HC Deb 19 July 1990 vol 176 cc1223-76
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and other hon. Members.

6.29 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I beg to move,

That this House agrees with the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House in its First Report (House of Commons Paper No. 265—I). It might be worth recording my impression that one reason for the lack of overwhelming enthusiasm for attending this important debate is the fact that an equally important presentation by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is taking place in another theatre in a different part of the House. I dare say that interest will increase as we proceed.

As the House will be aware, the Select Committee, which I chair, published its report last week. Our verdict, simply put, is that the experiment has been a success and our recommendation—with only one dissentient, for rather special reasons—is that televising should become a permanent feature of the House. The report is long and covers all the matters of potential concern to the House, or about which particular anxieties have been expressed.

Let me begin by expressing, on behalf of the whole House, my thanks to all those whose efforts and expertise have made the experiment possible. They are listed in paragraph 6 of our report, but I wish specifically to mention the broadcasting organisations and Broadcasting Communications, which produced the signal. We should also pay tribute to the occupants of the Chair in this House and also to the Chairmen, members and staff of Select and Standing Committees, the Parliamentary Works Office, Mr. David Doig, the Clerk to our Committee, and most notably, if I may say so, the supervisor of broadcasting, Mr. John Grist, whose role has been a source of great reassurance to some hon. Members who were initially doubtful about the experiment.

I turn now to the Committee's detailed findings about the conduct of the experiment in the Chamber and in Committees. Paragraphs 16 to 33 of the report review aspects of televising in the Chamber itself, including the cameras, which have proved a great success technically, without being unduly obtrusive; the control room which, although extremely cramped, has worked remarkably well; and the cooling and ventilation system, which has, on the whole, been adequate to the task of dissipating the extra heat from the upgraded temporary space lights.

The lighting was probably the subject of the greatest apprehension before the experiment began. Certainly, the additional brightness—although it is at the margins of acceptabilty for television purposes—can be tiring on the eyes, especially towards the end of a long sitting. Equally certainly, the makeshift temporary lights that we can see above us can hardly be regarded as the embodiment of good taste and aesthetic excellence. But, by and large—I realise not everyone will agree—the House seems to have grown accustomed to the increased light levels, and has tolerated them as part of the experiment.

I should, incidentally, make it clear that if we vote for permanent televising, we shall have to live with the temporary lights for another Session while detailed work continues on the suitable design of a permanent replacement lighting system.

Let me next deal with the subject of sound in the Chamber, for this matter has been raised on the Floor of the House more than any other during the experiment. Its importance is reflected in the great emphasis which we give to it in our report. Our approach to the subject is set out in paragraph 23, from which I quote: We recognise that the first requirement of a debating Chamber such as the House of Commons is that it should be possible to hear the Member who is speaking, save only in extremely noisy conditions. The House is entitled to expect that every effort will be made to take full advantage of technological developments so that the standard of audibility in the Chamber is the best available. That being said, we think it right to emphasise at the outset"— I am still quoting from the report— that the basic sound system in the Chamber has not been modified for the televising experiment. I strongly emphasise that.

The sound system currently in use—that is to say, the microphones and the bench amplifiers—although it was the subject of significant modifications in 1970–71, was first installed as long ago as 1951. Technical advice, not surprisingly, is that—irrespective of televising—the system will need to be replaced or radically overhauled some time during the next five years. Work is already proceeding more urgently than that.

The files of the old Sound Broadcasting Committee, whose responsibilities we inherited, demonstrate clearly that complaints about audibility in the Chamber are not new, although I acknowledge that their number and frequency have grown since the start of the experiment. Quite why that should be is a question which has perplexed the Select Committee and its advisers. As the report makes clear, apart from some minor adjustments of the microphones near the Dispatch Boxes, there have been no changes to the sound system since the introduction of televising. I must also stress, as this was raised again in the House only the other day, that the bench amplifiers have been turned up as high as is consistent with the avoidance of feedback. They have most certainly not been altered—least of all turned down—to suit the whims of the broadcasters.

Nothing that I have said detracts from the seriousness with which the Select Committee views the genuine anxieties about audibility in the Chamber. It is for that very reason that the Committee has established a working party, under the chairmanship of the supervisor of broadcasting, to advise on the technical options for modernising the sound system. The working party, which is assisted by Mr. Richard Wright, head of sound operations at the BBC, will make its recommendations as early as possible in the next Session, with a view to any necessary work being carried out during the 1991 summer recess. The new equipment will almost certainly have to last as long as the present system, so a year spent now making sure that any proposed changes will work effectively is, in the Committee's judgment—and I hope that of the House—a price worth paying.

There are, it should be said, some very real constraints, which the Committee identified, on the scope for improvements in audibility in the Chamber—given what the report describes as its distinctive lay-out, architecture and political character. We do not have desks in front of us, we do not have individual microphones, and the House will not hold all hon. Members at the same time. When the House is very noisy—whether we like it or not this happens with some regularity—the Committee says that only a system of individual microphones would be able to cope". That is not feasible. The Committee has rightly assumed that the House would not be willing to countenance fundamental changes in its practice and procedure to achieve total, continuous audibility.

We certainly shall, however, be aiming to secure the most efficient sound system consistent with these practical limitations, because I have no doubt that that is what the House is entitled to expect. We will try to bring it up to date, to the highest standards possible.

It is only right to end this section of my remarks on a positive note. As we point out in the report, the production of a television signal of broadcastable quality from the Chamber is a demanding operation, and it has been carried out, the Committee concludes, with great skill and proficiency".

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

In the event that the House were to approve the report tonight and accept permanence as a principle, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that it is highly unlikely that the House would ever wish to reverse such a decision, given that the public clearly want cameras in the Chamber?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The development of opinion in the Committee, which I think is reflected in the House, is the best pointer. The Committee included several people who originally voted against the experiment. At the end of the day only one still dissented, on a conditional basis. I think that opinion has moved strongly in the direction of permanence.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does that mean that it is irreversible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Nothing is irreversible. We cannot bind our successors. Some eccentric successors may come along and undo all our good work, but I hope not.

On the whole, the Select Committee concludes that this aspect of the experiment has been handled "both efficiently and resourcefully." That judgment appears to be shared by the overwhelming majority of Select and Standing Committee Chairmen. That is not to deny that there have been problems—notably with the operation of the microphones and with the temperature in Committee Rooms on hot days—although, again, both are matters which predate televising. In addition, tripod-mounted cameras are less than ideal because of the amount of space that they take up, and many Chairmen would prefer the installation of remote-controlled equipment, as in the Chamber. Certainly the Select Committee takes the same view. I must point out that, even if we assume that the House will approve the Committee report today, the considerable additional costs involved make it unlikely that that development will come about before any permanent televising arrangements are in place.

Let me say a word about the effect of all that on the House itself. Before the experiment began, fears were widely expressed that the presence of the cameras would have a number of undesirable effects on the way in which the House conducts its business. For instance, it was claimed that hon. Members would "play to the gallery", that speeches would become a series of quotable "sound bites", and even that standards of discipline would deteriorate.

No one could claim, with hand on heart, that the House has continued to behave as though the cameras were not there. We have all grown accustomed to the initially disconcerting practice of "doughnutting"—although "doughnuts" appear to be in short supply tonight. We have all noticed some colleagues appearing in unfamiliar places to benefit from the more becoming backdrop of the panelling under the galleries, and it would be surprising if hon. Members—especially, perhaps, those of us who are able to speak from the Dispatch Boxes—were not conscious at times of addressing a rather wider audience. Even if we allow for all those factors, however, it is difficult to sustain the argument that the basic character of the House as a lively, often intimate debating forum has been changed to any significant degree.

In regard to standards of conduct—one always hesitates to pronounce judgment about them—our report strikes a mildly encouraging note. Despite recent manifestations of what might be termed "July Syndrome", fewer Members have been named or ordered to withdraw from the Chamber during the experiment than in recent comparable Sessions. As for the general level of noise in the Chamber, we record in our report your impression, Mr. Speaker, that it had not increased markedly during the experiment.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

For the record, it should be said that withdrawal from the Chamber is often related to the behaviour of the Prime Minister. If there were another Westland, doubtless it would happen again.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman can be trusted to make an original intervention in any debate—

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with that?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I would not dream of responding, in that sense.

I have dealt so far with the way in which the television pictures of the House's proceedings have been produced—a process over which the House has been anxious to retain firm control. However, right hon. and hon. Members are equally, if not more, interested in the result—that is, how the televised material reaches viewers. Those matters fall within the editorial judgment of the broadcasters.

The Select Committee commissioned a comprehensive study from the parliamentary research group at the university of Leeds, and the group's final report is published in full as annex 4 to the Select Committee's report; I simply draw attention to its conclusions on regional coverage. The group judges that the broadcasters have fully met the assurances that they gave before the experiment began as regards achieving reasonable balance and reflecting local interests. On political balance generally, the report mentions two points of concern, but also lists a number of qualifying factors that made reliable conclusions on that sensitive subject hazardous. For those reasons, the Select Committee deliberately refrained from comment, instead drawing attention to the statutory machinery to deal with complaints in that regard.

In the Committee's view—confirmed by the Leeds group—the volume of coverage in the Chamber has been pretty well as expected, with the emphasis overwhelmingly on extracts used in news and current affairs programmes. However, Committee coverage has, in the words of the report, been "vastly in excess" of what was predicted, and the amount of live coverage has been especially encouraging, given the fears before the experiment that there might be none at all.

Audiences for specialised programmes have been steady, although not spectacular; it is through news programmes that most of our constituents see the work of the House. As those bulletins are watched by many millions of people, we should not underestimate the extent to which the televising of our proceedings has opened up the House to a much wider audience. If the Select Committee has any significant regret, it is about the lack of an evening round-up programme of the day's parliamentary business on any of the terrestrial channels—although we recognise that that is a matter for the editorial discretion of the broadcasters.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman qualified that latter remark by referring to "terrestrial channels". There is an excellent evening round-up programme on British Satellite Broadcasting—BSB—called "Left, Right And Centre"; I am an occasional presenter, along with other hon. Members. Perhaps that format could be urged on other television producers, and there could be a televised equivalent of "Today in Parliament".

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman has underlined my point. I think that the Committee, as a whole, hoped for something of the kind. I suspect that, with the multiplication of channels, there will be an amplification of coverage of various kinds. I shall say more about that when I deal with the dedicated channel.

The House will be aware that the rules of coverage—the types of shot that the television director is permitted to take—were relaxed after about two months of the experiment, to allow a somewhat wider range of reaction shots and to enable the director to use a "mid" or group shot. In addition, a second wide-angle feed has been made available to the broadcasters, strictly for editorial purposes.

Mr. Dalyell

I am not complaining, but will the Leader of the House satisfy my curiosity? By what alchemy have the rules suddenly become more and more relaxed? I am not saying that it was wrong, but, after all the firm assurances that we have been given, I think that we are entitled to ask how it happened.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no question of alchemy. The Committee was not a Committee of alchemists but a Committee of parliamentarians operating in accordance with the rules laid down in last year's report, and those rules were quite clear. The hon. Gentleman says that he is satisfying his own curiosity; he could do so completely if he were to study last year's report, which said that this was an experimental process but that, throughout the days of the experiment, variations in the rules should be permitted. Flexibility was encouraged, under the discretion and the control of the Committee of which I was Chairman, and it was in response to representations made by the broadcasters that the variations were made.

The Committee concluded that the rules, as now framed, afford a reasonably clear, accurate and lively account of the House's proceedings. That does not mean to say that they have necessarily reached a final, immutable form. The Select Committee—or, more accurately, its successor—will remain ready to consider any suggestions that may be made for changes in the rules; however, it is my guess that they are likely to be no more than marginal in character. We seem to have reached a reasonable modus vivendi.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

Before he leaves that point, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell us whether the Committee examined the quality of the commentaries aligned with the programmes? I find that in a certain programme broadcast on Sunday mornings, the two commentators treat the subject in a very glib style, and I am not sure that they do any good to the presentation of the film.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I note what my hon. Friend says. That point was not raised with the Committee. However, my hon. Friend can raise it directly with the broadcasters.

If the House agrees with us that the experiment should be regarded as a success and that televising should be placed on a permanent footing, how are we to proceed from here? The report proposes that the current administrative and financial arrangements—whereby the broadcasters fund a company, House of Commons Broadcasting Unit Ltd., which subcontracts the production of the signal to an independent operator—should continue until 31 July 1991. In the meantime, the Select Committee's successor should work out the details of a permanent televising system, which would be submitted to the House for its approval by Easter 1991 and would come into effect in autumn next year.

We shall continue with the present arrangement—if it is the wish of the House to make it permanent—and, during the next six months, we shall work out the permanent arrangements that will thereafter come into place.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Is it proposed that the Committee, when it is reconvened—assuming that the House agrees—will examine the non-broadcast use of material from the House? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, I have written to him about that, and I hope to raise the matter if I am called. Will it be within the terms of reference?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Yes, indeed. The right hon. Gentleman has been in touch with me on more than one occasion on that matter. We have had several applications from outside broadcasters and composers to use material from the television archive that has not been broadcast. We have not found it easy to come to principled conclusions on the matter, so we have put it to one side and we shall look for principles to guide us in making the right reaction in due course. Most of us believe that the right answer will come with the introduction of a dedicated channel. That will put everything in the public domain and people will be able to do what they like. The televised material will then be like a copy of Hansard. It will be as available as Hansard.

Mr. Benn

The problem is not availability. Hon. Members can obtain any debate from the archives but must sign a statement that it will not be used. Like Hansard, non-broadcast material is available but one must undertake not to use it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That is right. It is available in record form but it has not been broadcast. There is no lack of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman's points, but if we move into that territory we must have rules to guide us.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned a dedicated channel. It might be of use to the House if he would talk a little about his thoughts and expand on the points about a dedicated channel. As he knows, an amendment has been tabled by 168 hon. Members calling for a dedicated channel in the fairly near future. It would be of great use if we could bear my right hon. and learned Friend's thoughts in mind.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The most unsurprising thing that I am likely to say in my speech is that I did not need my hon. Friend's encouragement to address myself to that topic. Clearly, I shall have to deal with that.

I shall deal first with the two alternatives that we have identified for permanent television and come on to the dedicated channel after that. The Committee identifies two main options for permanent arrangements. One is a House broadcasting unit, which would own or lease the necessary equipment and would be directly responsible for producing the signal and supplying it to the broadcasters. The other is an independent unit answerable to a Select Committee and contracted to or licensed by the House to produce the signal and supply it to the broadcasters. In either case the production of the signal could be carried out as an integrated operation incorporating coverage of Committees and another place, assuming that their Lordships are willing to consider such a proposition.

I know that some right hon. and hon. Members are attracted to the idea of a House unit constituted as a Department of the House. The Committee will certainly examine that option seriously. However, we shall want to explore carefully the extent to which the legitimate desire of the House to retain control over the form of the signal necessitates in practice the employment of the relevant broadcasting staff by the House itself. Equally, if the idea of an independent unit is pursued, we shall need to be assured that the interests of the House are properly safeguarded and that the broadcasters are protected against unfair exploitation by a monopoly supplier of the signal. Whichever alternative is adopted, the House can be assured that it will retain control over the televising operation through the Select Committee and, on a day-to-day basis, through the Supervisor of Broadcasting.

The financial arrangements could in theory range from total public funding to a scheme in which the broadcasters pay the full cost of generating the signal—perhaps through some form of subscription. Obviously, I must not anticipate the Committee's eventual conclusions, but I think it fair to state as a general principle—it may be only my view—that the initial onus lies on those who favour public funding to show why the broadcasters should not continue to be responsible, as they are now, for meeting the major part of the costs. The House might take the view that the division of expenditure on the experiment is broadly correct. The Parliamentary Works Office met the cost of changes to the fabric of the building, the House was responsible for the staffing of the Select Committee, including the Supervisor of Broadcasting, and the broadcasters paid for the equipment. All those matters will receive the Select Committee's urgent attention next Session and I hope that the House will understand why, given their complexity, we did not attempt to reach conclusions on them in time for this debate.

I now come to a dedicated channel, about which many right hon. and hon. Members feel strongly. It was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey). It is reflected in the amendment which you said that you intended to call, Mr. Speaker, tabled by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). Should we have a dedicated channel devoted to continuous transmission of the proceedings of the House—gavel to gavel, as the transatlantic jargon has it, although we do not have gavels in the House? The advantages of such a development are obvious. It would ensure complete coverage. It would avoid the problems of editing and compression into unrepresentative highlights which worry the House.

The Select Committee needed and needs no persuasion of the merits of a dedicated channel. The case for that was firmly upheld in the Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). His case was, indeed, totally accepted by the Committee. Paragraph 172 of the report says: We reiterate our belief in the need for a dedicated channel providing continuous, unedited coverage of the House's proceedings and we recommend that this should be provided at the earliest opportunity, as an adjunct to the permanent televising of the House. That is as far as the Committee goes. There is absolutely no doubt about our position. The House will be interested to know that discussions are already taking place on one possible scheme which, at first sight, appears rather promising. So there need be no doubt that this is an issue which the Committee has taken and will take extremely seriously, and on which we propose to take evidence in the autumn, if the House approves our report tonight.

The amendment appears to mean that the House's approval for the Committee's report, and hence for the principle of permanent televising, is conditional on the existence of a fully operational, permanent dedicated channel within 12 months. Strictly speaking, if no such channel were established by then, and despite the promising proposal that I mentioned, that certainly cannot be assured. So televising at that point would either come to an end or we would need to make it subject to annual renewal by the House. That would run completely counter to the main thrust of the report, which is that the principle of permanent televising should be settled once and for all now.

The amendment is also unhelpful in that it seeks to tie the hands of the House in advance before it has seen the outcome of the evidence which the report says that the Committee proposes to take on the subject next Session. In my judgment, the amendment is unhelpful even to the fulfilment of its own objectives.

Nothing that I have said detracts from the importance of the objective of establishing a dedicated channel. The Select Committee goes out of its way to endorse that strongly in the report. We considered the proposition which is explicit in the amendment. After considering it carefully and tightening the drafting, we concluded, with only one dissenter—my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North—that our conclusion was right.

I advise the House that we should now come to a conclusion on the main question. It must make sense to decide whether we shall say yes or no to permanence today. That will not in any sense diminish the zeal with which I and the Committee will pursue the establishment of arrangements for a dedicated channel.

The Committee proposes to follow up several other matters if our report is agreed by the House. They include the requirements of the archive. That embraces the point of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Last, but far from least, we shall consider the needs of the deaf. No fewer than 4 million of our fellow citizens are classified as hard of hearing, of whom some 2.5 million suffer from a hearing impairment sufficiently serious for them to benefit from subtitling. For that reason, a whole section of our report is devoted to the needs of the deaf and to the trials of subtitling and signing which the Committee has organised on their behalf. Access for the deaf to our proceedings is an important topic which will be high on the new Committee's continuing agenda.

In conclusion, I remind the House that the Select Committee's report is the outcome of a careful and considered evaluation of the experiment by 20 right hon. and hon. Members, seven of whom voted against the original decision to hold it. The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North now remains the lone dissentient—only in a qualified sense, but he can speak for himself later—is some measure of the extent to which the experiment has proved that the House can be, as the report states,

exposed to a wider audience through television without losing its special character. The success of the experiment reflects credit not only on those hon. Members who have always been in favour of televising, but on those who honourably held—some still do—a contrary view, but who co-operated fully. They bore with fortitude the inevitable changes in the appearance and working conditions of the Chamber and Committee Rooms.

We have been able between us—broadcasters alongside politicians—to develop an important interpenetrating partnership in which each has come increasingly to understand the other and in which, so far at least, we may all have some modest pride.

After decades of debate, not just inside the House, but outside, prompted by such notable and diverse pioneers as Sir Robin Day and Aneurin Bevan, who spoke strongly in favour of television in 1959, the House has the opportunity tonight to settle one way or the other whether it wants its proceedings to be televised on a permanent basis. The Select Committee's report gives a clear lead in favour of permanent televising and I commend it to the House without condition, qualification or amendment.

7 pm

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

I strongly support the motion in the name of the Leader of the House, but although I voted for the televising of the Commons and the establishment of the experiment, I am by no means an unqualified and uncritical supporter of it.

I had certain reservations about the way in which the experiment would work in practice. First, I was concerned about the effect of televising on the behaviour of the Chamber—I hold different views about that from Conservative Members. Secondly, I was concerned about the balance of coverage between the House and its Committees. My third concern was the political balance of coverage between the Government and the Opposition. My anxieties have been removed on several grounds, but I am still anxious about one matter, about which I shall speak later.

I do not want to miss the wood for the trees. I want to emphasise the main thrust of the Select Committee that the televising experiment has been a remarkable success. Thankfully, we are not dependent upon anecdotal evidence to judge its success.

I join the Leader of the House in paying tribute to the people involved with the report at different stages. I especially want to pay tribute to the Institute of Communication Studies of the university of Leeds for its research on the televising experiment. Its report contains a wealth of information and it means that our judgment can be based upon a proper detailed assessment of programme output, not on the views of individual hon. Members.

As a result of the research undertaken by the BBC on the public's reaction to the experiment and that undertaken by the Independent Broadcasting Authority on the reaction of hon. Members, we have a substantial body of research from which we can form our judgment.

The unequivocal message from the research is that the experiment should cease and televising become a permanent feature. The BBC research into public reaction to the experiment revealed that the overwhelming majority of people, 83 per cent., felt that the televising should continue. The public also made some interesting observations about us: 70 per cent. of them thought that most hon. Members were quite intelligent—I do not know where they got that figure from—59 per cent. thought that we worked very hard, which is undoubtedly true, and as many as 40 per cent. thought that we were trustworthy. The crucial figure is the 83 per cent. of the public who feel that the experiment has been a success. We should be answerable to them were we to switch off the cameras.

The IBA conducted a survey into the reaction of hon. Members to the experiment and it revealed that the proportion of hon. Members who supported the televising of the Commons grew as the experiment proceeded. I hope that an overwhelming majority of the House now want that experiment to become permanent.

The most interesting research was that conducted by the Institute of Communication Studies on the way in which broadcasters dealt with the material that we sent out. That material is no use unless it is broadcast in a way in which people find it watchable and can be assimilated by them. On page 35 of the Select Committee report, the researchers at Leeds university conclude: Broadcast reporting of Parliamentary proceedings has evidently been extensive, serious, responsible, balanced in many respects, even at times creative … It is thus hard to find a single criterion by which their record and performance during the experiment could be seriously faulted. That is praise indeed and it is based upon an assessment of the output.

It is also important to consider the audiences that we have reached via the various programmes. The report details the audience figures for "Westminster Live" on BBC 2 and its coverage of Prime Minister's Question Time, which ranged from 800,000 to 2 million. The "Parliament Programme" on Channel 4 attracts audiences of between 200,000 and 250,000. "Westminster Week" on BBC 2 attracts an audience of 300,000, as does "Week in Politics" on Channel 4. Even "Westminster"—one would have to be an addict to watch it since it is broadcast at the dreadful time of 8.15 am—attracts 100,000 of our fellow citizens—an average of 150 per constituency. If any hon. Member could address 150 of his constituents at that time in the morning, he would have a better means of communication with them than me.

Those figures are remarkable, especially when one compares them with the previous potential viewing figures. The Strangers' Gallery has the capacity for 157 people, but compare that with the lowest viewing figure of 100,000—those who watch "Westminster" on BBC2, broadcast the day after the events in the House. That demonstrates the success of television in making our proceedings available to our democracy as never before.

The overwhelming thrust of our findings is that the experiment has been a success. I shall consider the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) in a moment, but I hope that all hon. Members will be cautious before voting for any amendment that says, in effect, because we cannot provide a single dedicated channel within a set time, we should switch off the signal currently received by so many of the public.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend used the words "switch off the signal". Did he hear the reply that the Leader of the House gave to me when I intervened? He said that he could not bind his successors. He was speaking for the Government. It is not, therefore, the Government's intention to see television removed from the House through their initiative. That means that the right hon. and learned Gentleman accepts that, in the event of the 12-month period running out, another motion will be tabled next year. How does that mean the signal would be switched off? That is my case, but my hon. Friend has misrepresented me.

Mr. Grocott

I am not misrepresenting the words on the Order Paper that we must follow. My hon. Friend's English is the same as mine and the words on the Order Paper say: provided that within 12 months from the date of approval of this resolution, televised proceedings of the House are broadcast on a dedicated channel". That can mean only that, if they are not, the Select Committee recommendation is not approved. I must leave it there because time is short and I am sure that my hon. Friend is anxious to make his own speech.

Fears were expressed about the effect of televising our proceedings. The first fear was that it might seriously affect the way in which the Chamber operates. Many hon. Members, particularly Conservatives, were fearful lest we might become unruly and disruptive. My anxieties were the reverse of that. The evidence is not that television makes people unruly and disruptive. Particularly for public figures, the evidence is that television makes them bland and rather boring. Most television presenters are incredibly bland and boring, in my view. Television sanitises events on many occasions, and that particularly applies to sporting events. Horses do not thunder over fences but flow over them on television, and one never feels the crunch of the tackle in football.

My fear was that we should lose our passion and genuine anger of this place, remembering that justifiable anger develops sometimes when we speak on behalf of our constituents. Indeed, there is some slight evidence that that has happened and that this has become a less rowdy place. Personally, I hope that that trend does not develop further. I want it to be a real place occupied by real people, and I am thankful that, by and large, television has not greatly affected the House.

The person whom television appeared to affect most in the early stages was the Prime Minister. For the first three months she was almost unrecognisable to my hon. Friends and me. She stopped sneering and started smiling at us. She looked up and appeared to enjoy life for a change. Thankfully, she has reverted to type and the snarls have returned. I am glad that television is consistently showing people as they are.

My anxieties about the coverage were accentuated by my dislike of the rules of coverage that we approved some months ago. I am pleased that in January we relaxed the rules, and I hope that the rules of coverage will be relaxed further, not so that things get out of hand, but because we should leave to the television directors the professional judgments that they can make about which shots to use. I hope that there will be more reaction shots. We have nothing to fear from such a development or from what I should like to see—the establishment of a television unit as a Department of the House. So I should like to see more reaction shots and more freedom given to the director, and perhaps we can relax the rules on disorder, to which there is reference in paragraphs 81 and 82 of the report.

Another fear that we need no longer have is that television might somehow neglect the engine rooms of the Commons, the Select and Standing Committees. There has been no such neglect. Indeed, there has been remarkably extensive cover of Committees. The statistics in the report show that 93 Select Committee meetings and 36 Standing Committee meetings were covered during the period of the experiment. What is more, they got good viewing figures when carried live. That applied particularly to Select Committees.

There is no secret why such meetings are popular with the public. It is because they are intelligible. It also has something to do with the fact that people taking part in Select Committee proceedings talk in language that people can understand. The proceedings do not sound as if what is happening is occurring in a club. For example, people talk to each other using their names. Like all hon. Members, I am proud of my constituency and mention it whenever I have the opportunity, but in the real world people call each other by their names rather than by their constituencies. That helps Select Committee proceedings to be intelligible to the public, and I believe that in the long term we have lessons to learn from that, from the point of view of the way in which we organise our proceedings on the Floor of the House.

Another pleasant surprise has been the regional coverage, which is of great importance to many hon. Members on both sides. I ask the House not to rely on my personal views but, again, to examine the study carried out by Leeds university, which said: The interesting and imaginative record of Parliamentary coverage in the regions was particularly impressive not only for amount but also for its distinctiveness.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I dispute the findings of Leeds university on that point because, as other hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies will agree, the coverage of the House in Northern Ireland is extremely limited. It is biased against many hon. Members and in favour of only one or two. The way in which the proceedings of the House are broadcast—I should say, are not broadcast—is a disgrace to the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Grocott

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman put his views to the Select Committee or to the research group. It has been encouraging to note how little criticism there has been of the coverage at regional level. I can go only by the results of the research group, which show that that coverage has been most satisfactory.

I urge Conservative Members not to think that the changes for which they have voted relating to the broadcasting system could have no effect on the way our proceedings are covered. I find a curious split personality on the part of Conservative Members. On the one hand they constantly encourage the broadcasters by saying, "We must have more coverage of Parliament. It must be serious and praiseworthy". On the other they say, "We must throw television to the commercial winds." There are points at which those two objectives are not compatible, and the research shows that regional coverage in particular might be affected. On page 36 of the report, the Leeds university group said: Attention is drawn in the body of the report to several signs of BBC-ITV differences in regional television approaches to Parliamentary coverage, which might well be accentuated as competition intensifies on the commercial side of the British television divide. It is all part of the argument about television quality and variety of programmes. Conservative Members cannot have it both ways on such issues.

On regional and Committee coverage the experiment has been a great success, but I draw attention to our recommendations that there should be two additional Committee Rooms equipped for television, that we should have remote cameras for coverage in Committee Rooms and that the ITV companies must try to find a better way of spreading the cost of Committee coverage so that single companies that want only one Committee covered for their region are not severely financially disadvantaged in the way that they are now. At present, if 10 companies want the signal, the cost is the session divided by 10. If one company wants it—and all too often the one is a smaller ITV company—it must bear the whole cost, and that position needs changing.

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I hope that I shall have an opportunity of contributing to the debate later. In the meantime, I refer to the hon. Gentleman's apparent aversion to commercial television and private enterprise. Will he explain why, when an amendment was put before the Select Committee that would have offered the general viewing public start-to-finish coverage at public expense, every Labour member of the Committee rejected it?

Mr. Grocott

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not averse to commercial television. I worked for it for eight happy years. He knows that the amendment was opposed because it would have made acceptance of the report conditional on that one consideration. The hon. Gentleman has a worthy obsession, for a dedicated channel, and we know that it comes from an hon. Member who has been consistent in his opposition to the principle of television coverage.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

I refer the hon. Gentleman to a study for the Hansard Society entitled "Cameras in the Commons", which said, referring to Northern Ireland: the 1 March Questions also brought growing anger in Northern Ireland—mutually among MPs and broadcasters—on the way 'outsiders' were trying to get into the act, whether because their whips wanted it or because the Members wanted to be seen on television. It also said that in mid-March only questions 6 and 17 among the first 20 were from Ulster Members. At that point the BBC and Ulster Television cancelled their plans for live cover of NI Questions both for 29 March and for early May. Before television, the ballot rarely went beyond 25 entries, almost all from within the Province. Now it was over 100. Televising the House has not advantaged Northern Ireland Members and it has changed the attitude of the House to Northern Ireland questions.

Mr. Grocott

The hon. Gentleman will make his own speech in his own time. However, he knows that the report from which he quoted is also supportive of the experiment and of the effects of the experiment.

The other issue, which is more serious and more contentious between the Government and the Opposition, is that of political balance and of the coverage that Opposition and Conservative Members receive. The disparity between the coverage of the Government and of the Opposition is shown clearly in the research. I am fairly relaxed about that because I do not expect us to be in opposition much longer. However, as a matter of principle the figures should be of some concern.

I have always felt that television runs the risk of helping whichever party is in power. Governments have tremendous advantages with the media. Prime Ministers—notably this Prime Minister—can obtain media opportunities whenever they want them. They can appear on virtually any channel, at any time, with an interviewer of their choice and with the questions vetted beforehand. As we all know, the Lobby access and the Parliamentary Press Gallery access of Government Departments is phenomenal. At the most recent check, there were 166 Government press officers. Governments always have a huge advantage in getting their message across.

I was concerned—as was the Leeds university research group—when looking at the figures in table 6 on page 15, on actuality coverage—that is, clips from the Chamber—to find that there were 268 clips of the Prime Minister, 105 of the Leader of the Opposition, 445 of the Cabinet, 197 of the shadow Cabinet, 295 of non-Cabinet Ministers, 112 of shadow non-Cabinet Ministers, 770 of Conservative Back-Bench Members and 622 of Labour Back-Bench Members. I know that there are qualifications to the figures and they are spelt out in report. Clearly, Governments will have more coverage because, for example, Ministers will be answering questions. However, there is no doubt—and the research group spelt this out, so it is not just my opinion—that that should be an area of concern. It needs more research and I put in a plea to the Leader of the House—and I hope very much that whoever happens to be a member of the successor Select Committee will agree—that we need to continue to monitor the output of television from the House. It is no use monitoring it only in the six months of the experiment and it is no use relying on complaints from the public or from hon. Members. There must be continuous, serious monitoring of output. I hope that money will be forthcoming to ensure that research continues so that we can all make our own judgments and do so on the basis of factual material.

Assuming that the House approves in principle today the televising of the Commons—and I very much hope that that will be the case—many important issues need to be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington raised the question of a continuous, dedicated channel. At the risk of re-emphasising an obvious, but important point, I must tell my hon. Friend that the Select Committee was quite unequivocal in its support of a dedicated channel. In paragraph 172 of its report the Committee said: We reiterate our belief in the need for a dedicated channel providing continuous, unedited coverage of the House's proceedings and we recommend that this should be provided at the earliest opportunity, as an adjunct to the permanent televising of the House. I strongly support that. However, the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington makes the continued televising of the Commons conditional on the success within a year of the negotiations. That has massive disadvantages.

Although we may all agree with the principle of a dedicated channel, we should not lose sight of the fact that only a small number of people are capable of receiving it. The figures need to be put on the record. A dedicated channel can operate only by means of satellite, which people receive either directly or via cable. I have already given the viewing figures for the most important programmes, although I did not give figures for news programmes, for which the number of viewers is even greater. At present, 21.5 million households can receive the terrestrial channels. The number capable of receiving the single, dedicated channel on which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington is so keen are as follows. At present, 800,000 people have satellite dishes and 93,000 people are connected to cable, many of whom, but not all, will get the satellite—

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)


Mr. Grocott

Yes, I have given the figures for the number of households capable of receiving satellite transmissions, although not all the cable stations deliver satellite programmes. The total is 893,000 households—that is, 4 per cent. of households—that might be able to receive a dedicated channel if it comes about. The amendment proposes that unless we can devise a means to deliver a single, unedited channel to 4 per cent. of our fellow citizens, we shall switch off the transmission to the 96 per cent. who depend on terrestrial transmissions.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The amendment does not say that.

Mr. Grocott

That is what it says.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

The hon. Gentleman has made a most interesting speech and he has been generous in giving way. Parliament is currently censored because we show what the producers choose to show. This is a serious matter, although the experiment is working interestingly. The suggestion of a continuous channel could overcome the problem. At the most recent Education Question Time, we had an important question on discipline in schools. The BBC transmission the following morning truncated that question. It did not show the question as it should have been shown and as it happened. It dealt not with the issue of discipline in schools, but with the behaviour of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). That is a serious abuse.

Mr. Grocott

There will always be difficult editorial judgments and no one disputes that. However, the survey gives a tremendous plus to the way in which the signal has been dealt with, however much we might dislike individual decisions.

The issue of a single, dedicated channel as a prerequisite is a red herring. Only a few people will be able to receive it and that is the crucial factor.

Mr. Gale

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Grocott

No, as I want to finish my speech now and I have already gone on longer than I intended.

My hon. Friend the Member for Workington proposes to continue the uncertainty for another 12 months. An issue dear to my heart—and one in which I am strongly in favour—is to have a Department of the House delivering the signal in due course, with staff recruited to do so, rather on the model of Hansard. We are, after all an electronic Hansard. However, we cannot even begin to think about that if there is continued uncertainty for another 12 months, which is what the amendment would mean. We cannot start thinking about all the important, permanent matters, which the Leader of the House has already spelt out in some detail. I strongly hope that hon. Members will resist the amendment, which would not produce any desirable effect that the Committee has not recommended already and which would run the risk of wrecking the whole system.

There are other issues that we must resolve in the next 12 months if the House votes "Yes" tonight. It is important to resolve the problem of serving deaf viewers. We spent a lot of time on it this year, and I hope that the Committee will continue to do so next year. We must resolve also the issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), in respect of the principles that lay behind the use of non-broadcast material. Those difficult questions must be answered in the course of the next 12 months.

Finally, and most importantly, we must decide on permanent arrangements for the broadcasting of our proceedings that will stand the test of time. I hope that the House will agree that the only way to do that is to recruit the people whom we need ourselves, and not run the risk of constant staff turnover, which inevitably occurs in freelance companies. We need a proper arrangement of the sort that works so well for Hansard.

It has been a pleasure to sit on a Select Committee that appears to be achieving results. It is a double pleasure when neutral observation suggests that its work has been successful. I hope that the House will this evening make permanent the televising of our proceedings.

7.30 pm
Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

I join the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) in supporting the motion of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, and in urging the House not to accept the amendment that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will move shortly.

It is a matter of particular pleasure to me that the House stands on the brink of the permanent broadcasting of its proceedings, as I had the honour of introducing in 1988 the original motion for the experimental televising of Parliament, and of delivering the vote to the House with the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), who is in his place today. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that even since then, rather than over the 20 years that the proposal has been debated, there has been a sea change in attitudes inside and outside the House. Many of the worst alarmist fears have not been realised. In true objective fashion, right hon. and hon. Members acknowledge that television represents a new form of communication that is to their advantage and to that of their constituents.

It is appropriate for at least one member of the Select Committee to express its thanks. First and foremost among the recipients of those thanks is my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, who chaired its proceedings so ably, sensitively and with such gentle leadership. The fact that the Committee was able to achieve near-unanimity on all aspects of the report, and that our proceedings were businesslike and reflected the views of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, in no small way mirrors my right hon. and learned Friend's qualities and abilities.

I pay tribute also to my right hon. and learned Friend's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Wakeham), and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), both of whom played a long and active part in the Committee's considerations. No small degree of thanks is due to them both. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has just left his place, but it should be recorded that he, too, played an active, supportive and positive role over some years in the Committee's proceedings.

Gratitude should also be expressed, as it is in the report, to the Supervisor of Broadcasting and to the co-ordinator of the technical management. They and others delivered an experiment that reduced fears among right hon. and hon. Members and promoted the repute of the House outside. We must thank also the broadcasters themselves, upon whom many aspersions were cast—and no doubt that will continue to happen. They fulfilled their role responsibly, broadly abiding by the restrictions and rules promulgated by the House. The breadth of the editorial coverage they provided has done a real service to Parliament and the public. Many proponents in the television companies themselves have experienced frustration over the years and, I dare say, in their negotiations with the Committee. Nevertheless, they have our thanks, and we hope that they will continue to play as positive a part in the future.

It is important to assess the experiment in terms of both parliamentary and public reaction. Many right hon. and hon. Members who voted against the experiment in February 1988 have since changed their minds in the light of experience. That was evident in last July's debate, when the Select Committee presented a report that the House generally felt was too restrictive. The general tenor of that debate was that a more liberal approach should be taken, and that was reflected in decisions that the Committee subsequently took, which made the television coverage mirror reality rather more. At the same time, we have guarded against giving undue publicity to disorder or to the conduct of right hon. and hon. Members other than those who catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

The televising of Parliament has not changed the House substantially. To the extent that it has, it has been for the better. Some speeches have been more pithy. Perhaps they have not been a collection of sound bites, but the experiment has concentrated minds on using simple language that can be understood not by a professional political audience but by the people whom we represent.

One aspect of the experiment more than any other that has endeared the concept of the permanent televising of the House to right hon. and hon. Members is the unexpected popularity of, and interest in, the work of Select Committees. It is not widely understood among the public yet that a large proportion of a Member of Parliament's time is spent on Select Committee work—and very important it is, too. The spectacle of a civil servant wriggling on the parliamentary hook in an inquiry before a Select Committee not only makes good television but is what this place should be about. It is one reason why proponents believed that television would help to hold the Executive accountable. If there continues to be coverage of the detailed work of the House and of the probing of civil servants and others with an authority that is not available elsewhere, the experiment will have proved the predecessor of a permanent system that will gain widespread respect.

The case for permanently televising the House will be made by those who recognise that the experiment has, above all, introduced a new dimension to the task of communicating our parliamentary system that will be seen by history as a major constitutional advance. I believe fervently that it will strengthen the power of Parliament to hold the Executive accountable, rather than rely vicariously on those who report or edit our proceedings, personalities or words. Our constituents will be able to watch and to see in our eyes the true nature of the House and witness the atmosphere in which we argue a point of view. We cannot afford to ignore that added dimension at a time when television has become the principal means of communicating with millions of households.

The spectacle of the joust at Prime Minister's Question Time, the depiction of the emotion created in the House when issues such as abortion or the future of Hong Kong are discussed, and even coverage of the House when it is deliberating on what may sometimes seem dry or boring topics but which nevertheless have huge importance for vast sections of the community, can be properly imparted only by television. The experiment has shown that we have everything to gain and little to lose by making the televising of Parliament permanent.

If we were to turn the cameras off, that action would be widely misunderstood outside the House. Nor should we entertain an amendment that would make our permanent arrangements conditional on the provision of a dedicated channel—much as I am in favour of one—that will for the moment reach only a minimal public audience. It would be widely misunderstood by a public who have come to regard the broadcasting of the House as a welcome new dimension of our parliamentary democracy.

The proceedings of the House were originally held in camera, in secret, for the good reason that it was not the practice of the House to let the monarch of the day know what was going on. That was why there was no verbatim transcript of proceedings here and why no stranger was allowed access. But that is history and the evolution of our parliamentary democracy has been towards increasing openness with the arrival of Hansard, newspaper lobby coverage and correspondents, sound broadcasting and now television itself.

We deny our own power, we increase our impotence, if we cannot communicate. After all, half of any job should be doing it and the other half should be telling people what is being done. It is we who will suffer, in defence of the people whom we represent, if we allow Government and Parliament to have a monopoly of communication which we can choose to use and use at any time. We exercise a self-denying ordinance by not allowing a permanent arrangement.

Permanent such an arrangement must be because we have had long enough to debate the matter and to consider how best to televise our proceedings. If we fail to make that decision clearly this evening, we simply will not, in practical terms, have the investment in the equipment, skills and personnel that is needed to make a success of permanent broadcasting.

I defer to no one in my enthusiasm for a dedicated channel. I believe strongly that we shall have full representation of the House only when people can see an unexpurgated version of events, not the extreme aspects plucked from a debate, with the hotheads of each extreme shown on the news at 6 o'clock or 9 o'clock. Only when the length and breadth of the arguments are presented will people understand what Parliament is about and why Members of Parliament take the views that they do on contentious issues of public concern.

When we have—perhaps it should be mace-to-mace rather than gavel-to-gavel—coverage of our proceedings we will find a latent audience outside the House of people interested in our proceedings. First and foremost, they will be in the schools among the students of politics, those who should be able to see the way in which we operate so that they can assess our parliamentary system at work rather than through the text books. There are the farmers, the special interest groups, and the clergy. One can think of numerous groups who would like to see a complete debate rather than a report of it in The Times or a synopsis of it in a magazine or on television.

The experience in countries such as Canada has shown that there is a surprisingly large audience for the televised proceedings of the House and I do not think that there are any objectors to that among the proponents of the amendment. But I do not wish to imperil the permanence of our broadcasting by a condition that we must, within a finite period, have a dedicated channel. Whether we vote for that or not, the broadcasters outside are already getting on with a dedicated channel. Not all hon. Members may know that we had full coverage of the proceedings of the House in November and December last year on one of the Sky channels. As the Select Committee's report points out, later this year, with the new satellite that is being sent up from Guyana, there will be another 16 channels. There is no doubt that Sky would be able to do something about that. We hope that it will.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Why Sky?

Mr. Nelson

It could be any other proposer. There are others who, even within the past few days, have been putting forward proposals for partial coverage of the House of a much more extended nature, and that is to be welcomed.

One important matter on which I may not carry every hon. Member with me, and by no means all my hon. Friends, is my strong belief that, as a matter of principle, when we eventually construct permanent arrangements for an electronic Hansard or for the broadcasting of the House, we should not rely on independent people from outside. It should be legitimate for Parliament to vote public money for the supply of the signal and for the televising of our proceedings. I feel strongly that at some future stage a conflict of interests may arise from the involvement of outside people. The televising of the House and the building up of an electronic Hansard over the years must be kept firmly within our control if we are to preserve their integrity. We should be able legitimately to say to the taxpayer that it is an essential part of democracy that we should be communicating on their behalf and that it is a proper call on public funds to do exactly that.

There may be ways in which one could rightly defray costs, such as by the selling of a licence, and I am all for that. I am all for a commercial approach, with archives selling what they can outside the House. But now, just as much as when we originally debated the matter in February 1988, grave suspicions would arise among hon. Members if we were in any sense to relinquish control over the broadcasting of the House to outside influences, however responsible they have been during the experiment. That would be dangerous.

In conclusion, we should not only be considering permanent broadcasting in the domestic context. There is a fantastic opportunity here for the proceedings of the House to be an electronic beacon to the emerging democracies from the Baltic to the Balkans, from Iceland to Tunisia. We should not underestimate the extent to which people are buying satellite dishes, the extent to which communications and broadcasting companies are taking messages and signals from satellites, and the extent to which people rely on a free democracy and communication from this House as well as from others in the EC.

It will be greatly to Britain's advantage and our proper influence in wise and world councils for us to go ahead and develop with proper and urgent speed a dedicated channel which will enable us to be seen in whole, not just in part.

The amendment would make televising proceedings of the House conditional; if we accepted it, the amendment would be seen as a wrecking one. It would have the effect of giving two bites of the cherry and extending the experimental period. Surely we have debated this enough. This is the time for a decision. The experiment has gone well. Let us have the courage of our convictions and take this historic step.

7.47 pm
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I beg to move, at the end of the Question to add

'provided that within 12 months from the date of approval of this resolution, televised proceedings of the House are broadcast on a dedicated channel, unedited, from the start of the sitting to the rising of the House.'. First, I proffer to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, an apology for the great inconvenience to which I put you during the debate the other evening. I apologise to you for that.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Thank you.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My problem, as has been stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), is that it has always been believed that I am an opponent of televising the House of Commons. Let me explain how that arose and why I have always been misrepresented.

Two years ago I went to a Granada studio in Manchester where a programme was being made in a mock House of Commons on the televising of Parliament. On that occasion I spoke against the televising of the House by way of edited excerpts and I supported the principle of a dedicated channel. The editing led to the removal of the reference to the dedicated channel and I was seen as an opponent of televising the House. As of that date, I have always been known as an opponent of televising the House when that is not the case.

I have always supported the televising of Parliament by way of a dedicated channel and that was why I moved the amendment last year which led to the accusation that we had tabled a wrecking amendment. That is precisely my motive this year in moving a similar amendment, but again we stand accused of moving a wrecking amendment. That is not our intention.

After my intervention the Leader of the House proved my case when he alluded to the Government's commitment to proceed. By inference, that means that the Government will seek to continue the televising of Parliament. He said he could not speak for his successors, by which I assume he meant a Labour Government who, I assure him, would not wish to stop televising.

The public have seen Parliament in operation. A decision has been taken and the public would not expect it to be reversed. Equally, they expect an additional service and that is what the amendment would secure. Last year I voted against television because we were not to have a dedicated channel. I wanted no other method of televising the Commons, but this year I shall not vote against the main proposition because the public clearly want television to remain in the House.

I shall continue to press my case for a dedicated channel and shall return year after year with amendments until we get it. Last year 98 hon. Members supported my amendment. I was accused then of being in the pay of Murdoch, of being employed by Sky television and of having shares in Amstrad dishes. Nonsense, rubbish and garbage fuelled the campaign to discredit my case for a dedicated channel. People thought that we were threatening future televising, but all those stories were totally untrue and sought to discredit what I believe to be the way forward.

On today's Order Paper my amendment is supported by 189 other hon. Members. During the day that list has been reduced by 23 and the reason for it is simple: once again people were fed the stories about Murdoch and Sky television and were completely misled into thinking that this is a wrecking amendment. That has never been the case. There was concern because some hon. Members think that my amendment may be accepted. Some people are angry about that and I have had some heated discussions today about it. Equally, I have been aware of the considerable pressure exerted on many of my hon. Friends to withdraw their support for my amendment.

The tactics of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) are clear. He has said that if we do not comply with the conditions in my amendment the signals will be turned off and the right to televise will be removed. That is rubbish because that cannot happen. The Leader of the House knows that he could never publicly sustain such a decision.

Sir Geoffrey Howe


Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am not giving way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He replied to my intervention and now he may want to attach conditions to that reply. He would do well to read his reply.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman must allow me to intervene. The argument being advanced by him is his, not mine. My argument is perfectly clear and is built upon the hon. Gentleman's words. He says that until he gets a dedicated channel he will return year after year with an amendment. If his amendment is carried there would be no permanence about televising and we would have debates year after year. In the absence of such certainty there would be no confidence in the arrangements for making televising permanent. I do not think that any hon. Member is against a dedicated channel, but we want to secure a permanent commitment now. Thereafter we can have a dedicated channel as soon as we can get it. That will not be helped by the hon. Gentleman's assertions about my words.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I understood from what has been said that the arrangements for administering transmission will remain the same for the next 12 months. Therefore, we are not moving forward during that time.

Mr. Grocott

My hon. Friend knows that arrangements for the permanent televising of the Commons are quite different from temporary arrangements. They require much planning and proper recruitment of staff and the establishment of facilities. The House cannot possibly do that until it knows for certain that, without qualification, the Commons will be permanently televised. My hon. Friend's amendment would prevent that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

If my amendment were accepted, I am sure that there would be some swiftly convened meetings at which decisions would be taken. They would decide how the channel was to he funded and who would meet the cost. They would construct the arrangement for the dedicated channel, if only to secure the survival of television in the Chamber after June next year. That is the sort of pressure that must be exerted on broadcasters to make them come to their senses. At the moment many of them say, "What is in it for us?"

Mr. Austin Mitchell

It is not the broadcasters.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

They are behind the Commons broadcasting unit and have some responsibility. The amendment places an onus on people and organisations to come up with the goods, the dedicated channel. They would respond because they would be aware of the pressure. Last year's report said: If our orders of reference are extended as we have recommended, we ourselves propose to monitor closely developments in this field during the course of the experiment, so that any arrangements about the arrangements for permanent televising … can be taken on the basis of the most up-to-date information possible. We expected developments this year but nothing has happened. All the resolutions moved in Committee by the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) were defeated. The monitoring and the initiatives that we were promised last year have not occurred. The Committee will examine these matters next year, but is it any more likely that decisions will be taken then? We must exert pressure now to ensure that very important decisions are taken as soon as possible.

To those who ask whether a dedicated channel is a practical proposition I reply that one has already been in place. Most people and most hon. Members are unaware that for three weeks last year the House had a dedicated channel that transmitted from the beginning of proceedings until late in the evening. It was set up at a moment's notice because an operator dropped his commercial interest in a transponder that he had been using for transmission to the Netherlands.

Mr. Grocott

People could not watch it in Workington.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Anyone in my constituency with an Amstrad transponder receiving dish could have watched our proceedings for three weeks at the beginning of this Session. Some of my hon. Friends will endorse that. I inquired today about how long it would take me to set up a dedicated channel and I was told that it would take 48 hours.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

How much would it cost?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Within 48 hours a dedicated channel could be operating and could cover the whole of the United Kingdom on Astra or Amstrad dishes. The technology is there and the dishes are being sold. As more of them are sold we could get national distribution by way of a dedicated channel.

Mr. Mitchell

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I shall do so in a moment.

Mr. Mitchell

My hon. Friend said that last time.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin spoke about other ways of televising our proceedings. I understand that the Leader of the House is thinking about cable, but I do not think that my hon. Friend is considering that because he knows that most of the country will never see cable. I shall never see it in west Cumberland. It may be installed in parts of Birmingham, or Manchester and in the centre of other major cities, but we shall not see it. If my hon. Friend is thinking about other forms of public service broadcasting, he will have to talk about big money. The state will not foot that bill.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) talked about satellite transmission by way of an Astra transponder of which there are 16. I understand that one of those would be the cheapest way to get national coverage for the House of Commons at the earliest possible opportunity. It could come to the House within 48 hours. However, because things here move slowly, the House may take 365 days for what I could do in a couple of days. My amendment would allow 363 days of further delays, which arise out of the way that things happen in this place. I believe that we should go down that route as rapidly as possible. The technology is available. We are told that it will cost £5.5 million to hire a transponder and to fund the uplink, which I understand to be the means of lifting the technology from earth to the satellite.

Where will the money come from? The public should pay nothing. It could be partly funded through public subscription from multiple users of television equipment receiving the astral transmission. It could be partly funded through specialist advertising. It might be that, in the early years, it could be pump-primed by a small amount of public money, although I do not think that that is essential. The major television companies are used to subscription services because they use the Press Association and Reuters.

Where is the market? It will be at centres of learning, universities, schools, further education colleges, libraries, local authorities, financial institutions, corporate bodies, private viewers and, perhaps the most interesting, regional stations. Let us take the example of Border Television. Perhaps its chap in Westminster has telephoned to say that I have done a 30-second slot. Why should Border Television have to ring down to London to arrange for it to be fed up the line on some complicated basis? There could be a television in a studio in Carlisle picking up a continuous transmission from London by way of the astral satellites. The company could then select precisely what it wanted and avoid all that nonsense that it has to go through at the moment. We are going the long way round because that is convenient for people who are London based or who are in the business, and want to protect their position. I am not saying that especially about Border Television's representative in the House because I know that he has far wider duties and he does some excellent programming. There are vested interests in maintaining the present structure.

Why do we need a dedicated channel? We want more comprehensive coverage, which would help the public to gain a more balanced view of our proceedings. It would enable regional television more effectively to monitor for excerpts that it thinks are important to its local viewers. It would redress the balance between Front-Bench and Back-Bench Members by giving more exposure to Back-Bench contributions, which invariably come later in the debate. All the research shows that, to some extent, the Front-Bench spokesmen hog much of the broadcasting time. I am not saying that that is unreasonable; it is because Front-Bench spokesmen come earlier in the debate.

A dedicated channel would help to end the advantage to those who are often given preference in debates. We all know who we mean—the budding Fathers of the House. I say in the presence of my fine and right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that that applies to Privy Councillors who also receive preference. People complain, but nothing is done about it. A dedicated channel would deal with that unreasonable preference. It would provide greater coverage of Committees. The Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture said that his Committee had important business, yet often the broadcasters came only for the humdrum stuff because there were few slots available for material from Select Committees.

A dedicated channel would counteract the splitting of questions for sound bites from the Floor. I have been worried on a number of occasions because the questions asked on television are not the same as those that I heard asked on the Floor. Indeed, Ministers' answers are also split. Perhaps those who do the editing do not think that it is important to carry the whole question, but I think that it is. It could lead to a misrepresentation of the question or of the answer. If there was a dedicated channel, at least the true text would be available.

A dedicated channel would stop the sort of incident that happened during the Public Accounts Committee debate last year. Much as I love my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)—fine parliamentarian that he is—his contribution to the debate should not have received the television coverage that it did. The debate on the Public Accounts Committee lasted for three or four hours and we examined a number of value-for-money reports from the National Audit Office and from the Committee. But what was broadcast that night was an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover in which he challenged members of the Select Committee. I make no criticism of my hon. Friend because he did not select the material to be broadcast. He said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Committee, "You are all on the Select Committee and you are all part of the cosy consensus in this place. You all work together and you are all compromised. I will not have any part of it."

That was the sole contribution from the Public Accounts Committee debate in the broadcasting of the House of Commons. That is wrong and we cannot proceed on that basis. It misrepresented the proceedings of the debate. A dedicated channel would put an end to that sort of broadcasting and people could see exactly what happened.

I ask hon. Members to support my amendment. It puts pressure on those who are responsible to set up a dedicated channel. They know that it could be done rapidly.

8.6 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

As the only member of the Select Committee who voted against the adoption of the report, I wish to place on record my appreciation of the tremendous technical work and achievements of John Grist, who ran the experiment, Patrick Harpur, the originating television director, and his camera and technical teams. I say without reservation that they have delivered a technical experiment of the finest quality in the world.

There are technical problems that still need to be overcome, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House referred to some of them. I notice that the lighting in the Chamber tonight is miraculously at a slightly lower level than usual, but it still causes problems for some hon. Members, especially those on the Back Benches who get more of the glare in their eyes. The sound system is archaic. That is no fault of the broadcasters; the system was taken over by them and has not been modified for television. It it clear that, if the televising of the House is to proceed, the sound system must be replaced urgently. That would be to the benefit both of the television audience and of hon. Members, who are finding it increasingly difficult to hear if the Chamber is full and noisy.

Hon. Members have referred to the televising of Committees. Technically, they also leave a great deal to be desired. If we are to proceed, it is high time that at least some of the Committee Rooms were equipped with the same sort of remote cameras as there are in the Chamber. I do not think that there is any doubt in the minds of hon. Members that the cameras in the Committee Rooms are obtrusive. They also take up space that democratically might be better used. It is ironic that that was especially true during the proceedings on the Broadcasting Bill, when cameras took up space that members of the public wanted to occupy.

The Hansard reporters have made it abundantly clear that they find the sound systems in the Committee Rooms intolerable. A balance has to be struck between the microphones being used for broadcasting and for the provision of tapes for the Hansard transcriptions. Those highly professional people find it extremely difficult to do their job. If we are to proceed, I hope that that difficulty will be addressed with all possible urgency. I should like to think that the sound systems in the Committee Rooms might be unceremoniously ripped out and replaced during the summer recess.

Those technical criticisms are valid, but they do not detract from the professionalism and technical expertise that has gone into the experiment. It justifies the work that the original Select Committee put into the preparation of the experiment. That Select Committee was severely criticised by hon. Members, including some who are in the Chamber tonight, for inordinate delay. Apart from those who were hellbent on getting the cameras in at any price, most hon. Members probably recognise that almost a year of preparatory work was extremely worth while. We were able to learn from the experience of others, and as a result we were able to require and be given a state-of-the-art experiment. I am most grateful to all those who took part in it.

The Select Committee report touches on some vital matters that will have to be addressed in future, but it omits others. It is still a tremendous sadness to me that we have cameras in the Chamber and in some Committee Rooms, yet we are not prepared to provide Members of Parliament with the communications and information systems that the Canadian Parliament, which contributed so much to our understanding, already enjoys.

The Oasis system is available to all Canadian Members of Parliament and is quite exceptional, but even that is becoming outdated. It is now technically possible for every right hon. and hon. Member to have in his or her office a fax machine and a printer producing, for example, an electronic Hansard. There is no reason for us to destroy the Amazon rain forests that are lying on the Benches now. All that could appear on screen in our offices alongside coverage of the Chamber, recalled coverage of the Chamber from the Library, the databases that are already available, and a host of other material.

One of my original objections to the experiment was that I believed then, as I do now, that it is an experiment in "info-tainment" that does very little to enhance the working lives, the abilities and the performance of right hon. and hon. Members. I am sad that the Select Committee report does not address the ways in which we may improve our performance on behalf of our constituents by using to the best possible advantage the technologies that are now available.

Mr. Nelson

One of the arguments often adduced against us having that obvious and necessary facility to represent the interests of our constituents is that the House would be less live and that fewer hon. Members would be present in the Chamber. It seems to me that all hon. Members would attend debates that they wished to attend and those who were not in the Chamber would be better informed about the debates if they had that facility. The argument is complete nonsense and should be turned on its head.

Mr. Gale

There is an irony in that. As my hon. Friend will recall, I voted against the original experiment but, when the decision had been taken, I voted for a free-for-all. I wanted the cameras to show the Chamber as it is. The House—including some Opposition Members who voted for the experiment—decided to restrict what the cameras could show, so that, were we to have a dedicated channel, the viewing public would not be aware that there are now precisely 17 Members in the Chamber.

We cannot receive what is happening in the Chamber in our offices, but I find it hard to believe that there will be fewer than 17 hon. Members here were we allowed to watch the proceedings while sitting at out desks. Quite the reverse could happen. There is a strong argument that, if an hon. Member sitting in his office saw, for example, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) making his compelling although misguided speech, he might wish to rush down to the Chamber to intervene, so such a facility could bring more hon. Members to the Chamber.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to provisions for the deaf. The Select Committee has done a considerable amount of work and has taken evidence from a number of interested bodies, including the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. If the televising of the House is to proceed, we must urgently make provision for the deaf. That is part of the Select Committee's continuing work. We cannot emphasise too strongly our strength of feeling about that important matter.

I now come to the crux of the debate—the dedicated channel. I have listened with great interest to my hon. Friends and colleagues on the Select Committee who do not share my view. I should like to retrace the history of just a tiny part of the televising debate and to recall some comments that have been made in the past 10 years.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) sought to introduce the televising of the House in a short debate on 2 November 1983. Of course, there was no experiment then. The hon. Gentleman said: What is the relevance to the lives of the public of a series of impressive, well-considered debates if they hear little of those debates?"—[Official Report, 2 November 1983; Vol. 47, c. 876.] He used that argument for the introduction of the cameras into the Chamber. That debate was lost, but I have never forgotten those words. What is the point of us speaking here if the public can see or hear little of our debates? Now we have television cameras in the Chamber, but the public can still see or hear very little of our debates.

On 12 June 1989, we debated the first report of the Select Committee on televising the House. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) referred to a dedicated channel as an amendment similar to that on the Order Paper had been tabled. He said that most people favour it as soon as it is technically possible … Having taken part in the Committee's deliberations, I am reasonably convinced that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee want a dedicated channel as soon as that is technically possible. Unfortunately, he also said:

our investigations have shown that there is no prospect of achieving such a dedicated channel by the beginning of the experiment."—[Official Report, 12 June 1989, Vol. 154, c. 618–22.]. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), who won that debate and is largely responsible for the fact that we now have cameras in the Chamber, although I do not hold that against him, addressed the amendment that was similar to that on the Order Paper today by saying: I will explain why the first is a wrecking amendment. He used the same words that he used tonight. We are concerned with an experiment and the House is concerned that the Select Committee should bring forward recommendations for its implementation. Not unreasonably, it is trying to impose it by the autumn of this year. He addressed the provision of a dedicated channel, saying: it is not a practical arrangement for the short term. If it were made a condition of the package of the main motion it may result in the whole experiment being dropped. It should be seen for what it is: a wrecking amendment which should be dismissed by the House."—[Official Report, 12 June 1989; Vol. 154, c. 649.] He used precisely the same words this evening.

Earlier this evening my hon. Friend referred, as did the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), to the fact that the House has had a dedicated channel for three weeks. He put forward an extremely compelling argument for a dedicated channel. Therefore, I hope that he will support us in the Lobby. He referred to the dedicated channel experiment, and he did so with some pride. I have to confess that it was I who told the hon. Member for Workington that it would be possible to set up a dedicated channel in 48 hours. However, to set the mind of the House at rest, it is not quite that easy.

During the last summer recess, I spent some time with people at Sky Television, who were interested in demonstrating that this could be done. I also went to see the Astra television people in Luxembourg. To set the mind of the House further at rest, Mr. Rupert Murdoch does not own any shares in Astra.

The Astra television people said they were willing to provide a transponder. British Telecom was also helpful. As one of the companies that is capable of uplinking a signal, it said that it would be willing to donate its services for a trial period. To its eternal credit, House of Commons Broadcasting Ltd. was not obstructive. It said that for a period we could have the signal free.

Therefore, we had the satellite transponder, the company to handle the signal—Sky—the company to uplink it—British Telecom—and the signal from House of Commons Broadcasting. That which we were told this time last year was technically impossible happened at the start of the experiment. On day one—the state opening of Parliament—the House had a dedicated channel. However, the House did not have the courage to go through with it, because it costs money.

Much has been made of the success of the experiment. The hon. Member for The Wrekin quoted reams from a Leeds university report. He also quoted figures. It is curious that both my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester and the hon. Member for The Wrekin derided the satellite audience—800,000, they said—while quoting figures of, at the lowest, 100,000 viewers and a maximum of 1 million viewers to demonstrate that the experiment has been a success.

Mr. Grocott

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gale

Of course I shall give way. I tried to intervene during the hon. Gentleman's speech for exactly this reason.

Mr. Grocott

The hon. Gentleman must compare like with like. One has to compare the number of people who are able to receive the terrestrial channels—21.5 million—with the number of people who can receive satellite and cable television, which is fewer than 900,000. He cannot compare the viewing numbers using the one system with the maximum number of people who are capable of using the other system. Who knows how few would watch our proceedings were they available on cable and satellite? That would be the real comparison.

Mr. Gale

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can quantify democracy. A large number of people are able now to receive satellite transmissions, either by dish or from satellite to cable head end, by cable. That number will grow astronomically over the next few years. That has been used as an excuse for doing nothing. The electorate have been denied the democracy that my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester and the hon. Member for The Wrekin referred to as being the reason for going ahead with the experiment.

My hon. Friend used grand words: he referred to emerging eastern European nations. He also used the word "beacon." Where is that beacon? It is available now, technically, to those emerging eastern European nations by satellite, but they cannot get it because we are denying it to them. It is time that we put our cards on the table and decided whether all that we are doing is providing clips to tart up "'The Nine o'clock News" or "The News at Ten" or whether we believe in something more significant. If we do, it is time that we got on with the job.

Mr. Lewis Stevens (Nuneaton)

My hon. Friend is enthusiastic about imposing a dedicated channel on the nation, but is he really enthusiastic about one, two or three channels? Earlier speakers have referred to the great success of televising the Select Committees. If one dedicated channel shows the proceedings in this Chamber, it appears that my hon. Friend would be satisfied to have clips from the important Select Committees and Standing Committees, which would be on a different basis.

Mr. Gale

Let me deal with that technical argument. A year ago, we were told that we could not do it at all, but we debunked that theory and proved in three glorious weeks that it could be done, and it was done. However, that was not enough. Now we must demonstrate how it can be taken forward. The train is leaving the station. The amendment is valid. If we do not move forward quickly, there will be another excuse.

We lost the Astra transmission because the last Astra transponder was sold for commercial purposes. Later this year another Astra satellite, with 16 channels, is to be launched. Some of the channels have been sold in advance of the launch. However, some of them are still available. Shall we come back here in a year's time and say, "We should love to do it, but unfortunately no transponders are available because they have all been sold"? Or shall we take the decision now and allow the electorate to see the House properly at work? It can be done. By the time that the House sits again in the autumn, it would be possible to connect us up, if we chose to do so, in a couple of days.

We have to ask how it is to be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester asked a salient question. The C-Span organisation in the United States has been cited as a shining example of televising democracy. C-Span is funded by the United States Congress. First and foremost, it is paid for by the state.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

C-Span is financed by the cable industry. It takes 3 cents out of every dollar going to cable. That is how the money is provided. The signal is provided by Congress; the funding is by the cable industry.

Mr. Gale

I have to correct the hon. Gentleman. It was I who first introduced him to C-Span. He ought to be aware that originally C-Span was funded entirely by Congress.

C-Span now has two dedicated channels, not one, because it is necessary to show the House of Representatives and the Senate at work, with explanatory interviews and the work of the committees.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

And it shows the House of Commons live.

Mr. Gale

Yes, that is an irony. My hon. Friend says that it shows the House of Commons live. Is it not perverse that the American nation can see the House of Commons live more frequently than we can in the United Kingdom? The answer is that, eventually, we shall need more than one dedicated channel if we are to do the job properly, but let us try to walk before we run. Let us go for what is possible now. What is possible this autumn is one dedicated channel. There would be no great difficulty about providing it. The next argument, therefore, if technically I am right, and I believe that I am, is how it will be paid for.

I moved an amendment in the Select Committee. That is why I voted against the report. Part of the amendment was adopted. The Committee was a little mealy-mouthed about it. In the amendment to the report, I said that, as a prerequisite to the permanent televising of the House, a dedicated channel should be provided, if necessary at public expense. It will be no great surprise when I say that the words "if necessary at public expense" stuck in the craw of some people. It was unacceptable to them. Therefore, I was prepared to go part way and agree the word "adjunct" with my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester who gave me particular support. Nobody, however, could agree about funding.

It has been said, correctly, that approaches have been made to House of Commons Broadcasting. Let me put my cards on the table. The approach was made by United Artists. It approached a number of hon. Members for advice. It is investing heavily in cable systems. Originally, it was interested in supplying the House on a gavel-to-gavel basis. It would have been made available to relatively few cable viewers.

Most of us said that that was not what we wanted. We want as many people as possible to be able to see this House when they want to, not when somebody tells them they have to. Today United Artists has been talking to John Grist, House of Commons Broadcasting and various others to see whether they can come up with a proposal. That is one expression of commercial interest already.

Those of us who believe that satellite is the answer do so because it is the best and quickest blanket-delivery system. The outlying farmhouses that will not get cable for a long time—the type of house referred to by the hon. Member for The Wrekin—can have a dish. However, we do not want every rooftop in London or Birmingham to be covered in dishes. We hope and believe that Britain will be cabled as soon as possible. The best way of delivering the House of Commons and many other services to those households is by satellite to cable head end and by cable to the home. The satellite is available now. We must take it before the train leaves the station and before we can use it again as an excuse for doing nothing.

That will cost money. The rough estimate is that it will cost about £5.5 million a year. Who pays? The hon. Member for The Wrekin went through a shopping list of people who might pay. It may be necessary to put public money into the establishment of a House of Commons unit and a dedicated channel. I am prepared to see that happen. If we believe that this has something to do with democracy—the House has apparently voted for the presence of the cameras on the assumption that it does—we must take that to its logical conclusion. If the public—both of those who watch—want the service, they must be prepared to vote the means. That is taxpayers' money.

I am no great advocate of the expenditure of more public funds, but I believe that the public will get their money back. I am prepared to see the establishment of a House of Commons unit and, if the House wishes, I am prepared to see the franchise offered to the highest bidder. That person will make money out of an experiment such as this and out of a dedicated broadcasting system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) asked about Committees. As we know, the House sits from 2.30 in the afternoon to about 1 am or 2 am on most nights. Occasionally it goes all night. However, on many nights there are probably about 12 hours of air time when the House is not sitting. That could be available for Committee coverage, political discussions, interviews and, if necessary, advertising. However, I do not think that we need go down that route.

The satellite system is by far the best method of delivering the signal of the House to the small independent television companies. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) is in his place. He has a particular interest in the reception in Scotland. The fastest way to get the signal to his viewers is by satellite. We all know that, if a major story is breaking in the House and the hand is sweeping round towards 6 o'clock, the big companies with the greatest clout such as Granada, Central and the London stations will have the line time. The small companies are pushed to one side. By satellite, every company can have access to what it wants when it happens. I believe that satellite delivery to independent stations and to BBC regional stations is the cheapest way of delivering the signal. It would save enormous sums on line costs, and I believe that those stations would be prepared to pay.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question? He said that the transponder lines will be lost unless we take them up now. What will happen if they are lost? Are any other satellites coming on stream? When will the window open again?

Mr. Gale

The Hughes Corporation of America has said that it intends to launch a satellite with 104 channels. However, that will not be for another two years, because it intends to go for digital picture transmission and that is a developing technology. I am not saying that there are not other potential channels available to us, but if we choose to take the plunge we have a simple and ready-made system now. We know that it works because we have tried it.

In addition to the independent companies that I believe will wish to subscribe, we have those which already subscribe such as C-Span, American television which finds the House of compelling interest. In fact, it finds it of greater interest than does the United Kingdom audience. There is Canadian political television and the Commonwealth in its entirety. There will be a demand for European satellite transmissions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester said, the sooner we can show the work of this House as a democratic assembly on satellite to the developing democracies of eastern Europe, the better. We can do it now.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

My hon. Friend has listed a number of commercial television companies in this country, such as C-Span and Canadian television, which he said would pay towards the running of the highly expensive transponder. Does he have any indication from any of those companies that they would be prepared to pay? I do not believe that they would pay anything.

Mr. Gale

I am interested in the phrase "highly expensive". My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) has worked for the BBC. He will know that, in broadcasting terms, £5.5 million is a drop in the ocean. To many people that sounds like a lot of money, but to Independent Television companies and to the BBC it is peanuts. It is peanuts that are readily and easily recoupable. The answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes. I cannot remember whether he came with us to Canada when we took evidence from the Canadian House. The Canadian media get their signal free, but I am sure that he will recall that, when I asked the press gallery in Ontario whether it would be prepared to pay, the answer was an unequivocal yes.

I believe that there is a market in the City. I see no reason why City institutions and industries who find the workings of the House of value in their business life should not be prepared to pay a subscription. If we go down this road and create an additional arm to the democracy of the House, as I hope we will, the British electorate must have this service free of charge. I see no reason why those who have a commercial interest in the re-broadcasting of material should not be prepared to pay for it. The principle is well established. Commercial companies subscribe cheerfully to Reuters as a news service, the Press Association and Visnews, which produces television pictures which those companies buy. There is no reason why they should not subscribe and possibly save money on line costs.

What have we come down to? The system can be paid for by the taxpayer if the House wills it, or the money can be recouped from industry. It is technically possible now. There is nothing in the amendment, which I and another 180 hon. Members have signed, that will deny the continuation of the experiment. The suggestion that if we take this route the House will be switched off is nonsense. We are seeking to concentrate the mind of the House. A year ago, we were told that this was a wrecking amendment. We will not buy that argument tonight. We have demonstrated that it can be done. We believe that, if it is to go ahead, the public will want it done. It can be done within the next 12 months, and we should get on and do it.

We have a chance to decide tonight either to treat the United Kingdom electorate like grown-ups and allow them to decide what television from the House they see, or we can go on allowing Auntie BBC and Uncle ITN to decide which bits of the House are fit to be seen. I believe that the former is infinitely desirable. It is possible now, and I hope that the House will vote for it.

8.38 pm
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I welcome the success of the experiment. Congratulations have come from both sides of the House. I hope, with the exception of the amendment, that the outcome of the rest of the votes at the end of the debate will be something of a foregone conclusion in that the House will clearly show its support for putting the televising of our proceedings on a permanent basis.

The history of these debates, not least of the past two years, stretching back to when the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) was introducing Bills and agitating—

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Positively prehistoric!

Mr. Kennedy

I acknowledge that fact.

It is heartening that the principle of televising is not the subject of debate and that technicalities or aspects of that principle are engendering more heat across the Chamber.

Two fears were expressed at the outset, the first of which was the intrusiveness of cameras in the Chamber. Despite the various physical problems that have been experienced from time to time, with heat more often than sound, no hon. Members have found them too intrusive. The second fear stemmed from the visit of members of the Select Committee to the Ottawa Parliament. Listening to its members increased hon. Members' apprehension that there would be a massive amount of play acting and staged demonstrations in the Chamber. That has not happened.

Constraints were placed on the much maligned broadcasters. In the original debate two years ago, the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was characteristically offensive about broadcasters and made predictions of what would happen to our procedures as we became pawns at their disposal. That has not happened, despite the ludicrous constraints that we placed on professional broadcasters to produce an accurate visual image of this set. They are to be congratulated on, the journalistic flair that they brought to the task, on the originality of their programmes and—this anxiety is often expressed by hon. Members—the sense of humanness and sense of humour which, where appropriate, they have injected into their coverage of events.

The broadcasters have been faithful to the character, traditions and personality of the House. All too often, pomposity attaches itself to our proceedings and certainly to some of the egos or personalities in the Chamber. When hon. Members do not like what is portrayed on the screen or how it is portrayed on the radio airwaves at 8.40 each morning at the end of the "Today" programme or in "Yesterday in Parliament", they tend to blame the messenger, to say that the fault lies in the stars and that it cannot possibly lie with us. In the portrayal of 650 hon. Members, who at times are idiosyncratic and certainly highly individualistic, one cannot blame the broadcasters for seeking to draw out that humanness. In my anecdotal experience—I am not untypical in this respect—over the period of the experiment, without missing the political messages that hon. Members try to send, without losing their ability to judge a good or an unsound argument, a Government decision that is justifiable or one to which they are not sympathetic, as much as anything else the public have responded to the human interest of Parliament. Rather akin to the lead character in "Death of a Salesman", hon. Members who live or die by their ability to sell themselves, political ideas and parties should not knock a medium that is broadcasting this institution and adding more human interest than might have been the case before.

There have been problems for broadcasters. They have made commendable contributions to regional emphasis, but none the less they have occasionally run into practical difficulties. As the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) alluded to my interest in Scotland, I again underscore the need for something to be done about the chamber at the old royal high school in Edinburgh to overcome its sound difficulties. It is a high irony that, for once, this is an issue on which we can predate the Government. If one leaves aside developments beyond what used to be known as the iron curtain, in western Europe we have the most ready-made, modern and supposedly parliamentary debating chamber in Edinburgh, but its sound capacity is absolutely disastrous for modern broadcasting requirements. At some stage, an exercise should be carried out to see what the requirements were when it was thought that if devolution was agreed the chamber would be up and running within 10 years as a modern parliamentary base.

In general, within the constraints that have been placed on them, broadcasters have done a tremendous job. The problem is that they must reflect a House of Commons that is elected by a first-past-the-post system of politics, which makes the Labour and Conservative parties predominant. The layout of the House is based on a confrontational view of politics. It is not a hemicycle, as in many European countries, so its procedures reflect the usual channels and a two-party system.

As the televising experiment has continued, it has given rise to difficulties for representatives of third parties. Although I spoke as a Liberal Democrat member of the Select Committee, I was mindful throughout that I was a representative not of my party but of all third parties, if I can so describe them. Issues and implications for televising, which perhaps members of third parties feel acutely, are, none the less, extremely relevant to Conservative and Labour Back Benchers. In the submission made by my party, which was included in the final published report of the Select Committee, we highlighted a few of the implications for the political balance and the procedures of the House. I wish briefly to deal with them because they are in the report for any Member of the House or the public to read.

There is live coverage of the House on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. We know from the monthly rotation of departmental question time that some question times will not be covered live. Questions on Wales, transport and energy are often asked on Mondays. Scottish questions, which are always on a Wednesday, are covered live in Scotland—I am not complaining about that—but other question times that fall on Monday or Wednesday will never be covered live. Will broadcasters review their schedules—obviously, they want to cover Prime Minister's Question Time because it is the highlight of the show twice a week—or will the House revise its procedure on the cycle followed for departmental questions?

There has undoubtedly been an increase in the length of the speeches of Front-Bench spokesmen, and the figures will bear that out. The length of Opposition responses to Government statements has also increased. The net effect is that Back-Bench speeches—Second Reading debates being the most obvious example—are pushed further and further back and are less likely to appear in the main news schedules. That is true of hon. Members speaking for the Ulster Unionists, Liberal Democrats or one of the nationalist parties.

Mr. Kilfedder

And the Ulster Popular Unionist Member.

Mr. Kennedy

Or speaking as a respected Member of the House. In a debate on Northern Ireland there may be lengthy speeches by the Secretary of State, followed by a shadow spokesman and another Conservative Member. If the leader of the Ulster Unionists is called, it may be after 6 pm, by which time his legitimate viewpoint on a salient issue will not be heard. That is the practical impact, which is of concern to members of third parties, but equally it should be of concern to Back-Bench Members of the two main parties in this House. Another effect is that more people are being forced into the 10-minute rule period of debates, which I am not against in principle, but the 10-minute rule barrier now falls on speeches earlier in the evening.

Finally, televising has meant increased pressure on Question Time, and the figures contained in the report are disturbing in that respect. The extent to which non-Labour or non-Conservative Members are called within departmental Question Time appears to be suffering.

There are implications for broadcasters in the points that I have mentioned, but televising also has implications for the House—it affects the way in which we organise and run oursleves. I hope that the Select Committee on Procedure will examine that aspect. The excellent report by the university of Leeds, which refers to my party on page 14—I shall not detain the House by quoting it now—highlights the difficulties that have arisen.

I see from the Order Paper that eight of my hon. Friends have signed the amendment tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), which the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) spoke about in detail and with such clarity. I am prepared to go a long way down the line of their arguments because, like most hon. Members, I am in favour of a dedicated television channel. The problem is that we have to separate that principle from the pragmatics of what the Select Committee has been trying to deliver. While I remain committed to the principle, and I hope to the delivery of a dedicated channel, given the present limited spread of satellite availability in this country, I cannot see how we do Parliament a democratic service by making the service available 24 hours a day to a limited number of people, while, unsatisfactory though it is, we are delivering selected excerpts to the vast majority of people. On that basis, the amendment will not have my support.

In the past, when this place has reformed itself there have always been those who have predicted that the reform in question would mark the end of civilisation as we knew it. The debates on votes for women offer a classic example in this century. There were those who predicted much the same for televising, but I think that at the end of the day it has enhanced Parliament and made it more accessible. When one's constituency is as far from London as mine, that is an overwhelming vote in its favour. People's votes elect Parliament, people's taxes pay for it, so surely the public have the right to see what is being done in their name. Added to that right is the right of the deaf community to follow our proceedings. That has been the subject of attention—I hope that it will give it continuing attention—by the Select Committee.

I hope that we shall become more relaxed about and more trusting in the professionalism of British broadcasters, and drop the remaining restrictions. Anyone sitting in the Strangers' Gallery of the House can see with his own eyes what happens on the Floor of the House. The same right of access to that information must be given to someone sitting in the comfort of his own home with the television switched on. We cannot continue to deny people that.

Despite my concern about the impact of television coverage on Back Benchers and third parties, I shall certainly support the Select Committee report tonight, if only in the hope that it will act as a spur to bring the entire institution of Parliament into the 20th century just as we begin to head towards the 21st.

8.54 pm
Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)

I shall endeavour to keep my remarks brief and to the point, as I certainly would not wish to deprive fellow hon. Members of air time on this important issue.

I believe that the one-year experiment in televising the proceedings of the House has been a television success but a political failure. I certainly endorse the points made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). Televising has provided entertainment at low cost for the television stations. Edited highlights appear on the evening news bulletins, enabling the political correspondents to spice up their coverage of the proceedings of the House.

If all that the intrusion of television cameras in this place had produced was a handful of happy journalists with a few innocuous highlights on the evening news, I would have been happy to vote to keep the cameras here. But, as every hon. Member knows full well, that is not the end of the story. For example, the arrival of television has had a strange and unforeseen effect on the behaviour of many hon. Members. None of us is blameless, but all of us are dealing with a powerful force beyond our control. Television has brought out the worst in us all. Hon. Members are not, even at the best of times, publicity shy. Indeed, as we all know, there has to be a streak of the actor in every hon. Member. The successful politician certainly cannot afford to eschew publicity. To succeed in politics one has to get noticed—on the hustings, in speeches, on television or on radio. There is nothing that the average politician likes to hear more than the sound of his own voice.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Or her voice.

Mrs. Roe

Yes, with respect to my colleagues, his or her voice. Until the arrival of television cameras in the House, there was a series of moderating influences on what might be called the theatrical tendency. New Members of Parliament learn that certain forms of behaviour and dress are unacceptable in the Chamber. The House of Commons is the nation's most important forum for serious debate on matters of the utmost importance to our future. It is not, as some cynics derisively claim, a talking shop. What is happening in the Chamber matters.

Attention-seeking tactics are out of place in such an environment, and time-wasting exhibitionists have little real contribution to make to serious political debates. Until now most hon. Members have recognised that fact. Those hon. Members who are incapable of doing so—wilfully or through sheer dimness—have to contend with the wrath of the Whips, or with you, Madam Deputy Speaker, but the ultimate sanction against cases of what are, in effect, political exhibitionism was the fact that it was unlikely to get much publicity. It was pointless and puerile, and that was so until the arrival of television cameras in the House.

Now the rules have changed, and the effects have been largely inimical to serious debate and good government. I disagree with the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott). The arrival of the television cameras has given show-offs the big audience for which some of them certainly yearn. More than that, as my right hon. and learned Friend mentioned earlier, television has forced many perfectly sensible Members of Parliament to go to absurd lengths so that they can be seen "on the box". The average television viewer, seeing his Member of Parliament on the screen, will assume that such a sighting is mere chance. In fact, it is more than likely that the hon. Member carefully positioned himself—or herself—so that he would be picked up by the television cameras.

Little does the unsuspecting viewer know the lengths to which certain hon. Members will go to be seen on national television. It is a sad fact that hon. Members check up on who is asking the Prime Minister questions beforehand so that they can sit next to the questioner and be guaranteed to appear on television screens in millions of homes during the evening news bulletins. Other hon. Members gravitate towards Mr. Speaker's Chair so that they can be seen when the television cameras zoom in on you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

None of that is especially surprising; now that the cameras are in the House, it is understandable that hon. Members should want to be seen doing their job by their constituents. I am sure that many hon. Members who are here tonight have participated in lengthy debates, only to be asked by a constituent after the event, "Where were you?". The answer is that the hon. Member was there all right, but in the 90-second package for the 10 o'clock news—which condenses six hours of debate, with perhaps 20 different speakers and as many interventions—not every contribution is covered.

The sight of hon. Members scrambling to sit within camera shot reminds me of those outside television broadcasts in which an interviewer speaks to camera with a couple of young children bouncing up and down pulling faces in the background. Who, after all, can resist the lure of publicity?

In addition, to those who merely scheme and plot in an honest fashion to appear on camera, there are the hon. Members who deliberately try to draw attention to themselves. Every Back Bencher knows that the contribution most likely to make it through the cutting room to the evening news is the absurd, the insulting, the provocative or even the jocular, and it is well known that outrageous points of order raised after Prime Minister's questions have a very good chance of finding their way on to the television screen.

The past year has proved that good television and good government are not synonymous, although I attach no blame either to broadcasters or to hon. Members. Hon. Members are merely responding to the introduction of a medium that forces them to behave differently; broadcasters are merely giving the viewers the choicest morsels of the day's proceedings to keep them entertained.

The failure of televising the House in its present form can be summed up in two words—design and money. If the Chamber had been specifically designed to accommodate television cameras, things might be different. A modern circular Chamber, with every hon. Member assigned a place, would help to get round the ludicrous problem of hon. Members stalking round the Chamber trying to find a spot where they are likely to be seen on the box. As for the other problem—money—the broadcasters say that they cannot afford the substantial set-up and running costs of a dedicated television channel. But if a television channel were set aside for the proceedings of the House and its Committees, the public would be able to see a far more balanced picture of what happens here. As it is, all that the great majority of the population see are a few brief edited highlights on the evening news. As well as giving the public a much fairer view of what hon. Members do, I suspect that a dedicated television channel would have the advantage of encouraging hon. Members to behave in a slightly less publicity-hungry fashion.

I do not wish to be wholly negative about the televising of the House. I believe that it is good news that a wider audience has been able to witness the exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition every Tuesday and Thursday: those weekly sessions have contributed to my party's continuing popularity in my constituency.

9.3 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

There are many ways in which this issue can be examined. One is the purely technical one about the changes in technology that would make it possible for more people to see more easily what happens here and elsewhere. There has even been the introduction of a financial element, in terms of the investment opportunities that might be created by a dedicated channel.

I am primarily concerned with the politics of the matter—the effect the cameras have on the relationship between the electors and their representatives. People have often spoken about the rights of hon. Members, but it has always seemed to me—indeed, I wrote an article in TV Times in 1957 calling for the televising of the House of Commons—that the real case for it is that the electors who sent us here would know what we were doing in their name. I think that that is the most important point.

It is long overdue. What a terrible loss to posterity that former hon. Members such as Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee and so on were not filmed. We would have had them on archive. Now that we have introduced the televising of our proceedings, I do not want to run any risk of terminating it because of the difficulty of establishing a dedicated channel.

Despite what was said by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), most of the fears about the behaviour of hon. Members have been laid to rest. No one who knows the House or its history believes that only television caused disturbances. The King came here when there was no television and tried to arrest five Members of Parliament. He was not seeking publicity. There have been disturbances on many occasions. My father used to tell me about the fighting that occurred when the Irish Nationalist Members were here. Charles Bradlaugh was brought to the House. The other day I visited the room where the Supervisor of Broadcasting works. It is the prison cell where Bradlaugh was imprisoned for trying to take the oath although he was an atheist.

Some hon. Members are slowly beginning to discover that if they want to be given attention they should not put on a new suit, get a clean shirt or have a better hairdo; they should raise the quality of their argument. If that message gets across, it will entirely justify televising.

Enormous tributes have been paid to the mass media. I am an old broadcaster. I started work after the war as a BBC producer and I still have an interest in it. We must recognise that there is a conflict between those who claim the right to speak because they work in the media and those who claim the right to speak because they have been elected. That is the essential conflict that has been tilted in our favour by the televising of Parliament.

To appear on "Question Time", we have to be invited by the producer. We are made up. The microphone is placed behind us so that no one at home can see that it is there. We are interrupted by Robin Day all the time. But in the House it is not like that at all. We are lucky to be called. If we are called, Mr. Speaker does not name an hon. Member and say, "Now it is time for a speaker from the hard left", or, "Now it is time for an hon. Member from the Tory wets." We are called by our constituencies. People can make up their minds about us according to what we say. We are not made up and we are not interrupted. It is important to recognise that there are important differences.

I often think about the qualifications needed to be a Member of the House of Commons. What is so marvellous about it is that there is none. That is why it is such an interesting assembly. The only qualification that we have is that we have been elected. I got my calculator out today to find out how many people had voted for me since I arrived in the House. I can tell the House that 379,056 people have voted for me in the 14 parliamentary elections in which I was elected. Those are my only qualifications, but they are the qualifications that every hon. Member has to be heard. That is what is important.

Although it is true that it has been much better to have our proceedings televised than not, I share entirely the view that exchanges on Tuesday and Thursdays between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are simply transmitted to zip up the evening bulletins. Previously we were given a picture of the people speaking and perhaps some of the sound broadcasting. Now we have the whole exchange. Television material has been an opportunity to illustrate the way in which the media want to cover politics. That is very bad. That is why I am strongly in favour of a dedicated channel, which I shall deal with in a moment.

Some examples have been given today. Let us take the debate on embryology and abortion, which aroused strong feelings. Views for and against were not confined to one side of the House. It would have been much better to have produced an edited version of the debates and made them available not only on the air but in videos which could be used by sixth forms, universities and so on.

In a debate before Christmas the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) was lucky in the ballot and moved a motion stating that socialism was dead. It was the first time that I have heard socialism discussed since I have been in the House. Certainly, a debate on socialism has never been promoted by my party. A few of us got together and tabled an amendment. It was, dare I say it, a marvellous debate. The hon. Member for Tatton was provocative. The chairman of the Conservative party came in. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) spoke. All sorts of hon. Members spoke.

A few days later I met two young women who run a video company, 20th Century Vixen. Being rather slow on the uptake, it took me a long time to realise the parallel with 20th Century Fox and that they were feminists. They edited the five-hour debate on socialism and called it "The Commons on Socialism". It was an absolutely brilliant job. Every speaker was included and the balance was absolutely fair. I wrote to the Leader of the House about it, and showed it to the Supervisor of Broadcasting and the hon. Member for Tatton, but the Committee did not turn its mind to such projects.

It is absurd that our speeches are not freely available on video because, dare I say it, the quality of the debate, when one forgets the partisan exchanges on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is of a high order. People do not get here just by accident; they have experience and when hon. Members choose to speak they usually know what they are talking about, but many of those contributions are left out because they are not newsworthy.

I hope that the ban on the use of material is lifted. Hon. Members will be aware that anyone can buy a five-hour video tape for £20—that is what I paid for "The Commons on Socialism". If hon. Members buy such videos or want to make them available to sixth forms, what is wrong with that? People might argue that such videos would be selective, but Hansard is available without any copyright restriction. If one had a 40-minute summary of the debate on socialism, which was held that Friday and with it went the copy of Hansard, made available to sixth formers or students of the Open University, it could be a useful resource. The video I purchased offers an important precedent and it is worth while developing it.

I hope that the Committee will consider a wider use of our material. I understand that it was afraid that people would use such videos as a vehicle for advertising or to make fun of hon. Members, but, as Harry Truman once said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". We cannot stand on our dignity if people want to see our proceedings and nothing could be more amusing or damaging than "Spitting Image" is.

A lot of other things that go on in the House should also be considered for broadcast, for example, the relationship between hon. Members and their constituents. Is there any reason why the full, mature life of an hon. Member should not be reflected when they are lobbied by pensioners, war widows and the like? The record of our parliamentary debates should not just reflect hon. Members' speeches—they represent a fraction of our work in comparison with the correspondence into which we enter, and the petitions and lobbies we receive.

We must also look at the House itself in the light of this new opportunity. I know, Mr. Speaker, that with your wig you are extremely popular all over the mid-west of America. I believe that C-Span has made you known from Ohio to Wyoming.

A party of sixth formers from a school in my constituency went round the House the other day with a guide. When I met them I asked them what happens in here and there was an awfully long pause before they could answer. The intelligibility of this place is not improved by its quaint methods and procedures.

Without going too far beyond the subject of this debate, in the years that I have been here the House has lost many of its powers. There are 30,000 American troops stationed here over whom we have no control whether or not we pass the annual Army order. Brussels has taken responsibility for our legislation and we cannot reject it when it comes back to us. The International Monetary Fund and perhaps the Bundesbank will increasingly take responsibility for our financial affairs. What does the House have left? The answer is that it is the great forum of the nation.

On Monday I had a discussion with you, Mr. Speaker, so far as it was in order so to do, about whether we should discuss the interview given by the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on Germany and the European Community. We have our rules and procedures which you interpret, Mr. Speaker, as you are required so to do by our Standing Orders. I do not believe, however, that the public understood why the one place—here—that could not discuss that matter was the place where the action was. We should have more contemporaneous debates because if we do not discuss what the people are considering, we shall become irrelevant as a forum as well as a legislative body, which is already happening fast.

When we come here as hon. Members we have certain clear things to do. The first is to represent our constituents, and any hon. Member who rises to his feet to defend a constituency interest is doing his job and should be respected, even if it is badgering, as it sometimes is, or disorderly, and I have known that to happen too.

Secondly, we have a duty to explain what is happening, because it is a puzzling world and I find that there is today a great thirst for understanding which in many respects is not best met by the mass media, which want to oversimplify or in some way to mystify. The media sometimes put up the experts or present matters in such a way that a n incident here is only a party battle. People want explanations and we are, in a strange way, uniquely qualified to give them.

But, above all, this House—if it could get through to the public on a dedicated channel—could recover democracy for the people from the media. Politics in Britain is now a spectator sport. People stay at home, watch television and wonder who will win the World Cup. Or they watch "Newsnight" and wonder who will win the general election. They do not see any difference between their role in the World Cup—because not everybody can play the game—and their role in the election.

The media, the pollsters, the people who hype it up and the public relations people who engage in politics have taken the democratic process away from us and made it something that highly paid experts want to manage for us. This House is made up of people whose commitment to politics is real because we are answerable to our constituents. When I am in Chesterfield tomorrow, everybody I see will be my employer. That is the difference between our role and pleasing a producer so that one may get on the telly. We meet our employers.

The House has an opportunity to do something about that state of affairs, particularly if it demands a dedicated channel. I would have redrafted my hon. Friend's amendment. I do not want to make it conditional, so I would simply have amended it to read,

and instructs the Committee to finance and provide a dedicated channel by this time 12 months. Had my hon. Friend worded it in that way, I would have voted for it. I fear that at present the amendment might be interpreted as demanding a pause instead of a decision.

Whatever we do, let us remember that this place is a talking shop, a place where people's ideas can be heard and where debate can be real. The older I get, the less impressed I am by the abuse and the tricks played between parties, because I want to hear the argument. I want to know what the case is for and against the ERM or any other issue, and how we should deal with the debt crisis and so on. I suspect that people sitting at home, not being engaged in the daily business of these affairs in the way that we are, want to know what we really think.

The hustings are enough for the election. But the people want to know our views, and television offers a unique technical opportunity. It has come too late for my satisfaction, but it is providing us with a chance to do something. It must, of course, be under our control and not handed over to someone to make money, because it is possible to make a lot of money. We should control and finance it. If we give every candidate free postage in a general election so that all the candidates, including those who lose, can get their views over to the general public, why cannot we finance, for educational purposes—for our education as much as theirs—a dedicated channel?

I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) not to make the amendment conditional. A dedicated channel is essential, or we shall simply become new pawns in a media game in which they will use the bits that they think fit their pattern. In many cases they are writing dramas in which we are allowed to play our part if we fit their script, but not if we do not. I have described what should be the basis of our approach to this issue.

9.18 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I subscribed my name to the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), consistent with the way in which I voted when this matter previously came before the House. I voted wholeheartedly for the televising of our proceedings, for the simple reason mentioned by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—that the people of the United Kingdom are entitled to hear and see what is being done in their name. They have the right to see what is happening in this Chamber. That is why I believe that a dedicated channel is essential and that that channel should be completely under the supervision of the House.

Democracy can flourish only with open government, when the people feel close to Members of Parliament and to what is happening here at Westminster. There can be no doubt that, in the constant battle between the Executive and Parliament, the televising of our proceedings must help to give some muscle to hon. Members who wish to impose some restriction on the powers of the Executive. I am wholly committed to the permanent televising of the House.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

I understand my hon. Friend's long attachment to the televising of Parliament. Did he catch the important point made at the end of his speech by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)? He made virtually the same point that my hon. Friend is making, but he also made the distinction that to link the permanent televising of the House with a dedicated channel within 12 months could make the amendment a wrecking amendment for the permanent televising of the House. If those who say that a dedicated channel may not be possible are proved right, the amendment will turn out to have been a wrecking amendment. We must be cautious about the amendment in its present form.

Mr. Kilfedder

I want to emphasise that the amendment is not a wrecking amendment. No hon. Member who has added his or her name to it wants to wreck the possibility of televising Parliament. What the hon. Member for Workington and all hon. Members who subscribe to the amendment are doing is showing that we are determined to get a dedicated channel. The only way to do that is for us and for Parliament to flex our muscles. In that way, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) said, we should be able to have a dedicated channel within 12 months. Even if it did not come within 12 months, the televising of Parliament would proceed. However, the only way to get a dedicated channel is by showing our determination to have one.

As I made clear in my intervention, I am not satisfied with the present broadcasting of the House. People outside see on their television screens only what the television producers and editors permit them to see, and that is contrary to the democratic principle. Why should we permit the media manipulators to censor the televising of our proceedings? What is taking place now is censorship. That applies to all parts of the United Kingdom, but especially to my own region of Northern Ireland.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) will agree that the coverage of speeches made in the House by most Northern Ireland Members is limited and, in some cases, non-existent. I have spoken in the Chamber on a number of occasions since television was introduced on matters that I regard as important not only to my constituents, but to everyone in Northern Ireland. Yet none of those speeches was broadcast by local Ulster Television or by BBC Northern Ireland, although they say that they are providing the people of Northern Ireland with a proper record of what is taking place in Parliament.

I should have thought that Northern Ireland, of all parts of the United Kingdom, needs to have Parliament projected into the homes of all its people—not only because of the terrorism there, but because we are being ruled by direct rule, an undemocratic system of government which can be given some democratic flavour only by the fact that the people of Northern Ireland hear what Members of Parliament are saying and what contributions they make to debates in the House.

Whatever the reasons for that shortcoming, the people of Northern Ireland are being denied proper coverage of the proceedings of this House and of contributions by Ulster Members of Parliament. That is not true in all cases. There are exceptions. Ulster Television is very fond of giving coverage to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) whenever he contributes to our debates here.

I have consulted Scottish and Welsh Members and with Lobby correspondents covering those areas of the United Kingdom, and it is beyond doubt that those Members of Parliament, together with others throughout the United Kingdom, receive proper coverage. Why is the same not done for those representing Northern Ireland constituencies? I speak not only of Unionist representatives. For example, I know that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who represents the SDLP, makes a similar complaint. It is wrong that Northern Ireland Members of Parliament should be discriminated against in that way.

I do not know why UTV and the BBC fail to provide proper coverage, but that matter ought to be investigated. It is an appalling situation, and I trust that the Leader of the House agrees that there should be a review of the coverage given by BBC Northern Ireland and by Ulster Television of our proceedings, especially of the contributions of right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies.

The only way that we can ensure that the people of Northern Ireland and of the rest of the United Kingdom do not suffer a form of television censorship is to have a dedicated channel. There could then be no tampering with transmissions to the public, with coverage confined to snippets on the one o'clock or six o'clock news. Instead, the public could view the whole proceedings and hear everything that is said. Until such a service is provided—and the sooner the better—we shall not be allowing the public to enjoy parliamentary democracy in its fullest sense, which they deserve.

9.27 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I do not believe that a debate on the experimental televising of Parliament should degenerate into an orgy of self-congratulation, perhaps with the exception of the remarks of the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). Nevertheless, I admit that such self-congratulation is deserved because the experiment was a great success, and ours is a healthier democracy because of it.

I may add, however, that that success was entirely predictable and predicted. All the findings of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, Leeds university, Aston university, the BBC and the Hansard Society say that it is a great success, but the researchers have the air of parents congratulating their child on being toilet trained at the age of 10. I am not sure what the usual age is—or what it was for my kids, because in those days fatherhood was not a life sentence—but it is much younger than that. The question is why it took us so long to do something so necessary and so right, which has enhanced our standing, increased interest in Parliament among the public, and provided us with a feedback that strengthens our case against Ministers. The televising of our proceedings allows us to do our job better in testing the cases made by Ministers for their policies, and in putting the arguments before the public.

All the quibbles about whether the behaviour of right hon. and hon. Members has degenerated, whether they are wearing brighter ties, or whether some have been given a franchise to become egomaniacs are simply silly.

I hope that we shall surrender tonight the veto that we have over television. What is of importance is not how television may change this Chamber—and the changes have been minimal—but the effect that it has outside, which is uniformly beneficial. That is what we should be talking about.

We have achieved that success as much by good luck as by good management. We have evolved a rather curious, ramshackle structure for our television, part public, part private, which was produced at the last minute after the Committee had wasted nearly a year. I make no criticism of the contractors. They have worked brilliantly, particularly the contractor responsible for the Committee coverage, which has been a major success.

Technically, the coverage is the best of any legislature that I have seen and the efficiency of the touch screen system and the quickness of response is brilliant. But the structure has turned the mother of Parliaments into a scrounger, looking to other people to finance the service that we should be providing ourselves as part of the public's education, as part of doing our job.

That service should be provided, as Hansard is provided, free of charge. What we are providing is a Hansard in the electronic medium from which people obtain their news and information on current affairs. We should be financing the service, not looking to the BBC or ITV, which are already strapped for cash, largely as a result of Government policy. That makes us dependent on them and it makes it more difficult to move to the next stage, which is dedicated coverage. The people to whom we could look to finance that are now using such sums to finance the coverage that we should be paying for.

Far too much time has been devoted to the amendment. It took an hour to make a point that was Jesuitical in its casuistry. We should of course have a dedicated channel. We always should have had a dedicated channel. It always was essential and we should now set out to provide it with urgency. But it is not an alternative to the coverage on existing channels through news and current affairs programmes.

As a supplement to what has been done already, we need a public affairs channel in Britain, like C-Span in the United States, on satellite and from that into cable, which will carry the Commons, the Lords and the Committees, full time, gavel to gavel—or gabble to gabble in my case. When Parliament is not sitting, that channel could carry public affairs, whether in the form of conferences, press conferences, lectures, seminars or any other form of public affairs.

Such a channel would give to the political nation its own channel in the same way as the sports enthusiasts, the movie buffs and the news freaks have their own dedicated channels. That would allow them to watch what they want, to follow the argument without interposing the authority of television producers, who have been overwhelmingly effective and sensible in their choices but who, nevertheless, are interposed between us and the public.

It must be said that television producers do have a preference for the show biz, the sensational, or, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, the gambling horse race element in politics. That is one reason for the excessive coverage of Prime Minister's Question Time rather than the coverage of the job that we do well, which is testing the argument, in many cases to destruction when it comes to this Government, through serious contribution to the debate.

I support, actively and energetically, a dedicated channel, but I am suspicious of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington and the hon. Member for Thanet, North coming bearing in gifts. They have been opposed to the principle of television on the terrestrial channels for so long that I cannot help seeing, their amendment as another means of carrying on their old and dead arguments against coverage.

The amendment is a pistol to the head of the House and I do not want to endanger the game that we play in any way at all. I want to achieve a dedicated channel. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield that it would have been better if the Committee had had a deadline of a year and been told to achieve it and provide it. It should have been left at that and not been made dependent on anything. It is the next great advance and is all about an educated, involved and informed democracy that knows what is being done in its name by its elected representatives. I hope that achieving that dedicated channel, which is the next thing that we need, does not take as long and is not subject to as many frustrations as the achievement of what we are commemorating today.

9.35 pm
Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

I fully recognise that as a consequence of my speech I shall receive less regional television coverage. I doubt whether in any future capacity I will receive an offer to chair a chat show.

I regret that we ever embarked upon this experiment and I certainly do not think that it has been a success. That is because politicians by their very nature are not modest creatures. For whatever reason, we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by the media. Increasingly, the House seems to be more media-driven than the other way round, and I regret that. Some hon. Members seemed to think that if we were seen on television we would be better loved by our constituents. Politicians all want to be loved, but over the last year I have not seen anything that has improved our esteem.

Some of the claims in favour of televising our proceedings were flawed. First, it was said that television would bring hon. Members back to the Chamber. It has certainly not done that tonight. People crowd in here only at peak TV times and it is difficult for Back Benchers to squeeze into the key positions that enable them to be seen by their constituents.

A distinguished hon. Member said that this place is a theatre. I resent that description, because anyone who knows anything about the theatre knows that it is bad television. The House is a special place. This is the mother of Parliaments and our proceedings have been copied by countries all over the world as a shining example of how things should be done.

Television has spoiled the special atmosphere of the House. It is extraordinary to define democracy as the ability of people to watch their Member of Parliament on television. Many people do not watch television, and many do not wish to watch it. I do not support an experiment that has not even improved the general standard of behaviour. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), who said in her excellent speech that Prime Minister's Question Time is popular. However, I do not know how on earth my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister can hear the questions put to her above the noise and the racket. Not many people will be impressed by that.

We have trivialised our proceedings, and Members of future Parliaments will never know how this place used to be. Although I am opposed to the televising of our proceedings, if we must have television cameras in this place I should like people to see us warts and all. That is why I support the amendment calling for a dedicated channel.

9.38 pm
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

As one of the members of the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House, I should like to be associated with the expressions of thanks and appreciation voiced by hon. Members for the work carried out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons and by his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. They ably chaired the Committee, kept us all at work and helped us to produce constructive findings. Equally, I wish to be associated with the thanks expressed to Mr. John Grist, the Supervisor of Broadcasting, and to Professor Blumler of Leeds university. Mr. Grist advised on the technical aspects and Professor Blumler on the measure of interest and support among both Members of Parliament and the public. Without those people working with us, our job would have been exceedingly difficult.

There is no doubt that the experiment has been a success, and that was stated in the Select Committee's report. One clear piece of evidence for that is the very lack of large numbers of hon. Members in the House tonight. When we had a major debate on the matter two and a half years ago, initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), the Chamber was full and there were some lively contributions. A number of those came from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who took the view that televising this place would lead to the frothy bits going out on the air and the whole procedure being high theatre. He certainly thought that that was the intention of the producers, and that the House and the public would get nothing out of it other than high theatre.

During that debate, I made a speech that since has characterised me as an opponent of the televising of the House. I share the desire of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) to clarify the position. I said that the only way to televise the House was through a dedicated channel, from the beginning to the end of our proceedings. I said that we were probably four or five years too early and that, eventually, technology would reach a point where such a service to the public could be provided—not only through satellite, but through more terrestrial channels. Indeed, the phrase used this evening—and it was used in that previous debate—was "a Hansard of the air." That should be our objective. We could then deliver to the British public information on the workings of this House in exactly the same way as they would receive that information if they came to sit in the Gallery to listen to our debates, or if they were to read the Official Report.

Although I said in that debate that we were conducting the experiment too early, and I voted against it for that reason, I accept that it has been successful, and that it has proved a number of things. First, it has proved that the cameras are not intrusive. The Select Committee took longer in its deliberations than the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) would have wished. He said a number of times in the press, on television and on radio that we were dragging our feet. He also said that he was up to his ankles in envy because he was not serving on that Committee. No doubt he would have made some valuable contributions.

Although our deliberations took a long time, we drove forward the technology, so that the manufacturers of the cameras and a great deal of the other equipment seriously took on board the fact that we did not want cameramen and all the other encumbrances of television in the Chamber. We wanted the smallest possible cameras and the most sophisticated lighting. Because of the time the Select Committee took and the study that it made, we have achieved that.

Where do we go from here? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and the hon. Members for Workington and for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), I want to make it clear that I am not associated with the amendment as a wrecking amendment. I am sure that others who have put their names to the amendment would share that view. The House now has to focus precisely on where we go from here. If setting a time limit such as 12 months will make the House focus on a dedicated channel, we must do that.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I am listening to the debate with great interest and with some uncertainty about how I shall vote on the amendment. Can my hon. Friend explain what would happen in the event of a dedicated channel not being in place after 12 months, despite the will of the House?

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend was not here earlier when that matter was raised. A perfectly acceptable view has been put forward that, because the House appears to be universally devoted to continuing televising proceedings, a motion will be tabled to extend the operation of televising. I do not want to speak for much longer before we hear again from my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House.

Mr. Grocott

We are Members of Parliament, and our trade is words and language. If what the hon. Gentleman is saying is true—that voting for the amendment will not in any way risk the continuation of the present televising arrangements—why does the amendment not say that? Why were those words not put specifically in the amendment when it was drafted? Why is the amendment being proposed and seconded by those who have consistently opposed the televising of the House?

Mr. Tracey

Unnecessary paranoia is creeping into the debate. Many of us have said quite clearly that we want to improve the televising of the Chamber and make it more available so that people can see our proceedings without selective editing or in selected parts.

My constituents and others who know that I am a member of the Select Committee have told me that they wish to see far more live televising of the House. The only proceedings that they know will be live are Prime Minister's Question Time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and possibly special occasions such as the Budget. Otherwise, most people do not know of precise live transmissions from the House. I do not believe that too many people want to get up at 8.30 in the morning to watch the workings of the House of Commons.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House said, it is unfortunate that there is no late evening programme on the major terrestrial channels, although there may well be one on BSB, as we heard from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) earlier in the debate. Apart from the recorded extracts and the pull-together programme with commentators, the public want to see live transmission of the House, and the more of it the better, judging by the remarks made to me by people in industry and in the City. I was with a leading industrialist from the defence industry today, who said that it would be useful to see an entire transmission of a Question Time that was particularly relevant to that industry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester was arguing against the amendment, but told us that he believed that schools and universities would very much welcome a dedicated channel and continuous broadcasting. From my point of view, and that of my hon. Friends, the amendment was tabled in good faith. We want to improve the televising of the House so that the British public can see us absolutely as we are and listen to the development of arguments. I rest my case on that premise and I invite hon. Members to vote for the amendment.

9.49 pm
Sir Geoffrey Howe

I thank hon. Members, in particular my hon. Friends the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) and for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), for the thanks that they extended to me and in particular to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, South and Malden (Mr. Wakeham) for our chairmanship of the Committee. Our report laid a good foundation for the debate. Virtually nobody argues against the televising of the proceedings of the House being put on a permanent basis. However, there had to be one exception—my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). I am glad that the breed is not wholly unrepresentative, but that puts the matter in perspective.

I thought for a moment that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) was joining the same camp. She set out a substantial catalogue of television's characteristics: that it is selective, that it is entertainment, that it is trivial. Has she never read the parliamentary sketch writers? What does she think about their selectivity and the entertainment that they provide? The same characteristics have always applied to the press. I thought that her arguments were adequately rebutted—I rarely say this—by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). Let us therefore assume that most hon. Members want the televising of our proceedings to be made permanent.

A number of topics have been raised by hon. Members in all parts of the House, and the Committee will have to apply its mind to them. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and other hon. Members referred to the need to improve the quality of sound in the House. Yesterday, the sound in the Edinburgh chamber was bad. We must improve the facilities for the deaf and provide adequate access to the archives. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield should not imagine that we have rejected, without having thought about it, his request for an edited video of debates. The Committee has not yet been able to agree on a set of guidelines that would reconcile the legitimate demand for wider access to our proceedings with the need to protect the rights of the House and individual Members. We shall certainly consider that important point.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to the television coverage of Northern Ireland debates as an example of unfair regional coverage. The general verdict on regional coverage was favourable. We received no evidence on that point from Northern Ireland. The Leeds group did not exempt Northern Ireland from its generally favourable verdict on coverage. If, however, my hon. Friend the Member for North Down wishes me to do so, we could ask the Leeds group to re-examine its raw data on that question and find out whether there is any cause for concern. In any event, we shall keep the matter under review.

Different views were expressed about the rules of coverage. As the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) suggested, they will be kept under review. Political coverage will be a matter of permanent and continuous interest to us all. All those matters will form part of the Committee's agenda in the months ahead.

My final point, which is at the heart of the debate about the amendment, is that the discussion takes place on the premise that all hon. Members are dedicated to a dedicated channel. No hon. Member has said that he does not like what we have now. However, all of us would like a channel that carried the whole of our proceedings from beginning to end, for reasons that to me make entirely good sense.

Everyone who has access to the channel will receive an uncut, unedited and completely comprehensive presentation of our proceedings. Those who say, "I shall vote for the amendment because I want a completely dedicated channel," are missing the point of the debate. We all want a dedicated channel. Paragraph 172, which was referred to by the hon. Member for The Wreking as well as by me, could not put it more plainly. The wording takes account of suggestions made by the hon. Member for Thanet, North: We reiterate our belief in the need for a dedicated channel providing continuous, unedited coverage of the House's proceedings and we recommend that his should be provided at the earliest opportunity, as an adjunct to the permanent televising of the House.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is muttering that we said that last year. I do not want him to rise to his feet, however, so he can mutter from his sedentary position.

During the year, we have been looking at all the possibilities for promoting a dedicated channel and we shall go on doing so. The case for a dedicated channel is accepted. The case against the amendment is that it makes permanence conditional. The extraordinary wording at the beginning of the amendment says: Line 2, at end add 'provided that within 12 months from the date of the approval of this resolution'". The question that must be resolved once and for all is whether television stays in the House. Wording such as that in the amendment would achieve what the hon. Member for Workington wants, which is the prospect of a debate every year.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am sorry, but I will not give way. If that were hanging over the industry, confidence would disappear and uncertainty would take its place.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am sorry, but I will not give way.

The Committee and I have been taking part in discussions with organisations already as to how we can move towards a dedicated channel. We want to address ourselves to the question whether we have an independent unit for the House or a House unit. The Committee has to get such questions under way. We have to decide on promoting arrangements, who shall be in charge, recruiting people and arranging for them to be recruited. If all that were to be subject to an annual debate in the same way as the Army Act, which was abolished some years ago, it would be absurd.

If we vote in favour of the amendment, the press and outsiders will see it as a vote for uncertainty. We need to achieve a permanent answer to the question whether television stays in the House.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) put the issue simply when he said that we are not required to choose. We are all saying that we want to have permanent dedicated television and we do not want it to be subject to a hangover condition such as that contained in the amendment.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I understand that there is to be a free vote tonight. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman assure me that Ministers are permitted to vote in different Lobbies? That is all I seek.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

This matter has always been the subject of a free vote, and it will be no different tonight. It has also been the subject of consideration by mature Members from both sides of the House over the past 12 months. As I said when the matter was last voted upon, seven of the 20 on the Committee considering the matter voted against it but, as a result of our work together over the past 12 months, all except one have concluded in favour of the words recorded in our recommendations—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North campaigned against it and, to be fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton, he was not there when we had the critical vote. However, the overwhelming majority of the Committee, having thought about it carefully, said, "For heaven's sake let us go ahead with it." That seems to be the right conclusion to reach for both sides of the House.

For the benefit of those who were not here a moment ago I shall repeat the phrase that the hon. Member for the Wrekin and I have both emphasised. In our recommendations upon which the House is invited to vote tonight, we said:

We reiterate our belief in the need for a dedicated channel providing continuous, unedited coverage of the House's proceedings and we recommend that this should be provided at the earliest opportunity, as an adjunct to the permanent televising of the House. That is the objective to which I, with the help of the Committee, shall dedicate myself. We want to achieve it as quickly as possible. That would be made more difficult if my hon. Friends and others were to vote for the charter of conditionality which begins: provided that within 12 months from the date of the approval of this resolution". We want not a proviso for permanence but permanence itself, and I ask the House to vote for it.

Question put That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 67, Noes 94.

Division No. 308] [10 pm
Arbuthnot, James Lightbown, David
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Maclean, David
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Malins, Humfrey
Boscawen, Hon Robert Marlow, Tony
Bottomley, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Bright, Graham Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Monro, Sir Hector
Buck, Sir Antony Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Butterfill, John Moynihan, Hon Colin
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Pendry, Tom
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Pike, Peter L.
Carrington, Matthew Portillo, Michael
Cash, William Roe, Mrs Marion
Chope, Christopher Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Cran, James Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Summerson, Hugo
Fallon, Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Forman, Nigel Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Forth, Eric Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Franks, Cecil Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Gale, Roger Tracey, Richard
Godman, Dr Norman A. Trippier, David
Gordon, Mildred Ward, John
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Watts, John
Ground, Patrick Wells, Bowen
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Wilshire, David
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Winterton, Nicholas
Janman, Tim Wise, Mrs Audrey
Kilfedder, James Younger, Rt Hon George
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Kirkhope, Timothy Tellers for the Ayes:
Kirkwood, Archy Mr. David Amess and
Knapman, Roger Mr. Clifford Forsythe.
Knight, Greg (Derby North)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 131, Noes 32.

Division No. 308] [10 pm
Arbuthnot, James Lightbown, David
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Maclean, David
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Malins, Humfrey
Boscawen, Hon Robert Marlow, Tony
Bottomley, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Bright, Graham Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Monro, Sir Hector
Buck, Sir Antony Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Butterfill, John Moynihan, Hon Colin
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Pendry, Tom
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Pike, Peter L.
Carrington, Matthew Portillo, Michael
Cash, William Roe, Mrs Marion
Chope, Christopher Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Cran, James Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Summerson, Hugo
Fallon, Michael Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Forman, Nigel Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Forth, Eric Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Franks, Cecil Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Gale, Roger Tracey, Richard
Godman, Dr Norman A. Trippier, David
Gordon, Mildred Ward, John
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Watts, John
Ground, Patrick Wells, Bowen
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Wilshire, David
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Winterton, Nicholas
Janman, Tim Wise, Mrs Audrey
Kilfedder, James Younger, Rt Hon George
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Kirkhope, Timothy Tellers for the Ayes:
Kirkwood, Archy Mr. David Amess and
Knapman, Roger Mr. Clifford Forsythe.
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Alexander, Richard Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Allen, Graham Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Arnold, Sir Thomas Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Batiste, Spencer Chapman, Sydney
Bevan, David Gilroy Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Blackburn, Dr John G. Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Cope, Rt Hon John Meale, Alan
Cormack, Patrick Miscampbell, Norman
Cryer, Bob Mitchell, Sir David
Dewar, Donald Morley, Elliot
Dixon, Don Mudd, David
Dobson, Frank Needham, Richard
Dunnachie, Jimmy Nicholls, Patrick
Durant, Tony Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Dykes, Hugh Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Evennett, David Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Fenner, Dame Peggy Paice, James
Fisher, Mark Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Fookes, Dame Janet Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Foster, Derek Rathbone, Tim
Fraser, John Redwood, John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
George, Bruce Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Riddick, Graham
Grocott, Bruce Ruddock, Joan
Hampson, Dr Keith Sims, Roger
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Skinner, Dennis
Harris, David Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Haselhurst, Alan Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Haynes, Frank Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Stern, Michael
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Stevens, Lewis
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Thorne, Neil
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Howells, Geraint Tredinnick, David
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Vaz, Keith
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Viggers, Peter
Illsley, Eric Wallace, James
Irvine, Michael Warren, Kenneth
Jack, Michael Wheeler, Sir John
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Widdecombe, Ann
Kennedy, Charles Wigley, Dafydd
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Wood, Timothy
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Yeo, Tim
Lilley, Peter
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Tellers for the Noes:
Maclennan, Robert Mr. Austin Mitchell and
McNamara, Kevin Mr. Anthony Nelson.
Division No. 309] [10.13 pm
Alexander, Richard Dobson, Frank
Allen, Graham Dunnachie, Jimmy
Arbuthnot, James Dykes, Hugh
Arnold, Sir Thomas Evennett, David
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Batiste, Spencer Fisher, Mark
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fookes, Dame Janet
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Foster, Derek
Bevan, David Gilroy Franks, Cecil
Blackburn, Dr John G. Fraser, John
Bottomley, Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter George, Bruce
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Buck, Sir Antony Gordon, Mildred
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Grocott, Bruce
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Ground, Patrick
Carrington, Matthew Hampson, Dr Keith
Cash, William Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Chapman, Sydney Harris, David
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Haselhurst, Alan
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Haynes, Frank
Cope, Rt Hon John Henderson, Doug
Cormack, Patrick Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Cryer, Bob Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Dewar, Donald Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Dixon, Don Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howells, Geraint Pike, Peter L.
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Rathbone, Tim
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Redwood, John
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Illsley, Eric Ruddock, Joan
Irvine, Michael Sims, Roger
Jack, Michael Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Kennedy, Charles Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Kilfedder, James Stern, Michael
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Stevens, Lewis
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Summerson, Hugo
Kirkwood, Archy Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Lilley, Peter Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Thorne, Neil
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Maclennan, Robert Tracey, Richard
McNamara, Kevin Tredinnick, David
Madden, Max Trippier, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Vaz, Keith
Meale, Alan Viggers, Peter
Michael, Alun Wallace, James
Miscampbell, Norman Warren, Kenneth
Mitchell, Sir David Wheeler, Sir John
Morley, Elliot Widdecombe, Ann
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Wigley, Dafydd
Morrison, Sir Charles Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Moynihan, Hon Colin Winterton, Nicholas
Mudd, David Wise, Mrs Audrey
Needham, Richard Wood, Timothy
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Yeo, Tim
Nicholls, Patrick Younger, Rt Hon George
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Tellers for the Ayes:
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Mr. Austin Mitchell and
Paice, James Mr. Anthony Nelson.
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath)
Amess, David Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Patnick, Irvine
Boscawen, Hon Robert Pendry, Tom
Chope, Christopher Portillo, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Powell, William (Corby)
Durant, Tony Riddick, Graham
Fallon, Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Forman, Nigel Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Skinner, Dennis
Forth, Eric Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Janman, Tim Ward, John
K Kirkhope, Timothy Wells, Bowen
Knapman, Roger Wilshire, David
Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Lightbown, David Tellers for the Noes:
Maclean, David Mr. Tony Marlow and
Malins, Humfrey Mr. James Cran.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That this House agrees with the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House in its First Report (House of Commons Paper No. 265—I).