speaker is shown in mid-shot and there are no cutaways, no shots of disturbances, no shots of people rushing like lemmings to jump from the Gallery almost as fast as nationalised industries have been flogged off—no 327 sensationalism, just straight, neutral coverage. We could go for the same coverage as the House of Lords, which allows cutaways. The decision is for the Select Committee and the House, and it has to be taken predominantly in the light of what the House wants rather than what the television people want. That is the important thing. The decision is ours. When we are televised, what will come over is what is effective now—serious, straightforward Chamber debate.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The speech of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), unlike the interventions of my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)—
§ Mr. Mitchell
I shall not give way.
The speech by the right hon. Member for South Down would come over extremely well on television, wrong as it was, because it was compelling argument. That is the truth of the matter. It is not the histrionics of the demagogue or the subtle lying of the studio, but straightforward Chamber debating that comes over effectively. It is striking from the Hansard Society report on the House of Lords coverage how little the House of Lords has changed because of the advent of television.
There are those who fear change. We have conducted ourselves like a closed debating society for many years. What good has that done us? What respect is there for the House of Commons? The public are increasingly alienated from parties, politicians and politics. They do not respect or hold hon. Members and the House of Commons in esteem. The public are not in awe—they are bored and alienated and believe that we are remote. We must reach out to the public, and we can do so through the media from which they get their news and information.
In this closed debating society, for much of the day the Chamber is dying on its feet, which may be especially true when I am speaking. The Chamber is badly attended and uninspiring for large chunks of the day. The only way to remedy that is to make it once again the focus of attention by putting it on television and making it available to the people. Through television we have the chance to make the Chamber important and a focus of interest and concern once again. We should seize that chance.
I never understand the fear of television—a fear that has been so manipulated tonight.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Television is essentially a mirror of reality. It has faults, but reality has faults. If we object to reality—
§ Mr. Wilson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you enlighten me? Under which code of practice are we debating? Is it the pre-television one, when one gives way to interventions, or is this the post-television age when we do not?
§ Mr. Faulds
My hon. Friend has not listened to them. I am so grateful that he has at last been overcome by embarrassment and is prepared to listen to a moment of contradiction of some of his arguments. I rose first—I made many attempts later—to make the point that my hon. Friend seemed to be basing his attack on some of us on the fact that we were defensive about television. I happen to like the medium. I am rather good on television. If, unfortunately, the cameras come in, I will probably benefit from it.
§ Mr. Faulds
What I wanted to say to my hon. Friend when he refused to let me intervene is that we are not defensive about proper television coverage of this House. If there were a continuous programme, I would vote for it. What we are defensive about is the selective presentation that the media boys will give to televising the Chamber.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I thank my hon. Friend for making it clear why I did not give way in the first place. I did not want his speech to punctuate mine.
The critics of television are getting it both ways. They say that the House is too dull to be covered, and that it will be reduced to a form of entertainment. They say that people will not be interested, but also that 10 million people will be watching for every flaw, every absentee Member and every aberration. If they are influenced by those fears, they can only suck it and see. The experiment gives us a chance to see whether the fears are realised. That is what an experiment is about.
§ Mr. Mitchell
It is no use listening to abstract fears of people who have not seen the proceedings on television and who are defensive about it. The best way is to watch the experiment and see how it works.
The critics of television must not forget that we already appear on television and in the least appetising, most inadequate way—a voice-over radio broadcast with irrelevant pictures. Why should not the reality be shown through the television cameras? We should be clear that the coverage will be different for each level and channel. Television will have several forms of coverage of our proceedings. Eventually, we shall have full-time coverage on cable. Cable is coming. In Canada, there is full-time coverage by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and the United States has such coverage on C-Span. They attract small but devoted, interested and involved audiences. There will occasionally be full debates on important issues, as there have been on the radio. There will be daily and weekly edited summaries of what has happened in Parliament on BBC 2 and on Channel 4. There will be extracts of speeches and statements in Parliament in the news and in the current affairs programmes. There will also be regional coverage by the regional companies of regional matters and Members of Parliament.
Each channel will make its own decisions and choices. There is enough evidence that, within that range of choice, everyone will see something. However, those who wish to see more and to pay continual attention to the House will 329 be able to follow their interests, and why not? It could be a long debate, or simply a reminder on the news that Parliament exists. In contrast to the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), some of my constituents have telephoned me in Grimsby during the week and, when told that I am in London, respond by saying, "What is he doing in London?" There is an amazing ignorance of Parliament.
The fear of television is unrealistic. The debate has moved on more recently to an argument about which party will have the advantage, and whether Front-Bench or Back-Bench Members will benefit. The Prime Minister is reported to have changed her mind yet again. I hope that she is not, as The Guardian put it, "uncharacteristically dithering". She has everything to gain by appearing on television, as does the leader of the Labour party. Both will come over brilliantly, because ability comes over well on television. That is what people will be looking for. If ability comes over well, it is not a matter of which party wins or loses. The whole Chamber will gain, because we shall have shown that we are doing a serious job. We shall allow the public to judge our ability, performance and how we get on in this testing ground. We shall not leave that judgment to the insiders—to the sketch writers who relay their views in their theatre criticisms, peddling small doses of what happens here, at inordinate profit to themselves.
The experiment in the House of Lords has shown how successful television can be. It was not naturally the most exciting television, it was not naturally the most propitious experiment that could have been conducted, but at the end of the experiment, 81 per cent. of a representative sample of 200 peers wished the experiment to continue. In a sample of the public interviewed by BBC audience research, 72 per cent. believed that television gave them a good insight into what was happening in the House of Lords. Moreover, audiences were good. There was an average reach of 1.5 million for the afternoon and of 300,000 for the late night programmes.
Indeed, when the ITN programme "Their Lordships' House" went out late at night, the audiences were one fifth higher than they had been for the programmes in the preceding four weeks. That is the test. The consumers liked it, and those who participated liked it and wished it to continue. That 19th century institution down the corridor has shown us the way into the 20th century. It is a success story that should give us the confidence to take the plunge. If we do not, that House will continue to get the prestige of being on television.
The House of Commons should go ahead on a similar basis. We could do so by voting today in principle and then allowing the Select Committee to agree the coverage that will be most acceptable to hon. Members. Then we should put it to the test of an experiment, preferably as long as possible and as late as possible, so that we can install remote-controlled, wall-mounted cameras, which are less obtrusive, and decide the matter on the basis of reality, not the hypothetical fears that have been projected today by those who are scared of television.
Only when we have seen how it works will we have to take a final decision, and power will remain in our hands throughout that process. I hope we will decide not on fears, either of ourselves or of television, or on the kind of quibbles that have been paraded before us, but on what 330 is in the best interests of the people who have a growing desire to know, to see, and to be involved. All the evidence is that people want the House to be televised.
Secondly, we must decide on the basis of what is in the best interests of this House. We are the last major Chamber to allow television in, and it is television alone that will enable us to do our real job, which is to put arguments before the people. We have dithered, delayed, hesitated and hovered. Enough is enough, and it is well past the time to reach out and talk directly to the people. We can do it through this experiment, and if we go ahead we shall be moving into the 20th century instead of cowering in fear of the world outside, pretending we are still living in the 19th century, doing a job that is dead in a Chamber that is half alive.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). My interest in televising Parliament and, in particular, the House of Commons stems from the ten-minute Bill which I introduced in 1978. It was lost by about 10 or 15 votes. In 1978 and at subsequent times when the matter was placed before the House by other hon. Members under the ten minutes rule, there was a growing strength of opinion in favour of televising proceedings of the House.
The evidence that I laboriously collected from all over the world before introducing my ten-minute Bill has been strengthened, not nullified. The facts and figures I presented about democratic countries that had television in their Parliaments and had never thrown it out have been further strengthened in the seven years since 1978. I am not aware of any country which televises its parliamentary proceedings that has got rid of it. It has worked, and in some countries it has created a demand and been successful.
Many people ask me for the two tickets that I get every 15th day for the Strangers Gallery. Those are the only tickets I get. There is an intense demand to see what happens in the House of Commons at all hours of the day and night. I also know that many school children want to see what is going on but cannot because of the congestion in the Strangers Gallery. The main impression that many of them have—an impression that is possibly accelerated by sound broadcasting—is that Parliament consists of wigs, maces and robes and is a rather stultified debating society. They have the impression that it does not apply to juveniles in Britain and does not have much to do with them.
Such pupils will certainly not get into the Strangers Gallery to see and hear a debate. Last week I was host to 24 children from Leicestershire. They were able to peer into the Central Lobby at the Speaker's procession, but all they could see was the Mace and the wigs. That is their impression of Parliament. Since 1978 there has been a growing desire to make children aware of what happens in the House of Commons, to make them appreciate the value of the arguments and the sincerity of the place. Unless we make them appreciate those things and give them an opportunity to observe proceedings in the Chamber perhaps via the TV camera, then future generations may not have a Chamber in which we can debate as we are doing today.
331 A few years ago I was trapped in Strasbourg, waiting in a hotel for a Council of Europe session which did not begin until the evening. There was a vote of no confidence in the French Government and the debate was televised live. My French is mediocre, but I could understand enough to know that it was a riveting debate, although the cameras portrayed the Members deploying arguments for and against. It was done in great detail. The cameras gave shots of Deputies cheering and jeering. Although my French is rusty, I was able to gather the essence of the arguments. Ever since I have held the opinion that hon. Members have no right to keep out young people or anybody else in Britain who wants to see the whole of what goes on in this place. The sooner that happens, the better.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup is not present at the moment. For the first time I find myself agreeing with everything he said. That is rare, although I have been in the House as long as my right hon. Friend.
We do not want to rely on Select Committees. We are public servants and have a duty to the public to let the cameras in so that the people can understand the arguments. The sooner we let them in, the better. The people who are against progress, by opposing the television cameras, are the descendants of those who kept the general public out of here until 1845 by passing an annual sessional order. Until 1913, such people kept the press muzzled. It was not until 1909 that the Official Report was established. The only reason for its establishment was that various leaked reports were so inaccurate that it was felt desirable to establish an official record. As I say, until 1909 they fought against having the press in here at all, and until 1919 those same people kept women out of the Press Gallery.
The House of Commons must move ahead. We have to show the country that there is much of which to be proud here, and the sooner we let in the cameras the better.
Mr. Eric S. Haffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Over the years that I have been in the House of Commons, I have voted for television coverage of the House. We all must learn by experience. I agree entirely with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that it is our privilege to change our minds. I have changed my mind on a number of issues. I changed it on the Common Market. I was originally in favour of entry into the Common Market, then I came out against it and lost a certain position as a result. At one stage in my life I thought passionately that everything Israel did was more or less without criticism, but nowadays I take a rather different view.
I have changed my mind on this issue as well, and I have done so because of experience. We allowed radio into the House. Before that, in the mornings and evenings we used to get a fairly good report of our proceedings. Most hon. Members who had spoken in a debate were mentioned, and something of what they said was given. Even now, the late evening programme is much better than the morning one. In the mornings, we get not the reporting that we used to get but the views of the journalist. Indeed, we sometimes get far more of his or her views than of what is happening in the House. I get a little fed up with that.
I have been in the Chamber and heard first-class speeches by hon. Members who might not speak often or be the stars of the House or political stars in the country, 332 but they have not been mentioned. There might be some argument for admitting television if we had a channel given over entirely for the purpose, but everybody has said that that will not happen. There is bound to be at least an edited channel.
We all go to party conferences and know that it used to be argued that, if television was allowed in, those at conference would play to the cameras. That has not happened. People forget the television, but I have been told that people have attended the conference, then watched it on television in the evening but have not recognised it as the same conference because it is edited. They say, "It was not the same conference that I was in."
§ Mr. Heffer
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman—no, I will not. He knows what I was about to say.
The editors decide to edit and some of the best speeches made at the conference, which are made by delegates who are there perhaps only once, are not covered at all.
Some of the best speeches that I have heard in the House are not the great oratorical feats; they are made by hon. Members who perhaps bored us at the time but whose speeches, when read and examined, turn out to be excellent. Such speeches would never get on television.
§ Mr. Heffer
My hon. Friend is right. I have reached my conclusion on the basis of experience of what has happened elsewhere.
Some hon. Members are regularly involved in television programmes. I have to admit that I have had my fair share. I suppose that I am no longer as photogenic as I was when I was 42. We get older, we lose a few teeth and our faces change. We are not the handsome young men that we were when we came here. However, I have gone along to a studio and been filmed for half an hour and asked all manner of questions—
§ Mr. Heffer
My hon. Friend is too kind. That happened to me once and I got about two seconds. Those two seconds followed an interview with a member of the Communist party with whom it appeared I agreed entirety. Perhaps they did the same with him. One tiny part of my interview was picked up and shown out of context. Will the same not happen here? Is it not possible that little bits of our speeches will be picked out and used as somebody else wishes?
§ Mr. Heffer
My hon. Friend is saying that the people who run television are above suspicion and never do any such thing. He must live in a world that is completely different from the one that I have lived in. Of course there are some television producers whom I would trust absolutely—if they assure me that something such as I have described will not happen, I know that it will not—but there are others who have told me that nothing will happen, whom I have believed and who have manipulated what I have said. I will never go near those producers again. There are many programmes on which. I will not appear. I am occasionally asked whether I will appear but I say, "No, thank you very much. I have no intention of getting involved in your programme because 333 I know that you will talk to me for 20 minutes, cut the interview and use it in a way other than what was intended."
I have another argument against televising the House, on which I might lose those Conservative Members who have been with me so far. I am frightened about how televised material could be used by the establishment. The establishment can manipulate modern media dangerously. I do not think that of all media, although they are usually not up there in the Press Gallery. Some are, but the Gallery is usually empty.
Modern technology is marvellous. We used to be able to make a speech at five minutes to midnight on some important issue and it would be reported. At least the Daily Telegraph would have said something. Modern technology means that if we speak after 7 pm, it does not matter how good our performance is, the speech will not be heard of. It is therefore argued that it would be better for us to have television, as speeches would then be covered.
I thoroughly disagreed with somebody who recently suggested that sketch and parliamentary writers should not make fun of us. Frank Johnson is a great loss to the parliamentary system. I wish that he was still here. I am not being critical of those who replaced him, but he was better than any of them. That is a fact. I have had my leg pulled by Frank Johnson as much as, if not more than, most people. That is what politics is about and nobody objects to it.
We are not talking about that but about something more serious—the manipulation of the media in the interests of the establishment. That will not be in the interests of the people. I therefore do not believe that television coverage will be in the people's interests unless it is done strictly on our terms. Some argue that that is what we are being asked to vote for. I am not sure. It is not an option.
If it was suggested that all our proceedings were to be televised, I should think differently. Nevertheless, hon. Members would be hard put to cut themselves into five pieces. Members of Select Committees would have to put a notice up in the Chamber saying, "I am not here because I am on a Select Committee." Hon. Members may be on a party committee which happens to be meeting somewhere in the House or they may be members of a Joint Committee considering a specific issue and so may not be present in the Chamber.
Some members of the public believe that the Chamber is the only room in the House, but there are many others. One of the principal reasons for the recent depletion of attendance in the Chamber is that there are too many Select Committees. Hon. Members spend more time in Select Committees than they do in the Chamber.
It will be argued in my constituency that I was always in favour of televised proceedings. When I was asked about that in 1978 I said that I wanted television cameras in the Chamber to prove that we were not all comedians. Listening to some of the speeches tonight, I think that I was wrong; we have proved that we are all comedians. That is not a particularly good thing.
I ask the House to think seriously about the motion and consider whether we are to open up a process which will make it easier for manipulation by the television companies and for the establishment who will work in their own interests against the democratic process. I ask the House not to support the motion.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)
On 24 November 1966, 19 years ago next Sunday, the House debated a similar motion. The late Richard Crossman, as Leader of the House, led for the Government, and I, as shadow Postmaster-General, led for the Opposition. We both supported the motion; it was lost by one vote.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
I believe that the House is as divided today as it was then. I am not so confident as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that the motion will be passed. In the past 20 years the arguments for and against this motion have remained unchanged. Those in favour argue that as television has become the main source of information for the bulk of the people it is only right that Parliament should not remain the one area of their lives that television cannot illuminate. Those against say that the invasion of the cameras will bring an end to Parliament as we know it. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) put that case in picturesque terms.
Although the arguments have remained the same, the balance has swung in favour of the ayes. In the 1960s it was thought necessary to produce evidence from polls and surveys to show that television was the main source of information. After 50 years of television, with television sets in 99 per cent. of homes and two sets in many of them, average viewing time is now three and a half hours per day. Television has clearly become so embedded in our national and private lives that the question is no longer in doubt. Television has become so dominant that even without cameras in the House it is the chief source of parliamentary news for the electorate, either through interviews or from the soundtrack of proceedings.
The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) said that the humiliation of politicians is now complete. Members of Parliament literally beg their local television producers to be allowed on their screens. It is Brian Walden, not Mr. Speaker, who decides whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be allowed to address the masses in their homes. That is so outrageous that our successors will marvel that we tolerated it for so long. We should not be sorry for ourselves, because we have brought that humiliation on ourselves. It is our constituents who have just cause for complaint.
During the miners' strike, thousands of unhappy people in the mining areas of Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire must have longed to hear their local Members—the only people who knew the local situation—speaking in the House on their behalf, but they had to be satisfied with whichever politician the producer of the programme thought would be good on the box. That is a scandal which should not be allowed to continue. I wish that the people of Northern Ireland could have seen our proceedings on Monday when the Prime Minister made her statement and answered questions. It was an impressive hour, and the genuine concern of the whole House for Northern Ireland could not have been shown so vividly by any other form of communication.
§ Mr. Winnick
I agree, and my next comment will not be the final point in the argument, but if people have such a strong wish to see what is happening here, it is interesting to note that we have not received any letters from our 335 constituents on the subject. The only letter that I received was from my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell).
§ Sir Paul Bryan
I do not find that at all convincing. In every country in which the televising of proceedings has been established the public have been pleased and no one has wanted to throw the cameras out once they were in.
The arguments against televising the proceedings have been based on the arguers' estimate of what might happen after the advent of the cameras, fortified by varying measures of wishful thinking. Even after many years in the House I should not like to presume what will be the exact effect of television, but by now so many other legislatures have already accepted it that there is a great deal of evidence of its effect and we can now view the prospect with more knowledge and less fear. None of the 25 or more legislatures which have adopted television has subsequently rejected it. In every case the public have approved, usually strongly.
There are, of course, growing pains and early difficulties, such as playing to the camera. John Fraser, European correspondent of the Toronto Globe and Mail, said in an article in The House Magazine earlier this year about the televising of the Canadian House:Within a relatively short time, however, everyone settled down and it is generally held today that the standard of debate is more dignified and pertinent. Playing to the cameras receives the same sort of internal contempt as playing to the galleries did, and there have been no really serious abuses".We should not be too proud to concede at least the possibility that television could improve our proceedings here. Nobody can have welcomed the decline in attendance in the Chamber in recent years. I agree with the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who has not taken part in this debate, but who said in an article last year:The televising of Parliament would, I believe, reverse the trend to non attendance. The MP's need to communicate with the electorate which at present drives him to the television studio would then compel him to be present in the Chamber. With more people in the Chamber, the sense of a proper debate would be reconstituted. The Chamber not the television studio would again become the place where important arguments were made and contested.
§ Mr. Crouch
I suggest that this place would be no longer a Chamber, but would be a television studio. Where would the cameras go? Already 200 Members have nowhere to sit. This is an intimate assembly and the result would be that many of the few seats that we have would be taken up by television cameras.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
The technical difficulties are not the strongest part of my hon. Friend's argument. If modern cameras are introduced, I do not believe that there will be any problems.
Despite the reassuring experience in Canada and elsewhere, no Parliament is exactly similar to another, and ours is unique. Therefore, we ought to approach the venture with care and base it upon our own broadcasting practices. Under the British broadcasting system, companies and the BBC have great editorial freedom, but, almost unknown to the general public, they operate under very definite guidelines which they cross at the peril of losing their licences. For instance, I recall that Granada was required every week to put out seven hours of local interest programmes. The ITV companies must not exceed a quota of 14 per cent. of foreign transmissions. The ITV 336 network has to screen 104 hours of adult education programmes. That is a strong reason why British television caters far more for minorities than does television in other countries.
§ Mr. Heffer
Is the hon. Gentleman declaring an interest? I know that he has an interest in television. He should have told the House about it.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
I must have told the House a hundred times of my connection with Granada, and I am happy to do so once more. I apologise for not having done so at the beginning of my speech. The Parliamentary Broadcasting Committee which no doubt would be set up should, like the IBA, lay down appropriate guidelines. As a start, I suggest that on every parliamentary day Channel 4 should be required at 10.30 each evening to present a half hour daily summary of the proceedings of Parliament. A full hour should be devoted to a weekly summary at a peak hour each weekend.
Broadcasters will say, as they say about the House of Lords, that on many days the parliamentary programme would be too thin to support a half hour summary. That is because they disdain the minority audience. Yesterday's debate on Okehampton would not have drawn a national audience. Nevertheless, it would have been of the greatest interest to the people of Okehampton.
§ Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)
Who will do the editing? Will there be an editorial board, or will this be left in the hands of the BBC or ITV? If we allow this experiment to take place, there ought to be parliamentary control.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
That would be a matter for the Committee. If the Committee decided that the editing should be carried out by the BBC-ITV, so be it. If the BBC-ITV did not do it satisfactorily, a unit would have to be formed by the House.
§ Sir Paul Bryan
This is the procedure in other legislatures, so there is no great difficulty about it. If the editing is unsatisfactory, the House will not sit and suffer. It will be put right. In order to ensure success, I advocate a step-by-step approach, learning as we go along from our experience. I hope that in time all of our proceedings will be open to the cameras, but to begin with I would confine them to the Chamber. I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that the timing of this experiment is important. If the motion is passed and the programme described by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House were to be followed, it would be possible to have the cameras in the House in a year's time. In my view, this would not give the experiment its best chance of success. There could not be a worse time than the period running up to a general election. That is a quite exceptional period. Therefore, I advocate that we should pass the legislation in this Parliament, with a view to introducing the experimental period at the beginning of the next.
§ 8.5 pm
§ Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)
In his last sentence the hon. Member for Boothferry (Sir P. Bryan) took words out of my mouth. In order to allay suspicions that this is a party political gimmick initiated by the Prime Minister, I suggest that no decision should be implemented until after the next general election. I agree with a great 337 deal of the hon. Gentleman's speech. For more than 20 years I have listened to every debate on this subject. To begin with the arguments were mainly technical—about the heating, the lighting, the cameras and the interference because of the presence of cameramen on the Floor of the House. Virtually all of those arguments have now been resolved. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not all of them"]. The Committee that is to be set up will tell us whether or not those problems have been resolved. The important argument is the democratic one. I have always taken the opportunity to vote for the education of the people about what goes on inside Parliament.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Yes, it is an absolutely vital issue.
All hon. Members must be disturbed by the woeful ignorance of people about what goes on inside Parliament. I regard this as an attempt not to trivialise Parliament, but to educate the public about how Parliament does its work. No hon. Member should be frightened of the extension of the democratic process. The intrusion of the cameras will carry risks with it. It will expose hon. Members almost indecently to the gaze of the public. But why should hon. Members be afraid of that? This is where the power should reside. We have little control over the power of Whitehall. This is the forum of the people and we are denying them their right to see it.
In the summer many people queue for entrance to the Strangers Gallery. Not all get in. I have long argued that, as an experiment, Westminster Hall should be used to provide live television coverage of the proceedings in this House. If that experiment had been conducted 20 or 30 years ago, all of these problems would have been resolved. I believe that such an experiment should go hand in hand with whatever decision is reached tonight by the House.
The arguments of my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) are based upon fear of the selectivity of the media. But selectivity has gone on for thousands of years. There is no way of preventing selectivity in a free, democratic society. Indeed, there is a good argument for increasing selectivity. If hon. Members believe that the cameras are being unfairly selective, the power lies in their hands to stop it.
In a recent intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) made a valid point about editing. I was disturbed when the Leader of the House said that television broadcasters will have the right to decide what is screened. The House should have an editorial board. It should be made abundantly clear to television broadcasters that the purpose of this experiment is to educate and to inform, not to provide entertainment or titillation or to ridicule. That is the way to handle the issue.
The best argument in favour of this experiment was put forward by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton). He is a well known expert on these matters. He said that if the proceedings of the House of Commons are televised, the House will never be the same again. I cannot think of a better reason for letting in the cameras. This House is a cesspool of conservatism. It is the most difficult thing in the world to change the procedures of this place. Now we have a chance. My one proviso is that it must be all or nothing.
338 Many hon. Members have pointed out that the most important, if least spectacular, work is carried out in Standing Committees and other Committees, including the 1922 Committee and the parliamentary Labour party committee. Both should be televised. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) suggested that the television cameras should cover Committees of the Cabinet, which is a good idea. The more the Prime Minister is exposed to television cameras, the better for the Opposition.
Therefore, let us get on with the experiment, let us see the results, and, at the end of the day, let the Government of the day say, "All right, we shall put the issue to the electorate at the next election." I am confident that the British people are yearning to see what goes on in the House and to be educated in the way that we conduct our business. That is the most democratic way of proceeding.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
All hon. Members should remind themselves of the salient difference between this Chamber and the other place. We will all agree that the other place does not have to face the ballot box, whereas we do. Whether we freely admit it or not, we are in the self-promotion business. We want our constituents to be pleased with us, and to know that we are working exceptionally hard on their behalf—as, indeed, the majority of hon. Members do. We must get that message across. Therefore, if the House is televised, the temptation to be present in the Chamber rather than elsewhere will be irresistible.
Hon. Members may be surprised to hear that, at any one time, about 50 meetings are taking place within the Parliament buildings. They are held in Committee Rooms in the main building, in the rooms off Westminister Hall, in the Terrace rooms, and in conference rooms in the Norman Shaw south and north buildings. Those rooms are booked many times over, and sometimes on the hour, each hour. There are many demands on hon. Members—for example, to serve on Standing Committees and Select Committees, to attend all-party groups and one's own party groups, and to meet constituents and delegations of all sorts of groups. There is no end to the number of groups that wish to meet parties of hon. Members.
Sometimes regional Members must get together to meet various visitors to the House who have asked to see them. What on earth would happen if, for example, every hon. Member were doing his stuff and working hard in those various meetings, and then looked at the clock and said, "By George, we're on television." Suddenly rooms all over the building would empty as hon. Members scurried into the Chamber.
This is an important debate, but on par, no more than about 40 people have been present all day. That includes the Speaker, the Clerk, the Serjeant at Arms and the Doorkeeper. With television cameras, it would be a different matter altogether. Let us set the scene. If the Leader of the House kindly made room for something like the Miniaturisation of Schrompling Pin Bill 1985, the Benches would be full of hon. Members, probably not one of whom would know what schrompling pin was. I shall send up the spelling to Hansard later. Nevertheless, the Chamber would be full because hon. Members would know that many of the disabled, the elderly, and the unemployed would be at home watching television, 339 because they are television addicts and television is their great pleasure in life, and would be looking for them and asking "Where are they?". All the time hon. Members will have to explain that we have many matters to attend to, besides sitting in the Chamber.
Earlier in the debate, many hon. Members were nasty to the gentlemen and ladies of the press, and suggested that the press selection was narrow, and that, although they made wonderful speeches, not a word appeared in the newspapers the following day. We have short memories. The work that we do in the Chamber is only one small part of what we must do. Yes, this is where the laws of the nation are made, but all hon. Members know that, whatever wonderful speeches we make today, at 10 o'clock when it is time to vote, other hon. Members will scurry to the Chamber from all over the building, most of whom will not have heard a word of our compelling arguments. They will look for friendly faces and troop through the Lobby that they think suits them best. What we say does not change a thing. In a way, the Chamber is a bit of theatre and we are the players, but at the same time we seek to do a responsible job.
Hon. Members cannot say that the press report only what we say in the Chamber. Remember this: when hon. Members table questions, the press approach them in the Lobbies, ask what is behind the question, request a quote on it and ask us to elaborate on it. We are also reported in that and many other ways. The press reports not only what is said in the Chamber but what is said at press conferences. Many of the press troop around the world with political figures, and work hard. It is unfair to say that they are extremely selective.
To be honest, one does not hear many brilliant speeches. We do not have in the Chamber today the great politicians of years ago. They did not have radio, television, or wonderful newspaper coverage. Newspapers came only with the advent of the railway system, when W H. Smith and others put newsagents at all the stations to distribute the news. That was the birth of the newspaper industry. Nevertheless, the great men of the past made their case heard, even without the facilities of today.
Today hon. Members have the Official Report, which anyone can purchase, radio coverage and good press coverage. Moreover, we ourselves are not slow in notifying the press of what we are up to. We are in the self-promotion game because the ballot box is behind us. The people in the other place do not have that constraint and, therefore, do not need to scurry to be present when the cameras are filming.
We have also been unfair to the British Broadcasting Corporation and, perhaps, the Independent Radio Network News. While I am speaking, across the road the tapes are running in the news rooms and teams of people are listening to our comments. Sometimes they are pleased, and sometimes they think that our debates are an absolute bore and take no interest. They are doing their jobs and working hard, but they can put only so much about a debate on the air.
The main interest is in the legislation that is passed, the main thrust of the debate, and the main opposition to the proposed legislation. But the press also seek to ensure that as many hon. Members as possible are mentioned in the time allocated. We should not grumble. Most of us do fairly well, and if we do not, we have not much to say and 340 we are not worth recording. We cannot have it both ways. We need the help of the press, and we should not be critical.
What would Question Time today have been like if we had had television cameras? It would have been like a greenhouse. We would have had so much hot air and so many plants—the plants being the planted questions that we hear all the time—that it would have been like filming a greenhouse.
I have changed my mind.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which way?"] You know me well, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I always keep you in suspense. People have been kind to me and said, "Geoffrey, it is made for you. Get in there." I shall resist the temptation. I shall vote against having television cameras in the Chamber, even if they might suit my style nicely. I believe sincerely that it would be wrong to televise Parliament. Most of my constituents who hear the radio broadcasts of our proceedings think that we are a disgrace. I think that I am doing them a tremendous favour tonight by voting against television cameras in the Chamber.
§ Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)
The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) is guaranteed to hold the full attention of the House. This evening he held the House in suspense, because only in the last few minutes did we learn how he would vote.
I cannot recall our debates on this subject as far back as others can, but whenever we have discussed televising our proceedings I have voted in favour of the principle. I shall do so again tonight, for a number of reasons. I shall do so in the belief that the House of Commons plays an important part in our national life and that Parliament and the Government should be as open as possible and accountable to the electorate. I believe that the public outside the building are interested in what we do. They have the right to as much information as possible about our proceedings and to the way in which we conduct our business.
Modern technology has made it possible for news and current events in remote parts of the world to be transmitted in minutes, or simultaneously, to the homes of millions of families. Viewers share the realities of Ethiopia and Colombia, as well as of Geneva. All such happenings have a direct connection with the public, and yet that same public cannot see for themselves anything at all of what we do in their name in this House. That is a considerable anachronism.
Parliament, and the House of Commons in particular, is an institution which creates public interest. When modern technology makes it possible for those who send us here to see our proceedings and how we go about our business, the argument must rest primarily with those who would deny people that opportunity, rather than with those who argue in its favour.
Many problems must be solved before we can make a start. I welcome the wise words in the motion which asks for a Select Committee to examine the details and to report back. I understand that the Leader of the House said that if we approve tonight's motion a Select Committee report will be presented to the House before a final decision is made.
I shall describe the problems, but not necessarily in order of priority. Coverage of the business of the House 341 will cause a problem. Television companies, like newspapers, are interested in "news value". They are interested in what they think viewers want to see. We all have our own ideas about that. I have listened for the last four or five hours to what hon. Members think about what people want to watch.
The contest between the party leaders at Prime Minister's Question Time is of enormous interest outside, and will be of prime importance in terms of coverage, as will the exchanges between some Front-Bench Members who cling to the Dispatch Box at the opening and closing of major debates. The Select Committee will have to make it clear to the television companies that others in the House have informed opinions and can speak with direct knowledge about developments—or lack of developments—in their areas and can express opinions on world events and many other matters which might not be in line with their party or Front-Bench attitudes.
The broadcasters will need reminding that the House is a microcosm of the country as a whole and that Back Benchers are part of the reality of the House and its work. The Select Committee will need to know in detail the broadcasters' intentions when providing adequate coverage of Back-Bench opinion.
Many hon. Members feel as I do, and are concerned lest broadcasters pick out the sensational highlights and that the occasional punch-up will take precedence over a serious debate. The press already highlights the sensational rather than the worthy, just as some of us do sometimes. I expect that the broadcasters, with their statutory obligations and with a Select Committee with some control, will be more objective.
§ Mr. Robert C. Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that all her anxieties about the media having the right to say what the public see of our work could be overcome by a separate television channel broadcasting the whole of our proceedings?
§ Miss Boothroyd
I should certainly support that, but that is not an option. I must deal with what is on the Order Paper.
Editorial control might cause problems. The television companies tell us that producing balanced, political television is no different in principle from editing the broadcasting of proceedings. When challenged, they speedily bring into play the regulations under the Broadcasting Act and in the BBC charter. Perhaps the principle is not so different, but my concern is with the implementation of that principle as it applies to the Chamber, which is an unknown arena. I am not certain that editorial control of programme content should remain entirely with the broadcasters. I hope that ground rules will be worked out by the Select Committee and agreed with the broadcasters to provide assurances to those of us who hesitate over that difficulty. I was pleased to hear the cautious remarks by the Leader of the House in that respect. If the motion is agreed, that will be a crucial part of the Select Committee's work. I shall certainly give the problem careful scrutiny and attention.
I do not have strong views about the timing of the start of the experiment. Perhaps we should take as long as possible, so that we can create the right atmosphere, with the right lighting and television cameras. The timing will be tied up with the type of equipment used. The location 342 of cameras and lights will depend upon detailed technical tests. What the broadcasters and the Select Committee must bear in mind is that this Chamber is much smaller than the Chamber of another place. More importantly, it is an elected Chamber. Therefore, there is not a great deal of comparison.
Quite rightly, there would be strong objection if there were manned cameras on the Floor of the House. It is clearly in the minds of all who are discussing the matter that any permanent arrangement must involve remote-controlled and unobtrusive equipment. To conduct an experiment with hand-held cameras would give an entirely false impression of what the long-term arrangments would entail. Whatever the considerations of cost—and I understand that they would be considerable if remote-controlled equipment was used—I urge that we and the broadcasters ensure that any experiment is conducted on the same basis as any long-term arrangement. I do not want false impressions to be given to me or to other hon. Members. I want to know precisely how the arrangement will work.
The motion is couched in very modest terms. Although I have some reservations, I shall certainly vote for the principle embodied in the motion.
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) in what is undoubtedly a great House of Commons debate. It is a privilege to take part in it.
The proposal before us is only that we should conduct an experiment. I cannot understand why so many hon. Members are against conducting an experiment. The experiment in the other place was so successful that I suspect they fear it will be successful here also. They are afraid that their prejudices will be removed if they are tested.
Televising this House would be neither an educational nor an entertaining experiment, although it may be something of both. It will certainly give the electorate an opportunity to see what is going on here, in their name. Presently they are restricted to a few minutes' coverage in the morning and the evening. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) put it well, although he and I are on different sides in this matter, when he said that the BBC in its morning programme had not done a great service to the serious broadcasting of this House.
Milton Shulman, in The London Standard recently, said that televising the other place had been a resounding flop—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members may say that, but any programme put on for only a few minutes just before midnight will, in terms of audience take-up, inevitably be regarded as a flop. It is unfair to judge audience reaction by screening a programme at that time.
Even if audience numbers cause hon. Members to think that televising the other place has not been worth while, I have found that those who have watched it have a far greater respect for the institution of Parliament and for parliamentary proceedings than they had hitherto.
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
Will my hon. Friend speculate on why the broadcasts occur late at night? Is it because they are not of prime interest to viewers?
343 Perhaps my hon. Friend will also address his mind to another part of Milton Shulman's article, when he said that the cameras would be more interested in personalities than in policies.
§ Mr. Alexander
I accept that is a danger, but I would expect the Select Committee to deal with that. It would be unfair to judge audience take-up solely on the time that the programme was screened.
We need a greater awareness among the public of what we are doing here. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) and the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) put the matter well when they said that people were queueing to get into this place to see what was happening. It is rare that we can obtain two tickets for constituents to come into the House—
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Does my hon. Friend accept that people sitting in the Strangers Gallery see everything, warts and all? People watching 12 to 14 minutes will see only selected excerpts.
§ Mr. Alexander
I fully accept my hon. Friend's point. However, I resent the fact that the opportunity to see what is happening in this place is so limited. I hope that people will see what is happening, warts and all.
Television is so much a part of people's daily lives that we would be unwise and backward-thinking if we, in this place of all places, were to try to exclude it. This is not a private club. Whether we like it or not, we are public servants, even though we may be public servants of an unusual kind.
Some hon. Members may abuse the facility that television coverage offers. However, we have often seen hon. Members, on both sides of the House, perform in a manner that we wish their constituents and the outside world could see. The House should act a little better at times. I believe that television will be a civilising influence on both our behaviour and our proceedings.
There is a fear that the media will go exclusively for trivia. That is a hazard we must risk in the interests of opening the House to the general public. I am sure that the media will find that if it concentrates on trivia and the silly moments of the House, its audience take-up will be much lower than if it gave a serious report and account of what goes on in this place.
If people want to watch comedians, chat shows and general rubbish, they will switch on their televisions at 5, 6, or 7 pm on a Saturday. They will not switch on a parliamentary broadcast if they want to see that. Most legislatures in the free world have introduced television in one form or another. None that I have heard of has argued that television should be removed from their proceedings and lives. They all have safeguards against abuses. I hope that our Select Committee will provide a safeguard.
I said that we are not a private club. Nor are we a private debating society. We are here to communicate our views as best we can to the widest possible audience so that we may gain acceptance of those views both here and in the country.
Today I am speaking to a handful of hon. Members. All the newspapers have gone to bed. My fourpennyworth will certainly not be reported on either "Today in Parliament" or "Yesterday in Parliament". I make no complaint about that. However, television in this Chamber might give someone speaking late at night a greater opportunity to exercise his skill—the skill with which he was sent here 344 —to communicate as best he can on behalf of his constituents. We are, above all, communicators, but we communicate to an infinitesimal number of people outside, including our constituents, when we speak in this Chamber.
If we turn our backs on this opportunity tonight, we shall do a grave disservice to the people of this nation. If we accept it, we shall be able to share our debates on issues, great and small, affecting the nation to an extent never before possible. People are not convinced of our relevance today. Some people in Britain, if given the opportunity, would undermine our democracy, our way of life, and this House. If we share with the nation our work and the way we go about doing it, we shall enhance respect for the system. By agreeing to the televising of our proceedings, we shall be doing that in full measure.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I was elected to this House in the 1979 general election. On the first day that I came here, instead of going to claim my locker and desk, my first action was to walk into the Chamber, stand at the Bar and ponder over where I would sit for the period that I would spend in Parliament.
I decided to sit in the seat that I now occupy, and I have sat here ever since. I chose this seat because I wanted to occupy a position from which I could oversee the Government Dispatch Box. I had heard repeatedly over the years arguments deployed, for example, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) to the effect that the House of Commons, and in particular this Chamber, was all-important.
I had been told that any new Member had all sorts of opportunities open to him to represent his electorate, such as making direct representations to Ministers and their Departments and by correspondence. However, a good and effective Member of Parliament, I was informed, should concentrate on using this Chamber and ensure that the focus of his attention was the Government Dispatch Box. I remain convinced that that is the crucial point on which we should concentrate our debates.
I rapidly learned that, though Members of Parliament, we are tradesmen in the sense that we have a craft. Our craft is to know how to use this Chamber and its procedures and to intervene in debates in a way that has impact. We must argue our case, but most of all we must be able to press Ministers at the Dispatch Box on important issues.
I have learnt over the years that, if pressed in the right way, a Minister at the Dispatch Box will respond. Indeed, Ministers have been known when speaking from the Dispatch Box to change their position, having become aware of the hostility from the Floor of the House towards what they were proposing. Ministers have had to return to their Departments and complain to their civil servants about the nature of briefing material, which they felt was inadequate to deal with the level of opposition by Opposition Members.
I oppose the televising of our proceedings for a simple reason, and I tell that story of my coming into Parliament as the background to that reason. It is that, in the practice of our craft, we in this Chamber must sometimes do things that are ugly, and the public will not wish to see them. 345 They are practices which some would describe as lacking in decorum, although they are crucial to the way we conduct ourselves in the Chamber.
A sedentary intervention, or even a series of them, in the speech of a Minister can have the effect of pressing him so much that he may modify his position. That can happen at the Dispatch Box or in subsequent debate. Those pressures may be crucial. However, if the public saw those pressures being applied—I say that irrespective of Government and from whichever Benches they are applied; hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Government Front Bench below the Gangway have applied pressure on their own Ministers—and saw us applying our craft in such an ugly way, it might incur their wrath. That could happen if such ugliness were displayed on the television screens of the nation.
An example of that occurred some years ago, I am told, before I arrived here. I gather that the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster occupied a seat on the Opposition Front Bench below the Gangway for five years and that he was known affectionately as the Chingford skinhead. I am told that he was a most effective opponent of the then Labour Government. Indeed, I have been informed that some Labour Ministers feared him—[Interruption.] Former Labour Ministers admit that he was a formidable opponent in opposition.
Today, some of my hon. Friends who occupy seats on the Opposition Front Bench below the Gangway are equally vociferous and effective in their opposition to the Government, as are some hon. Gentlemen who occupy seats on the Government Front Bench below the Gangway. They know that they are effective when they challenge their own Ministers.
Can hon. Members afford to let their constituents see them practising their ugly craft? [Interruption.] Yes, it is ugly. On occasions it may be considered acceptable, but some people, without understanding the nature of sedentary interventions, may believe that they lack decorum. However, if such action has the effect of modifying a Minister's approach, let alone changing Government policy, the hon. Member adopting it has been effective.
If the television cameras are allowed in, some of my hon. Friends who sit on the Opposition Front Bench below the Gangway—and some hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Government Front Bench below the Gangway and who, without the cameras, are courageous enough to criticise their own Ministers—may feel constrained in their attitude—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is all very well for hon. Members to say no, but I am laying down my marker in the belief that the intrusion of the cameras will constrain hon. Members in the way they practise their craft. I rest my case on that, and time will tell whether what I have said is correct.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
I have had the benefit of listening to most of the debate, but I have the disadvantage, therefore, of not being able to say a great deal that is new. It is important for the House to focus on the terms of the motion and to note carefully that it invites the House to approve in principle the holding of an experiment on television broadcasting. The motion— 346 I am sure unwittingly—is somewhat misleading. Either we approve the principle of television coverage or we do not. The issue is as straightforward as that.
I am against the proposal, for reasons upon which I shall touch. I would support the idea, if necessary, if we were initially to set up a Select Committee to investigate all the issues before there was any question of a decision in principle being taken. The idea of approving an experiment and then setting up a Select Committee to examine the consequences of the experiment is to take things in the wrong order. I was only partly reassured when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that there might be an opportunity for a final decision at a subsequent stage.
My reasons for opposing the principle can be stated simply. They closely resemble some of the arguments which have been advanced by some of my hon. Friends. I am sure that the evidence tells us that television has a tendency to distort, sensationalise and trivialise the events that it seeks to portray. If the House is not convinced of that argument, it must understand from the works of Mr. McLuhan and others that it has been demonstrated pretty clearly that television is qualitatively different from other media of mass communication. In many instances television personnel do not want to behave in a way that will have that result, but the outcome is inherent in the imperatives of the medium—for example, brevity and what producers call "good television". There is a ratings war between the various television companies and the likelihood is that it will hot up.
Television is a medium which serves to create impressions rather than conveying information. It encourages instant viewer response rather than mature and thoughtful reflection. Unlike newspapers, which allow the reader to turn back a page or to re-read a paragraph, or radio, which allows for real concentration and reflection, which is possible when we listen to something intently, television merely creates images and impressions. Whenever audience polls are conducted, when a representative cross-sample is asked whether it remembers one thing that anyone has said during a television programme, the responses show that the majority can remember nothing of the content. That goes for educated people as well as for those who have not had the good fortune to receive a reasonable education.
If we want to convey serious and complicated ideas, television, which has many other strengths, is not the appropriate medium. However, we are trying to grapple with, discuss and convey serious and complicated ideas during the bulk of our proceedings.
If television coverage of our proceedings in the Chamber were introduced, I believe that it would have far-reaching and unintended effects on our procedure. It would increase pressure for the prior organisation and manipulation of parliamentary debates. There is enough of that already, thanks to the usual channels. There is no doubt that it would lead us to copy the House of Representatives in the United States. Increasingly in that forum a representative can speak on the floor of the house only if he has an ex officio right to do so for a specified period. That procedure would work against anyone who saw a need, in the interest of his constituents, to filibuster. It would work also against the interests of spontaneity. I think that it would damage the quality of our debates in the Chamber.
347 Such a tendency would increase the pressure for equal time for the parties, or for more equal time to reflect the balance of votes won in the country. We all know that this is an issue just below the horizon in the overall political debate, especially between the alliance parties and the Labour party in the present Parliament. This would merely result in an awkward twist to that problem. It would increase also the pressure for the timetabling and programming of what we do in this place and so work against the interests of individual parliamentary initiative and the sort of spontaneous combustion which, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) mentioned by implication, is such an essential part of our parliamentary work.
If television were to be introduced, it would create a minefield of editorial disputes between the media men and the politicians. We only fool ourselves if we think otherwise. There would be disputes over the selection of the material to be emphasised in what must necessarily be short television programmes. There would be disputes over alleged trivialisation and sensationalism of the issues in the interests of grabbing and maintaining the public's interest. No producer will hold on to a public affairs programme for very long in the face of commercial imperatives—all television has these imperatives behind it in various forms—if he does not obtain the necessary ratings. There would be disputes over the allocation of screen time between the parties. There is enough argument now about party political broadcasts and the carve-up of time that is involved. That argument would be extended to parliamentary proceedings.
The minority parties would argue for more equal time on the strength of their share of the popular vote. The official Opposition would argue their corner on the basis of their time-honoured position in the House. The governing party would argue its corner on the strength of its electoral victory and its parliamentary majority. In other words, there would be a minefield of potential editorial difficulty.
If the House were to control these editorial issues, I suspect that many members of the media would soon lose interest in the idea altogether. It would be a price that they would not be prepared to pay, and it would be contrary to one of their basic assumptions. That is an assumption to which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has already drawn our attention. If television producers were to have the last word, that could be the cause of endless suspicion and resentment between this place and the media world. I do not think that we need that. We need creative tension between the fourth estate and the House but we do not want the mutual recrimination and suspicion that might be generated if producers were to have the last word in this matter.
§ Mr. Forman
The main reason why the difficulties would be greater stems from my first argument about the qualitative difference of television from other media of mass communication. All the evidence shows that the impressions and images that television is capable of creating—this happens sometimes unwittingly—are 348 infinitely more powerful, and therefore potentially more damaging, than anything which is broadcast over the radio or printed in the columns of the press. For that reason, I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members would become infinitely more concerned about the consequences.
My final major reason for being opposed to the motion is that the very idea of televising the House, if carried forward, might in the long run further undermine the representative principle which is still the basis of our parliamentary democracy. We are all supposed to stand in a vital intermediate position between the mass electorate and Her Majesty's Government of the day. We can choose to act as filters, or as megaphones, of public concern. We are elected to the House to debate seriously, to reflect on the issues and to reach our conclusions by vote.
We would not be able to discharge those responsibilities properly if we moved inexorably with the televising of our proceedings to a form of direct and instant appeal to what would be the court of public opinion. At the end of that road lies a sort of Orwellian push-button democracy which would have a heavy bias against public understanding and be wide open to cynical attempts at media manipulation, whether by politicians or by producers.
During the debate, two main points have been put by the proponents of the motion. They must be answered. The first is that somehow the public has a right to know and that, with the availability of modern television technology, we should fulfil that right. The answer to that fundamental point is that the public can exercise its right to know at present in a number of ways—people can sit in the Strangers Gallery, as they are doing today, and they can watch television reports of our debates and proceedings on the "9 o'Clock News" and "News at Ten".
Another argument is that, all the time the public is supposed to come here to listen to us. That may be convenient from one point of view, but it is a fundamental part of our duty as politicians to be in our constituencies as often as possible to communicate with the people who returned us to this place and with the people who did not vote for us. The old-fashioned arts of public persuasion, communication, public meetings and use of the local press and media generally are all too easily glossed over on the assumption that all that matters is that these dreadful instruments should come into the heart of our proceedings.
The second major argument is that televising our proceedings would revive public interest in the working of our parliamentary democracy at a time when it is said to be flagging. Yet, on the contrary, there are obvious reasons why public interest in the Chamber and the workings of our parliamentary democracy may he flagging, and they have nothing to do with television. I offer the House a few headline suggestions as to those reasons. There are the deadlines imposed for printing in Fleet street, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Haffer) said. There are the entertainment imperatives of the television programmes. Above all, there is the fact that most of our debates are organised along party lines with Whips and largely predetermined party votes. If what was "said" in argument—as was the case in the middle of the 19th century, in the halcyon days of this Chamber—was to determine and influence the outcome of the vote at the end of a debate, one thing is sure: there would be far fuller regular attendance in the Chamber; people would listen to the arguments and would occasionally be persuaded by them; and there would be a much more favourable public impression of our proceedings.
349 I oppose the motion because the case for televising our proceedings has not been made out conclusively, and certainly not in relation to televising this Chamber's proceedings. If the motion were passed and we were to proceed to televise, let us by all means begin by following the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart). He pointed out that there is discretion in these matters in the United States Senate and, in contrast to the House of Representatives, cameras are allowed in to the special committees, which are analogous to our Select Committees. If we want a real-life experiment with broadcasting in the Palace of Westminster, let us try that. But let us keep it out of this Chamber until we are all more certain of the overwhelming benefits.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)
More than 200 years ago, in 1783, the House of Commons expressed its concern, by a resolution, at what it called the "great presumption" of journalists in reporting its proceedings. It went on to declare that it wasa high indignity and notorious breach of privilege to print accounts of debates".I heard echoes of that resolution in the speech of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). In those days, it was even argued that printing reports of debates in the House would tend to make Members of Parliament accountable for what they said inside the House to people outside it. When I was elected in June 1983, that was my understanding, that I was accountable to the people outside the House.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) talked about representative government and the fact that we make ourselves accountable by going to our constituencies. I believe that we should make ourselves accountable also by ensuring that our constituents know what we are doing and saying inside the House, and what work we are undertaking. That is not being done at present. The press, as has already been said, publishes little of what is done in this House. To a large extent, that is because, although television has become the medium of entertainment in this country, the so-called popular press has become a type of "comic cuts" medium.
The House of Commons is harmed by not submitting itself to the most popular, modern and powerful medium of mass communication. If we are interested in allowing the outside world to know what is happening in the Chamber, we should be prepared to allow it to see on television what is happening.
We are living in the television age. Youngsters are brought up on television almost from birth. In many cases, people want entertainment. However, I argue with hon. Members when they say that people switch on the television set for entertainment only. Does anyone suggest that television was not performing in the public interest when a few months ago it showed the desperate plight of the people of Ethiopia? What a response that evoked from the British people. Do right hon. and hon. Members not believe that televising the proceedings of the House would evoke a response from the British people, and that they would not start to ask questions about what happens in Parliament, what our procedures are, why we do this, why we do that and why we should not do it another way?
350 The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington fears that television may bring about changes and that we may suddenly modernise our proceedings. Many hon. Members will say, "Not before time." The British people might realise that we live and work in an antiquated building and that our procedures are likewise antiquated.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many hon. Members would accept television if it were on the Canadian model and the whole proceedings were televised? What representation of our work in this place, including work on Select and Standing Committees, does he imagine can be shown in approximately 12 minutes' television coverage?
§ Mr. Wareing
I am glad that the hon. Lady made that point. Like her, and like the predecessor of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), Aneurin Bevan, I believe that there should be a special channel for the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Wareing
No, but there is no reason why we should not work towards it in the period leading up to cable television. All that is being asked for in the motion is that we set up a Select Committee. We have never had a Select Committee to study the detail and problems of televising this Chamber.
If we reject the motion, that will be perceived by the nation as Members of Parliament working in the same way and with the same aims for Parliament as our predecessors did in the 17th and 18th centuries when they barred the public from their representatives in Parliament.
The Kilbrandon report stated:People have tended to become disillusioned with Government—the general disenchantment may be largely attributable to a failure of communications.I believe that to be the case. People have become alienated from Parliament. Parliament is modelled for them by what the so-called cynical popular press has manufactured. People who report in the Daily Telegraph, Private Eye and The Sun are there to tell the public not to be interested in politics. They are almost part of a press conspiracy to ensure that the people do not know what is happening in the House.
When people get into the habit of switching on their television sets to watch the House of Commons, they will take an increasing interest in debates. They will want to know where Members are if they are not in the Chamber. The televising of the House of Commons will be an educative process. It will enable people to understand what happens in Parliament. They have already seen the debates in another place, and more and more people understand what happens there. I want them to be able to see what we are doing here and in Select Committees.
§ Mr. Wareing
We do not know. The hon. Lady is intervening from a sedentary position. How delightful it would be to have that on television. The hon. Lady could make points to her constituents, but she does not want them to watch her on television. It will be a start if a Select Committee considers the matter in detail.
Time after time important statements on Government policy are made from the Dispatch Box. The only opportunity that the public have of seeing Ministers questioned on those statements is when Ministers are 351 called to the television studios to be interviewed by Sir Robin Day, Alastair Burnet or Brian Walden. No matter how professional those interviewers may be at their art, none of them is a democratically elected representative of the people. My constituents and the constituents of every right hon. and hon. Member have a right to see their Members putting questions to Ministers.
A great advantage of the House of Commons is that the grievances of individuals may be aired in the Chamber. Those grievances may reflect problems encountered by many others. We are preventing information from being put across to the electorate when we say that they cannot see those grievances being aired in the House of Commons, Ministers answering questions on statements or debates on major issues which affect their daily lives.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight)—I am sorry she is not here at the moment—asked an important question about the cost of televising the House. The cost could be regained to a considerable extent by piping the proceedings live for a subscription to universities, clubs, newspaper offices and anybody who wants to see the House of Commons in action. The subscription would more than pay for a television Hansard. In time, it would pay for cable television channels.
It is wrong for the broadcasting and television media to determine which politicians appear before the camera. A few weeks ago I was walking along a corridor in the building when I saw a gentleman walking towards me. I thought, "I recognise him. I am sure that I have seen him on television." When he went past, I said to myself, "My God, that was the leader of the Liberal party, and I do not often see him in the House."
Let us modernise our proceedings by passing the motion to inquire and investigate. The House of Commons will be a more prestigious institution in our democratic society and will no longer be alienated from the people. It will modernise itself for its benefit and that of the British people.
§ Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)
Having listened to the debate from the beginning to the present moment, I am grateful to have the opportunity to add a few words.
It is now five hours since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House talked about the motion being a leap in the dark. I have listened carefully, but I have not been able to adduce a shred of evidence why that leap in the dark should in any way lead to any light. I am not convinced that anyone who advocates that the leap should be taken knows where it is leading. As was said by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) in his powerful remarks, we have a duty of stewardship in this institution. It is incorrect to lead off in a direction when that direction is unknown and the consequences are unforeseeable. The debate has not enlightened us in that direction; it is all supposition and emotion.
During the summer I visited Canada. Not unnaturally, I took the opportunity of asking, whenever possible of whoever possible, for views of the broadcasting and televising of Parliament in that country. I visited three provincial Parliaments and spoke to Members of the federal Parliament. What I found in no way supported benign statements about the performance of television in the Canadian Parliament.
352 The argument that has to be won by those who wish the motion to be passed is that the change is acceptable, quantifiable and manageable. There has been change in the House since broadcasting came in. It is not disputed that the House that is broadcast now is not the House that existed before broadcasting. That has been confirmed by several right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. Anyone who thinks that there has not been change and that there is not a different tempo when the House is being broadcast live has only to watch the point of order specialists leap to their feet when the little light is on in the Box in the corner.
Of late the Canadian Parliament has had occasion to consider its televising of proceedings. The committee charged with doing that produced a substantial report, under the chairmanship of James McGrath. He visited the House last week with a delegation from Canada. I had an opportunity to talk to him. He said that he would not go back, but I caught a certain reluctance in him to face the position that he had reached when he could not see how to get back. His report says:The evidence of the past eight years suggests that television has caused only a few changes. For example members now applaud rather than thump their desks to signify approval.I gather that the public did not like members thumping their desks, so the members now applaud. Mr. McGrath said that someone then discovered the standing ovation, so now they have standing ovations all the time. The report also says:Members also tend to move around the chamber to sit at the desks behind the person speaking. Attempts to counter the impression that a member is talking to an empty House are not really successful. No one is really fooled"—nevertheless it is done,The game of musical chairs simply adds an artificial element that would be unnecessary if there were greater public understanding of the reasons why members are not always in their seats in the House of Commons.The Canadian House has had television since 1977. It is remarkable that, after eight years of exposure, not one jot of further understanding has been achieved. So much for the thought that television will lead to the better understanding of this House. More needs to be done to achieve that, but in different ways.
On my visit to Canada I spoke to an Opposition spokesman about the competitive element in securing television time. He said that he made a good point—rather like the points made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—but without success because there was no television coverage. He did the same again—a good point, but no television coverage. The third time he said, "To hell with it. I am going all out for it." He employed histrionics, shouted, waved his arms in the air and tore at his hair. He said, "I got my coverage coast-to-coast on the news." The only trouble was that no one knew what he had said, and he did not feel very good about it. What a length to have to go to in order to secure television time. That goes against the reports we have heard about the idealism of the Canadian experience.
While I was there, a fish in a big greasy parcel was thrown on the Prime Minister's desk—[HON. MEMBERS: "A gift?"] Not a gift, and not very fresh, but it secured the attention of the television. The Member got his coverage. That may have been the practice before the Canadian House had television. That is what is meant when the report states that there has not been much change in the past eight years.
353 I could not find a member of the public who was anything but indifferent or derogatory about television. I did not speak to 18 million Canadians, but, out of interest, I spoke to people in the street, shops and stores. I visited the Quebec Parliament. The Clerk at the Table, who has just retired after 22 years' service, when asked for his views on the introduction of television, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, as only a French Canadian can, and said, "Ah, Monsieur"—
§ Mr. Shepherd
We were speaking in English, because my French is not good enough, and my Canadian is even worse. He said, "The members like it, but they no longer talk to the Parliament; they talk to their constituents." We must beware of this constitutional matter, which relates to the stewardship point made by the right hon. Member for South Down. Burke said that he was a Member of Parliament first and a Member of Parliament for Bristol second. Members of Parliament here are supposed to address Parliament. There are other opportunities and avenues for addressing constituents. We must not be distracted from our work in addressing Parliament. Anything else is an abortion of what this place is—a forum for deliberation.
I received a similar response about the televising of the American House of Representatives. Speeches no longer have relevance, because they are directed towards far-flung constituents. Let us not fall into that trap.
§ Mr. Lawler
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has read an article by a former Clerk of the House of Commons of Ottawa—a Mr. Fraser—who says:What have been the results after the experience? In the main very positive indeed. The activities in the most important 'room' in Canada are being seen and assessed by an audience much greater than was contemplated by the most enthusiastic proponents of parliamentary broadcasting.There is also evidence from the Speaker of the time, Mr. Jerome, who speaks favourably about the effects of televising the House.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am aware of what I might call the Establishment comments. I was referring to the gentleman I came across who recounted his views. I also watched television while I was there, and saw no fair treatment of Ministers at the Dispatch Box. The Tory party in Canada has enough troubles at present without everyone having a field day at Ministers' expense. When I watched the televised proceedings on the news, I did not see a balanced picture of what had happened in the House that afternoon, only the Minister in an acute state of discomfiture and the Opposition in a state of triumph. That may be the realistic position, but I could not see on television whether the Minister had had better moments before or after. I saw only the part where he was most discomfited. I had a profound distrust of what I was watching and wondered whether it was right.
§ Mr. Shepherd
That is perfectly correct. Indeed, I thought that it had boiled down to entertainment only. Although the proceedings are broadcast the entire time that the House is sitting, it is open to news editors to select those parts that they wish to show for onward transmission.
354 I hope that the House realises that the case for change has not been made today, and that there are pitfalls. I end with the remarks of a robust housewife from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who took me figuratively by the lapels and said, "The House of Commons in Ottawa has not benefited at all from television. Do not let them do it to you".
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
For reasons that are fairly obvious, Mr. Speaker, I shall be brief. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for introducing this subject and for her generosity in agreeing to curtail her remarks at the end of the debate to allow some more of us to speak, although she knew that I at least would speak against her.
The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) said that he believed that the machinery of television should not be allowed to influence our decisions. I wish to comment as a television producer and director—I believe the only one in the House—on what the machinery will do to the House. It has been suggested that we could use a micro-camera. Those cameras are being developed, but they do not exist. It is suggested that it will be unnecessary to light the Chamber for television. However, for good colour television, the Chamber will have to be lighted.
As an outside broadcast director, I know that we shall need four cameras. If we cannot hang them under the Gallery—at present, we cannot—we shall have to put them at each end of the Chamber. If we do so, we shall obtain extremely odd shots of those sitting on the Front Benches. If we light the Chamber from above, all the shadows will come down—any television lighting director could tell us this—and those sitting on the Front Benches will look extremely odd—[HON. MEMBERS: "They do already."] It is tremendous, Mr. Speaker; all one needs to do is feed them a line. That would be even more the case if we appeared on television.
There is no doubt that the technical necessity for television will change the Chamber. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) said, in time, the technological developments may be such that miniaturised cameras may be possible, but at present no automatic remote control camera could respond swiftly enough to an hon. Member intervening in a speech.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman's statement is incorrect. Those cameras already exist and will have been purchased by British broadcasters before we start the new Session next November.
§ Mr. Gale
I will not ask the hon. Gentleman what the response has been to those remote-controlled cameras, because I do not wish him to intervene again. Allow me to tell the Chamber, as a television director, that they do not react swiftly enough to record an intervention from another hon. Member. That is the technicality of it. The Chamber will have to be changed in structure. Holes for cameras will have to be cut in the back, and for colour contrast, lights will have to be put in. It is simply a technical fact that the Chamber will be hot. Hon. Members may choose to accept or reject that, but it is a fact.
§ Mr. Gale
No, I do not have time.
The only reason advanced for introducing television to the Chamber is that, in some way, it will enhance democracy. How will it do that? All the work of the Chamber will not be transmitted. If we record all the work of the Chamber, edit it and then transmit some of it, that will be phenomenally expensive, because we are talking about many hours of television recording and editing for very little transmission. We have a choice. We either show all of it, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said earlier, or we transmit some of it. If only some of it is transmitted then, with great respect to the hon. Members who have said otherwise, the editorial control will not be in the hands of this Chamber.
As a producer and director of television, I am aware of the exact processes involved. At the end of all this, will it be worth it? The hon. Member for Great Grimsby quoted some inaccurate figures about the television viewing of the Lords. I will give the correct figures. Three debates were covered live on Channel 4 on 23 June, 20 March and 15 April. The average audience for those programmes was 439,000 and the maximum audience of 747,000 was for the first debate, and it obviously had curiosity value only. We are therefore talking about a maximum viewing figure at any one time of 747,000. Any producer or director faced with those figures at any reasonable time of day—those programmes were transmitted at peak time and broadcast live—would have his programme taken off. The late-night viewing figures went down to virtually nothing at all.
We are talking about destroying the atmosphere of this Chamber and, if we are going to record it all, it will cost £2.5 million a year. That will be to transmit something and there is no evidence that anybody will watch it. Not one of the hon. Members who spoke in this debate has had a letter from anybody saying that he wished to watch it. There will be a minimal audience and no return. If we wish to introduce more democracy to the Chamber, we have the apparatus to do that in front of us. If we genuinely wish to take the British Parliament to the British people, the microphones are here, and we can dedicate a radio channel to do that. There are also microphones hanging in the other places that need to be heard, the Committee Rooms. We have the means for live broadcasts from this House and from the Committee Rooms.
I will be standing with the chairman of the Back-Bench media committee at the entrance to the "No" Lobby trying to persuade hon. Members who have not heard the debate to go into that Lobby, because we both believe that televising of this House would be profoundly bad.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I do not wish to repeat the many arguments already made, but it is interesting to note that, before this debate started, we were told that, like death and taxes, it was absolutely inevitable that the House would vote in favour of having television. Those hon. Members who are most experienced in the knowledge of the media spoke about the effects that the media can have. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Brinton) were honest enough to say that, if they were outside this House, they would press for televising, but because they are Members they do not believe it would benefit this House.
356 In the great days, the high days and the tragic days of the war when Winston Churchill came back from wherever he had been, whether it was America or the Middle East, he said, "Before I do anything I must report to the House". He said that in his memoirs. The Prime Minister of that day, as at any time, regarded reporting to the House as his most important task. We have been pushed by the media—we should be honest enough to admit it—into reading nearly everything about policy, irrespective of which party is in power, in the press, and sometimes weeks, if not months, before a statement is made here with all gravity. It is this House that must decide ultimately.
It has been argued, I think rather pathetically, that we cannot get the problems of our areas across without television. It seems that yesterday's debate on the Okehampton bypass would have captured peak time in Devon and Cornwall. That six-hour debate was important for the people in those counties, but how much time would the media have given it? If the television producers wanted to impress on us how good the debate was, we might have got 12 minutes. How much of the work that hon. Members have done for their constituents and their areas would have come over in that time? Precious little.
I have sat through most of the debate. What we decide today is important. The House is not just a talking shop. It is a place where great decisions are meant to be made and debated. I contend that we should not admit the cameras, in spite of my natural shyness of the media. My hon. Friends the Members for Gravesham and for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) are shy of the media. However, nearly all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken against the televising of this House have a good relationship with the media. It is sometimes easier to catch the eye of the media than the eye of the occupant of the Chair and we are able to put over our views as we know that, as long as we are being interviewed live, we cannot be misquoted. One of the great things about live interviews is that one is in control. If we make a 20-minute speech here and only seven seconds of it is used in a news clip, that speech can be made to represent 15 views. That will happen. We must not always think of the media being in the hands of the kind, the good and the honest. It is not always so.
Until we have sorted out the problems, the House would be wrong to give in to those who say that television is inevitable. I hope that we shall at least keep control of our House and of our destiny. To say that everybody wants television is to use the argument of tyrants and those who try to push and shove people into doing something that they know that they should not do. We are elected. We can be appointed and disappointed at any time. We do not need the media to push us into anything. We should vote for our conscience and the future of the House. In the end, we, not television and not radio, will answer to the people. We are the elected ones.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
There is one thing on which all right hon. and hon. Members agree—that the gap between the House of Commons and the public is apparently increasing. Those who want us to vote in favour of the motion maintain that television will fill that gap.
If hon. Members vote in favour of the motion, they may increase the feelings of frustration and powerlessness among their constituents. Politicians speak to their 357 constituents daily in their drawing rooms and kitchens and the public cannot get back at them. If the public were able to see the proceedings in the Chamber but could not come here to make a speech, the division between hon. Members and constituents could conceivably be greater.
Hon. Members can take many steps to close such a division. They could make sure that Hansard appears in every public library and in the libraries of every secondary school. I do not know whether that would be possible to implement at present. Years ago the weekly Hansard could be purchased from bookstalls, but today the daily part costs £2.50. I believe that Hansard should be available throughout the country at wholesale prices.
Many hon. Members have said in the debate that the function of a Member of Parliament is not restricted to the Chamber. Indeed, the majority of our time is spent outside the Chamber, however vital our function in the Chamber may be.
When the House was asked to support sound radio in the Chamber, we were told that the broadcasts would cover Select Committees. The media told us that they would give coverage to powerful Select Committees calling the Government to account. In fact, the only coverage of Select Committees is a BBC programme broadcast at 11 pm on Sunday on VHF only.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) that the Chamber is the hub of Parliament. The Chamber operates on motions, questions, debate and decision. There is also pontification, promotion of causes and probing of Government. Above all, there are good speeches of persuasion. Those are often the most effective speeches in the Chamber, but if speeches of persuasion are distorted by the media to create news value—and the media will be tempted to do that—distortion of our proceedings will be increased.
The trumpet soloists will be in the ascendancy if the motion is passed. I ask hon. Members to consider what a Beethoven symphony might sound like if it was played only from the score for the brass and timpani sections. That is not an unlikely analogy if, through the exigencies of the edited extracts, that is the view that the public are given of the Chamber.
There would inevitably be pressures on hon. Members and on how parliamentary business is carried out. If we wish the House to become a permanent, national, political television studio in an attempt to fill the gap between the public and Parliament which hon. Members have identified, we must adapt our priorities, proceedings and practices to suit the requirements and disciplines of the media. That is not the function of Members of Parliament.
In the Chamber, it is our duty to ensure the efficient dispatch of public business. That should not be done in secret. It should certainly be recorded. It may be broadcast in sound and it is published the very next day in Hansard.
Hon. Members must be publicly accountable—motivated by party passions and principles or those of our own deep convictions—but if the practices and proceedings which are the ball bearings of democratic government are in any way geared to requirements other than the proper dispatch of public business, democratic parliamentary procedures will be threatened. We shall be performing those functions to satisfy the requirements of one medium whereby we are accountable, rather than the requirements of parliamentary business.
358 Parliamentary democracy is very tenuous. Its gossamer threads are too fine to be subjected to the risks that those who support the motion would have us take. The House should seek other, more realistic measures to close the gap and defeat the motion tonight.
§ Sir John Page (Harrow, West)
My interest in voting today is to ensure that greater power and authority is given to this Chamber. I had a kind of road to Damascus conversion in the bath last Thursday morning and decided very determinedly that I would vote for the motion. This is a debating Chamber, however, and in a free vote we can be swayed by the speeches that we have heard.
As I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in support of the motion all my confidence dissipated but, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has said, one should not be ashamed to change one's mind, however frequently the pendulum swings. Soon aftewards, however, my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) spoke against the motion and all his arguments persuaded me that it would be quite wrong to vote against it. My hon. Friend said that instead of spending his afternoons in Committee, talking to disabled constituents or dealing with his correspondence, he would have to waste his time in the Chamber, and that poniard went straight into the wound.
In the light of that final revelation, I have decided to vote in favour of letting the cameras in—not only because I bought a carnation this morning at enormous expense in the belief that the cameras would already be here today, but because I believe that the televising of our proceedings, warts and all, will bring back greater power to our debates here, which is where it ought to be.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page), I did not take a bath last week or this week for the purpose of conversion. I took a bath to listen to "Yesterday in Parliament" to find out what had gone on while I was doing my correspondence.
I shall vote with great confidence against the motion. Although I have been privileged to be a Member of the House for only two and half years, I believe that the intrusion of the cameras would be a grave mistake and would destroy the essential character of this place. I believe that it would turn the House into a television studio and theatre. The microphones do not intrude, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) so ably explained, the cameras would intrude a great deal.
We should no longer be looking to you, Mr. Speaker, and we should no longer be looking to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer). Some strange alliances have been formed today. I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Walton has said, which must embarrass the hon. Gentleman as much as it embarrassed my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) to agree with all that was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The television cameras would intrude; the intimacy of the Chamber would be lost. It would become a studio or theatre. The press would interpret our proceedings. As the hon. Member for Walton so ably explained, it would choose the little nuggets that it wanted to televise.
359 This motion should be rejected out of hand. We should preserve the traditions of this great House. Those who want to hear our proceedings should listen to them on the radio. Better still, they should come and see us in action.
§ Miss Fookes
I am almost terrified to open my mouth in case I change again the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Sir J. Page).
It is clear that the House is retaining a tradition, maintained over 400 years, of getting very hot under the collar about the reporting of its proceedings. Nevertheless, I repeat my profound conviction that television is a very powerful medium that this House cannot afford to ignore. People rely either completely or to a great extent upon what is presented to them on the television screen.
Many of the arguments that have been advanced against the televising of the proceedings of this House could equally be advanced against any reporting of its proceedings. We could continue the debate all night and firm convictions would still be held on either side of the argument. However, one way in which to test it would be by adopting the motion. It calls only foran experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings.The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) suggested that we should be voting for the principle. I take issue with him. We shall be voting for an experiment. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made it abundantly clear that we shall have a further opportunity to reach a final decision. It would therefore be wrong not to allow the various views to be tested by means of an experiment.
In the motion—[Interruption.] I suspect that the general noise that I hear is an argument against the televising of our proceedings. Be that as it may, a Select Committee would be able to establish the ground rules. It would be made plain to the broadcasting authorities, whether ITN or BBC, that the House expects adherence to certain principles and that, if they fall short of those principles, we shall bring the experiment to an end.
The decision whether the experiment should go ahead rests with hon. Members. If it goes ahead, it will then be. up to the House to decide whether to make the experiment permanent. Tonight we are not making a final decision.
§ Miss Fookes
I differ from my right hon. and hon. Friends and from Opposition Members who say that tonight we should be making a final decision. The motion makes it quite clear that it would not be a final decision. We will have further discussions on the matter. Unless we make some attempt to sound out the matter, we shall never know whether my views or those expressed by hon. Members who feel that television coverage would be bad are correct. The House should at least give the opportunity for this limited experiment to go ahead. I shall be disappointed if the House does not make that one gesture towards television coverage of our proceedings.
In future we may extend television coverage, as many hon. Members wish, to Select Committees and Standing Committees, and even to having one channel which transmits our deliberations in full. The experiment would 360 not prevent any of that from taking place. Indeed, it might facilitate that. For those reasons, I ask the House to think carefully before turning its back on the experiment.
It is relevant to consider the 18th century debates, when the House was extremely perturbed about the possibility simply of the newspaper reporting of our proceedings because many of the arguments advanced tonight are of that order.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I do not want my hon. Friend to finish a moment early because we are all listening to her argument with great care. Will she assure the House that if the Select Committee reports in favour of broadcasting and proposes a form of broadcasting which is acceptable to members of the Select Committee, the payroll vote will not be wheeled out in support of television coverage, as it was in support of a recent measure to which most of the House was opposed?
§ Miss Fookes
My hon. and learned Friend is using some of his courtroom tactics. He knows as well as I do that I am not responsible for the payroll vote.
§ Miss Fookes
My case, which has been supported by many distinguished parliamentarians on both sides of the House, is sound and meets the needs of the latter part of the 20th century. Be that as it may, I hope that the House will at least give the opportunity for a limited experiment. In that spirit, I commend my motion to the House.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
I apologise for intervening at this late stage, but I have listened to most of the debate and am worried about a couple of points.
First, having had the opportunity to visit the Canadian House of Commons and, indeed, to steer the television cameras and sit in the seats of Canadian Members of Parliament, I know how uncomfortable it is. I assure the House that low-light cameras, which are tossed about like confetti in the House, will not be available to us for at least another five years. We shall have to bear a light level which will be uncomfortable in this assembly, which sits for longer than any other in the world. Those of us who must suffer on the Back Benches, sitting hour after hour waiting, hoping and dreaming to be called, know what it would be like if the light level were that which we must suffer during the short period of the Queen's Speech. We know what it is like. We have felt it, and we must remember that.
My second anxiety relates to the unedifying spectacle in the Canadian House of Commons of Whips ushering people around the Chamber to sit behind the next member who is to speak.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House proceeded to a Division—
§ Mr. McWilliam
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to move the closure on a point of order before—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is perfectly in order to move the closure at that time. I must put the Question.
The Question is, That the Question be now put. As many as are of that opinion say, "Aye", to the contrary, "No". I think the Ayes have it. The Ayes have it.
361 The Question is,That this House approves in principle the holding of an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by television; and believes that a Select Committee should be appoinited to consider the implementation of such an experiment and to make recommendations.
§ The House proceeded to a Division—
§ Mr. Mark Hughes (City of Durham)
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that a number of right hon. and hon. Members are still ensconced in the Lobbies in the belief that they are voting on the procedural motion. Could the position be made clear before the doors are locked?
§ Mr. Speaker
I have put the Question. I distinctly heard the cry, "Division off," in respect of the procedural motion.
§ Mr. Dickens
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many hon. Members were in the Lobbies when it was announced that there were no Tellers for the procedural motion. Therefore, many hon. Members are voting differently from their beliefs. Will you recall the Division, Mr. Speaker?
§ Mr. Speaker
Hon. Members in the Chamber and outside clearly heard the cry, "Division off." I then put the Question on the main motion, and we are now voting on that.
§ Mr. Dickens
(seated and covered): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was in the Lobby and it was packed. Not one hon. Member heard the cry, "Division off." That is the gospel truth.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot be responsible for hon. Members who happen to be lurking in the wrong Lobby, or even in the right Lobby.
§ Mr. Faulds
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.] Order! When the Division was called off, many hon. Members in the Divison Lobby—I was one—did not hear that it had been called off. I am sorry to say that many of my colleagues are as dimwitted as I am.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
(seated and covered): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I confirm what the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) and my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) said. I did not hear your calling the Division off and I suspect that there are 50 or 60 hon. Members in the same position.
§ Mr. Speaker
As there appears to be some confusion on this matter, I propose to suspend the House for five minutes while the Division Lobbies are cleared, when I will put the Question again.
§ House suspended.10.15 pm
§ On resuming—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think that the House wants any further points of order. I have already suspended the sitting.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis
I merely wanted to ask, Mr. Speaker, how what has just happened would be explained on television.
§ Question put. That the motion be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 263, Noes 275.366
|Division No. 8]||[10.15 pm|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Dover, Den|
|Alexander, Richard||Dubs, Alfred|
|Alton, David||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Ancram, Michael||Dykes, Hugh|
|Arnold, Tom||Eadie, Alex|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Eastham, Ken|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Evennett, David|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Farr, Sir John|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Barron, Kevin||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Fisher, Mark|
|Beith, A. J.||Flannery, Martin|
|Bell, Stuart||Fletcher, Alexander|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Foster, Derek|
|Best, Keith||Foulkes, George|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Blair, Anthony||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Boyes, Roland||Godman, Dr Norman|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Golding, John|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gorst, John|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Gould, Bryan|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Ground, Patrick|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Hancock, Mr. Michael|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Harvey, Robert|
|Buchan, Norman||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Hayes, J.|
|Caborn, Richard||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Hayward, Robert|
|Canavan, Dennis||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Heath, Rt Hon Edward|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Cartwright, John||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hirst, Michael|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Clarke, Thomas||Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)|
|Clay, Robert||Home Robertson, John|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Hordern, Sir Peter|
|Cohen, Harry||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Coleman, Donald||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Howells, Geraint|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Coombs, Simon||Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)|
|Corbett, Robin||Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Hume, John|
|Cormack, Patrick||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Craigen, J. M.||Jackson, Robert|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)|
|Critchley, Julian||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Cunningham, Dr John||Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)||Kennedy, Charles|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Key, Robert|
|Deakins, Eric||Kilroy-Silk, Robert|
|Dewar, Donald||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Dobson, Frank||Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Douglas, Dick||Knowles, Michael|
|Knox, David||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Lambie, David||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Lamont, Norman||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Lester, Jim||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Robertson, George|
|Livsey, Richard||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant)||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Luce, Richard||Rooker, J. W.|
|McCrindle, Robert||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Rossi, Sir Hugh|
|McGuire, Michael||Rost, Peter|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Rowlands, Ted|
|McKelvey, William||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Ryder, Richard|
|Maclennan, Robert||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|McNamara, Kevin||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Sheerman, Barry|
|Madden, Max||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Malone, Gerald||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Martin, Michael||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Sims, Roger|
|Maxton, John||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Meacher, Michael||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Merchant, Piers||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Soley, Clive|
|Michie, William||Speller, Tony|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Spence, John|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Spencer, Derek|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Squire, Robin|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Stanley, John|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)||Stern, Michael|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Stott, Roger|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Strang, Gavin|
|Neale, Gerrard||Straw, Jack|
|Needham, Richard||Sumberg, David|
|Nellist, David||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Newton, Tony||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|O'Neill, Martin||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Ottaway, Richard||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Thurnham, Peter|
|Page, Sir John (Harrow W)||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Parry, Robert||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Wallace, James|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Ward, John|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Wareing, Robert|
|Penhaligon, David||Watson, John|
|Pike, Peter||Whitney, Raymond|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Prescott, John||Wilson, Gordon|
|Price, Sir David||Wood, Timothy|
|Radice, Giles||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Renton, Tim||Mr. Michael Meadowcroft and|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Mr. Barry Henderson.|
|Adley, Robert||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Amess, David||Biggs-Davison, Sir John|
|Ashby, David||Blackburn, John|
|Ashton, Joe||Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Body, Richard|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)|
|Baldry, Tony||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Bright, Graham|
|Barnett, Guy||Brinton, Tim|
|Batiste, Spencer||Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)|
|Bendall, Vivian||Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)|
|Benyon, William||Bruinvels, Peter|
|Budgen, Nick||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Holt, Richard|
|Butterfill, John||Home Robertson, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hughes, Roy (Newport East)|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||John, Brynmor|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Colvin, Michael||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Conlan, Bernard||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Conway, Derek||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Cope, John||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Couchman, James||Lamond, James|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Lang, Ian|
|Crouch, David||Latham, Michael|
|Crowther, Stan||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Leighton, Ronald|
|Dixon, Donald||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Dormand, Jack||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lightbown, David|
|Dunn, Robert||Lilley, Peter|
|Durant, Tony||Litherland, Robert|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Ewing, Harry||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Lord, Michael|
|Fallon, Michael||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Faulds, Andrew||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Favell, Anthony||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Forman, Nigel||Maclean, David John|
|Forrester, John||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)|
|Forth, Eric||McTaggart, Robert|
|Freeman, Roger||McWilliam, John|
|Freud, Clement||Madel, David|
|Fry, Peter||Major, John|
|Gale, Roger||Malins, Humfrey|
|Galley, Roy||Marek, Dr John|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Marland, Paul|
|Garrett, W. E.||Marlow, Antony|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Mather, Carol|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Gourlay, Harry||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Gow, Ian||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Greenway, Harry||Moate, Roger|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Grist, Ian||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Moore, John|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Hannam, John||Mudd, David|
|Hardy, Peter||Murphy, Christopher|
|Harris, David||Neubert, Michael|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Normanton, Tom|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||O'Brien, William|
|Hawksley, Warren||Onslow, Cranley|
|Haynes, Frank||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Heddle, John||Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hickmet, Richard||Park, George|
|Hicks, Robert||Parris, Matthew|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Patchett, Terry|
|Hill, James||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Pawsey, James||Shersby, Michael|
|Pendry, Tom||Short, Mrs R. (W'hampt'n NE)|
|Pollock, Alexander||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Porter, Barry||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Portillo, Michael||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Snape, Peter|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Spearing, Nigel|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Raffan, Keith||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Randall, Stuart||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Redmond, M.||Steen, Anthony|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Rogers, Allan||Stokes, John|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Rowe, Andrew||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Thompson, Donald (Calder V)||Watts, John|
|Tinn, James||Weetch, Ken|
|Torney, Tom||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Welsh, Michael|
|Trippier, David||Wheeler, John|
|Trotter, Neville||Whitfield, John|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Wiggin, Jerry|
|van Straubenzee, Sir W.||Wilkinson, John|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Viggers, Peter||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Waddington, David||Wolfson, Mark|
|Wakeham, Rt Hon John||Woodall, Alec|
|Waldegrave, Hon William||Woodcock, Michael|
|Walden, George||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Wall, Sir Patrick||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Waller, Gary||Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours|
|Walters, Dennis||and Mr. Robert Atkins.|
|Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
§ Question accordingly negatived.