§ 3.4 p.m.
§ LORD EGREMONT rose to move, That this House would welcome the televising of some of its proceedings for an experimental period, as an additional means of demonstrating its usefulness in giving a lead to public opinion. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is a short Motion, and I shall make a short speech. In volume, as I say, the Motion is a small one, but it embodies a large and important proposition. My Lords, the proposition is this. This House, in spite of all the many strictures against it through the years, still exists, and to prove it we are here—those of us who are not at the races. Anyhow, we are still at large, and we are here.
§ This House is developing, not only in its composition but in its ways, its conventions and its outlook. This House has become—and I do not think it immodest for any Member of this House to say so—a debating Chamber of a quality and detachment which is probably as good as any to be found in the world to-day. It is one of the greatest debating Chambers on earth. Our discussions in this House throw light on many subjects of the very first importance. While we do quite well in getting our debates made known to the public, and receive quite a good 66 Press, we ought to do more ourselves to communicate, and to communicate more directly, with all the people of this country whom we seek, in our deliberations here, to serve. We cannot reasonably ask our fellow countrymen, our fellow subjects, every single one of them, to read the reports of proceedings in Hansard, but what we can do, with the aid of television, is to interest the public in a more vivid and direct manner than Parliament—either House, either part of Parliament—has yet been able to do.
§ We have in this House a number of Members of the greatest distinction in many fields: in the fields of learning and scholarship; in the fields of industry and commerce; in the fields of administration; in the fields of gallantry in the Queen's service in war and peace—and, of course, my list is not exhaustive. We can all think at once of many other splendid examples of high attainment represented in this House: in the Church; in the law; in medicine; in scientific research, and in philosophy in all its parts, not to speak of writers and publicists. In short, my Lords, every talent is represented in this House. I can say this, because I belong to none of these high categories which I have just mentioned. I myself am now but a simple country gentleman. I do not claim distinction in any of these spheres, but I can recognise this distinction in many of those with whom I have the privilege to sit in this House, and I wish that I could share this privilege with larger numbers of my fellow countrymen.
§ I wish that they, too, could benefit at first hand, as I benefit, from what one is able to hear in this House. I am now suggesting a way in which they might gain something of this advantage. I am suggesting a way in which at least some of the informed judgment, some of the knowledge, some of the maturity and enterprise manifested by Members of this House could be made directly available from time to time to an audience vastly wider than that which we could accommodate here. I am not suggesting that every single hour in this House is of riveting interest to the country at large, or even, let us face it, to most of us present. For example, despite the Motion which I moved, and which was passed in this House, not very long ago, about the length of speeches, I am sorry to say that many speeches are still thought overlong, not too say turgid, perhaps.67
§ I know, too, that quite a lot of our proceedings, although necessary, are on the dull side. But the real point is that some of our debates are on subjects of the very first importance to every single family in this country; they are of great pith and moment. I believe that these families are entitled to know, rather more fully than they do at present, just what is said and just what we are about. In my view, these people would often find themselves extremely interested and, as I have already stated, I believe that it is our duty to make this possible; it is certainly nobody else's. We could do this, like sensible men and women of affairs, by employing the medium still untried by Parliament: that is to say, television.
§ If we did what I am advocating we should, I think, be doing a good service to the public. I believe that the public would acquire a new interest in, and a new respect for, the serious deliberations of serious people in this House. We should thus do justice to ourselves while performing our duty to the nation to whom we have responsibility. I therefore believe that your Lordships will think as I do, and will support my Motion. We should do something definite. I believe that we should make a beginning by introducing television for an experimental period for some of our proceedings; hence this Motion. And I think it is fair now to give notice that I do not want to leave this debate in the air at the end, and if necessary I shall press the Motion to a Division. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House would welcome the televising of some of its proceedings for an experimental period, as an additional means of demonstrating its usefulness in giving a lead to public opinion.—(Lord Egremont.)
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ LORD HARLECH
My Lords, what I have always admired about my noble friend Lord Egremont, who has described himself—I thought with some humility—as "a simple country gentleman", is that his views are usually both original and sensible; and on the whole I find this rather a rare combination in public life. What often passes for sensible advice is usually very dull advice. But nobody could ever accuse my noble friend of being dull. I have known him since early youth, I 68 am happy to say, and in more recent years I came across him quite often when he was dispensing hospitality, as well as doing other more important jobs, in the Private Secretary's room at No. 10 Downing Street. And I may say that when he was dispensing hospitality he rarely left himself out. But I am sure we are all grateful for the manner in which he has introduced this Motion.
Some of your Lordships will perhaps agree with the first part of the Motion, but may think that there are reasons for televising some of our proceedings which are stronger than the one mentioned by my noble friend in the second part of his Motion. "Giving a lead to public opinion" is not capable of very precise definition, and I know several people who consider that they are giving a lead to public opinion whenever they open their mouths. No doubt, on occasions, individuals in your Lordships' House, through their wisdom and eloquence, do give such a lead; but I am sure that my noble friend would agree that this House performs a great number of other valuable functions while playing its part in the Constitution of this country.
The reason why I am in favour of the televising of the proceedings in this House is that I regard television as by far the most effective means of communicating with a mass audience. It seems to me to be highly desirable in a democracy that people should be able to know, if they so wish, what is happening in their own Legislature. That is the purpose of having a public gallery in the Chamber, and that is largely the reason, although not the sole reason, for having printed the daily OFFICIAL REPORT Of our proceedings. Television is the most modern means of communication between human beings and, like it or not, I have little doubt that it will increasingly supersede the written word over a great area of human affairs. It seems to me that the public have the right to see and hear how they are governed, and that we, for our part, should be wise to make use of the most effective means of communicating with that public.
Those are the general and fundamental grounds on which I support my noble friend's Motion. I should like to turn, for a minute or two, to the objections often raised against such a project and 69 to some of the very real problems involved in putting the proposal into practice; for I know that many of your Lordships still strongly hold to some of these objections. The most usual objection is that the presence of television cameras will excite your Lordships to such a degree that speeches will be addressed not to other Members of this House but to the viewing audience outside. It is also said that those of us who have tendencies towards exhibitionism will be encouraged to indulge in them. I believe that these objections are, on the whole, greatly exaggerated.
In the first place, the person who will make the most impact on the audience outside will be the person who is clearly being the most effective and persuasive in this forum. In addition, my own experience of the United Nations, where both the General Assembly and the Security Council are wide open to television and filming at all times, is that it is extremely difficult to be conscious of two audiences at the same time. This means that speakers naturally, if not inevitably, address themselves quite specifically to the live audience in front of them. Nor do I remember any delegate's style of speaking being noticeably changed through the presence of television or film cameras. I believe that much the same experience is within the knowledge of many noble Lords with regard to Party conferences, although I have not myself taken part in them over the last five years. What about the exhibitionists? On this point, all I can say is that we ourselves do not find it difficult to judge who they are and how much value to attach to their utterances. I suggest that the British public will not find it too difficult, either. In any case, I am sure it would be quite wrong to turn "thumbs down" on an important development of this kind, on the ground that a very small minority might possibly make a nuisance of themselves.
Next, my Lords, I want to say a word or two about what I might call the technical objections. As I understand it, the lighting in the Chamber would not have to be excessively bright, and therefore excessively hot, if television cameras only were to be used. It is the colour film which requires an uncomfortable degree of brightness. A much more serious 70 problem would arise over the need for extensive editing of the video tapes before broadcasting, since clearly, as my noble friend has said, no television channel would wish to show the entire day's proceedings in this House. And indeed, casting my mind back to last year, there were occasions when some of your Lordships' language, though no doubt necessary in the circumstances, would have had the internal television censors reeling. But seriously, my Lords, once an element of editing is introduced there is always the danger of bias creeping in, or at least a danger of absence of balance. This is where the analogy with Hansard breaks down, since a full verbatim report cannot be biased, and any lack of balance is a fair reflection of the performance of the contestants in the debate.
Who is to do the cutting and editing, and what control will there be over this process? These are very real problems, but I do not believe that they are insuperable. For instance, I, no doubt with other of your Lordships, frequently listen to those excellent B.B.C. broadcasts, "To-day in Parliament", and I have rarely, if ever, heard of their being criticised for giving an unfair picture of the day's proceedings in Parliament. I am sure that the job can be done satisfactorily and a televised programme of "To-day in the House of Lords" would, I believe, serve a valuable purpose. This might even, as the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, suggested, be one of those occasions when your Lordships' House can give a lead to public opinion, and we might dare to hope that, profiting from our example, another place might see its way to making it a case of a television version of "To-day in Parliament" as a whole.
What my noble friend Lord Egremont has put forward is a modest but valuable proposal, although I accept, as he did, that it enshrines a very important point of principle. But, as it stands, it is a modest proposal, that we should welcome the televising of some of our proceedings for an experimental period. If we do not like the results, we can, of course, bring the experiment to an end; but my own personal very strong feeling is that it would be most unwise for Parliament or your Lordships' House to continue to shut itself off from the most powerful medium 71 of mass communication. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will give your support to Lord Egremont's Motion.
§ 3.23 p.m.
My Lords, we are again indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, for bringing before your Lordships a topical and, I have no doubt, a probably controversial subject for debate: yet another of those birds about which he can sing, "Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the Peers?" My Lords, the Motion is so worded that I think it would perhaps be difficult to vote against any televising of any of our proceedings for experimental purposes. I would underline the word "experimental" which is in the Motion, for it has become the prerogative of this House in recent times to abandon much of its traditional reluctance to grasp nettles.
Indeed, we now have a reputation for being rather in advance of our colleagues elsewhere in tackling subjects which, perhaps rather surprisingly, have received more approval than disapproval. I therefore suggest that the word "experimental" which appears in the Motion must be an impediment to those who feel mistrust of this whole proposal, the televising of our proceedings; and, of course, it is only some of our proceedings which it is proposed to televise. It is not easy to make a diehard stand against a merely tentative and probationary application of this now normal form of communication to the public of matters which concern not us alone, but every member of the community, as the noble Lord has just told us.
I therefore support this Motion, but like, I think, many Members of this House, I have some reservations and doubts. I should be unwilling to give complete freedom for any person, or body of persons, from outside this Chamber to put their own interpretations upon our procedure, on our intentions, on our individual views, and, I think most important of all, on the atmosphere and the subtle changes of mood of this Chamber which we know so well, changes which are of tremendous significance but which have always eluded both description and explanation. It is, as one noble Lord said, quite useless to deny that there is in many quar- 72 ters much antagonism towards the House of Lords, not merely because it needs overdue reformation (which, of course, could easily be achieved on the basis of the all-Party agreement of 1948, but which is a different matter), but because of the long-standing prejudice in the public mind—misunderstanding—and the present wave of iconoclasm which, if I may put it this way, seeks so widely to replace acceptance by experimental revolt. I think that is a regrettable attitude.
This tendency denies the whole concept of trying to liberalise and add to what has merit and cutting out the dead wood—which, of course, is what the Liberal Party, and many members of other Parties, stand for. The current mood would destroy first and then improvise, which is a bad thing to do. It is because of this general trend towards destruction in modern satire (as it is wrongly called), in the arts, in philosophy and in politics too, that I fear the unfair distortion which television sometimes cannot help giving in its efforts to be popular as well as informative or entertaining. That seems to me a real danger.
I would urge, therefore, that any televising of our procedures, which are and must be both important and responsible, should be under the censorship and control of this House itself. Such a record must be honest and it must be accurate and balanced in its portrayal. While I accuse nobody of bad faith in his intentions, I feel convinced that a purely external and immediately ad hoc pictorial assessment of our daily functions would be more than likely to be inadequate. In support of this opinion, I should like to recall to your Lordships (I hope that I am not out of order in so doing) the experience of many sincere and able men and women who have become Members of this House with very considerable misgivings about its value as part of the Parliamentary machine. With no betrayal of their democratic or socialist principles which they maintain here in integrity, I consider there are very few, if any, who do not come to realise without vanity and without compromise the great value, above Party interest, of our Second Chamber. That is a mature assessment which they come to, which of course cannot be put across 73 in a casual glimpse on a television screen of the occasional dullness or occasional absurdity which sometimes invades this Chamber. And there will, as has been said, always be a temptation towards insincerity on both sides of the camera; to over-emphasise the trivial and to gloss over the wider implication.
On the other hand, the modern House of Lords, certainly does not for a moment consider itself to be above criticism or to be sacrosanct. I regard this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, said, as it exists to-day (I might add with personal and Party reservations on two points, hereditary and the dominance of one Party beyond the wishes of the people), as basically one of the most disinterested, and therefore one of the most democratic and objective, assemlies in the world, in spite of its being a non-elected body. And, my Lords, I say this as a radical.
It is this new image of the House which I cherish, and it is an image which I should dearly like to see projected to those of all political persuasions who to-day still have inadequate opportunity to assess our Second Chamber in its true impact, and, as a result, can so easily misjudge it on obsolete standards. I therefore welcome this proposal to explore—and I emphasise again, "to explore"—a better and a truer exposition of what we are and what we do. That, surely, is a democratic obligation. If as a result we are to be judged on that projection, no effort should be spared to ensure that the demonstration is unbiased and shall give, even in small instalments, a true and balanced impression of the full picture.
I therefore hope that we shall proceed in this experimental matter with great vigilance—which does not mean without urgency—taking care that a novel and untried medium shall not suddenly be built in to our Parliamentary system without the greatest circumspection and consideration. Whether we should have a continuous or selective record, whether it should be "live" or recorded, whether it should be a closed or a new circuit, whether it should be first tried out on sound radio—these are matters to be considered, I think, by a carefully selected body, which I hope would be largely, or perhaps entirely, composed of those with deep knowledge of the House of 74 Lords' procedure, tradition, idiosyncrasies and moods, guided and advised, of course, by the highest experts in this comparatively new but enormously influential medium in the field of communication, information and education.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, for initiating this debate and for the carefully chosen words in which he has moved it—temperate words, indicating no urgency, appropriate at this time when we are beset with difficulties both at home and abroad. Otherwise the distinguished London correspondent of the New York Times, who recently accused the British public of a frivolous indifference to the seamen's strike, might take this debate as another example of, so to speak, fiddling while London is burning.
But the gravity of a situation is not usually written on the faces of people following their customary pursuits. I doubt whether Vietnam is imprinted on the faces of shoppers on Fifth Avenue, New York. We have also been reprimanded nearer home by Mr. Callaghan and Mr. Grimond for irresponsibility. So I hope that we can take part in to-day's debate without being told that we have got all our priorities wrong and do not take life seriously enough.
I wish to support the noble Lords' Motion, not because I think that to televise the proceedings of this House is top priority at this particular moment, but because we should be taking a long-term view of the scope, the stimulus, the impact, the influence and the potential power of this great medium in politics in this country. No one will disagree that an ever-growing democracy is dismal to contemplate unless it is increasingly well-informed and educated, and in this context its knowledge and understanding of Parliament and Government is of vital importance. No one, I believe, should underestimate the power of television to encourage this interest more quickly than any other medium.
The British public seems to care less and less about the debates and proceedings of either House of Parliament. This is due partly to inadequate and scanty reporting by the Press. And it has also led to a continuous denigration of Parliament, which, I think, is at best unhealthy and at worst dangerous. Members of the 75 Commons and of the Lords are often held in contempt. I believe that to televise the important debates would counteract this loose criticism and that a more balanced assessment would be made by the public of Parliamentary performance. In fact, I think that the arguments usually put forward against televising the Commons or the Lords are superficial. The only one that I would take seriously is that of the cost at this moment. It is expensive, but with the speed of scientific advance in this space age we can look forward to much cheaper television in future. The technical difficulties and those of editing the debates can all be overcome.
I think that some people, even in this Chamber, say that televising the speakers would only bore the viewers. I do not know whether this is a confession or an indictment. It may be that looking in on our debates is an acquired taste, but it cannot fail to be instructive to people who have little idea of what goes on here.
We have had the greatest examples of the impact of televising political issues in the United States. It really started with Senator Kefauver's investigation of inter-state commercial crime hearings. Then came the notorious McCarthy inquisitorial techniques. I remember that during those years many Americans would say, "Give him enough rope and he will hang himself" The rope that President Eisenhower threw Senator McCarthy was the televising of these committees, and it was television that speeded his downfall, in a way with which the newspapers could not compete. Recently we have had excerpts in this country from the televising of the American Foreign Relations Committee on the Vietnam War. The interrogations of Ministers and Generals are unforgettable. We have had nothing in this country comparable.
What television does for political debate is instant dramatisation, in a way that a newspaper cannot do at all. Even when newspaper reporting is good, it is rarely comprehensive. A long debate would take up too much space. Whatever our Parliament is like—and I speak of both Houses—many people agree that it is the best Parliament in the world and an example to many other countries. 76 I believe that in a democracy more people should know about the quality of its personnel and the debating. In television, you have only yourself to blame. No journalist can trim up or trim down your speech. The "show-offs" are soon shown up.
Finally, in supporting this Motion, I believe that this Chamber is particularly suited for welcoming an experimental period of television. We have many distinguished people in every field in this Chamber and they are much more independent than Members of the Commons can be. Our debates are less polemical and more factual. It is only a question of time and of priorities before the televising of both Houses of Parliament will be a part of all television programmes—and I hope that this House will one day have a satellite to call its very own.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ BARONESS ASQUITH OF YARNBURY
My Lords, I rise to support, and to support with enthusiasm, the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont. I support it on two grounds. First, I think it might do something really important and effective to revive and rekindle the interest of the nation in Parliament. Secondly, I think that it might be rather good for ushere in your Lordships' House. I think that it might add to the liveliness of our debates; it might quicken their tempo. It might even raise their temperature just a point or two. All of which results I should wholeheartedly welcome.
I must confess that when it was suggested that this experiment should be tried out first in another place, I felt doubtful and divided in my own mind. I shared some of the fears which were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont—namely, that there would be an ugly rash of exhibitionists in televised debates addressing themselves, not to Mr. Speaker and to their fellow Members, but to the vast television audience beyond. But here, in your Lordships' House, I have no such misgivings. To over-excite your Lordships, one danger referred to by the noble Lord, would be, I think, an almost impossible tour de force. Nothing would make me prouder than to achieve it, but, alas! I have no hopes of doing so. Then—and I hope 77 that I shall not shock some of your Lordships—just a touch of exhibitionism might do us all a power of good. After all, the purpose of politics, as I see it, is to persuade other people to accept ideas. In order to do this, one must, in the first place, arrest their attention, and then, if possible, engage their interest.
I submit that in spite of all we are doing here, the field in which we are doing it to-day is not a very wide one. We all know the reason for this. There has been a dramatic revolution in what we call the media of communications. When I was young the platform was the main political battleground—after Parliament, of course. Vast audiences thronged enormous halls and listened to interminable speeches. And not merely were those speeches listened to; they were reported, often verbatim, in columns and columns of newspapers; and they were not merely reported, but read. I think we all agree that, except perhaps in a General Election, the platform as a battlefield is out. A Cabinet Minister returning from a spot-lit by-election will proudly tell one that he had a marvellous meeting if as many as 50 people turned out to listen.
I have grave fears—I hope they are unfounded—that Parliament is in great danger of following the platform into public oblivion. How many people read the condensed reports of the debates in either House? I am no statistician, but my guess is that the proportion of the electorate who even glance at them is infinitesimal. A speech prepared with blood, sweat, toil and tears nowadays commands infinitely less attention than an impromptu off-the-cuff broadcast. This has been brought home to me during the last week in a personal way, because about ten days ago I gave a ten-minute broadcast interview, of no importance—not billed in the Radio Times and not at a peak hour—which has brought me in shoals of letters from all over the country; and not, as your Lordships may imagine, from lunatics, but from highly interested and interesting people. I submit that no speech, whatever its merits or demerits, commands a similar response to-day.
Of course, the explanation is in the power of the medium, the range of the medium and its curious, its almost intrusive intimacy. I realised this some years 78 ago when I was helping my son at a by-election in Devonshire, and I was asked for the first time in my life to canvass. I had never before canvassed, because I had always worked in Scotland, where canvassing is, or was, taboo: it was naturally considered an unwarranted intrusion into private life for a stranger to knock at your door and to ask questions about your politics. I felt full of sympathy with this attitude and when told to canvass. I was embarrassed, shy and inhibited. Television came to my rescue, because I happened to have appeared, not often, but occasionally, on the screen. I was greeted in the villages many times as an old friend. I was invited into people's houses, and several of them, when they showed me their sitting room, said: "You recognise this sitting room don't you?—because you have been in it so often." The illusion of the screen is so powerful that the flickering image it presents becomes a living presence. If your Lordships' House could be projected right into the homes of the people, and if they could have just an inkling of what we are up to and what we are doing, I think we might well attract their attention and, indeed, with a little bit of luck, engage their interest also.
There is, I believe, one vital factor that we should take into account if, when we have taken the plunge, it is to be successful; and that is that this is an age of entertainment. People expect to be entertained from morning until night, and it is the promise and the provision of entertainment which give the screen its magnetic, its almost hypnotic, drawing power. Shall we be able to entertain our vast audience? Of course, if we do not, we shall be ruthlessly switched off—I hear as a nightmare the thunder of a million switches clicking off. It is here that this proposed experiment—I say this with deep respect—might benefit and profit your Lordships' House.
I think we have of late earned the esteem of a thoughtful minority by the courageous way in which we have tackled awkward and ticklish, non-Party issues, such as, for instance, the reform of the homosexual law (all honour to the noble Earl, Lord Arran), the reform of the abortion laws (all honour to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin); and above all, to me, by our vote on the abolition of the death penalty. 79 I believe that by this fearless lead that we have given, not only to public opinion but also to another place, we have inspired and deserved respect. But are we good entertainers? That is quite another question. All we have to offer in the way of entertainment is speech—or rather, I should say, speeches. In my experience a speaker draws his lifeblood from the reaction of his audience. As an old hack of the hustings, accustomed to rough houses, and far more accustomed to the plinth of Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square than to the hush of this historic House, I find that to speak without one audible murmur of assent or dissent makes me feel as if I were reciting Cassabianca without a prompter. It makes me feel like a match without a box to strike on.
Again—and here I have viewing in mind—the admirable, almost ironclad, courtesy of this House inhibits cut-and-thrust. When a speaker is contradicted or corrected by another noble Lord, instead of heaving half a brick at him, he thanks the noble Lord for his rebuke. I remember that my noble friend Lord Byers, who made a notable speech from these Benches in the debate on manpower, made one mildly critical observation—milk and water it was to me, who knew his usual form—and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who said that it was high time the Clerk read the Standing Order relating to asperity. What on earth is wrong with asperity? If asperity is undeserved, surely it should be replied to with even greater asperity; and if it is deserved, surely it should be applauded.
One other factor which I believe will increase the liveliness of our debates for viewers is if fewer speeches are read aloud from scripts. I sympathise wholeheartedly with the perfectionists who desire to choose and use exactly the right language, and who, lest they forget it, commit it to paper. But, paradoxically, a more imperfect, a more ragged, and even a more hesitant, speech is sometimes easier to listen to, and I am sure would make for better viewing. I hope that I shall not he considered presumptuous, as a newcomer to this House, for proffering these counsels of imperfection—because I know that that is what they are: less courtesy, less reading, more demonstrations, hostile or otherwise. But let us remember that we shall be competing 80 against wavelengths offering far more sensational fare than we can possibly offer. Therefore, I think it is worth considering one or two of these problems in the interests of good viewing.
Perhaps interest in this House was at its zenith two hundred years ago when its debates were held in absolute secrecy and when to report them was a crime, until some gallant printers gatecrashed the public galleries and the Rules of Privilege and published their reports. The Lord Mayor of London and his aldermen, who supported them, were committed to the Tower "to expiate their contumacy" Those gallant printers for the first time let the public read what was happening. Let us also allow the public to see and hear with their own eyes and ears what happens here! Let this House once more blaze a trail and give a lead! Let us have a go!
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, before the noble Lady sits down, it would be fairer to say that Standing Order 29 lays down that asperity should be avoided in this House, and it goes on, I believe, to say that this means personal remarks.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, your Lordships have listened to five speeches strongly supporting the Motion so ably, briefly and clearly moved by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont. There are twelve further speakers who may, for all I know, be of the same view as the five who have so far spoken. I must say it makes me feel rather like the boy who stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled, but before his legs were burned away these were the words he said: "I do not wish television in your Lordships' House". It is, of course, a balance of considerations and I trust your Lordships will allow me, for a few moments, to deploy another point of view. I oppose this Motion because I believe, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, said, that television would go some way towards damaging Parliament and would not succeed in the laudable objectives set out in the Motion.
I submit that the main question for our consideration is not arousing public interest. That can be done on the hustings and it can be done by Party 81 propaganda. I suggest that the main question also is not the education of the public. That is not our task; there are other media for doing that. The main question is certainly not public amusement, nor do I believe it is really one of leading public opinion. The question seems to me to be whether television would affect the functioning of Parliament as a forum for the debate of issues great and small, issues ranging from national issues to the individual grievance of a single citizen in this country.
Both Houses of Parliament when in Session are really a committee of wisdom for the consideration of those matters ranging from national policy to individual injustice. Every word spoken in debate in your Lordships' Chamber and in another place is recorded. The noble Lord, Lord Harlech, said the public has the right to know. Of course it has the right to know, and the right can be exercised by the public if the public is not so lazy as not to take advantage of its opportunities. Every word spoken in debate by any member is spoken either to a Minister or to another Private Member. It is essentially a debating Chamber and I fear some destruction of this intimacy of debate if television pictures and sound are reproduced to a wide audience outside this House.
I foresee two things. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, said, speakers would remember the wider audience, and quite rightly so, but they would have to remember the wider audience in the advocacy of the particular cause for which they were speaking. The noble Lord, Lord Harlech, quoted the United Nations Organisation as one where the speakers were free from any thoughts of outside audiences. I do not think those United Nations debates which we read here are really comparable with debates in Parliament when in Session, with the intimacy of a debate on a particular subject on a particular day. Their forum is at all times the world.
I should have preferred the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, to refer to Australia. I have been in the Chamber in Australia when the red light has gone on, which signals that radio broadcasting is in operation. Who will say that the tone of the speeches does not at once change? 82 Who will say that when the red light is on there is not at once competition to be called by Mr. Speaker? We are all human and I feel that all of us would be bound, and rightly I believe, to look over our shoulders and think of the wider audience. It is not for us to say what would happen in another place, but it would be very much worse, where there are constituents to be thought of all the time.
If, however, one grants the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, his point that your Lordships, one and all, are so immaculate as to ignore the wider audience, then I think we should present a rather poor, boring public picture to those watching and not within the debating circle. This awful new technique of appearing on television in order to create what is known now as a "public image"! Probably one of the most endearing remarks of the late Leader of this House, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who we all, on all sides of the House, hold in great affection, was made when he said on television, after he had resigned the Patrty leadership, "At last I can put my spectacles on without being told I am going to lose the next Election"! I think we should appear rather a boring public picture. I think the public would look at the House of Lords in debate as rather like a zoo, and really I do not believe they would think very much of all the exhibits. If the public are bored it will be a flop and we shall have done Parliament no good. It will have damaged the function of Parliament, which is essentially to debate within itself.
Some advocates of this Motion feel that the House of Lords does not get a fair crack of the whip in Press publicity. Personally I do not agree. I believe speeches and debates find their own level in public interest; when a speech is good, when the subject is acute in public interest, then there is a report. I think the seeking of public attention and appreciation, which is a natural feeling in persons in pursuit of certain policies, would be harmful to Parliament. I feel that in trying to force the pace of public interest and public esteem—because that is what this Motion is doing—we may lose out in the value which our Chamber has for consideration of great issues. I would conclude by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Egremont and those who support him: Do not force the pace or you may well lose the race.
§ 4 0 p.m.
My Lords, it is well known that in your Lordship's House there are many who oppose this Motion, and I am glad that at last we have heard from the noble Lord opposite an expression of that opposition. I support the Motion. I know that many people, both inside this House and outside, would regard television cameras here as an intolerable invasion. Many people think that the Press is bad enough, but at least it is unobtrusive; it sits up in its Gallery and it does not interrupt our cosy intimacy. The fear is that television would.
I support the televising of Parliamentary proceedings in general, and in this House in particular, on more general grounds. I think to be televised is very much in the interests of Parliament, because ever since the invention of radio and television it has been possible to go back to the days before representative government. The Greek city state was small enough for the human voice to be heard by every member. In the smaller Swiss cantons, even to-day, they still have general assemblies of all the electors. But with the large national States it was impossible for the citizens as a whole to speak to the Government, or the Government to speak to the citizens, and we had the invention of representative government and Parliament, where the Members, the delegates, speak to the Government and the Government speak to the delegates. But now the Government are in a position to go over the heads of Members of Parliament. Winston Churchill was a great Parliamentarian, and he always made his great public addresses first on the floor of the House, but then he went round to the B.B.C. and spoke to the nation.
It has already been said that radio and television have had a great impact on constituency elections. The noble Baroness opposite said that few go to hear or see the candidate when they can hear or see the leaders on the "Telly". This is also, incidentally, having an effect on politics generally. It is the photogenic young man or woman who becomes a political leader—and perhaps we are all the better for that. But now we are going a step further. The young man or woman who wants power and who formerly stood for election and got to the Cabinet, now goes to the radio and to the television as 84 a commentator. He is known; he is liked; he stands for election; he is elected easily and he gets more quickly to the Cabinet. He has drawing power. We have Chris Chat away, as an example. Or a Member of Parliament is chosen as a commentator, such as Christopher Mayhew. But there is trouble when the commentator is taken off; listeners want him back. On the other hand, other Members of Parliament object to somebody "hogging" the microphone. When I was running the Palestine Broadcasting Service for three years I came here for a training course at the B.B.C. I was warned at the beginning, "Always take your commentators off before they become popular; otherwise you will never be able to get rid of them".
But the danger today is really that representative government is at stake. Leaders can address the public over the heads of Parliament, and the reactions can be measured by public opinion polls. We are now getting the strange suggestion made that public opinion polls on elections should be prohibited or restricted. There is a very good American motto,If you can't fight 'em, join 'em",so I think that Parliament should use radio and television on the Floor of the House rather than that radio and television should use individual leaders and commentators in the studio. To my mind, for Parliament to oppose the televising of debates is suicidal. The televising of debates and the broadcasting of debates has been adopted in certain countries, Denmark, Holland, and Sweden, without any of the dire consequences of which we have been told. Of course, I know that if one says that something has been tried in another country it is damning evidence that it should not be tried in Great Britain.
But how to do it? The minimum of interference is taken for granted. I rule out at once continuous, simultaneous transmission, to begin with on grounds of expense. There would have to be at least one separate channel for Parliament, which would cost something like £20 million a year; and if the House of Lords were to be broadcast at the same time for three or four days a week, that would be another £10 million or £20 million, making £30 million, which is far too expensive.
85 I entirely agree that to broadcast speeches at length is boring. Abroad where this has been tried it has had a curious consequence. Ministers have pre-empted the prime broadcasting time from 8 to 10 p.m., and even prefer to postpone their replies until they can have access to the microphone at the best time of the day. Hansard of course is full, and because it is so full very few people read it. But The Times has a page a day of Parliamentary reporting covering both Houses. It includes the major speeches and it includes the major points. But it is condensed and it is edited. I can see no reason why we should not follow that example and have a condensed and edited television reproduction and radio broadcast of Parliament. It would be recorded in full and would then be cut to 15 or 30 minutes. We have those two very successful programmes, "Today in Parliament", which is for 14 minutes at 10.45 every evening when Parliament is in session. That has an audience of about 150,000, and it is repeated the following day as "Yesterday in Parliament", which has an audience of 850,000. That sounds impressive, but it is one-tenth of the audience "Panorama" has. However, that is because it does not have the voices of the speakers and does not have the picture of the person speaking.
If we had a condensed and edited version of Parliamentary proceedings it would get over three of the major difficulties of live broadcasting. The first is that the microphone picks up casual conversations between Members when it is not supposed to do so, and it is very difficult to filter them out unless you edit the programme. The second is that many speeches are poorly delivered. There is the "Er…er"which goes on, and. if I may say so, the artificial stammer. I notice that many of my fellow Peers in this House speak perfectly in the Dining Room, but when they appear on the Floor of the House they have a stammer, because it seems that to speak words perfectly is vulgar. I have heard the continuous broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings in Australia, and they pick up the epithets, some of which are certainly vulgar.
86 The third is, of course, the speaking to the gallery. We all consciously, or unconsciously, speak to the gallery. We are all conscious of the fact that the Press exists, and there is the same objection to-day to television and radio in this House as there was originally to the Press. We have become accustomed to the Press, and we are grateful to them for the coverage they give. If speeches were to be cut, there would be less inducement to Members to speak to the gallery. Experience abroad has been that once you televise or broadcast speeches, they become shorter. In Israel they have closed circuit recording of all the speeches, and excerpts of the voices are introduced in the round-up in the evening. That, of course, enables all appeals to the gallery to be cut out. Therefore, by having an edited and condensed version you solve three problems: those of picking up the aside, of poor delivery, and of speaking to the gallery.
But then two other problems arise, the first of which is, who is to edit the programme? The noble Lord, Lord Rea, is most anxious that this should be kept under Parliamentary control, but I regard that as quite impossible. I think that to place that responsibility on an employee of the House would make his life impossible. You cannot satisfy everyone. He would not be in an independent position; he would be in a weak position. Incidentally, again this has not been found necessary abroad. The editing has been handed over to the broadcasting corporations, who have managed to provide an edited and unbiased programme.
I should like to see it done in future, if it is done at all, on the same lines as "To-day in Parliament" and as The Times does it. We all believe our own speech is vital. We are most annoyed if we get only one sentence in The Times of the next morning, and we are hopping mad if we do not get mentioned at all. But after a careful analysis of the policy adopted by The Times, I find that the most interesting speeches get reported, the most quotable epigrams and wit, and that the people who are well known outside Parliament get a better reporting than those who are comparatively unknown. So that if a Member of this House or of another place who is well known speaks to the point and is witty, he is sure to 87 be included. But if he is dull and repetitious, and hardly known—perhaps because he is so dull and repetitious—then he will not be included.
What about political bias? While, of course, neither the B.B.C. nor The Times can be absolutely unbiased in the short run, day by day, I think everybody considers the coverage week by week or month by month to be eminently fair. But there are sure to be complaints; and if this were to happen in the future, the individual who felt himself aggrieved could write to the broadcasting authority or raise the matter in the House. If there is to be a televising or broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings, I suggest that there should be in each House a Committee of the three Whips, to whom individual aggrieved Members would first of all report their grievance, and that any one of those three Whips could take it up with the broadcasting authority.
Perhaps it might be a better idea to start with broadcasting first, and to leave television until later. Television is most expensive. Broadcasting could be done with much less disturbance, and one could overcome a great many of the problems first. But time presses, and therefore I would support the Motion for televising the proceedings of this House for an experimental period. But, of course, other problems would also arise. I am told that there is no real reason why installation should cause a great deal of interference. Certainly there would not be the kind of are lights and the heat that is found in the United States Congressional Committees or that one finds in the studio.
I am told that it is not necessary to have large cameras. There are new, miniaturised cameras which can be swivelled by remote control and kept on the faces of the speakers. This of course, would disguise the fact that there are from time to time so many empty Benches in the House. There would have to be a commentator, a master of ceremonies, because otherwise neither the listener nor the viewer would know who was speaking, nor would he understand the procedure. So there would have to be a continual linkage of the programme. Also, a decision would have to be made as to who would pay for this installation, and, above all, whether the tapes made 88 of the proceedings should be available to the public. I think they should not be, and that only the edited programmes should be made available. But all this I would leave to a Select Committee to decide—because it is a highly technical matter—once the general proposition has been accepted. In my opinion, the matter should not be further delayed, because I think that Parliament needs the B.B.C more than the B.B.C. needs Parliament.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Egremont always addresses the House with such charm that those of us who are compelled to differ from him always do so with reluctance. I know that he loves this place, and I know that that applies also to my noble Leader who will speak from the Front Bench later, and to the noble Earl the Leader of the House. My suspicion is that they will support this Motion. I am going to oppose it. I want to assure the House that I do so—I think they will credit me in this—with no less love for this House and for our Parliamentary institutions than they feel themselves. I do not believe that the question is whether ultimately Parliament in both Houses will be televised. If we look into the far distant future, it may become possible for any member of our democracy to find out what is happening inside either House of Parliament—I do not know. But wholly different questions arise when the proposal is, not that a person outside can find out what is happening in the Chamber, but whether part only of our proceedings shall be made available. That raises wholly different questions.
I had some twenty years in the House of Commons, and I have had some eleven years in this House, and I have tried to play my part in many debates in both Houses. I think I know something of the characteristic merits of both Assemblies, both of which I love. I believe that the reputation of a Member of either House of Parliament, even with the general public, ultimately depends on his reputation in his own Chamber and how he impresses people there. I am much more interested in the survival and efficiency of Parliamentary government than I am in any particular advance in television. My noble friend Lord Harlech, 89 in his brief and excellent speech, said that television was replacing the written word and that people are going to look at television but are not going to read. Perhaps as a former University Member it is not improper for me to say that I do not regard with any great enthusiasm the decay of literacy. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, thinks people are rapidly becoming illiterate is no reason for doing something which may be injurious to Parliamentary government.
My experience in speaking in this House during the last eleven years is that I get a certain amount of correspondence from the general public. I do not take the view that the reputation of this House is low; that is not my experience. I have also had the experience, I believe, although I myself seldom listen to it, of being mentioned from time to time in "Today in Parliament". All I know is that, as a result of that, when it happens that any of my friends or acquaintances are interested enough to listen to the programme, they do not derive from that mention in "Today in Parliament" the remotest idea of what I have said, but they may be sufficiently interested to write to me. I am not critical here for I think that "Today in Parliament" is done very well, but our proceedings cannot be summarised in such a brief period. What it enables me to do is to send them Hansard. People still are interested in reading Hansard. It is not true that Hansard is not read by anybody and has no effect. It filled me with alarm that a leading Member of our House, in fact my Deputy Leader, should express satisfaction in the fact that television was replacing reading in this country.
Then the comment was made that the whole of the proceedings in the United Nations are available on television. Exactly! The fact that the whole of the proceedings is available on television prevents the precise evil against which I am speaking to-day—namely, that here it is proposed to televise only part. Which part, how often and who chooses? The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in a speech to which I listened with the greatest interest, because he spoke from personal experience, said that we should not refuse to allow our proceedings to be televised. Has anybody asked to televise them? So far as I know the whole impetus for this 90 comes from certain members of all Parties in this House who think it will interest the public and give them a more enlightened enthusiasm for this House. What I beg noble Lords not to do is to think that the change proposed is an unimportant one, for it is a very important one indeed. If we are wrong, as I believe we are, in suggesting the televising of part of our proceedings, we can do great harm to the efficiency of this House as a House and as an essential element in our Parliamentary government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, spoke of the great effect of seeing Ministers under interrogation in certain Committees in the United States. Of course, she is perfectly right, but the great difference in the United States from the position here is that the Ministers do not appear in either Chamber of their Parliament. That is the essential difference. If there is no chance of a Minister being interrogated in the Parliamentary Chamber, it may have great advantages that the public should be able to see him interrogated on television. But, fortunately, we are not under that necessity.
The one thing that has scarcely been discussed, except by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, is the effect that this change would have on the efficiency of our own Parliamentary proceedings. I have not heard a single argument to show that we shall have a better debate here, that we shall perform our functions better, that we shall make a better contribution, if some part of our proceedings—and it has been left wholly vague what part it would be—is televised.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said the televised proceedings would have to be edited and that this could not be entrusted to any outside body. Censorship would have to be exercised here. Not long ago, we had a very interesting debate in this House about censorship, and it is rather interesting to hear a passionate plea for censorship from the leader of the Liberal Party in this House. I agree entirely with Lord Samuel's comment, that one cannot imagine a proposal less likely to work. If there has to be editing it must be done by an outside professional. Anything else would be wholly impossible.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE EARL OF LONGFORD)
My Lords, may I, as a 91 more or less neutral figure in this situation, suggest to the noble Lord that the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarn-bury, argued very strongly that televising our proceedings would improve our debates. The noble Lord cannot have been listening to that part of her argument.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I was listening very carefully. I must admit that, by reason of the acoustics, I found it very difficult to hear some of the observations of the noble Baroness. I need hardly say that I shall read, as I always do, with the greatest attention her speech when I see it in Hansard. I am not wholly comforted, because one of the things I heard was that she said, "Are we entertaining?". I am not against a noble Lord occasionally being entertaining. I often wish that I were capable of it myself. But what I do suggest is that it is not really the purpose of our Parliament to provide entertainment. It is not the sine qua non. The sine qua non of our proceedings is that we should perform efficiently as a House of Parliament. I do not think that would be brought nearer by selective television.
I suppose that the greatest Parliamentarian, and perhaps the greatest man I have known in politics, was Winston Churchill. He was a great master of the House of Commons. He made some notable broadcasts, but nobody knew better than Winston Churchill that the two arts were wholly different. From what I know from interchange of opinion, while I know that he was a great master of the House of Commons and also a great broadcaster, I cannot believe that he would have been a great enthusiast for the selective television of proceedings in either House. I may be wrong; somebody else may know better. All I can say is that the fact that you are master of both these arts does not mean in the least that you want to mix them.
I am afraid that all this may sound rather disjointed. To sum up my own view, I would say that I believe that the change which has been proposed is a much deeper and more far-reaching change than has been realised up till now by most of those who have advocated it. I do not know in the least what may ultimately happen when it is possible, in 92 some distant future, to enable any member of the public to look in on the proceedings of Parliament, without any selection whatsoever. But until that time comes I believe that we shall weaken Parliamentary Government, rather than strengthen it, by the change now proposed.
May I draw this great distinction? Many people have talked about the Press. The noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, spoke quite rightly about the struggle which the Press had in order to get the right of reporting. I should not have been an enthusiast for Press reporting if the Press were going to be admitted only occasionally for a bit of a debate. The whole point of the Press is that it can be here the whole time we are open. Then it can report us as it will, and those who are interested in what they see in the Press can find out what has happened by looking at Hansard. For all those reasons, I hope that it will not be too lightly assumed that this is a wholly enlightened proposal that is being put forward. I think it has great dangers. I expect it will be considered an intolerably conservative sentiment, but I should like to remind the House of something said in a speech in 1641 by Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland:When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ LORD HAIRE OF WHITEABBEY
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, should be gratified at the almost wholly favourable reception given to this Motion this afternoon. It is true that the noble Lord who has just sat down cannot exactly be described as an enthusiast for the Motion, but perhaps I can redress the balance during the course of my speech.
That television will come sooner or later to this House is a foregone conclusion, and I fully support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. Not only is television the people's darling; it is modern journalism. It has an impact which cannot be ignored. Who of us here, or elsewhere, who saw on the television screen the recent opening of Parliament by Her Majesty The Queen will ever forget it? It makes us pine for the days of colour. That, I believe, was television journalism at its best. Not since the early days of Parliamentary reporting and the early Hansard has there been such a breakthrough in presenting Parliament to the 93 people as television achieved on that occasion.
Live broadcasting from Parliament will find a ready television audience. One has only to note the viewer and listener appeal, the TAM ratings, of such programmes as "Dateline—Westminster", "Division" and "Westminster at Work", on television, and on the radio of "The Week in Westminster"—a programme which has been referred to frequently this afternoon—"To-day in Parliament" and the rest, to know that Parliament provides a never-ending interest to the large viewing and listening public outside.
But we must be on our guard. There was recent evidence that the popularity of political broadcasting, even when live from the meeting-hall, had begun to wane—or was it just the concentration of those three weeks of Election campaigning on television, which often squeezed out the public's favourite programme, which caused the decline? On the other hand, in the last Parliament the cliff-hanging operation in another place produced one dramatic situation after another, so that Parliamentary news on television and on radio was eagerly awaited. Evidently, the public cannot have too much of a good thing—or can it? Therefore, in supporting this Motion I would warn against overloading the channels with Parliamentary broadcasting.
My noble friend Lord Samuel mentioned that he would like a selection of Parliamentary proceedings to be broadcast, and I would appeal for programmes of limited duration at first; say, 20 minutes at the most, three times a week to start with. Again, I believe that programmes should not be spread over the whole day's work in the House, such as has been suggested, as there would thus be only snippets, as in "Today in Parliament". I believe that the broadcast should concentrate on one chosen subject—the Parliamentary choice of the day. This would, at least, be worth including in the proposed experiment.
I believe that the value of our debates in this House, and their opinion-forming potential, rests on the quality of our discussion, the expertise which so many of your Lordships bring to the subject matter, and the knowledge that so many of your Lordships have in your day been eminent leaders of the nation. I remem- 94 ber that in one of the early debates in your Lordships' House to which I listened when I first came a year ago, no fewer than three Lord Chancellors, past and present, three former Home Secretaries, two former Lords Chief Justices, and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury took part. In his place there was a former Prime Minister, and well-known leaders on both sides of the House decorated the picture. This was the very stuff of television. It was educational, informative, intriguing, and entertaining in the best possible sense.
There may be little of the cut and thrust of another place in our debates, as the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, mentioned, but there is none of the buffoonery either. There is also none of the playing to the gallery, and there is no looking over one's shoulder to the electorate. So I believe that your Lordships' House is the best possible place in which to start such a Parliamentary experiment as is proposed in this Motion.
I am not afraid of the problems of selectivity and sub-editing on either channel, for it is obvious that we cannot expect a "ball to ball" broadcast or commentary, and editing will, therefore, be necessary. So often one hears that the B.B.C. are biased to the Right or to the Left, but it was always thus. I recollect that some 20 years ago the same clichés were being used. I was chairman of a small group in another place, given the task of investigating the charge that the B.B.C. were biased. We found evidence of Right-Wing bias and evidence of Left-Wing bias, and complaints about both came in; but, in the end, we concluded that they just about balanced each other out. Just as many wrote to the B.B.C. against a broadcast as wrote in favour of it. I have no reason to change my mind to-day that all is reasonably well politically with the B.B.C. broadcasts, and with those of I.T.N. As The Times said recently—and I quote:No one can reasonably expect, in a short programme on a controversial subject, conflicting views to be balanced to the last scruple. Some speakers are more eloquent, some are more accustomed to the techniques of broadcasting and some are better informed.I would add that, over a programme or two, justice is seen to be done to both Parties.
95 But, my Lords, the B.B.C. must have a say in this new suggestion of ours contained in the Motion. The cry will be heard, "Can we afford it?" We have heard some idea of the costs involved, and I must admit that my idea was not nearly so astronomical as that given by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. But the B.B.C. would mention not only their financial problems and their technical problems, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, also gave some idea: they would mention also the question of staffing. They are deeply conscious of the shortages of trained staff necessary for the type of editing and responsible work that would be involved. One can only counter the B.B.C. with the questions, "Can you afford to do without such ready-made material?," and, "When you are spending on a House of Lords programme, are you not saving on another?" They will say, alas, the costs are mainly capital costs; that the expenses are mainly on the expensive technical equipment necessary in order to minimise the interference with the proper use of your Lordships'House—the secreting of cameras and the rest, which builds up the technical costs. And there will be heavy expenses on a form of lighting equipment in order to reduce glare.
I believe, however, that we must find the money; that we must help the B.B.C. to get Parliamentary television going, not for any self-advertisement or for egotistical reasons, or to give the Upper House a much-needed shot in the arm. For, believe me, my Lords, this House has won—deservedly, in my view—a new 20th century place in the nation's esteem. Within the past year or two it has come to be recognised as a place where progressive ideas can be freely discussed; where old-fashioned ideas can be exposed—as, for example, in the case of the Matrimonial Homes Bill, to take a very recent example, which was so ably introduced yesterday by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill; where public scandal can be exposed as, for example, in the case of the Bill introduced by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice to deal with vice in clubs; and where such a subject as obsolete censorship is now 96 to be investigated, after a brilliant debate.
There may be some outside who feel that your Lordships are pre-occupied with problems of sex, and who will switch on their sets for perhaps mistaken erotic reasons, only to learn that sex can be talked about sensibly and un-sensationally. Two of my former colleagues in another place—the noble Lord, Lord Stow Hill, and the noble Lord, Lord Rowley—who were introduced into this place yesterday, and another two who will be introduced next Wednesday, will soon learn, as I have learnt in my short year here, that this is truly a noble House where they will be free to pursue their progressive ideas—and they will be encouraged at the response that they receive. My Lords, I believe that we should let in the light, the camera light, and display to the world that democratic processes are at work here in an intelligent way, and that there is little place here for the ancient in idea or the outworn in creed. My Lords, seeing is believing; let the experiment begin!
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ LORD FORBES
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, for introducing this Motion, and at the outset I should like to say that I heartily agree with him in all that he said about short speeches. There, however, I am afraid we must part company; I only hope that it will be temporarily. I must join with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and support their point of view. On the face of it, it is an attractive idea that as many people as possible should appreciate more readily the usefulness of this House in giving a lead to public opinion. But, on consideration, I am firmly of the opinion that the disadvantages of televising the proceedings of this House heavily outweigh the advantages. Being concerned with a television company, I suppose I should be advocating the greater use of television, but, in all fairness, I must say this. Television can be an aid: on the other hand, it can be a powerful and often dangerous weapon. Furthermore, there is even a danger in having television in this House for a trial period, because the effects of television are often not immediate. The trial period might 97 end with no visible ill-effects, and sanction may be given for the go-ahead, but there would be no guarantee that disastrous effects might not become evident later on.
The fashion these days in many quarters is that everything should be open to all. Even dress must not mask or hide anything; anything anyone says must reach the ears of everyone; everything must, so to speak, be common knowledge. I believe this tendency does not necessarily portray advancement, as is so often claimed, but rather the reverse. It leads to a lowering of standards—standards which, very often, once lowered, lead to decline and decadence. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said about this Chamber. To-day, there is an aura of congenial intimacy, sanctity and inspiration in this Chamber; but once the proceedings of this House are brought to the eyes and ears of everyone by television this mystique will fade. The curtain in this Chamber will have been raised for the first time, and in this age of exhibitionism people would turn on television, not to watch and listen to the Business of the House but to see whether a certain noble Lord known to he highly entertaining is speaking. Because television is regarded by most people as first and foremost a form of entertainment. The noble Lord, Lord Conesford, said that this Chamber is not a place of entertainment, and it must never become such a place.
In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, said, I believe that if television were to be introduced into this Chamber there would he a great temptation for some noble Lords, not only to make longer speeches but also to play to the vast audience that the cameras bring within range, rather than just to make their points simply and briefly. Both longer speeches and exhibitionist speeches directed towards the masses outside this Chamber would be highly undesirable. I would support any plea for brevity of speeches, but I cannot welcome the idea of even an experimental period of television in this House.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, for bringing this matter before the House, 98 but I am perhaps more grateful still for the fact that his Motion is framed in such a way as to make it possible for me, with a certain amount of enthusiasm, to support it. On this matter in general, I do not know; and therefore I must be careful not to be dogmatic. It is Oliver Gogarty, I think, who tells the story of the Roman Catholic priest who was instructing a number of matrons in the responsibilities of holy matrimony when one harassed mother of six children was heard to say: "I wish to goodness I knew as little about it as he does."
I am not an expert in these matters, because they have not as yet come to fruition; but I am very glad that such is the modesty and carefulness of the proposal that there is no danger of a polarisation of the issue, and both the extreme points of view, I think, are automatically rebuked. There are those who would regard, I think out of ignorance, rather than from any particular evidence, any such enterprise as a total calamity. They would take the view of proceedings in this House:Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice…It is quite conceivable that some of the daughters and other members of the households of the Philistines might be converted—I do not know. But I am quite sure that when, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, suggested, this is a matter of experimentation, the sting is taken out and in fact any virtue is taken out of the total view, in advance of any experiment, that this must necessarily be a catastrophe. So I will waste no more time on that proposition.
At the same time I think it is necessary to remind ourselves—at least, I need reminding—that there is nothing automatic about this proposal; that there is no such pre-Raphaelite mistake as thinking there can be art for art's sake, or television for television's sake, or speed for speed's sake. It would be feasible, I have no doubt, to put a public address system in every pulpit; it would be feasible to put a number of electric guitars in every chancel and in every choir stall. But this is no argument for so doing. And unless there is a sufficient reason for an operation of this magnitude, and, indeed, of this moment, 99 there is no automatic assumption or existential fallacy that because a thing is there it must necessarily be used in this particular context. It is true that one of the reasons for climbing mountains, so I am told (although it is a purely academic view, so far as I am concerned), is that they are there. Television is here. But that is no reason why it should be incorporated in the business of this House. Just because it happens to have actuality, it need not necessarily have worth. Therefore it would seem to me that there must be a sufficient and demanding reason for this experiment and that such a reason, in its turn, must be equal to the tasks of overcoming the various problems which will necessarily arise.
It is not within my competence to speak about the technical problems, though I regard them as considerable; but I should like to say a little about the practical problems which seem to me to be unavoidable. I have immediately come from a place to which the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, referred, the hustings of Tower Hill. Only an hour or two ago I was engaged there in a more rumbustious kind of debate than is customary in your Lordships' House. Although in general I would agree with the noble Lord who moved this Motion, and with the noble Lord who followed him, that the probable results of incorporating television in the proceedings of this House can be exaggerated, I think that we ought to take seriously the probable results. For I have noticed repeatedly on Tower Hill that, as soon as the cameras appear, the conduct of the meeting changes: embouchure is regarded sometimes as more important than argument, and the preening of the speaker as more important than the preparation of what he has to say. I would not underrate the possibility that, if there were repeated presentations to the public of the affairs of this House, there might be a change—and for the time, temporarily, it might not be a change for the worse.
But I would somewhat vigorously disagree with one part of the noble Lady's speech, with which, otherwise, I entirely agreed. I think it would be highly dangerous artificially to inject some form of familiarity, or even heckling, into this 100 House simply in order to provide greater entertainment for those who merely watch from outside. I have sometimes toyed with the idea that it might be a good thing to put some respected member of my church in the middle of the congregation to shout, "Liar!", for I have felt that it might in some cases induce a greater impact. But if there were any attempt to introduce another kind of controversy and another type of speaker, proper to Tower Hill but not to this Chamber, I believe that the results might be disastrous—though I am not sure that the results would not be entertainment.
I will not repeat the various arguments put forward, particularly from those in favour of the proposition, but I will try to determine what is the sufficient occasion that would require that the difficulties should be overcome. What, if any, is the occasion on which this House would act to the usefulness of Parliamentary Government and to the usefulness of good things in the community as a whole? I can think of one. I gather that in the other place, because of the demands of immediate issues, there is a lack of adequate time to spread oneself on a major issue. Then I remind myself of the cynical comment of the Frenchman who said that there is one justification for your Lordships' House, and that is that you have at least the time to govern. Whatever may be the lack, at present, of other virtues, it is true that in other days there was adequacy of time. That time factor, I believe, still persists to meet the great and outstanding need of the moment: to acquaint a larger community than is at present aware of what are our underlying political ideologies and the principles that underlie the various practices that go on in your Lordships' House and the other place.
I would join with the reporter in the New York Times who insists that there is a lack of fundamental thinking. I should like to see from time to time, and to see them televised, debates in this House about Socialism and Socialist issues, about the basic concepts that underlie the various propositions. When I think of Her Majesty's Government at this moment, the wells of evangelical fervour spring within me, because there is a Labour Government which I hope one day to be a Socialist Government. I make no apology for the fact that I am 101 a committed old-fashioned Socialist: I believe in public ownership, and I want to hear more people speaking about Socialism and more people holding animated debates on this theme. Many people feel that we have no adequate and basic authority or ideology or philosophic, or, I would say, religious conviction. It is on such matters that I believe a carefully organised television presentation of our affairs would be of immense value and would justify this modest experiment. It would be entertaining; but it would also, I think, be instructive for the community as a whole. I have much pleasure in supporting this particular Motion.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, as some noble Lords may recall, the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, has expressed views that were expressed by me in another context on another occasion some time ago: and I got into trouble for it because of the context. I put them forward because I felt that more should be done in the interests of Parliamentary Government to ensure that the public are instructed about the proceedings of this House. I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Egremont, and I think, with him, that nobody will bring this about unless we do it ourselves. I do not agree with him that we receive full and adequate reporting from the Press, certainly not from the Scottish Press, but it is obvious from what other noble Lords have said that that is a matter of opinion.
I welcome the debate, but on the wording of the Motion I am not sure that I would support it. I say that because to my mind it is a little vague. I am reminded of the Hindu lawyer whom I once saw drafting a long contract. I said to him. "Look here, that is pretty long, isn't it?" He said, "If the other side want to be wague, we should be wery wague. "I think the Motion might have been vaguer and more acceptable if it had been more brief. Nevertheless, I cannot say that I welcome the proposed experiment and it seems to me to be an unwelcome development, as a number of noble Lords have suggested, on a number of grounds. Apart from the political and procedural problems which have been mentioned, there are the question of cost and staffing et cetera, and the problems of heat and discomfort.
102 I was glad to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, say that modern developments will reduce the amount of heat and light. Anyone who has suffered, as I did, not a fortnight ago in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in weather like this, would appreciate that it is extremely uncomfortable. I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, about the presence of cameras. I was not conscious that cameras were present on that occasion, but I was conscious of the lights. I think it probable that one cannot address two audiences at the same time. From what I saw of the excerpts of the proceedings of that Assembly, it seems to me that one characteristic which stood out in the case of those people whose speeches were acceptable was sincerity. It is extraordinary how sincerity seems to come through on television. It was, of course, a selective programme, and some measure of selectivity is absolutely essential. I cannot but agree with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, that one must accept that theoretically selective television is a faulty medium of reportage. Whether that be so or not, I believe that we should at least experiment with it. I was opposed to the idea until I heard the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House on the Address. I am inclined to believe that what he then advised is correct, and that an experiment should be made.
This is my reaction to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. Whatever the objections which the noble Lord expounded (and I think they are most valid) they could be proved to be capable of management by an experiment. I believe that, before the experiment is made, very great problems must be solved. For example, what television channel will be used? People talk about different channels, and presumably the programme would be televised by the B.B.C. But is it to go out only from the B.B.C. channel, and should we have only one B.B.C. channel? No reference has been made to the Scottish Service. These are minor problems which would have to he considered. I am sure that the cost would be very great.
There is one element which has not so far been mentioned in the debate, and that is the handling of cameras by technicians. I think I am right in saying that 103 in this walk of life restrictive practices result in great over-staffing. There is the question of lights. Not only has the capital cost of installing equipment and the additional fire risk to be considered but there is also the consumption of electricity, which would be very great—although I do not visualise anything like the figure propounded by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. Presumably all the proceedings would be put on video tape, and selections would be made thereafter, whether for a daily programme, like "Today in Parliament" or, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Haire of White-abbey, for two or three programmes a week, though I would not imagine that they would last for twenty minutes. I do not think the public could manage that.
The noble Lord, Lord Egremont, referred to some of the proceedings being televised, and that seems to me one of the nodal points regarding the question of editing. Who is to select? It is obvious that the selection cannot be made in advance, either of the speaker who is to be televised or of the part of his speech. As distinct from the economic and technical difficulties, selectivity will be a main problem. I like the word "compère". A noble Lord opposite, I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said there would have to be a compère. The compère would have to be technically well-equipped. Probably it would have to be a journalist, and, as I see it, one with a highly practical approach to affairs and without that angle of the entertainer which so many noble Lords have mentioned and which, in my view, should be studiously avoided, not only by the compère but by the performer.
I agree that "Today in Parliament" is a very fair and acceptable programme and the figures of coverage given were extremely interesting. But there again you get a programme in which there is no attempt to entertain, and I believe, my Lords, that a large number of people—certainly I speak for myself and for my own household—are increasingly giving up television as a medium of entertainment but increasing the use of it as a medium for instruction or for information. It is almost impossible for a broadcaster or a compère to keep his own prejudices or personal opinions out of his work, by restraining his voice 104 or, more difficult still (if the compère of a programme such as we visualise is to be seen), the raising of an eyebrow or the slightest snigger. That could overload and tone any remark. It is more dangerous still, I think, in the case of television than in respect of broadcasting. I am inclined to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea—and to disagree with the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—that it may well be worth having the control of the editing in the hands of officialdom. It may not be practicable or feasible, but theoretically I believe it to be sound. In any case an edited edition is quite inevitable.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, asks, "What official?". If he will wait until the conclusion of my speech he will appreciate that I ask the same question myself. For instance, I see that I have struck out from my notes, "Would it not go well with the Hansard Department?" That is a matter which we can consider later.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
My Lords, while the noble Lord is dealing with interruptions, perhaps he would deal with this one before the end of his speech. He said that twenty minutes would be too long for the public to manage. Does my noble friend think that in the course of less than twenty minutes you could deal with the cases for and against Socialism, for example? The noble Earl the Leader of the House took more than twenty minutes to explain why he deserted to the opposite view.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount. I think I am right in saying that "Today in Parliament" devotes ten minutes to the House of Commons and about four or five minutes to the House of Lords—it is roughly that spread. It is amazing how well they get on with it. At the same time, twenty minutes would not be enough time—I think the point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Conesford—to give a balanced resumé of the proceedings, and that should be appreciated. If we do televise our proceedings and a précis is 105 given, it may be taken by viewers as the nodal point of the debate—but it may not have been. If we are useful in giving a lead to the public, as the Motion says, is that in fact our most valuable task? I doubt it. The noble Lord, Lord Harlech, developed that point. The Motion would appear to exclude our humdrum, but nevertheless important, tasks as an advisory body.
The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to a Select Committee, which will I trust be the outcome of the matter, because it is so complex. For instance, another alternative has been suggested to me by somebody whose opinion I respect. Why not a discussion programme, featuring a few of the speakers who had taken part in a debate, under a competent—and perhaps, in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said, an official—compère? That would be a matter of minimal expense and could be by way of a preliminary experiment. It would be a selective vignette, which would not purport to be a debate—that is what I regard as the great risk of the précis which everybody seems to visualise.
Whether the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, carries his Motion or not, I believe that it will have served one important purpose as a medium for airing the whole subject, though perhaps we should try again in terms of debating it. I look forward to the speech we can expect from the noble Earl the Leader of the House. If he indicates that the acceptance of this Motion would lead to an examination by a Select Committee, then I shall vote "Content". Though the wording of the Motion gives me some cause for alarm, I feel that we must accept that television is part of to-day's way of life.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, in spite of the fact that the noble Lord has just sat down, may I ask him what a selective vignette means? Does it mean that some official decides which are the five best speeches that have been made in a debate and invites those five noble Lords to go on the vignette under a compère? The implication is that all the rest of the speeches, by comparison, are pretty lousy. I do not think your Lordships would enjoy that at all—certainly I should not.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I was trying to make clear the difference 106 between a précis of the actual proceedings under a compère and a selective vignette, with a group of speakers who had spoken in a debate discussing what they thought about it under a compère, so that there would be no question in the minds of the viewers that this was not a debate but a chat about what happened.
§ 5.15 p.m.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I rise to oppose this Motion. I oppose it strongly. I do not believe that the proposal is appropriate to your Lordships' House. Coming so late in the debate, I find it difficult not to be repetitious, but if one feels strongly about something one may wish to say it twice or even three times. Let your Lordships not think that I am in any way against television. On the contrary, not only do I earn money from it—here I declare my interest—butI also believe it to be an important medium of adult education, perhaps the most important of all media to-day. Which of us who watches television has not learned from it? I most certainly have. Perhaps we learn some trivial things, perhaps some evil things, but it is impossible for any viewer not to absorb new ideas and to improve his general knowledge. I believe that the public is vastly more informed to-day because of television.
I repeat that I favour television—but not in this place. When we speak here, we speak to each other, not to the world at large. It has been pointed out that what we say is reported in the newspapers—perhaps not always fully enough to our minds—but at least we are thinking and speaking in terms of this House. If we seek to persuade, we seek to persuade the House. Public opinion, public approval or disapproval, comes second. As has been said, thank God we have no constituents to enthuse or placate! Now we are being tempted to think in different terms. We are being tempted to become demagogues and actors. Again, which of your Lordships can truthfully say that he would not be conscious that he was on television? My noble cousin Lord Harlech has said that one forgets about television cameras, but I think that we who are mostly amateurs could not forget them so easily. Which of your Lordships with the smallest grain of vanity could 107 resist showing off just a little? And—this is the most vital thought of all—which of your Lordships might not be tempted to make more and longer speeches? Publicity is a heady business. Perhaps I myself am a particularly vulgar fellow, but I confess that I should find it difficult to keep my eye on the ball.
To-morrow I have the honour to move the Third Reading of the Sexual Offences Bill, and I am deeply desirous of public support. If we were being televised, by a little rhodomontade, by a little bit of what is known as "ham", I might possibly get it. I could, as it were, appeal to the country over the heads of Parliament. Would that be a good thing? I doubt it. What matters in this place is the things we say, not the way we say them or what we look like. We do not go in for oratory at the moment, but give us the cameras and who knows what might not happen?—more especially because it is known in advance who is going to speak. To be fanciful, we might be billed in in advance in the T.V. Times:Live from London—the House of Lords Show, featuring Monty, Boothby, Dilhorne, Summerskill and the Bishop of Southwark. Don't miss it.I am being fanciful, but not over fanciful. This is the kind of thing that could happen.
THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I do not think it is for us. We are a dignified assembly, the Upper House of Parliament. What we do here we do quietly and without noise, and for that reason, I believe, the more effectively. To promote us in the theatrical sense would be to cheapen us, to cheapen Parliament. Let us continue to be men and women who make speeches. Let us not become television personalities. Let us reject this Motion.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, could I ask him whether I am right in thinking that he will not be here when I reply to the debate?
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUDLEY
My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate, because when I read the Motion about a week ago I honestly thought it was another of the noble Lord's little jokes. He is a great joker, and the whole subject seemed to me so hostile to his nature that I did not think it was true. I never thought he would press it to a Division. And I did not think it would get so much support from your Lordships as it has done to-day. Whatever good qualities I may have (if any), oratory is certainly not one of them. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, after I have spoken in this House, I have often seen a column and a half in The Times devoted to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and a little notice at the bottom saying: "The Earl of Dudley also spoke". I have been a Member of this House for 34 years, and I was a Member of another place for a good many years before that. Therefore, I think I am entitled to say a few words.
I have the dignity and traditions of this House very much at heart. The noble Lord, Lord Egremont, made a very good speech, but he has been a Member of your Lordships' House for only a comparatively short time. I believe that it would be an absolute tragedy if the proceedings of the House were to be thrown into the cauldron of what the Americans call "Show-biz". It would be attractive only to the showmen in the House. That subject has been dealt with by other noble Lords, and I do not want to further it. But, in my view, without question it will detract considerably from the great traditions of this House.
I do not know whether any noble Lord has referred to the times at which these broadcasts would take place. I do not believe that a broadcast in the afternoon would be sufficiently popular to merit the B.B.C. or I.T.V. to put it on a special channel. At five o'clock we get mixed up with "Pinky and Perky" and the kids' hour, which lasts until six o'clock, when we have the News, by which time your Lordships would have gone to the more glamorous location of the bar and the Library, and the House is practically empty. Then, if the loudspeaker announces that the broadcast is about to take place, there will be an 109 undignified and ugly rush down the passage by the showmen speakers who wish to take part. The whole thing, it seems to me, will be a most ghastly muddle.
In his excellent speech my noble friend Lord Harlech pointed out the great difficulties and great expense, which should not be overlooked. I feel that the whole question should be submitted to a Select Committee, and that nothing should be done unless both Houses of Parliament have made arrangements to broadcast at certain periods. I hope that your Lordships will throw out this Motion root and branch.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, I must apologise to the House that I was unable to be here at the beginning of this debate, but I have had to attend an important meeting of the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association this afternoon. I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships if I repeat some of the things which may already have been said. In rising to address your Lordships' House on the Motion before us to-day, I consider the issue of whether or not we should televise our debates is of supreme importance. One must assume that any form of television coverage of our affairs would, in a sense, be an advertisement for ourselves; and this I, for one, would deprecate, because I consider that there is a danger that this might cheapen our reputation in the eyes of the viewer and persons outside this House.
I am a comparatively new Peer in your Lordships' House, but in the few months that I have been here I have' come to realise that there is something far greater than the individual in your Lordships' House. This place, in my view, stands for something which it is extremely difficult to describe. One is conscious, when one is here, of the great traditions of your Lordships' House; of its history and its standing in the world. It is steeped in all these things. I do not see that it is possible to convey all this to the outside world through the medium of television. I know that our great affairs of State have been televised and broadcast by the great late Richard Dimbleby, and, in a sense, if our debates are televised, too, I think it is essential that some of the traditions and greatness 110 of this House should go out to people outside in the same sort of context. I do not see for the moment how this is to be done.
In recent years—and certainly since the last war—it seems to have been popular for our writers and commentators to poke fun at our affairs; to be impatient for change, and even to press for the abolition of some of our great traditions, little realising that a great deal of our strength as a nation lies in just these things. Every sensible person will agree that there has to be change, but it should not be at the expense of what is good in our affairs. We seem to be second to none in decrying to the world at large the great benefits that we have brought to many countries abroad. I know this, because I have been thirty years overseas. Instinctively countries overseas admire our form of Government. Yet we decry our achievements in the name of progress and when we are attacked we seem to do nothing to defend ourselves. All this, to me, seems extremely foolish.
Another aspect of this which has crept into television is the loaded question put to a political person of consequence who is being interviewed. We are all familiar with this kind of technique. These things have all made their contribution to the detriment of our reputation. In some cases, no doubt, this might be called progress, if the fault is rectified. This, I think, we all realise. But it is not progress if the loaded question goes too far and positive harm is done to a person of good reputation. For these reasons, I am full of apprehension of the wisdom of allowing our affairs to be televised unless we are quite certain that reasonable safeguards are imposed.
Last night, in thinking of what I should say in your Lordships' House to-day, I came to the conclusion that I was against this Motion. But I have come to realise that, in the name of progress, television has now become a part of our lives. It goes into every home, and it seems inevitable that we shall have to face some consequence of being televised. Provided that all these things are done in an objective manner, and provided that we have sufficient safeguards of the way in which we are to be televised, and provided that our affairs are given the 111 prominence and are treated with the respect which they deserve, then I would agree to television in this way. This is all I have to say on the matter, but I think it is one of considerable importance.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, due to a previous business engagement I was unable to be in my place when the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, introduced this debate, and I tender my apologies to him and to the House for any apparent discourtesy. I have given a good deal of thought to this Motion and I oppose it because of the second part of the Motion:as an additional means of demonstrating its usefulness in giving a lead to public opinion".I am far from convinced that televising the House of Lords or the House of Commons will achieve this, and indeed it will probably do the contrary. In the first place, we are already suffering from a surfeit of politics on television. Some of it is good; some of it is plain, often rather cheap, Party political argument. Those of us who are in the political fray may get some enjoyment out of it. Those who have arrived home after a long and hot journey from the City of London or elsewhere will not, at 9 or 10o'clock at night, be particularly pleased to see either this House or the other place embroiled in argument, whether friendly or otherwise.
I believe there is one other very important reason why this Motion should not be accepted, and that is that the spoken word is the important thing in any form of public life. Parliament today lacks the eloquence that it had fifty years ago. Of course, I can only judge this by reading the debates of that time, but there is a tendency in both Houses of Parliament on occasions to-day to play to the gallery. Some of it is obviously quite unintentional, but the advent of television cameras could well increase this tendency. I fully realise that television in this country is here to stay, and in many ways this is no bad thing. There are many excellent educational programmes on television, of a political nature, and concerning the arts and other matters; but, leaving aside the technical difficulties of televising debates in Parlia- 112 ment whether in this House or another place, I can foresee a great many jealousies cropping up. Also there is another real difficulty here: that is, the reaction of another place if we steal the lead, particularly as at the present time there is a certain amount of political liveliness in the Houses of Parliament. I make no complaint about that, but there may be certain Members of another place, particularly those who have marginal seats, who may feel—and as elected representatives they have a right to feel—that they are not getting their full share of the cake if this House steals a march on being televised.
It is quite clear that demagoguery cannot be entirely avoided in either House. One is bound to get a certain amount of excitement generated, once the television cameras get to work. One sees that in existing television discussions now in many cases, especially when a General Election is drawing near, and in a democratic community this is something which is all to the good, because it proves that politicians are, so to speak, fighting for their political lives in many cases. I believe that to televise this House, even for an experimental period, would take on a salesmanship technique, and I do not believe that this, the Mother of Parliaments, is a suitable candidate for this kind of thing. I fully recognise, as I said earlier, that television is increasing and that audiences are increasing, but one thing I have found in talking to a number of friends and colleagues in all walks of life is that there seems to he no real enthusiasm from the general public for either this House or another place to be televised.
I join with those noble Lords who have paid tribute to "Today in Parliament", which lasts for fifteen minutes each evening when Parliament is in session. It is very well and very fairly conducted, and I should welcome an extension of this programme to 25 or 30 minutes, possibly somewhat earlier in the evening, although since major debates in another place normally take place at 10 o'clock there may be technical difficulties here.
If this experiment is to take place, closed circuit television must surely be used first, so that techniques can be properly looked into and adjusted. Many 113 noble Lords have had experience before the television cameras, but there are others who have not, and I understand that it is quite an art to appear before television cameras, good speaker though one might be. To conclude: while I think this Motion was put down in all good faith and has led to a lively and interesting debate, I believe we should pay much more attention to the spoken word, to good, clear, concise English, rather than to visual activities before the television cameras.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
My Lords, I know very well that anybody who stands up when the batting order is exhausted must be brief, and I promise to be extremely brief. I have just three points that I should like to offer your Lordships, and each I will put shortly. I should perhaps confess at the start that I am a member of the General Advisory Council of the Independent Television Authority, but I hope that does not debar me from saying a word or two. Incidentally, I am not paid for it so I suppose that lets me out.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, in a speech which impressed me greatly, said that he was in favour of this Motion but with qualifications, and he thought that many people would have qualifications. That is certainly exactly my point of view. On the other hand, I disagree very strongly with the first qualification which the noble Lord put, when he said that he felt that any television of the proceedings of this House should be under the control of this House. I believe that this is not a runner, and there have been several noble Lords who have expressed that view since. As to how any editing should be done and who should do it, my recommendation would be that it should be done in the same sort of way as it is done already.
Incidentally, the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, spoke rather as if it was only the B.B.C. who handle these political broadcasts, but Independent Television also does so. I hold the view that they are remarkably successful in the way they do it. Surely the right way is for the Government to say what they want to be done, and then choose men to lead the two Corporations and give them 114 full confidence, and if they do not do what they are told and produce the right result, then choose some other men. That is the only way in which something of this sort can be handled.
My second point is based upon a principle which I held very strongly in the business world: you should get the product right before you spend time and money on advertising it. I am one of those who believe—and the noble Lord, Lord Rea, rather spoke as if he was—that some reform of this House and its procedures is extremely necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, put forward a Motion in the last Parliament suggesting some alteration in our proceedings. It was referred to the Procedure Committee, and I feared what the result would be when that was done. The noble Earl, Lord Dudley, wants to refer this whole question to the Procedure Committee, and I am very much afraid it would have the same result. Now the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has put down another Motion referring to the procedures of this House and their reform, and I shall read with very great interest the result of that debate—I shall be unable to attend it. But I hope that before the procedures of this House are televised something at least will be done to show an intention to discuss this matter of reform of procedure and of constitution seriously, and that the attitude that the right time to make a change is when we cannot help it, will be dropped over this matter.
The last point I should like to make is this. I hope that we shall not make an attempt, as it were, to jump in before the other place on this matter but that we shall act with them. Again I quote the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who used some words to the effect that there is a certain amount of animosity towards this House. That may not have been the exact word, but it was the sense, and I think we should all agree with him. I think that every one of us here would like to see that animosity removed. We do not want to rival the other place; we do not want to boast that we are the Upper House. We do not want to swamp them in carrying out their proper functions as an elected Chamber. We want to help them, to be their friends and feel that they are our friends. We should avoid anything that may irritate them, as I fear we should if we tried to jump in before 115 them. I hope this matter will in due course be referred to a Joint Select Committee.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD WADE
My Lords, I would congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, on introducing this debate. It has been an extremely interesting and thoughtful debate. Personally I think the televising of Parliamentary proceedings will come and will come to stay. There may be doubts in the minds of some of your Lordships as to the precise wording of this Motion, but I think in effect we are being asked to accept this idea in principle. I do accept it in principle. I think the question is not whether Parliamentary proceedings should be televised, but rather how best it can be done.
I have not always held that view. I was at one time sceptical for two reasons. In the first place, I thought that the discomfort caused by the additional light and heat would affect adversely the naturalness of our debates. Secondly, I assumed at one time that any televising would involve continuous live broadcasting of the whole of the proceedings. I was doubtful whether we could sustain public interest in some of our proceedings, which are not particularly exciting though they may be important. I did not think we could justify a separate channel. But it would seem to me that these arguments no longer have the same relevance. The fear of greatly increased light and heat is apparently unfounded if we have the new miniaturised remote control cameras. We are told, or I am advised, they will be unobtrusive; it will not be too difficult to conceal them; coverage of the whole Chamber will be practicable.
Certainly there should be a trial period, preferably at a time when there is least pressure on the camera teams involved. I would agree to the idea of a try-out with televising on a closed circuit within the Palace of Westminster, simply to see how it works. But that would merely be the first step. It may be necessary to experiment with the existing equipment, but I hope that we shall wait for the latest new equipment before broadcasting to the general public. Briefly on this aspect, I think the technical difficulties are not insuperable.
116 As to the form which the broadcasts should take, it would seem to me that continuous live broadcasts must be ruled out on grounds of expense. I agree with the observations of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, on that. It would seem that the cost would be almost prohibitive. But if that is so, then the public must be provided with an abridged edited version, and I think that is the crux of the problem. There seems to be general agreement among those noble Lords who are in favour of televising Parliament that the most suitable type of programme would be something on the lines of "Today in Parliament". If there is to be some such televised programme, a commentator will be required to explain the intricacies of the procedure and to provide the background information; a camera director will be required, and there will have to be careful editing.
As to the length, I think probably a programme of about half an hour's length would be most appropriate, although longer excerpts could be broadcast in the case of debates of great importance and subjects of special interest. I think it very probable that the proceedings in the two Houses could be combined in one programme; I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, that there should be no contest with another place on this and that there should be consultation with representatives of another place before a final decision is reached.
The point on which I think noble Lords have a right to insist is that the reporting of the programme should be as fair and balanced as possible, that the programme should be interesting, intelligible, balanced, and objective. I admit at once that to achieve this is no easy task. Considerable ability, understanding and experience will be required. For example, the camera director will have to be trained for this particular kind of task. Those responsible for the programme must be well paid, with reasonable security of employment. In other words, if this is to be done it must be done well.
That raises questions of finance. Both as regards equipment and staff, finance may be an important consideration. But I think the main theme running through this debate, the point we wish to stress, is the need for fair balance and objectivity. 117 I should be most chary of censorship imposed by ourselves. I think my noble Leader Lord Rea would agree with me on this.
Of course Parliament is supreme, and each House is responsible for its own proceedings. But I think we shall have to rely on unwritten rules and professional standards. One important unwritten rule will be that the political views and personality of the commentator will not intrude. The commentator will be an interpreter rather than a political commentator. I remember an occasion at the Consultative Assembly at Strasbourg, when a British Minister was making an important speech. I will not mention any names, but I must say it was a dull speech. I was watching the French interpreter who was behind a glass panel. He was putting a wealth of expression and real emotion into that speech, and his hands were being used to add to the expression, although he was behind this glass panel. He certainly livened up that speech, and I thought at the time that maybe he would be doing some good for Anglo-French relations. But he belonged to the older generation of interpreter. To-day, no interpreter of standing would allow his own personality to enter into his interpretation. His job would be to reflect, as accurately as possible, the words and the feelings of the person whose speech or conversation he was interpreting. I do not want to follow that simile too far, but this example should be followed.
Just because Parliament has not been televised there has grown up a form of programme on television where the interviewer cross-examines a panel of experts, or one or two Members of Parliament, or perhaps only one individual person; and sometimes the interviewer appears to become the dominant personality. Sometimes one gets the impression that the views of the interviewer may have coloured the whole programme. I believe that if we televise our Parliamentary proceedings there may be a considerable reduction in that kind of interviewer cross-examination programme on television, which may not be a bad thing. Certainly the televising of our Parliamentary proceedings will require handling in a quite different manner. The personality of the commentator must be kept well in the background. This indefinable requirement is, I think, more important than the technical considerations.
118 I wonder whether I might add one post-script. We have been discussing cameras and commentators, and a possible television programme available to a wide public audience; but we still maintain the fiction that the representatives of the Press are strangers who have no right to be where they are at all. We turn a blind eye to a certain Gallery, and, at any rate in theory, we do not acknowledge the existence of those who are in it. I think it should be made clear that they are performing a valuable service, although the extent to which their reports actually appear in the Press may be determined by others than themselves.
I do not know whether this fiction is going to be maintained; but, even if it is, it might be fitting, at some stage in the discussions that may follow this debate, that some thought should be given to the comfort of the representatives of the Press and the space available for them. We might make it known that, in our view, they will not become redundant if we televise Parliamentary proceedings. Reporting of the Press and televising our proceedings will be complementary media for getting more information to the public.
There will be just this distinction. For the readers of newspapers and journals there is a variety of choice—alas! not as much choice as there used to be but there is that choice, and therefore I think the reporting should be as free and uninhibited as possible. For television there should be only one programme, or at most two programmes. Therefore different considerations apply. But in both cases I think everything that can be done to make known to a wider public what is going on in our Legislature should be welcomed. Of course there are risks. There are always risks in any change. But I believe that this is a risk that must be taken, and I hope that this Motion will be supported.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the period of half an hour. May I ask him whether he means half an hour per day, and, if so, is that to cover both Houses?
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, we have had a most interesting discussion, and, as is always the case when my noble friend Lord Egremont initiates a debate, we have also been given an excellent and amusing and brief start. I myself will be brief because I cannot think there is much to add after all the speeches that we have heard this afternoon and this evening. Perhaps I ought to say that, as I think is obvious, I speak only for myself and, equally obvious, if there is a Division there will be no Whips, at any rate on this side of the House, nor, I imagine, on the other side.
To sum up what we have heard this afternoon, there are, so far as I can judge, no technical reasons why this House should not be televised—at any rate, no one in the debate has produced any. The standard of lighting would be only a little brighter than that which is used during our normal Sittings. There would be no feeling of artificiality created by the presence of either technicians or the cameras, since, as I understand, the cameras can be operated remotely. There remains, of course, the question of expense. I am sure that it would be wrong to have a separate channel for the broadcasting of Parliament. Not only would the cost be prohibitive, but I have a feeling that it would be even more than the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, suggested. Also a channel used solely for Parliamentary proceedings would tend to have the drawbacks which sound broadcasting of Parliament in Australia has shown are likely to occur. Although only a limited number of people listen to sound broadcasts in Australia, there are definite peak times which are sought after by speakers. This leads not only to an unbalanced debate, but also to speeches directed not to the Chamber but at a much wider audience.
In listening to some of the debates in the House of Representatives in Australia I must say that, particularly in debates on foreign affairs and defence, it is sometimes rather surprising to hear Members of Parliament alluding, in the course of the debate, to the splendid characteristics of their constituents, the tourist facilities available in the area from which they come, and the hard work which the Member of Parliament has personally put in to foster the interests of his electorate. 120 But an edited version of the proceedings, such as we find in "Yesterday in Parliament", would neither be expensive nor would it present any technical difficulties.
Then there remain, however, two points which it seems to me give a little more cause for concern. Both of these have, of course, been mentioned time and time again. First, I know there are some—indeed, we have heard from them this afternoon—who feel that the presence of cameras in the House and the knowledge that the proceedings are being filmed and recorded will alter the atmosphere of the House and cause many of your Lordships to act in a way quite different from normal. I personally, with respect to my noble friend Lord Dudley, rather doubt whether this is true. After all, most of us in this House have been in public life for a number of years, and we are fairly used to having flash bulbs go off in our face, to being filmed, televised and recorded, and I do not think that televising the proceedings here will make much difference to us. And if for a short time we are a little more self-conscious than we usually are, I have no doubt that this will quickly wear off. Nor do I think that we have very much to be frightened of in showing to the outside world the proceedings in this House. We are, after all—and I think that this would be generally accepted by an impartial observer—a dignified and courteous assembly.
In the course of a notable speech, with most of which I wholly agreed, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury (it was difficult to hear her, as the acoustics were not very good) said, I think, that we were very much too courteous; that the response she got to her speeches was like throwing a stone into a very large pond—and I think I heard her say that she would not be at all unhappy if one noble Lord occasionally threw a brick at another.
§ BARONESS ASQUITH OF YARNBURY
My Lords, may I interrupt to say this—and I know that the acoustics are abominable. I did say that noble Lords corrected and contradicted other noble Lords, instead of heaving half-bricks at them. I did not mean that we should hurl concrete missiles at one another. I did mean that we should occasionally use verbal missiles, which are, I think, 121 the legitimate instruments and weapons of debate.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
I am greatly relieved at that intervention. Nevertheless, I wondered, as 1 listened to the noble Baroness, whether she was not really hankering after the hustings and perhaps the proceedings in the House of Commons. I myself should be loth to see the proceedings in this House become more impolite and more discourteous and more rowdy. I should have thought that what we had to offer for television to the outside world was an assembly which was discussing subjects in an adult and civilised fashion. If one of the effects of television were to be what I thought the noble Baroness suggested, I, for one, should greatly deplore it; but I do not think that would be so. I do not think we have anything to fear.
We are, as I say, a dignified and courteous assembly, average in looks, though perhaps a little elderly. Sometimes, it is true, some of us are given to relaxing a little after lunch, though no doubt this is due to the bad ventilation system rather than to the quality of the speeches. Sometimes perhaps those who looked in might be surprised at the rather endearing habit of one or two noble Lords of listening to their own speeches on their own hearing aids. I think that the impression left upon the public would on the whole, be not unfavourable, though perhaps they might not think us very exciting. But I do not think that matters, for we are not here to be exciting, certainly not in this House, and we are certainly not here as entertainment. We are here to act as honestly and ably as we can in the interests of the welfare of this country. We are a serious assembly. Therefore, as I say, I do not think we need have any qualms about exposing ourselves to the television camera.
The second problem, and I think this is a more difficult one, is the question of who edits, arranges and compiles the daily extracts of our proceedings. There is, naturally, a tendency in broadcasting, as in the newspapers, to select from the proceedings in Parliament those people and incidents which are both controversial and lively. It would, I suppose, not be entirely unfair to suggest that there are some of us who are more extrovert than others, whose speeches, whose delivery, 122 whose manner and whose general ebullience is calculated to attract the eye of the compiler of a news programme. It would equally, I hope, not be unfair to say that those speeches are not necessarily the best or the most constructive. Some noble Lords who have spoken have said that we must not worry too much about exhibitionists—they were rather more impolite in their phrase than I have been. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper; I think that this may prove to be rather more difficult than we think at the present time.
Several noble Lords have said that exhibitionists are always cut out and people get bored. I look at television sometimes and I have seen a number of exhibitionists who seem to have been going on a very long time on television stations. I think we should do well not to underestimate that aspect. I hope I am not being considered to be offensive to our Australian friends, but I think I can say that, from the experience which I had in Australia, and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, would agree with me.
Not only must there be a balance between the sort of speakers, but there has to be a political balance as well, and no doubt there will be many people who feel that a bias of one sort or another will creep in. There are two ways in which one could edit the programme. It could either be done by the B.B.C. or I.T.A. themselves, as is done in the "Yesterday in Parliament" programme, or by a body of persons or Committee specially set up by the House for this purpose, or by a joint body set up by both Houses. As a Parliamentarian, I suppose I should prefer the latter alternative, but I do not. I think that this would be a mistake, and here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rea. I do not know that Members of this House are necessarily the best judges of what is a balanced and fair record of the day's proceedings, and, so far from making the programme too lively, I have an idea that we should make it much too dull. In any event, I have not the least idea how we should set about it. I should have thought that, at any rate as an experiment, we could leave such editing in the hands of the television authorities themselves, for, after all, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, and the noble Lord, Lord 123 Norman brook, will know full well that we are looking very hard at them as well as at the programme.
To sum up, there being no technical difficulties and no reason why this House should fear to present itself to the public on the television screen—and, indeed, I think there are many reasons why it should; I agree very much with the speech made by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—I believe that Parliament is in danger of being by-passed for the reasons the noble Lord gave: that it is now possible for the Government to appeal directly to the people of this country, and, as a Parliamentarian, I am sorry to see Parliament being by-passed. I also think that in some measure Parliament is losing in public esteem, and as a Parliamentarian I am anxious about it. I consider it possible that a greater understanding of what we do here would help, and that television would lead to a greater understanding. If I may say so with great respect to some of my noble friends who have spoken against the Motion, it seemed to me that some of them were regarding Parliament as a private place in which only Members have the right to see and hear what is going on.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
My Lords, surely the noble Lord would agree that the public are admitted to this place and to the other place, just as the Press are at liberty to report anything that is said. We are not in camera.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
If my noble friend looks up at the Gallery I do not think he will find there a very adequate representation of the 52 million people of this country. I thought there was a tendency for some people—I apologise if this is not true—to think of Parliament as a private place. If we adopt that attitude, Parliament as an institution will not last all that much longer. I do not feel that this is so at all. After all, we are here in Parliament only because the vast majority of the people of this country believe in Parliamentary democracy, and I think anything we can do to help them understand it—and we are only asking here for an experiment—should be tried. So I very much hope that the noble Earl the Leader of the House, in what he says this evening, will encourage us in thinking that an experiment of this sort will be made, and perhaps once again your Lord- 124 ships will give a lead to those more cautious elected colleagues in another place.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has, as usual, said a great deal in a short space of time, following the example which was set some time ago by the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, and followed by seventeen speakers in between those two noble Lords. I hope that I shall be allowed to speak at slightly greater length than others, because there is a certain amount of information which I have obtained, on my request, from the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., and I think the House would like to have at any rate some of it made available.
I cannot remember an occasion when so many speeches were made which were liable to affect opinion, judging, at any rate, by my own experience. I gather that two staunch colleagues of mine on this very Front Bench—who may be called the Gog and Magog of my own Party—have actually been converted during the afternoon by the eloquence of the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, and also by the other speakers on that side. Of course, by the time I finish they may be converted back again, but that is not my intention in rising. I can only express a certain regret that, through an unwise intervention, I have induced the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who is strongly opposed to the Motion, to remain with us and I gather he will probably vote against the Motion. So I have not so far rendered any service to the cause of television.
This is a matter which concerns the House as a whole, and of course it is a matter which the House has a right to decide. It is certainly not a matter for Party politics—and nobody, of course, has treated it in that way at all—and it is not one where the Government would feel it right to take up a dogmatic attitude in advance, or to ask its supporters to follow a particular lead. So my task to-day has been to watch and listen and take note, and then offer a few moderately dispassionate comments at the end.
I am on record quite recently myself, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, was kind enough to remind us, as being strongly in favour of televising the proceedings of this 125 House. It is a personal view, which I hold with a deep conviction, that this is essential to the future influence of the House. But speaking to-day as Leader of the House and a member of the Cabinet, I feel it is my duty to be as neutral as possible and not to weight the scales too far either way.
As a number of noble Lords have remarked this afternoon (the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, certainly had this in mind, as did the noble Lord, Lord Auckland), it is highly desirable, so far as it is possible, to keep in step with the House of Commons. As the House is aware, there is now a Select Committee of the House of Commons charged with the responsibility of looking into the televising of the House of Commons. Although I do not have positive information, there seems a good chance that this Committee's Report will be published before the Summer Recess. In those circumstances, I am sure that the House would agree that before we took any operative decisions—I am not referring now to the Motion before us to-day—we should study that Report; and I am also sure that the House will agree that, other things being equal, we should be anxious to go forward together with another place. I am not asking the House to commit itself on that point at the moment, but I am sure that that would be the general wish.
In my remarks this afternoon I will deal, first, with the technical aspects of feasibility (I am bound to say that they have not been much questioned, but one or two important points of cost were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and others) and will then come to the question of principle with which most of the House has been concerned—the question of whether it is desirable to televise the proceedings of the House. I will not give the House a great deal of recently acquired technical information, although noble Lords might like a little. I am advised that the only cameras available at the moment are large ones, some three feet long by one foot square. But I am told that within the next twelve to eighteen months some highly sensitive miniature cameras will become available, which will be much easier to conceal under the Galleries and which could be operated by remote control. For a full, permanent coverage of the House 126 it would be necessary to install some six or eight of these miniature cameras, and skilled work would have to be done to see that they did not impinge upon the consciousness of the House. But it is understood that all this would not be too difficult.
For an immediate experiment, with existing equipment, it would be necessary to install the four bigger cameras, but even these could be masked from view or concealed in special cabinets, and I am advised that for an experiment substantial changes in the present microphone system would probably not be necessary, though a little more equipment might be required. In other words—and I am only repeating the conclusion voiced quite correctly by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I think accepted throughout this debate—from the technical point of view this experiment could be conducted, even with existing equipment, and it would not be necessary for Peers to be inconvenienced to any serious extent. So that, I think, represents common ground.
Turning to the problem of cost—and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, touched on that aspect, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier—here estimates vary widely. But if the proceedings of the House were to be televised on a permanent basis, it is expected that a single edited video-tape television recording of the proceedings of one House might cost some £320,000 in capital cost and £90,000 annually thereafter. The cost of an experiment, of course, would be vastly less; it would not be a figure of that order at all. Indeed, if it were conducted by the broadcasting authorities there would not be any great expense in an experiment. In this connection, I should like to rule out—and here I am labouring the obvious, because I think everyone has been agreed this afternoon—the notion of a fourth television channel devoted to exclusive transmission of Parliamentary proceedings. I do not think anybody has pressed that on us this afternoon. The estimates for this project vary from £20 million to £40 million.
Having established that it would be physically possible to effect a television recording without too much difficulty, and without too much, or any, discomfort to Members of this House, I should now 127 like to come to the methods by which this record could be used. Here, if I may, I should like to indicate a particular suggestion which has many attractions, but I do not want Members of the House to assume that this is the only way in which it could be done. If it should be that the House agrees to the establishment of a Committee, the various techniques would have to be explored. But in order to focus our thoughts I would mention one way of proceeding which has a good many attractions.
Under this plan a "Television Hansard" of the whole of each day's proceedings would be prepared—just as the whole of the proceedings are recorded by our printed Hansard—under the supervision of the House. Thereafter, these proceedings would be made available simultaneously to the B.B.C., the I.T.A., the Press agencies and any newspapers or other organisations, or even the universities, who wished to obtain this material. These bodies would, presumably, under this plan pay Parliament a fee, and some estimates conclude (without any profound knowledge I am ready to accept that these estimates are right, but I cannot guarantee them) that the fees payable would cover the cost of operating the "Television Hansard". So in that sense Parliament would not finish up out of pocket. For myself, I think it desirable—although there can be different views about it—that the control of the actual filming should remain in the hands of the House, with an editor appointed by it and responsible to it. In that way we could be sure that we should receive at any rate a sympathetic recording.
But, given the production of this "Television Hansard" in full, carefully compiled in the Palace of Westminster and passed on to the B.B.C., the I.T.A. and other bodies, what would they do with it? Here again, of course, any Committee which was set up would want to explore the subsequent steps and various uses that might be made of it, but the first possibility would be to use the televisual record very much in the way that the written record is used now. This televisual record could be incorporated in news programmes and feature programmes, such as "Panorama" and "This Week"; and it is the contention 128 of the broadcasting authorities, so far as I can make out, that this record would add enormously to the public interest in Parliamentary proceedings. Secondly—and this is the point which has been dealt with carefully by various speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Wade, in that very interesting speech of his—the "Television Hansard" could be used in order to produce a summary of, say, not more than forty-five minutes to cover both Houses. I am not tying myself to these figures; I am offering them at this stage. The "Television Hansard"—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
May I just finish the sentence? I am not going to speak at the length which the noble Viscount feared earlier, but I should like to finish the sentence. The "Television Hansard" could be used in order to produce a summary of, say, not more than forty-five minutes, analogous to the present, spoken "Today in Parliament".
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
My Lords, I am sorry to have interrupted the noble Earl, but it was only to ask him, as I have appeared on a very few occasions on the B.B.C., whether those noble Lords who were fortunate enough to be selected to appear in this would receive fees for speaking.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
Noble Lords would not be selected. It would be extracts from their speeches which would in fact then be relayed to the public. Noble Lords would not be swept off to some studio; it would be the actual speeches—but only, of course, selections from the whole proceedings.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I think quite a lot of people fear that the result of all this might be that all the time available would be "hogged" by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. I think no question of payment comes into this at all. I think that is based on a complete misunderstanding.
Perhaps one edited record would be given out in the evening, presumably fairly late; and it is suggested that there might 129 be a weekly summary in addition. A third possibility would be the occasional televising of a whole debate. That would be done only from time to time. The Budget debate in another place is an example; and there are debates of extreme interest to the general public here, where some of our greatest experts are mobilised, which again might receive the compliment of a full display to the public.
My Lords, I now turn from the technical problems to the question of principle. Is it desirable, in principle, to televise our proceedings? The arguments, for and against, as we have all heard, can be deployed in many different ways, but in the last resort it seems to me that they can be placed under two main headings. First, what will be the effect on us here, in our Chamber? What will be the effect on our procedure and conduct? Secondly, what will be the effect on the general public?—and I include in that the effect on our reputation in the public mind. Broadly speaking—although this is not wholly true—those who are opposed to televising the House are mostly oppressed by what they believe would be the effect on us, although some anxiety was expressed, a secondary anxiety, that it would not be good for our reputation outside. Those in favour of televising the House were, on the whole, impressed by what they believe to be the beneficial effect on the public mind, although some speakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, said that in addition there would be a beneficial effect on our own proceedings.
The opponents of televising the House argue that television would alter the whole character of our debates for the worse; and nobody who has listened to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and other speakers can doubt the strength of their feeling. As I see it, they look upon Parliament as a workshop for the performance of Parliamentary business, and much of this Parliamentary business seems to them unsuitable for television. If one follows that line of thought, I suppose there would be one of two unhappy results: either the public would get very bored with our proceedings, which would not be good for our reputation at all, or we should adapt our proceedings to suit what we imagined was the popular taste. They fear—I am 130 not talking now of individual people, but on the general arrangement and organisation of our business—that we should concentrate more on what was popular than on what was efficient; that we should abandon the standards of, say, The Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian, and descend to those of a tabloid newspaper. That, I understand, is one side of their objection.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Earl for one moment, may I say that if that happens I shall renounce my peerage?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I am not quite sure whether the noble Lord is in a position to do that—I mean, legally—and I personally hope he is not, because he is one of the most valued Members of this House. I regard him as the best listener in the whole Chamber, which is a much more popular role, if I may say so, than being the best speaker. At any rate, I hope he will not contemplate any such course.
Then there is the other side. There is the fear, which was expressed so well at the beginning by the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, and many other speakers—it was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Harlech and other speakers as something to refute but it was expressed as a real fear in their own hearts by other speakers—that noble Lords would be led astray by the temptations of exhibitionism. My Lords, it is no good, in a sense, being dogmatic and saying that I know better than others, but I know the majority of those who have spoken do not take this view. Of those who have spoken this afternoon, I was adding up the numbers of those for and those against, and those in favour of the Motion of the noble, Lord, Lord Egremont, are roughly two to one. I do not think that this particular fear has worried many speakers.
The truth is that in this House we have some very brilliant television stars. I do not think their behaviour is any different from that of the rest of us. They may speak better or they may speak worse, but I think that on the whole, with occasional exceptions, their behaviour is very moderate and restrained. I do not therefore feel that we shall all begin apeing what we suppose are their ways. To be 131 quite honest, I think this is a delusion, and that this House, of all places, would be more likely to resist the temptation, whatever may happen in some other, less sophisticated, parts of the world.
Of course, there is the problem of the edited version. This, clearly, is a serious point, and I would not presume to try to dispose of it in these remarks this afternoon. I think the argument that has been used—used by the fact that various people have pointed to it—is certainly a very strong one, that "To-day in Parliament" is handled without any difficulty at all; and I cannot myself believe that it will in practice be a very large obstacle, But it has to be considered carefully.
It may be—I am now speaking personally, without having consulted anyone—that some advisory committee of Parliament will be necessary to keep an eye, as it were, on the way all this is done; or it may not be necessary. Those are things that a committee will look into. I recognise the problem; but I cannot believe that if we want to see Parliament televised we shall be held up by this particular difficulty. It is also argued, still against television, that we should be brought into disrepute if the public saw us as we really are. Well, a lot of people come here. They are not so many as one might wish, but many come, and the odd thing is that they seem to admire us all the more and want to come back again. So the idea that if a light is let in on our proceedings we shall pass into ridicule and contempt seems more extravagant than the last one. I am not worried about that.
May I turn now to the arguments in favour? It is certainly a factor of importance that the decision to make public the proceedings of Parliament was taken long ago when in the 18th century another place failed to continue to enforce inhibitions on the reporting of its proceedings. It was said in 1738 that the public ought to be able to judge of the merits of their representatives. That was said by the Tory leader Wyndham in 1738. He was, no doubt, an ancestor of the noble Lord, Lord Egremont. I do not think I, or perhaps he, could put it into better words at the present time.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
I am glad to have elicited that information. It makes the noble Lord's role this afternoon more appropriate.
My Lords, there is no question of principle here, of opening the proceedings of Parliament where they were previously closed. We must make up ourminds; and I find that the majority of the House—or should I say the majority of the speakers this afternoon?—have tended to make up their minds in favour of this course. But we must make up our minds whether we think it right that the people of this country should be allowed to gaze without any intervention on the proceedings of their public men. As I see it—and I think this came out in various speeches—there is a double point here. On the one hand, the public have the right to know as much as is physically possible of what their Parliamentarians are saying and doing in the determination of the national destiny. It was the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, who said at the beginning—and it came out in various other ways during the debate—that the public are entitled to know what we are about. I think if one is going to bring any kind of principle of political philosophy into this, that must be accepted.
On the other hand, I agree with those who said that we Parliamentarians have the right to expect that our contributions will reach and affect as wide an audience as possible. Let us take the extreme case. If no one knew what we were doing here, it would be enjoyable; but just the same it would be somewhat pointless to come along and exchange thoughts. We are entitled to argue, anyone who supports this Motion is entitled to argue, as has been argued by at least one speaker earlier, that if the House were televised we should obtain justice for our views—and I am not thinking of our personal prestige—while doing our duty to the nation. Those are the two sides of that argument.
May I say that in the case of the House of Lords I think there is a special argument in favour of televising our proceedings, although from my neutral stance I 133 must not exaggerate it. It seems to me that with our absence of political power—which most of us accept to-day—the real question arises, as I said earlier, of how to exert a proper measure of influence. I say this in the sense that the general public will always be interested in what the House of Commons does because they know their destinies are settled there; but they are less sure of how important is what we are doing. So I think there are special reasons here that make it desirable to give the public no excuse for (to use the earlier phrase) not knowing what we are up to.
I will not try to bring in too much evidence from foreign experience. It can be used both ways. Certainly I find nothing in foreign experience to refute the arguments for the noble Lord's Motion. Equally, it could be argued that there is not sufficient evidence on both sides to overwhelm those who are sceptical about it. As I said at the beginning, it is the Government's view that we ought to listen. It is for the House to decide how to act. Therefore, I and other Ministers will vote according to our personal convictions—and, of course, no kind of guidance is being given to any of my followers. If the House decides to pass this Motion—and this answers a point that one or two speakers have raised—I would venture to suggest that we proceed with proper care, as I know will be the general wish.
My own submission would be that if your Lordships are in favour of further exploration then it would be the best course, after discussion through the usual channels, to set up a Select Committee which should explore the following topics among others—they would, of course, be free to investigate what aspect they chose, and I mention these topics by way of illustration. Some of them must be investigated. The first is the technical and financial problems involved; second, the question, touched on by various speakers, of who would be responsible for producing the "Television Hansard", and how and where; third, what control, if any, should be maintained by Parliament over the editing of the television recording or selection of the extracts to be shown. Fourth—and this is a point which I do not think has 134 come up this afternoon—what protection ought to be given against defamatory statements made here and, by means of television, given a much wider coverage. Fifth, and allied with that, how would Parliamentary privilege extend to these broadcasts and how far would it be desirable that it should do so. I think one would wish to explore also a sixth question: what would be the effects on the Press of televising proceedings of the House?
My Lords, I hope I have set out as fairly as possible some of the main arguments on each side. To conceal my own view would be affectation. I repeat again, however, that the Government leave the decision entirely to the House. I can only conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, and all who have taken part in this notable debate.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ LORD EGREMONT
My Lords, I will not delay your Lordships for more than a few minutes. I shall wind up by saying that I am most grateful for what the noble Earl the Leader of the House has just said. Indeed, this has been a most interesting debate, and I am grateful to all who have taken part in it. Of course, I had anticipated that there might be some objections to my proposal. I raised a controversial subject and I must accept the consequences. I do not wish to take undue advantage of the courtesy and kindness with which I have been treated today by noble Lords on all sides, whether they agreed with me or whether they did not; but I think the high level on which this debate has been conducted is, in itself, an added argument in favour of my Motion. Also it has seldom been the privilege of anybody, as it has been mine to-day, to be supported by both the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. That, for me, goes in the Guinness Book of Records.
The point is that your Lordships' House is a very civilised, interesting and grand debating Chamber: let there be no mistake about that. Of course, I entirely accept what was said by the noble Earl the Leader of the House, that we must proceed with proper caution. But, accepting everything that was said by the noble Earl, I trust that none of your Lordships nor anyone else will make any mistake about the intention implied by my Motion which was a carefully drawn one. I am 135 not moving that our proceedings should be televised. I am not even moving that some of our proceedings should, as a matter of principle, be televised. All I am moving is that we should try an experiment, televising some of our more important proceedings for an experimental period as an additional means of demonstrating our usefulness. That is all I am proposing.
My Lords, I do not think this is an airey-fairey idea. In fact, I am convinced that it is not, due to the solid support
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.