§ 5.33 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER rose to draw attention to the Second Report of the Select Committee on Broadcasting the Proceedings of the House, ordered to be printed on June 27, 1968; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Motion refers to the Second Report 1070 of the Select Committee on Televising Proceedings, but in fact it was the fourth Report on the subject which has been submitted to your Lordships. The reason for this is that there were two Select Committees, as I shall explain in my speech, and each submitted two Reports.
§ The first Select Committee lapsed, of course, at the end of the 1966–67 Session, and the second Select Committee, which was roughly of the same composition, has lapsed now, but it served through the Session which contained the experiment to which we are now addressing ourselves. So it comes that I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper. And I would add that my object in doing so is not so much to discuss the narrow issue of last year's experiment—its success or otherwise; its impact upon the House or upon us as individuals—but rather the wider aspect of its bearing upon the place which television occupies in the process of Parliamentary democracy in the world in which we live, or indeed the place that it may occupy in the future.
§ The problem may well be: where does our Parliament stand in this respect; and what are the developments that last year's experiment portends? As the intention of my speech is only to initiate the debate, it may be as well if I begin by sketching in the background of the. Report which is the basis of my Motion. The House of Commons had a short taste of television and film lighting when Black Rod summoned the Members to the State Opening of Parliament in April, 1966, on which occasion, your Lordships will remember, the whole of the Opening ceremony was recorded and filmed. Some Members of the other place protested at the time, but nevertheless the Commons, in May of that year, set up a Select Committee to go into the question of a possible experiment.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, who was at the time Leader of your Lordships' House, made a passing reference to the subject of televising proceedings of this House, as distinct from the State Opening ceremony, in his speech on the first day of the debate on the humble Address on April 21, 1966. Whether this inspired the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, or not, I do not know, but on June 15 of that year he proposed his carefully worded Motion to the effect
that the House "welcomed" an experiment. This Motion was carried by 56 votes to 31, and in the course of his penetrating but, perforce, brief speech the noble Lord said:
… we ought to do more ourselves … to communicate more directly with all the people of this country whom we seek, in our deliberations here, to serve."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15/6/66; col. 66.]
As a result of this decision, the House appointed a Select Committee, after some dispute about its composition, to consider how an experiment could best be carried into effect. Much of the Committee's earlier work was necessarily done on the assumption that a closed-circuit experiment would be run jointly with the House of Commons. But in November, 1966, the other place, debating the recommendations of their Select Committee to this end, negatived the proposals of that Select Committee by one vote (131 to 130) and most of your Lordships will recall this narrow margin, in a small House, because of the surprise that it created.
§ So the Select Committee of this House proceeded on the basis of a closed-circuit experiment for the House of Lords only, a course which was made possible by the sanction by the Government of the necessary portion of the expenditure, amounting to £18,000. In 1967, the following year, this Committee recommended that the experiment should take place in early 1968, and sought your Lordships' approval to the inclusion in their terms of reference (and this is important) of sound broadcasting, which they, the Committee, had found to be almost inextricably interwoven with the television problems. The Committee's recommendations were approved.
§ The Select Committee lapsed with the end of the Session, and another of roughly the same composition, as I have said, was appointed. The actual experiment took place on February 6, 7 and 8 of last year. The playback extracts and various edited specimen broadcasts, both in sound and vision, were at the disposal of your Lordships, the Members of the House of Commons and the Press the following week. The Committee, of which I have been a member throughout, then prepared the Report which is the subject of my Motion. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the Lord Chairman 1072 of Committees, is to speak later, I need not refer to its recommendations in detail, because doubtless he will do so.
This Report was in the Printed Paper Office on July 5 last, and the only further step that I need mention to bring the record up-to-date is the appointment in November of a Joint Select Committee of both Houses. This arises from recommendation No. 6 of the Report, which stems from paragraphs 25 and 26. The members of this Joint Select Committee are, with the noble Lord, Lord Pearce, in the chair, the Earl of Selkirk and Lord Stow Hill, and from the other place, Mr. Charles Pannell, Sir Peter Rawlinson and Mr. S. C. Silk in. They are now engaged upon the task of considering—and I quote:
whether any, and if so what, changes in the law of defamation and of Parliamentary Privilege are desirable in relation to the publication of the proceedings in Parliament".
I myself am not clear whether the matter of copyright is covered by this remit, and perhaps the answer to this will emerge in the course of the debate. But all the evidence to the Select Committee goes to show that, as things are, the broadcasting media probably dare not undertake the public dissemination of the proceedings of either House, whether in sound or in vision, without protection similar to that which the Press possess. Australia, for instance, found it necessary to legislate in this matter before they broadcast live in Canberra. Lord Pearce's Committee may well find that their task is no easy one.
§ This, my Lords, brings the record up-to-date, though it may be mentioned in passing that the House of Commons had a four-week experiment in closed circuit, sound only, live, and recordings, over four weeks in April and May last year. This then is the position to-day. The Joint Select Committee of Lord Pearce have entered upon their task. The recommendations and the report of the experiment lie upon the Table and time has begun to mellow the memory of the experiment or maybe it is the other way about. However, before I sit down I should perhaps set out briefly some impressions of the work of the Committee and the efficacy of the experiment as they occur to me. In doing so, your Lordships will rightly expect me to give expression to the debt 1073 the House owes to the members of the staff and the technicians of your Lordships' House at all levels who planned, prepared and carried out the onerous and intricate operations connected therewith. There was no technical hitch. The inconvenience to the House was kept to a minimum, and the dignity of the Chamber and of the proceedings was well maintained. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, is not here. As he moved an Instruction, which in fact was debated but not carried, on this subject of the dignity of the House, I hope he was satisfied with that. And all this, my Lords, within the budget.
§ But in considering the matter of cost, and not only that, it must also be remembered that, as can be seen from the printed minutes of evidence set out in all four Reports, the experts of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. contributed very largely in outlay of both time and trouble and of treasure to the whole undertaking; and indeed their skills and experience were freely at your Committee's disposal. I think the noble Earl will say this in his speech, but I should like to say from the Floor that this was deeply appreciated.
§ My impressions are, first of all, that the lights and the heat were intolerable. But it is perfectly clear that the technical developments, particularly the plumbicon camera or tube, will mean that any future televising will not require special lighting. My second impression was that playing to the camera did not in fact occur, even with bulky cameras and with their crews prominent in the Chamber. Remote control and plumbicon cameras unobtrusively mounted, probably suspended under the Galleries, would render it absolutely impossible to play to the camera, if anybody felt so disposed. In any case, I feel (this is a personal view) that sincerity in a speaker is one of the qualities which in a curious way comes across crystal clear on television; and that penetrating and delicate beam is for me, at any rate, interrupted abruptly as soon as there is a glance at the camera—and speakers should know it.
§ My third impression is this. I have become more than ever convinced of the failure of the Press—and this comes out throughout the evidence and the whole series of our Committee meetings 1074 —over recent years in their reporting of the proceedings of your Lordships' House. They have failed the House of Lords; they have failed Parliament, and they have failed the people. I admit that this is not the fault of the staffs in our Gallery; one has only to see the streams of faithful reports that continually go to the Associated Press to be satisfied of that. But I take the view that even the leading newspapers fail more often than not to give adequate space to reporting your Lordships' House. This morning was an example. The Press which calls itself the popular Press seldom, if ever, records that either House has even been sitting, unless there is something which it deems sensational or salacious. If it were not for the broadcasting media, the people as a whole would hardly know that the Upper Chamber did any work at all. Is this perhaps one reason why the televising of proceedings may eventually become inevitable? The Press have failed to take proper account of the more serious mood of the people which seems to be developing, and it would appear from recent reports that they are paying the penalty.
§ I would mention in passing that the Scottish and Provincial papers are in a difficulty because of the hour at which they go to press, but I feel that even they could do better. On the whole, the welcome to the experiment from the Press was not altogether ungenerous, although some of their people cannot help being rather "sniffy", despite the surprise to them that Members of your Lordships House turned out to be human after all.
§ As for the broadcasting media, the public and Parliament and perhaps democracy itself owe them a debt of gratitude. With its inevitable imperfections Today in Parliament, and perhaps Yesterday in Parliament even more importantly, have a widening circle of listeners. This is very important to people distant from London, and of course the Yesterday in Parliament programme, I believe, is widely listened to on car radios by people driving to work. They give ample coverage, I think, and a well-balanced share to Parliamentary business in their news broadcasts. The programme The Week in Westminster on the B.B.C. is not so good, perhaps because its title belies its content. For instance, in the last three consecutive programmes of The Week in 1075 Westminster there has been no mention of the proceedings of your Lordships' House, although there was some note of the proceedings in another place in respect of the House of Lords. Parliament may well decide one day that the people are entitled to see and to judge for themselves. Is Alistair Cooke perhaps right when he says that television is the new conscience of the civilised world?—I think I have his words right; I heard them ten days ago. Perhaps the latest factor in political consciousness is the public's increased awareness of what is going on. Many people now want to know not only the reasons for policies but they may wish—and indeed expect—to be kept informed. But the fourth and overriding impression in my mind is that surely there can be no question of the House of Lords "going it alone". If the House of Commons does not "dig it" then we do not. That is the way I look at it, and it is perhaps fortuitous that we had to "go it alone" with the experiment. In my view that was a pity, though it could not be avoided.
§ So interested am I in this subject that I could go on and on, but I have no intention of doing so. For instance, there is the problem of the archives and the records. Are programmes to be live or recorded and edited? That brings one to the whole question of editing. And what about the cost? It is clear that the willingness or ability of the broadcasting media to bear a share of the cost is distinctly limited, and that I can well understand in the present circumstances.
§ So I conclude with an expression of my belief that as time goes on and the future unfolds, the new shape of democracy may well require that the deliberations of legislatures should be televised. However, before that stage is even considered in your Lordships' House the problem of Parliamentary privilege must be resolved, the House of Commons must change its mind, and technical advances must be such that the physical conditions are acceptable. Also proper procedures for dissemination to the public would have to be determined, while the dignity of the House is maintained.
The noble Earl who was then the Leader of the House referred to this in April, 1966, on the occasion to which I have already referred. He said:
I am convinced that we in the House of Lords in modern conditions shall not make an impact on the nation appropriate to our talents until this House is well and truly televised …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21/4/66. col. 37.]
"Well and truly" I believe were—and still are—the operative words. But on that same day the Speaker in the House of Commons, when challenged by honourable Members who wanted to know why the instruments of torture happened to be in their Chamber, in the course of his remarks on the subject of televising Parliamentary proceedings, described this as being,
what I believe to be an historic question which the House will have to decide both for the merit of it and, as the right honourable gentleman pointed out, the procedural aspect of it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons; 21/4/66. col. 44.]
§ I assure your Lordships that I take up your time with a sense of deep respect and regard for this House and utter confidence in its place in the Parliament of the United Kingdom—confidence tinged with regret and indignation at the ignorance of the mass of the people as to what we do and how we function—a situation which television might relieve. Confidence, my Lords, nevertheless. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I rise at this moment only to intervene extremely briefly. I hope I shall have an opportunity to say something at the end, but I wish now just to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. It is entirely due to his initiative that this subject did not just slip away, and I am glad we managed to co-operate in arranging a debate before we had all forgotten what it was like to sit under the cameras. Secondly, I am sure your Lordships would wish me to express your gratitude not only to the two Committees but also to the Lord Chairman of Committees, who will shortly be speaking, and to those who have helped and advised the Committees. We should also express our thanks to the representatives of the B.B.C. and the I.T.V., who gave a great deal of time, I believe, to assisting the Committees in their deliberations and in mounting the experiment in closed circuit television in your Lordships' House in February of last year. We may have comments to make with regard to the sufferings some people had under the lights, while others 1077 may not have been bothered by them; but as to the correctness and devotion of those who were carrying out the experiment there is no doubt at all.
This is a subject in regard to which I think the saying "festina lente" applies. On the other hand we do not want that to be an excuse for not keeping the whole proposition alive and under active consideration, and proceeding deliberately towards the formation of ideas on the whole question of broadcasting. I should make it clear to your Lordships that when I speak later I shall not be putting the Government view. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and I agreed—and again I am grateful to him for this—that this is an occasion when the House of Lords itself says what it thinks. Although I shall express some views, they will be my own personal views, in the same way as there will be views by any other Member of the House of Lords, and not just the views of the Government. I promise that the closest attention will be paid to the opinions expressed in to-day's debate.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF LISTOWEL)
My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to say a few words at this stage of the debate about the Report of the Select Committee that we are discussing this afternoon, thanks entirely to the timely initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, whose speech, if I may say so, gave your Lordships a picture of the whole problem of Parliamentary broadcasting. I should like to say, first of all, how grateful I am to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the kind words he has said about us and our work. I think the members of this Committee realised from the start, when they undertook this inquiry into public broadcasting, that the House had entrusted them with an important and worthwhile task, and they hoped they might render some small service to Parliament by exploring a little further the possibility of projecting its image by means of the modern techniques of sound and television broadcasting. Perhaps I may say about one member of the Committee, the Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury, as she is no longer with us, how much we benefited from her eloquent wisdom, and how thankful we are that she was spared to work 1078 with us until the end of our inquiry. It is a matter of deep regret to all my colleagues that she cannot be with us this afternoon.
I hope the House will bear with me for a few moments while I deal with the contents of this Report. The first paragraph in the Report to which I would draw your Lordships' attention is paragraph 5, dealing with the interpretation placed by the Committee on the terms of reference which they received from the House. As this is a question which may give rise to a great deal of misunderstanding, I think I should quote the chief sentences in this paragraph:The Committee were appointed to consider the manner in which the proceedings of the House could best be publicly broadcast for an experimental period … While the Committee are conscious that some members of the House, and indeed some members of the Committee, remain unconvinced of the desirability of broadcasting its proceedings, they have not thought it to be their duty to set out the arguments for and against such broadcasting but have taken as their point of departure the decision in principle in favour of a n experimental period of public broadcasting that resulted from the debate on Lord Egremont's motion. The Committee have regarded it as their function to investigate the manner in which that decision could best be put into effect. It will be for the House to decide whether to endorse or rescind it in the light of the Committee's findings.In other words this Report is simply a matter of machinery. It is concerned with seeking out an effective means of public broadcasting and is not concerned with the much more important question of the desirability of broadcasting the proceedings of Parliament. I would therefore suggest that it would be perfectly open to any Member of the House present this afternoon, whatever his views may be about the principle of Parliamentary broadcasting, as it was to those members of our Committee who disapproved of Parliamentary broadcasting, to accept the recommendations about machinery contained in this Report.
The next paragraph to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention is paragraph 6, which deals with the closed circuit experiment, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, referred in some detail, I was glad to observe, in the course of his speech. The House will recall that we realised that it would be useful to all concerned, to the House 1079 and to the broadcasters if the broadcasting organisations were allowed to carry out a closed circuit experiment, a private experiment here, before any decisions were made on the form which experimental public broadcasting should take. Accordingly, the experiment in television and sound was arranged and took place in February of last year. I am sure the whole House would wish to join with me, and indeed with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, in paying a belated tribute to the skill and tact shown by the broadcasters in organising that unique event. However painful it may have been to some noble Lords, I am sure they would all agree that it was at any rate unique. We state in our Report that the experiment itself, and the memorandum about it submitted subsequently by the broadcasters, were of the utmost value to the Committee in helping them to arrive at their conclusions.
Paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Report deal with the questions of selection and editorial control of broadcast material. I think this is extremely important. The House will remember that by referring to the televising of some of the House's proceedings, the terms of Lord Egremont's Motion, which gave us our terms of reference, precluded the consideration by the Committee of any proposals for continuous broadcasting, such as exists in Australia. However, anything less than continuous broadcasting raises the problem of selection and editorial control. There are two possible alternative courses which were considered separately by the Committee. One of these is the proposal to create for this purpose, for the purpose of editing and selection, a broadcasting unit employed by the House. The other is the proposal to leave the responsibility for selection and editing to the broadcasters themselves, subject, of course, to the ultimate control of the House.
The creation of a broadcasting unit to deal with the first of these alternatives would involve the direct employment by the House of a staff which would have to look after the broadcasting equipment, prepare material for the broadcasting of our proceedings and make it available to the broadcasters. The Committee thought that the recruitment and employment of 1080 the necessary personnel would involve considerable expense, especially as they would have to be paid all the year round although of course they would only work while the House was in Session. Furthermore, if the material derived from our proceedings was to have any news value it would have to be available quickly for immediate use. I think it is pretty obvious that if the House were to intervene in this process, in this editing process, it would have the effect of much reducing the news value of the material for those preparing daily programmes of current news about Parliament.
The Committee recommended, therefore, that the broadcasting organisations should be treated in exactly the same way as the Press. If public broadcasting were to be authorised, the whole process of selection and editing of the material should be left to the broadcasters. The Committee were conscious that some might say that this solution was over-permissive. We took into account, in making this recommendation, that the Press had in fact operated for many years under a comparable freedom, and that, unlike the Press, both the broadcasting organisations, the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., are under specific legal obligations to ensure that what they report is both accurate and free from political partiality. The House would, of course, retain ultimate control over the broadcasting of its proceedings, and its privileges would extend to broadcasting as they do to the reporting of its proceedings in the Press.
I think the most important paragraphs in the Report—and these also, I was glad to note, were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier—are the paragraphs which deal with the recommendations in regard to the practical arrangements for an experiment in public broadcasting. I would emphasise that the Committee were acutely and continuously conscious of the need to keep to the minimum inevitable interference caused by the broadcasting equipment with the normal functioning of the House. In earlier Reports we stated our view that the most satisfactory solution from this point of view, in order not to interfere with the normal course of proceedings in the House, would be to install permanent equipment in the Chamber and to use miniaturised plumbicon cameras, which is a technical expression we became 1081 familiar with, thanks to its introduction by the broadcasters, for televising the proceedings of the House. These small cameras would have been fitted into the panelling on each side of the Chamber; they would have been flush with the panelling, and therefore unobstrusive, and would have made no difference to the conduct of our proceedings and no visible difference to the impression that we have of the Chamber. They would, therefore, have been ideal. They would also have been remotely controlled and in consequence we should have no cameramen on the floor of the Chamber.
But here comes the difficulty. The broadcasting authorities informed the Committee that the capital cost of installations of this type would be about £360,000, and this, of course, was at the time the estimate was made. The running costs would, of course, vary with the amount of use of the cameras, but would also be very substantial. While the Committee recognised, and I am sure your Lordships would agree, that in the long term permanent installations of this kind would be the best means of televising our proceedings, the Committee were unable to recommend them for an experimental period on the obvious grounds of cost. The broadcasting organisations have said that they would not be prepared to contribute to the cost, at least not so long as televising the House of Lords alone was envisaged. In view of this, the only possible course would have been to make the whole charge of £360,000 a charge on public funds, and the Committee naturally did not make this proposal.
There were two other considerations which influenced the Committee against the use of this equipment, besides the consideration of cost. The first is that the Committee were required by their terms of reference to make recommendations only for an experimental period of public broadcasting. The success of the experiment would obviously depend on the degree of public interest in televised debates, and this could not be assessed until the public had had a chance of seeing some actual programmes. If, therefore, the experiment had proved a failure the whole of this money would have been wasted.
The second factor that influenced the Committee was the future of colour television. We were informed that colour 1082 television, both from the B.B.C. and the I.T.A., would be, within two years' time, by 1971, the greater part of their televised programmes. As the ownership of colour sets becomes more general, it is inevitable that monochrome programmes will decline in popularity. While there is no colour camera at present available which would be suitable for use in this Chamber, the possibility of such a camera being invented certainly cannot be ignored. The Committee were also informed that there would be little chance of adapting the monochrome camera equipment for the requirements of colour.
For these reasons, the cost, the experimental nature of the public televised proceedings, and the future of colour television, we were unable to recommend that permanent equipment should be installed in the Chamber. We found that the only alternative course was to adopt the solution put forward by the broadcasting organisations. This is dealt with in paragraphs 16 to 23 of the Report. This proposal was that the experimental period should last for one year during which the broadcasters would be invited to come to the House on occasions which they would choose, on what is described as a "drive-in" basis. That is to say, they would bring the necessary equipment into the Chamber for a particular debate, a debate they thought would be of public interest, and remove it as soon as possible afterwards. This equipment would be similar to that used during the closed-circuit experiment last year. It might be possible to reduce the number of cameras in the Chamber from five to four, and to make a certain degree of improvement in the lighting; but I should be misleading the House—and that is the last thing I should ever wish to do—if I gave the impression that the conditions would be significantly different from those that we have already experienced in the closed-circuit experiment. But there was this mitigating circumstance: the broadcasters did riot expect to avail themselves of the opportunity to televise our proceedings for the experimental period of one year on more than two or three occasions.
In those circumstances, the Committee took the view that the discomfort, which we have all experienced, might be acceptable to the House as the inevitable price 1083 of a public experiment in broadcasting. If the "drive-in" method were adopted by the House, the cost would be limited to an initial capital expenditure of £2,000, and all the remaining costs, the capital costs and the running costs, would be borne by the broadcasters.
The Committee also considered the possibility of a public experiment in sound alone, without television. Their opinion was that such an experiment should be conducted on precisely the same lines as a television experiment. The cost to the House would be limited to an initial capital expenditure of £1,000, all other costs, including the whole of the running costs, being borne by the B.B.C. An experiment in sound alone would, of course, have the immense advantage that it would involve no perceptible change in conditions in the Chamber and, therefore, no inconvenience at all to Members.
Paragraph 24 of the Report proposes that the House should appoint a Broadcasting Committee for the duration of the experiment in public broadcasting. This Committee would act as a link between the House and the broadcasters. For example, it could indicate to the broadcasters debates likely to be of outstanding public interest, and transmit complaints or criticisms from Members of this House. Paragraphs 25 and 26 of the Report recommend the setting up of a Joint Committee to investigate the reporting of Parliamentary proceedings and, in particular, to deal with problems that may face the broadcasting organisations from actions for defamation. I am glad to say that this recommendation has already been carried out, and that the Joint Committee have begun their work under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce.
The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, went into a great deal of detail, I thought entirely justified, about the composition and the terms of reference of this Committee. I should like to say only this about it: that in my view the solution of the problem of the law of defamation in relation to the broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings is an essential prerequisite for any long-term system of Parliamentary broadcasting. Therefore I believe that this Joint Committee of the 1084 two Houses has an immensely important task to carry out.
Paragraphs 27 to 29 of the Report deal with the request by the Newspaper Conference for opportunities for still photography in the Chamber if our proceedings are to be televised. That seemed to be a logical and reasonable request on the face of it. The House accepted the Committee's earlier recommendation that still photographs should be taken during the closed-circuit experiment. The House will recall that some of the photographs taken on that occasion were shown in the Library Corridor, where I think many noble Lords had a chance of seeing them. The Committee gave careful consideration to the request of the newspapers for this facility. They did not take the view that it should be granted, for the simple reason that they could see no way of controlling the use, and therefore of preventing the misuse, of photographs which would be available to the whole of the Press. We were not unduly worried about the British Press; but of course there might be an element in the foreign Press here which could take advantage of this facility to give an inaccurate and misleading impression of how we conduct our business. My Lords, I hope that this short summary and explanation of what I think are the salient points in this Report may be of some assistance to your Lordships in forming an opinion about it.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I was a member of the Select Committee whose Report we are considering, and I should like to say at once that I fully support all its recommendations. I do not think I need detain your Lordships long, because the Chairman of our Committee has put the case for the recommendations so clearly and succinctly. May I say, in passing, what an excellent Chairman he was, and pay tribute to him for the Reports which have emanated from the Committee.
Already, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has said, more than a year has passed since we held the closed-circuit television experiment, and I should like to say, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House did, how much in debt we are to Lord Ferrier for giving us this opportunity to discuss it before our memories grow dim. My own personal 1085 opinion was that from a production point of view the experiment was an outstanding success. Technically, both the sound and the picture were excellent; and in my opinion the editing of the various programmes which we subsequently saw was not only skilful, as one would expect, but also well balanced; and I should like to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the B.B.C. and to I.T.A. on that account, and also to the staff of the House and the Ministry who made such admirable arrangements.
I think, also, that a tribute is due to your Lordships who had to suffer the unpleasantly bright lights and the obtrusive cameras: the work of the House continued without undue embarrassment, and nobody could be said to have played to the cameras. But good as the production was, I do not think any of your Lordships would be prepared to tolerate on a continuing basis, with the level of the lighting that we had to suffer on the experiment; and I would make it clear, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has done, that the Select Committee themselves never expected that you would have to do so. It was clearly understood all along that this was only for the experiment, and that in the event that public broadcasting of parliamentary affairs became a reality quite different equipment would be needed and would be installed.
The noble Earl has referred your Lordships to the miniaturised Plumbicon cameras, slung beneath the Galleries and remotely controlled, with a lighting level of some 20 foot candles, that would be used. As I understand it, we had to put up with a level of 30 foot candles for the Image Orthicon cameras used for the experiment. The lighting at present enjoys 12 foot candles, and for these new and modern cameras we should require a level of about 20 foot candles, which would be slightly between the two. Such a level, I hope, would not cause anything like the discomfort arising from the 30 foot candles level used on the experiment.
The noble Earl has mentioned the complicating factor of colour television. Will a black-and-white programme be acceptable when public broadcasting really happens? Speaking again in terms of 1086 lighting, the camera that operates for colour television requires a light level of 150 foot candles, which sounds as if it would fry us all. On the other hand, although, as the noble Earl himself said, colour production is making rapid strides, the sales of colour television receivers are not moving ahead quite so quickly. It will be a considerable number or years before even a significant proportion of viewers have colour sets; and even then, those who do will be quite used to seeing black-and-white inserts in colour programmes. I personally hope that broadcasting of television programmes from Parliament would not be delayed simply because we had to wait until there was a colour camera which was sufficiently unobtrusive and would operate with a tolerable level of light. I should hope that, if it were possible to go ahead, we should go ahead with broadcasts in black and white.
I would strongly endorse one other point made by my noble friend Lord Ferrier; and I hope that your Lordships will agree. I believe that it will be quite impossible to go ahead with broadcasting on a full-scale basis without both Houses of Parliament agreeing on it, and without the programmes covering the proceedings of both Houses. But in the meantime the Select Committee propose a continuation of the experiment bi this House on a "Drive-in" basis. As the noble Earl has explained concisely, this would give the broadcasters the opportunity to come to the House on two or three ocassions a year and early out the same sort of experiment as they did with the closed circuit, except that the result would be publicly broadcast. The broadcasting authorities are themselves sufficiently keen on the idea to put up £14,000 out of the £16,000 required to finance it.
It may be that some of your Lordships will not be prepared to put up with further inconvenience on even the few occasions that such further experiments would cover; and of course they are likely to be occasions of considerable public interest. I imagine that your decision will depend on your views as to the ultimate desirability of televising Parliament at all. My own view is that this is a desirable end, and for that reason I support these proposals. Television to-day 1087 is a major means of communication and wields a greater influence than all the newspapers put together. It seems to me inevitable that the proceedings of Parliament should be open to television, just as they are to the Press and the public. In fact, as I see it, such a development is the only real way to bring back a healthy general interest in the work of Parliament. I have no doubt whatever that both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. would use their powers with great responsibility. They certainly showed it in the experiment. The B.B.C. certainly shows it in its radio programmes relating to the work of Parliament, and both organisations have statutory obligations.
The noble Earl and my noble friend Lord Ferrier referred to the legal position of the broadcasting organisations, and to the setting up of a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. I hope that this would not delay any proposal for an experiment too long, because if it is delayed we may never get any progress at all. I hope that it will be possible to find some way in which the broadcasting organisations are able to risk their neck just for this one year—and, after all, it seems to me that their position is not very different from that of the Press today.
My Lords, I should like to comment on two other points before I finish. One concerns sound broadcasting; and on this I would say that all I have said about television I apply equally to sound broadcasting. I would certainly support any further experiments in this field, and with sound broadcasting, of course, no question arises of any physical inconvenience. I believe that recorded extracts from Parliament would enliven the present excellent programmes broadcast by the B.B.C. But here again any final decision would have to be dependent on the agreement of both Houses. In the meantime, I hope that, even if we cannot continue with the television experiment, we may be able to continue with the sound experiment.
On the question of Press photography, I support the view of the Committee that it should not be allowed. It seems to me that the object behind allowing broadcasting is to enable the public to have a better view of the proceedings of Parliament. Radio and television are 1088 channels of communication, just as the Press is, and in my view should be given similar access; but still photography is not a channel of communication and, by its nature, its exposure is so short that it can never give a balanced picture. Press standards so often depend on news-worthiness, and still photography could easily give a completely distorted picture of Parliament at work—and certainly the flash of bulbs and the click of shutters would be highly intrusive. We are not asked this afternoon to approve the Committee's Report—I am not really sure why. I thought we might have gone a stage further if we had been asked to approve it. But certainly I hope that the sense of this debate will be to approve of the Select Committee's suggestion that we should go ahead with further experiments.
§ 6.26 p.m.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Byers, who sat on this Committee, would have spoken to you to-night but he did not think he could be here. Your Lordships have heard already from the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that the late Lady Asquith of Yarnbury was a member of this Committee, and I, too, wish to say how sorry I am that she cannot speak in this debate. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, told me that it was because of her death that he realised that this Report had not been debated, and that if something were not done about it all the rest of the members of the Committee might well be dead before it was discussed.
I wonder why it is nearly a year since this Report was received and we have not considered it. I wonder if I do not detect a certain reluctance on the part of the noble Lord, the Leader of the House—and indeed of other noble Lords—to discuss it, and I wonder why this reluctance should be there at all. The Report prefaces its recommendations with these words:If the House wishes to authorise an experimental period …".et cetera. "If the House wishes"—I have a strong suspicion from what I have heard various people say, not in the debate to-night, that there is no very great wish to do this; that there is a reluctance to come to a decision; that there is a reluctance to debate this matter and that this is why it has been forgotten.
1089 I should like to touch upon some of those reluctances and to see whether they measure up to anything very much. The first reluctance that I see is a reluctance of Members of your Lordships' House to face the sort of change that would come about if we had cameras. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said he had not noticed any playing to the camera. Well, I am certain there was not any playing to the camera; but if you once have cameras you will have, not necessarily playing to the camera, but a different style of person; you will have a different style of speech. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw a very interesting article by Profesor John Searle, who is Professor of Philosophy at Berkeley University, California, in the Spectator last week, in which he was examining the emergence of leaders under television. He described how Daniel Cohn Bendit, who two years ago emerged under television as the leader of the French radical students, had not in fact been the leader before. There had been other leaders before, but this changed when television came on the scene because they were not the sort of people who are favoured by television. This raises interesting implications for the noble Lord, the Leader of the House: what kind of change might he see, or what kind of change might the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition see, in this sort of circumstance? Will they be able to stand up to it? I think this is something we have to face: that we shall have a change; we shall have different kinds of people emerging. This is where I detect reluctance.
The second reluctance arises because although the Committee were not considering the desirability of television, and in fact excluded it from their terms of reference, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, it is the ultimate desirability of whether or not we do this which will make us make up our minds. I thought we had in principle agreed, when we debated Lord Egremont's Motion, that it was ultimately desirable to do this, or at any rate that it was desirable to the extent of trying an experiment. I do not think it matters whether or not your Lordships are agreed that it is ultimately desirable. What is desirable is that we should have a go at trying it out.
1090 Another matter of reluctance is that many of your Lordships have an inferiority complex and are afraid that you might be a bore. Well, had we not better let the editors try it out before we funk it? Yet another ground for reluctance is that of "going it alone". Two noble Lords have already said that they think that it would be impossible to "go it alone" without the Commons coming in. I wonder. It might be an error of taste if we were to go into it without their agreement, but there is sometimes something to be said for committing errors in taste. I believe that we can hold our heads high in relation to the Commons. We have shown a much more liberal approach to many things recently—from hanging to abortion, from homosexuals to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. If we can show this kind of liberal approach to moral issues, can we not also be allowed to lead the way in this matter?
The Commons need feel no jealousy in the matter. Surely their attitude should be: "This is a difficult experiment. Let their Lordships make fools of themselves first." I am not sure that that is in fact their fear; I think that they are jeaous of us in different ways. I do not know if your Lordships knew of the famous remark by Walt Whitman, the American poet, about the "never-ending audacity of elected persons". I do not know whether the Commons want to be obstructive over this. But supposing they wanted to be obstructive—a good many of them wanted this innovation, but it was turned down, possibly by accident, late at night and by one vote—nevertheless they did in fact turn down the suggestion, and those who were defeated might feel that they would like to prevent us from doing it first. On the matter of money, are we to be hamstrung by the fact that money for this has to be voted by the Commons? Supposing there were a noble Lord who said, "Hang the Commons! I will put the money up myself", what then? It might be felt by a good many of your Lordships to be an unsuitable thing to do, but we might give it a second thought, just in case it is not as unsuitable as we think.
I should like to say a few words on the mechanics of the matter: first, the 1091 question of selection and editorial control. I have no fears on this account; it need not be one of the grounds for reluctance that bother your Lordships. The kind of professional expertise which we have learned to regard as always coming from the B.B.C.—or nearly always coming from them—in their programmes on Parliament is something we can look forward to with regard to editing and selection of television in this House. I know that it is a difficult matter; there may be "teething" troubles and it may be much more difficult than is the case with sound broadcasting, but it does not seem to me to be beyond the powers of the kind of people who do this work very well. Next, I do not think that the experiment need have any particular implications for the Press. Television has always had implications for the Press, and if this has implications—so what? As for the point about experience of televising in other Parliaments, I feel that their experiments are not really relevant to us in this country, since very often their form of Parliament is different from ours. Other noble Lords may have seen television at work in foreign Parliaments and I should be interested to hear their comments, but I suspect that it does not have much bearing on what we are discussing to-day.
Then one comes to the drive-in system and the discomfort that this would entail. It has been pointed out that if we have permanent installations there would be no discomfort because everything would be unobtrusive and hidden away and involve little extra lighting, but that if we have the drive-in system your Lordships would find it intolerable. I agree that it would be tiresome. Occasionally there would be bright lights and a certain amount of disturbance, with people buzzing about on cameras, and there would be a good deal of heat. But we put up with this sort of thing on occasions like the opening of Parliament, and it would not be asking very much of your Lordships to put up with a certain amount of discomfort half-a-dozen times a year when the broadcasting companies feel that they would like to televise something which is interesting enough for them to want to do so. It would be intolerable if it were to go on all the time but if it were to be on a drive-in basis at only fairly remote 1092 intervals of time, I do not think it would matter.
As to the matter of the timing of the Pearce Committee, I understand that that Committee is not likely to be able to produce for some time an answer on matter of privilege, copyright and all the highly technical problems which I do not understand. It might take them one-and-a-half to two years to evolve the right answers. We must be reasonably careful over these matters, but I should imagine that some kind of guarantee could be given in matters of privilege, and so on, to prevent accidents to the people who were broadcasting.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, I warmly welcome the Report. It is an experiment which we ought to decide to take. It is not all that expensive or uncomfortable or obtrusive, and I feel that matters of privilege and considerations about editing and control can all be overcome. We ought to try it. The one thing that stands in our way is that we might be afraid to implement the proposal before the Commons agree, but I hope that we shall go ahead regardless.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ LORD EGREMONT
My Lords, I hang my head in shame as being the person who is at the bottom of all this. I greatly enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who talked about reluctance. There can be reluctance on one side, but there is a question of wooing on the other. Slowly, slowly does it. Let us not be in any great hurry over this problem. I welcomed the speech which was made by my noble friend, Lord Ferrier. He asked who was at the bottom of the bright idea to televise your Lordships' House. It all came about as a result of a debate which I initiated in June, 1966. The matter is made plain in the various Blue Papers and Reports—and very good Reports they are. Tribute is due to the Select Committee not only for the able and sensible way in which they have done their job, but also for the able, terse, plain and yet fully explanatory way in which they have reported to us. Our congratulations must go to them.
A few words about my part in the matter. You start a thing going, as I started this one, thinking that it is a bright idea. Then it goes on, and on, and on. I almost feel like a poor man's 1093 Wilkes. Your Lordships may remember from the history books that at the time when everybody else was still rushing about shouting, "Wilkes for liberty", John Wilkes himself was quietly running around saying to everybody, "Drop it. Leave it alone. I left that thing a long time ago." I was never a "Wilkes-ite". I was thinking this evening of saying that I was never a "Televisionite", but, having heard what has already been said here to-day, I have changed my mind. And for why? The reason is that I think television is bound to come, and, when it comes, speeches in this House might be more brief. So I think we should go on preparing for it in the very sensible and sensitive and civilised and imaginative and forward-looking and lively way in which we have been preparing for it hitherto. That is the way we should go on doing it. But let us not be in any great hurry.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, it is through the kindness and courtesy of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, that I can intervene for a few minutes. In the 1966 debate I regretted the proposal for the televising of your Lordships' House. Subsequently, I was a member of the first Select Committee under the able chairmanship of the Chairman of Committees, and I signed the Report for the experiment. The experiment has taken place, and my misgivings have not been placated but rather intensified as a result. Having had one experiment, it is now proposed that there should be another experiment for a further year. My main objection remains as it was at the time of the original debate, and perhaps I am the first Member of your Lordships' House to have taken some objection to the proposals in the Second Report.
Parliament, to me, is essentially a debating assembly where, in an atmosphere of intimacy, views are advanced, exchanged and argued. I do not believe that that atmosphere can be conveyed over the television system to the television screen, and its introduction may well spoil and constrict debate. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that television is a new form of communication and is therefore inevitable. With respect, I think that is a non sequitur. Of course you can have new forms of 1094 communication, but they are not necessarily applicable or suitable to a debating assembly.
My second objection is that there is no obvious public demand for this, and I reject the contention that in the interests of the education of a democracy we have a duty to show ourselves at work. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, criticised severely the amount of Press reporting of the proceedings in your Lordships' House. Like all other Members of this House, I too regret that the daily Press does not find more room for reporting our proceedings. But the duty of the Press is to report news. It has no duty to report earnest, valuable, well-thought out debate on matters which are not perhaps of immediate news value; debates which are of immense value to our system of Government, but which have no particular appeal to the daily Press. Hansard is available for those who wish to take full advantage of the opportunities of learning what is argued in your Lordships' House.
"Today in Parliament" on the radio gives a summary sometimes mentioning, sometimes not mentioning, your Lordships' House. On balance, I think it is very fair. But I do not think it is right for us to try to impose ourselves on a not too interested viewing public, because the likely result will be a loud noise of clicking as people turn off their sets or turn to another channel. Trying to stuff the eyes and ears of the public with unwanted pictures and sound does no service to the authority or dignity of Parliament; and the listening figure; certainly do not show any great upsurge when "Today in Parliament" comes on. Indeed, one of the broadcasting authorities recently said, "If only we could get rid of the political broadcasts." My third objection is that public finance, sums great or small, should no longer be voted for television presentation. We have had some public funds; I believe that we should have no more. I claim that the closed circuit experiment has broadly justified my objections. As one Press man said in his evidence to the second Select Committee, "The last experiment was a dreary affair." I agree. The pictures were not inspiring. They were interesting to us, because we knew our colleagues and it is always interesting to see how your fellow Members look 1095 on the television screen, some of them in action and some of them at times in a somewhat somnolent condition. The dignity of Parliament to outside viewers will not be enhanced by what we saw on the B.B.C. and I.T.V. closed circuit experiment.
There is an objection, which I support fully, against the taking of "stills". They would be unfair, and they might portray moments in Parliament which would give a thoroughly misleading impression to those who saw those photographs. It would be very unfair for "stills" to be taken in another place, and it would be equally unfair to television. I can imagine a Member in another place, who is sitting for a borderline, marginal constituency, appearing inadvertently on television, perhaps tired after an all-night sitting, and sleeping. His constituents would be appalled and it might just tip the balance and lose him his seat. Therefore, both "stills" and a general picture of the House may well be unfair.
The Second Report of the Select Committee is what I call a "turn-down" for regular television, but it proposes for one year a "drive-in" set up, which means television at the television editor's selection; and it is envisaged that this should take place on a few occasions a year. The occasion for those will therefore be chosen editorially by editors, not having regard to the seriousness of the debate or the greatness of the issue, but to the likely audience appeal of that particular occasion in your Lordships' House. That occasion might well be one which we think is not the right one but what they think is right having regard to their TAM ratings.
For these few occasions television cameras, equipment and staff are to arrive. There will be hours of preparation; there will be hours of recording under the lamps for just a few moments final transmission. There will be hours of dismantling; and, as we know from the last experiment, there will be staff to be catered for, to be looked after. I would not call it so much "drive-in" television as "drive in and bread and butter" television, because we shall have them with us a very long time if we carry out this experiment. Furthermore, on such occasions I do not believe that the House would be natural and unaffected.
1096 As to finance, it is recommended that £2,000 of the £16,000 should come from public funds; but if we are to go forward with this second experiment your Lordships must have in mind the possibility (or you would not support it) of permanent television. Therefore, the £2,000 is but the beginning of the expenditure of a much larger sum of public money; and I personally would object to the expenditure of £2,000 now just as I would object to greater sums in the future. If we are worth anything to television authorities educationally, let them pay for the experiment entirely out of their educational votes. If we are worth anything in general interest or entertainment, again let them pay for it entirely out of their general funds. Otherwise, I think we should leave it alone.
My Lords, I have one more point, if I may make it. Going through Parliament now is the Parliament Bill, proposing the reform of your Lordships' House. A new House is envisaged in the future. Surely we should let the new House decide whether they want a further experiment and further money to be spent. Let the present House thank the Select Committee upon its Second Report but take no action upon its recommendations, and let this House remain a Chamber for debate and discussion within itself.
My final words are these. If we start on this "drive-in" television for one year, we start on a slippery slope; and, once started, as the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said, in the long run the horror of colour becomes inevitable. I do not think we look so "hot" in monochrome. In colour, most of us look deplorable—and I for one will fully admit my contribution to that end. I therefore hope that the House will avoid such dangers in the future by not proceeding with the proposals of the Committee contained in their Second Report.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for introducing this Motion, and particularly for his broad approach to the subject, which I fully share. I must begin by declaring an interest. I am on the Board of the Yorkshire Television Authority. Although I am not a round-the-clock television viewer, I am a television enthusiast, a fan, with a taste ranging from Sir Kenneth Clark to Ken 1097 Dodd. Somewhere along the line between education and low-brow entertainment, surely, a niche can be found for the House of Lords. I do not even take the view, expressed by the Yorkshire Post after the experiment in this House, that continuous televising of this House would be embarrassing or would reduce Parliament to a laughing stock. Perhaps it would be a good thing for the general public to have a proper idea of just how boring, as well as how interesting, Parliament can be. People must learn not to be put off by the tediums of the Parliamentary democratic process. Dictatorships always look more efficient, and this makes them all the more dangerous.
My Lords, I was very glad to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. I was particularly glad to hear what he had to say; and, with the greatest respect to him, I must say that I disagreed with practically every point he made. I could not have disagreed with him more. So I was particularly glad that he spoke before I did. Personally, I agree with what I think the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, said in the Select Committee: that if we televised the proceedings of Parliament it might create more interest on both sides, in Parliament and out; and it would certainly help to animate those who took part.
Personally, I am all for keeping up the pressure for communication in the country and in the world, and to-day, television has the greatest part to play in this. Television is the miracle, long-distance educator of to-day. I hope that technological advance will make its reception possible in all the more remote and developing countries of the world. I think, really, that it should be installed automatically, as with plumbing. I hope that it will not be many years before, in these developing countries, there will be television built into the houses as freely as people in affluent countries enjoy it, so that the people can see the scientific wonders of this age even more when they do not know how they are brought about. The more instant and far-reaching the communication, the better chance we have to arrive at some kind of truth as to what goes on in the world.
In general, my Lords, the camera is to be trusted, even though occasionally it can distort a picture. More important 1098 the sound-track cannot lie. Whatever impression you make, you have only yourself to blame. In this, television has a distinct advantage over the Press, where a slant can always be introduced. I suppose that in the process of editing a particular television programme a slant can also make it less objective. Although, in general, I dislike any kind of censorship, I am a little bothered by the Select Committee's agreement that the House should hand over all editing rights to the television teams. I know that this is a very difficult problem, but I do not think it has as yet been solved by the B.B.C. or I.T.V.; and we have still some way to go to get fairer news presentation in the media of the Press and television.
To me, my Lords, this looks over-permissive, and I cannot square it with the sentence in paragraph 9 on page v of the Committee's Report, where it says:Nevertheless it is clearly necessary that the House should retain ultimate control ever the broadcasting of its proceedings".Where do the powers of the Broadcasting Committee, which the Select Committee recommend should be set up, come in? I have not got this at all clearly. Nor can I see why the House should make any contribution to the cost of the installation of equipment. The witnesses called from the television companies gave very unconvincing answers to Lord Byers, who raised this matter in the Select Committee, when he queried the justification for this part cost. During a broadcasting session of the House the whole performance is there for them to relay. I know that there is still the arduous task of editing, but at least the news has not to be dug out; not have special envoys or actors to be paid.
In spite of my strong belief in the ultimate benefits of more and better television, after reading the Report of the Select Committee I would give television, at this time, a low priority. I am not clear whether there has been any firm suggestion for the time to be allocated to television or for the frequency of such broadcast sessions; the television companies appear to be very lukewarm. The primary object of broadcasting. Parliamentary proceedings should be educational, to strengthen democracy. If the programme is too short, it is inadequate and may be misleading. Adequate time and coverage is absolutely essential for 1099 an objective account of what goes on in Parliament. I think that it is too expensive to embark on this scheme at the present time, and therefore I would say that it is too soon to do it.
When it comes to sound broadcasting, however, that is another matter. I think that much could be achieved by recording debates in both Houses of Parliament. This is not nearly so costly, and there is everything to be said for going ahead with it. The television experiment in this Report was very worth while and will stand us in good stead in some years to come when we can afford to televise the proceedings of Parliament on a really proper basis.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ LORD SHERFIELD
My Lords, I rise to intervene briefly in this debate as a member of the Select Committee. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has drawn attention to this Report which until this afternoon seemed to have fallen like the proverbial lead balloon. This question of televising the proceedings of the House seems to be rather an emotive one giving rise to strong feelings both for and against. I hope I am not betraying a confidence if I say that the Committee, which was appointed to consider only method, was frequently on the edge of debating merit even though the House had approved a policy in its vote on July 15, 1966. No doubt the House can reverse itself after the experiment and after studying the Committee Report. My purpose is to express the hope that it will not do so but will accept the very limited proposals of the Committee which were unanimously agreed and put them into practice without much further delay.
To take sound broadcasting first, the recommendation of the Committee in favour of an experimental period of public broadcasting is probably less controversial, as indeed emerged from the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, than the proposal for television. But there is an objection which has been raised, and which was raised again this afternoon, to proceeding with either proposal at the present time. It is that the House of Lords should not act without the Commons. I should certainly agree with this view if it were suggested that the arangements for broadcasting should be on a permanent basis; but this is not the 1100 proposal. All that the Committee recommended was that there should be an experimental period in which the proceedings should be televised on infrequent occasions.
The situation might be different if there was a feeling among the broacasting authorities themselves that the experiment limited to the House of Lords would be unacceptable or without interest. But on the contrary they welcomed the prospect. Indeed the first Report of the Services Committee of another place on broadcasting its proceedings states categorically that the desirability of broadcasting the proceedings of this House is strongly urged by the B.B.C. Moreover, the broadcasting authorities were prepared to back their judgment with cash by paying seven-eighths of the cost in the case of television and three-quarters in the case of sound broadcasting, leaving only a small amount to be found by Parliament. There has been objection this evening to any payment on the part of Parliament. But this proposal relates to payment for the permanent installation; that is to say, the infrastructure, which would be a permanent part of the equipment in this House. It seems to me to be a quite reasonable proposal that Parliament should be asked to pay for that. The total cost, £3,000, is not a large sum even in these cost-sensitive days.
Apart from the broadcasting authorities, four leading journalists were consulted by the Committee, and though they were not fully agreed they were generally in favour on a variety of grounds of broadcasting. Indeed, the public reaction about the experiment in this House was generally, and perhaps unexpectedly, favourable. This is shown by the tenor of the Press comment which, although there were obviously dissenting opinions here and there, was on the whole very favourable. The situation might again be different if some forward moves were imminent in another place, but so far as I know the situation there is frozen probably for the rest of this Parliament.
Then there is the question of the convenience of this House. It is certainly a disappointment that the small cameras which can be operated by remote control and which require a level of light one-third lower than the existing cameras are not yet fully developed; and they would in any case be extremely expensive to install. The experiment would 1101 therefore have to continue with the physical presence of operators and cameras in the Chamber. Although the broadcasting authorities were able to hold out the prospect of some amelioration of the lighting, they admitted that this would be relatively slight. It did not seem to me, during the experiment, that the physical presence of cameras and operators affected the delivery or the quality of the speeches, but the light was certainly more trying. However, on the infrequent basis on which the experiment would proceed it seems to me that the inconvenience is tolerable and the disadvantages are outweighed by the advantages of further experiment.
Then there is the question of privilege. A great deal has been made of the risk of being penalised for breach of privilege if an experiment were to be made without express protection. I think there has been no difficulty about the current forms of reporting proceedings of the House. While there are special features in respect of television, it appears that the risk that the authorities are likely to run is a very small one, as indeed emerged from the memorandum on the subject submitted to the Select Committee on Broadcasting in another place. It seems to me that the broadcasting authorities, if given the opportunity, could quite safely "have a go" before the Joint Committee on Privilege has reported and action is taken on the Report. which appears to be a rather lengthy perspective.
My Lords, I do not know where the further initiative lies in this matter. My conclusion is that if you are against the idea of televising the proceedings of the House it is easy enough to find practical objections against doing anything. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, produced a whole bagful of them. But if you are in favour, or even if you are neutral, those objections appear to me to be of a kind which could easily be overcome. Television may or may not be a dangerous thing, but it has come to stay and in my personal opinion the sooner this House begins to come to terms with it, the better.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, so many points have already been made—and I do not believe in repetition—that I propose to stick to just 1102 three or four in support of the view that I had when we had our vote and I voted against television. I sat on the two Select Committees, and I have not yet been persuaded by what we heard then, interesting as it was, that this is the moment to televise the proceedings of the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, very kindly quoted from the Report. I cannot think where she found the quotation: I think that it must have been taken out of context.
But, looking at the matter first from the permanent point of view, the whole of the estimates in the Reports about costs are based really on fiction. They are based on the possibility of having Plumbicon television apparatus which at the moment is non-existent and is still being developed. Whatever the costs were eighteen months ago, they are bound to be at least three times as much now. Therefore all the costs shown in this Report are now totally unreal from the point of view of a permanent setting.
Secondly, there is the advent of colour television. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that that would be a disadvantage here. I think that the beauty of this Chamber, and the Throne, with the Lord Chancellor sitting on the Woolsack, could counterbalance many of the defects of the Members elsewhere—
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, I am all for colour television if we are to have our proceedings televised at all; and it seems to me that it would be ridiculous to put in a very expensive black-and-white picture installation if it would have to be changed before very long to a colour one. I think that to spend a great deal of money on exhibiting ourselves would not at present be very welcome to the public at large. I do not think this is really the moment to go a "splash" in this way—though if the offer of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, sands good, and he wishes to pay for the whole thing, one may reconsider the position.
The question of time was another point brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell. How much time should we 1103 be allotted if we had a permanent arrangement? The time given would be ten minutes—two minutes of explanation and eight minutes of television, out of a quarter of an hour, of which the balance would go to another place. To spend on eight minutes of television the amount of money that we should have to spend seems to me to be at the moment quite out of proportion. Also, I feel that it would be invidious for us to go ahead with a permanent installation if the other place is not willing to come in with us. Having been there myself, I do not feel that television is suitable for the other place: indeed, it would be far less suitable for them than it would be even for us. I do not see any prospect of this going ahead, and I am very doubtful whether we should go forward alone.
My Lords, the great advantage of having a permanent installation is that people forget that it is there. When they do not realise that it is present, television does not change their manner of speaking or their approach to a subject. Any of us who have been delegates to the United Nations, where there is permanent television, will know how quickly people forget its presence. So there is that advantage about a permanent installation as against a "Drive-in" system. I do not like the idea of a "Drive-in". I think it would be extremely inconvenient for Members of your Lordships' House, and it would be extraordinarily difficult to choose the subject to be televised. If the broadcasting authorities are going to go for the three subjects mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Henley—hanging, homosexuality and abortion—we shall get a very curious reputation in the world at large; and I am afraid that it is exactly that sort of subject that would be chosen.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness to ask her one question? I am very interested in what she was saying about the the United Nations. She said that there is continuous television. Are selections made, or is it a continuous transmission?
§ BARONESS EMMET OF AMBERLEY
My Lords, selections are made, but television is there all the time, and unless you watch for the red light you are not conscious whether it is on or off.
1104 As I was saying, a "Drive-in" basis would be highly uncomfortable; the lighting and the heating in this Chamber would be very oppressive. And I think the choice of subject would be extremely difficult to make. We all know that sometimes we anticipate that a debate will be extraordinarily interesting. Such a debate might be chosen for televising, but might fall completely flat; whereas on another day, when the debate had not been chosen, there might be a most marvellous debate which would have made an excellent subject for broadcasting.
I should also feel very sorry for the usual channels, who would have to choose both the Members who were going to speak and the order in which they would speak. That would, I think, be an arduous responsibility and a difficult job.
I feel, therefore, that this is not the moment to go forward. We need to get the question of privilege worked out, and we have to wait to sec how technical developments come along, both in Plumbicon and in coloured television. And from the point of view of the general public, I do not think that spending a very large sum of money at the present moment would be popular.
§ 7.16 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to join most of your Lordships in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for raising this subject, which I think certainly should have been raised, and for doing it with such immense clarity and liberality; and for his almost opening remarks that he felt that those who took part in the debate were entitled to speak on the general issue of the desirability of the thing rather than on the mechanics of it. The only things that I shall have to say, and I shall try to keep them short, are of a very general nature and deal with the whole question—which I think is going to be an increasingly important and interesting one—of what one could call "government by image." This House still being a part of the Parliamentary system may, I think, be included in "government". On the question of image, two views have been put tonight. They are age-old ones. One can be summed up in the words from the Book of Proverbs:Where there is no vision, the people perish.1105 I suppose, therefore, a democratic Government might go out. The other, earlier one is not as many people think:Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image",but, if you make it, you must not bow down to it or worship it. I think there is a real danger of worshipping images, whether television images or any image in the Press nowadays.
I do not believe that at the moment, whatever there may be at some future date, there is any great danger of the image of this House being worshipped in a way that a Divinity or even a "pop" star might be. In fact, many of your Lordships may think that the position is the reverse. It seems to me, however, that two questions are concerned here. The first is, how televising may affect the image which the public—not those who come to this House who have a different one, but those who stay away—would have of our proceedings here. And the second, and, to my mind the more important one, is how far the knowledge that one is speaking not only to your Lordships (who are unbelievably sympathetic, even to Back Bench Liberal Peers, if they do not speak too long) but to the general public would affect and alter the character of debates. I should like to say a few things about each of those.
I come to the first question, what effect I believe it would have on our image. The first point is, will television distort to any extent what goes on in this House? My Lords, of course it will, and any form of reporting does. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, made one remark in the Select Committee which I must say shocked me. It was a true remark, I am ready to believe. She said that she has almost never been reported in the newspapers; and that in itself, seems to be a distortion of our debates. I think that anybody who has made a speech and found that a sentence has been selected by the papers to represent that speech cannot help but feel that distortion does happen. I have been reported twice. On one of those occasions I ventured to differ from the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein. He said that the object of this House was to fight the Devil and all his works. I said that while that might be the object of individual Members, if the House as a whole followed his advice, 1106 followed him into the Lobby and hit the Devil for six, six would not be enough, because there are Seven Deadly Sins, only one of which is covered, and I should be too busy. I was reported next day as saying that I entirely agreed that the object of this House was to fight the Devil and all his works. That seems to me to be an example of how, by selecting one sentence, quite a trivial one in this case, anything can be distorted.
On the question of how the image of your Lordships' House as it exists in the public mind at the moment might be distorted for the worse, I can only personally answer, like one of Mr. Wodehouse's characters who, when shown a picture of himself as a baby and asked if he was really as ugly as he looked, said with all honesty, "I don't see how I could have been." I say this, after visiting a play now current in the theatre where your Lordships' House is represented to the public in a way which one would not expect. One might say that any theatrical representation in which anyone can make a speech, has to wear a coronet and robes and speak from the middle of the House, would not be taken very seriously as a fair satire on your Lordships' House. It is taken seriously by critics and by the Sunday Times. I would recommend noble Lords to see the things they have said. It is taken as a devastating criticism of your Lordships' House. I feel that the most distorted television version of a real debate would strikingly correct that opinion.
More important is the question of how far noble Lords would alter the forms of their speeches if they knew that the debates were being televised. I was going to draw your Lordships' attention to the interesting argument in the Spectator, which my noble friend Lord Henley mentioned. It made clear that in events like student risings the people who come to the fore are not those selected by the students but people like Mr. Cohn-Bendit, who might have been chosen by the students but who at a certain stage are found to have television personalities. And there is a danger that Peers might be inclined to adapt their speeches to accord with that idea. How far that will apply to any House in future I do not know; but I do not think that your Lordships' House as at present constituted would be seriously worried by that. I believe that 1107 most noble Lords would make the same kind of speech as they made before, if they were unconscious, or were not made conscious the whole time, that they were being televised.
It is here that I should have a great many more doubts as to the wisdom of this experiment. If we are to be submitted only on select occasions, on special gala days, to television cameras which it is almost impossible to forget, then it will not be a fair representation of your Lordships' ordinary debates. In spite of that, I still believe it might be worth having an experiment to see what happens. After a limited period we should be in a better position to make up our minds, but, on the whole, I am rather lukewarmly in favour of the general recommendations which the Committee have put so admirably.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, my only excuse for intervening for a few moments in this interesting debate is that I have had a certain amount of personal experience of this particular medium. In fact, I venture to say that probably I have had a greater experience of it than any other Member of your Lordships' House. I should like to begin by saying how much I agree with what the noble Lord. Lord Ferrier, said about the reporting in the Press of debates both in your Lordships' House and in another place.
On more than one occasion I regret that I have had to draw your Lordships' attention to the price of gold which, whatever views anybody may hold, is an important subject. All the speeches that I have made on this subject and all the questions that I have asked have been virtually ignored by the popular Press, and indeed by every part of the Press; but when I put down a Question about whether the gum on 5d. stamps was sticky enough it was headline news in every newspaper in the country. So far as the Press is concerned, gum beats gold—and I think that is all wrong. I think that we have cause for complaint about the reporting of important debates in both Houses of Parliament.
The enormous difficulty of this question of televising the proceedings of the House can be summed up in one sentence: Who is to choose who is to be 1108 televised, and why? I refer particularly to the character of debates in both Houses. Churchill once said to me, "First-class debate is animated argument." I think that he was quite right. And that is very difficult to reproduce on television. We do not know when the animated argument is going to arise. Often, there are set speeches, more frequent in this House than in another place, following one another, in which nobody attempts to answer anybody else. We cannot be sure when the animated argument will arise, and that would be the public interest in our proceedings.
There was an attempt made at animated argument on television, first on the B.B.C., and secondly on I.T.V. I was a participant, with Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. A.J.P. Taylor and the late Mr. W.J. Brown, in both these experiments. The first was called "In the News" and the second, "Free Speech". I know from the rating figures that both programmes were extremely popular. But they were smashed relentlessly and ruthlessly by the machine politicians of the day. The members of both the Party machines went first to the B.B.C., and then to the and said: "These chaps express only their own views. We are not getting a proper chance. They argue with each other, but express their own views, and we are not getting a chance to express the official Party point of view." The B.B.C. went so far as to say: "You can put two of your recalcitrants or"—if I may use the expression—"bloody-minded members on the team, but you must have an orthodox member of the Labour Party and an orthodox member of the Conservative Party expressing the orthodox Party view ". Within a month the programme was dead.
I would just say this. Animated disdiscussion has now dropped out from broadcasting to such an extent that it has been, for all practical purposes, replaced by "pop" singers and by most irritating interviews. I make an exception here. I am not referring to the interviews given by our present Ambassador in Washington, under the title of "Face to Face", which I think was probably the best programme ever produced on any television in the world: it was absolutely first-class. But these hurried interviews given by harried politicians who have just landed from heaven knows where in an aeroplane, and are 1109 only concerned to say nothing that can go wrong, are an irritant and so far as I can see do no good to anybody.
So far as the Prime Minister is concerned, I think he would be well advised to adopt the example of General de Gaulle; to appear alone on television not more than two or three times a year and tell us what he is trying to do, and how he proposes to do it. And I think the leaders of the Opposition should appear at least once a year for the same purpose, and with the same objective. In my view, these ridiculous Party broadcasts, which bore everybody to tears and are absolutely useless from a vote-catching point of view, should be abolished altogether.
Animated discussion, to which I have referred, occurs sporadically. You cannot foresee it; it is unexpected. The cameras cannot be prepared to catch it when it takes place unless they are there all the time. In the end, boredom prevails, as it must do if we are to do our duty in Parliament. On October 30 of this year I shall have sat in Parliament continuously for 45 years, and I can hardly describe the eons of boredom that I have had to sit through in both Houses. Yet, at the same time, I would not say that they were all unnecessary. I think they are necessary to conduct the public business of the country. But the television viewing audience should not have this inflicted on them. At least, the Members of another place are paid a substantial salary for doing it, and we are paid a pittance—and we should not be here if we were not content with that. But why the public should have these eons of boredom inflicted upon them is beyond me.
My Lords, I detect in your Lordships' House quite a number of gentlemen who resemble Soames Forsyte, but I venture to suggest that none of you could put over on the screen Soames Forsyte as well as Mr. Eric Porter, and I think you had better leave it to him to do so. The so-called interviews at Heathrow or elsewhere are absolutely useless from a public point of view. They would be far better put out officially by the Government Department concerned.
This television business is a technique which is unique, and it can only be acquired, as in every other game, by prac- 1110 tice and experience. You cannot learn a game overnight. It has nothing to do with speaking in Parliament or speaking on a platform. It is an art (if you like to call it that) by itself. When the lights go on, as under the proposal of tie noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, they will—even if they are subdued red lights—let me assure your Lordships that you will not be wholly unaware of the unseen eyes and the subconscious effect of then. You cannot be. You will stand up, suddenly you will see a red light in the corner, and you will make a quite different speech. A noble Lord spoke just now of the effect of sincerity. You can be sincere if you know that you are being televised and are talking straight into the camera. But when you are speaking in a Chamber like this, and you suddenly see a red light go on, believe me, my Lords, you change: you will not make the same kind of speech, and you will not make the sort of speech that is required in Parliament.
I should certainly have the opening of Parliament televised, especially now that colour is coming in. It is pure pageant, which the British people love and at which they excel. Otherwise, the only advantage that I can see in televising the proceedings of either House is a tremendous diminution in the sale of barbiturate sleeping tablets. If a guarantee could be obtained from the I.T.A. and the B.B.C. that the proceedings of Parliament would never be recorded until 11 p.m., it would at least leave Parliament unscathed, and at best put many people to sleep long before they would otherwise go to sleep without artificial aid.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, I must apologise profusely for not being present for the opening speeches, and particularly must I apologise to my noble friend Lord Ferrier who kindly gave me a précis of the points that he had made. I hope that I shall not repeat things that have been said, other than when I do so deliberately. For instance, I find myself wholly in accord with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has somewhat stolen try thunder in the main point that he made.
My working day consists, and must consist, largely of evaluating what is interesting, memorable or entertaining to the general public. I would not say that 1111 nine-tenths of the proceedings in this illustrious Chamber are not entertaining, but that 99 per cent. of events here are stupefyingly boring in those terms. This is not a criticism, but an objective viewpoint, because it is a fundamental part of this House that because it is willing to undertake the detailed legislation of the day-to-day running of the nation it should be by definition non-entertainment. The time proposed, 11 o'clock at night, with which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, ended his speech, will, I suppose, ensure that only the most dedicated educationalists will watch such a programme, in the hope of finding something to tell the class next day. I cannot think of any other reason to listen to this programme on the radio or watch it on television, even on a "Drive-in" basis.
There is that very relevant quotation in the Report itself with which your Lordships will be familiar:It will not in the nature of the case be possible to make any accurate assessment of the extent of public demand until the public have actually had an opportunity of seeing them.I want to lead from that into what I feel is the danger of starting an experiment that is an experiment and not the result of a decision made. I wonder what effect it will have on the morale of everybody here if it can be shown conclusively that the public appreciation of what we have to say is negligible—because, honestly, it is. I repeat, this is not criticism. The things that are said continually in this House are measured opinions of extremely wise men; but they are not interesting.
Another point that has been raised, I know, is that it is not a corollary of a debate's being newsworthy that it is important. This point is certainly covered in the Report. So, even on a "Drive-in" basis, the public get a (shall I say?) slanted view of the House proceedings. Say even three times a year (the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has certainly covered this point) it would be far more glamorous than it is in fact, when this House's strength is its application to detail. Finally, I should like to raise a speculative point—and I think that here I am on dangerous ground. I refer to the dilemma that the editor of such a programme would have when confronted with the speech of a non-voting Peer, if 1112 that should occur. For should such a Peer give a fluent, attractive and newsworthy speech, would the public be given due warning that the speaker had no realistic, meaningful function?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Why should he think that a non-voting Peer should have no useful function?
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, I said "meaningful"; I do not think I used the word "useful".
I woud conclude by making a plea that all these dilemmas could be resolved if a really good documentary were made of the whole proceedings of Parliament. I am not sure whether this has ever been done. I mean a detailed, long affair, for showing both on television and in cinemas, and intelligently and creatively made. A documentary would have all the flavour of Parliament, the occasional drama, and all the cool logic to which this House can rise. It could be demonstrated. People would appreciate it, and I hope that by such a documentary the standing of this House, and of Parliament as a whole, would be raised.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ LORD GOODMAN
My Lords, I had not intended to speak at this hour and I shall speak for only a few moments. I have been rather provoked to do so by the last two speeches—the last two very effective speeches, if I may say so: because I have a notion that some people may be attracted by them and that the matter may be determined by a criterion which, to my mind, is not the appropriate one. I think there is a very simple criterion in this matter; and that is whether or not our decision will advance the cause of Parliamentary democracy. That seems to me the only question that has to be answered. I do not believe the answer to that question is furnished in the least by deciding whether or not we shall provide a useful entertainment to the public. I am prepared to concede, since I sincerely believe it, that we shall provide very little in the way of competition for the scintillating performances of my noble friend Lord Boothby. I think that if there were two channels and he were alone on one of them and the whole of this House were 1113 on the other, the TAM rating of this House could not compete with his. I do not think that that is the criterion.
§ LORD GOODMAN
I make that remark with absolute sincerity. I think the criterion at this moment is that, although Parliamentary democracy in this country is not in any way in danger, it is under challenge, and it will certainly not be advanced by a failure to disclose its true nature to the community at large. No good will come of not televising it. People will certainly not think the more of us for not knowing about us. We must accept the risk and grasp the nettle of making known to the community at large exactly what we are like. We must let them know whether we are dull or brilliant, scintillating or long-winded. We must take the risk of showing them Parliament at work. It may in the end be a dangerous risk to take. I think it is a very difficult problem, but, on margin, for that reason and that reason alone, I should be in favour of adopting this Report.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, we have just had some of Lord Boothby's animated argument, but one of the points that has impressed me to a large extent about this debate is really the comparative lack of interest that the House of Lords collectively is showing in this subject. The answer of course has been given by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. We are not purely concerned with whether the House of Lords likes the idea of public broadcasting or is itself interested in it, but basically with whether it is for the good of Parliamentary democracy—not, of course, that in this matter the House of Lords' opinion is not going to be decisive. It is on that basic point that we have to come to a view. As I said at the beginning of this debate, if any member of the Government can have a moment when he is not speaking on behalf of the Government, this is it. Indeed, my interest originally probably is rather similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in that we were once both B.B.C. producers, and we start from that point of view—admittedly, in my case, in the days of "steam radio".
1114 A decision was taken by the House on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Egremont. I am sorry to see that he is not here, since he started all this. I really think he ought to be here to follow it through. I did not hear him say that he was not going to be. However, a decision was taken in fairly general terms that the Housewould welcome the televising of some of its proceedings for an experimental period as additional means of demonstrating its usefulness in giving a lead to public opinion".One could carry out a little examination of that particular sentence, but none the less we have before us a decision of the House. When the Select Committee came to consider the matter they proposed that there should be a closed circuit experiment. We are basically considering that experiment to-day. We are not compelled to take a decision one way or the other as to whether we wish to have a further experiment as at this moment. We are really saving what we think of the experiment we have had, and on the whole we are getting the feel of the House with regard to the next step.
I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that he must have a rather suspicious mind. Nobody has stopped this question from coming up. I admit that I forgot all about it after about the autumn, but very properly the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has reminded us of it.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I always find the expression "Freudian" a useful diversion from any serious argument on the subject. Why did not the noble Lord, Lord Henley, bring A up himself? There was not a word from anyone. The House of Lords is not just run by the Government. Let me stress this. This question is for individual Members of the House of Lords, and we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for having raised it.
I must admit that I am still rather in the state of mind of, I think, the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington. I should like to be convinced that broadcasting, and television in particular, is likely to play an important part so far as both the House of Lords and the House of Commons are concerned. And it is of course, 1115 difficult to form an opinion simply on the basis of the one experiment that we have had. I think it may be difficult to form a definite opinion even if we have a live public experiment, because that experiment will of course have a certain news value in itself: it would be the first time Parliament had been broadcast, and it is not until Parliamentary broadcasting and/or television gets on to a permanent basis that it will be possible to assess its contribution, either to the presentation of this House and the improvement of its reputation, or indeed its contribution to Parliamentary democracy. In considering this I feel that we cannot, as the noble Lord. Lord Sherfield, suggested in a powerful speech, throw away some of the objections which have been made.
There are some real objections, and I should like to state some of the anxieties that I have. In stating these, however, I am not necessarily saying that we should not go on with this experiment. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, drew attention to something which does not come out quite as explicitly in the Report as I should like; namely, the very limited amount of television or, for that matter, sound broadcasting that there would be. This raises really severe problems. We have had arguments as to whether we should leave it to the broadcasting authorities or whether we should ourselves seek to control the programmes. My personal view is that I am with the Committee in believing that one would have to leave it to the broadcasting authorities. But I am not sure that when the time came we would in fact be content to leave it to the broadcasting authorities; I believe that there would be a great deal of anxiety and in the end we would have the sort of experience to which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, referred. There is a real dilemma here, and I see no solution to the problem of achieving a balance between the wishes of the House and of the broadcasting authorities.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend for a moment, I would simply say that it would not only be anxiety: it would be absolute fury and intense jealousy that would be aroused on all sides of the House.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, there may be some in this House who are without jealousy, but none the less the House might feel, and not only in personal terms, that injustices were done. Indeed, I felt this on occasion when I listened to or watched some of the programmes in the experiment. How is one to achieve a balance in relation to a particular debate? There was a debate during the experiment in which my noble friend Lady Phillips was speaking for the Government and a number of noble Lords criticised the Government's policy in regard to sport. I think the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, took part in that debate. On the whole, most of the speeches were critical.
Does one achieve a balance by giving equal presentation to the Government point of view and then to the rest? Or if one gives a true reflection of the nature of the debate is that in fact achieving a balance of argument? This is a really serious dilemma; this is the problem that confronts the editors of the programme "To-day in Parliament" when they are not quoting the actual words of the speaker or reproducing it, and the voice of the reporter is to that extent less forceful when selecting and summarising an actual passage, and it can even be misleading. Frankly, I do not see any obvious solution to this problem, but this is not to say that we may not have to live with it.
If I may make one other comment on my own observations of the experiment, I will then say what I think the answer in the long run will have to be. The other impression I got from the experiment was how extraordinarily slow the proceedings were in your Lordships' House. Everyone seemed to rise in a tired way—well, perhaps not everyone—and somebody asked a question and a Minister thought for a moment and then replied. It would not have seemed slow in the House but there was not the impression that all speakers had a great deal of vitality. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, probably speaks at 220 words a minute, and certainly I should think the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, speaks at 250 words a minute. I suspect that I speak at only about 130 words a minute. I am advised that the average speed of a professional B.B.C. commentator—someone who is giving a report—is probably 1117 around 180 words a minute, and if we speak rather more slowly then rather less content will be broadcast. So in fact it is arguable that certainly on sound radio we might get less material put across.
We are then confronted with the question of what sort of programme on television might be broadcast. I think the general opinion has been that the longer experimental programmes that the B.B.C. and I.T.V. put out at the end of the day were really too long and were not very interesting; and I rather gather that the broadcasting authorities themselves prefer the shorter programmes, and would even like excerpts. The part that was interesting to me—and this is a personal opinion—was the actual continuous live reproduction. It was much more interesting to me to be able to go in and see somebody actually talking in this House, and I suspect—and this may be a heretical view and people may say that it would be a terrible thing—that ideally if wavelengths were available and cash was no object one ought to have continuous sound and television broadcasts going on for both Houses of Parliament. It would have been interesting if the public could have seen some of the recent proceedings (I will not say in which House) and the sort of progress that was being made.
As I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, and others would agree, once television is going along as a regular thing people are likely to become accustomed to it and they will not then pay much attention to the cameras. So my long-term view is that we shall never get it quite satisfactory until such time as somebody has invented cheaper forms of communication, perhaps based on developments of lasers, and so on, by the means of which we can have extra wavelengths.
We are considering to-night a particular set of proposals and certain action has already been taken by the Committee. In fact, we have set up a Joint Select Committee to deal with questions of privilege and defamation. That Committee is now at work and I do not think that one can just brush it aside. In my view, that work must be completed. But the part of the proposals which have been put forward by the Committee with which I am really in disagreement is that it shall be open to the broadcasting authorities to come into your Lordships' House at 1118 their own choice on a "drive-in" basis. The particular occasions when they carried out their experiment were on days when the House was engaged in not particularly vital activity. It was rather a sporting week, I remember. We had a debate on sport; then I dealt with a Question on skiing in the Cairngorms, and then we dealt with street offences, which is good characteristic stuff for your Lordships' House. But what in fact would the broadcasting authorities choose? One day when they would have chosen to come in would quite certainly have been the debate in your Lordships' House on Rhodesia, and it would have been quite intolerable at a moment of most critical importance, when the actual vote was also of very great importance, if, in an overcrowded House, we had had these cameras and these tremendous lights. My own view is that it would not be possible to accept that the broadcasting authorities should have the right to choose when they would come into your Lordships' House.
I am expressing a personal opinion on this subject, as are others of your Lordships, all, I hope, contributing to one another's knowledge. It is a great pity that we cannot have, except at quite an excessive cost, these new. remotely-controlled plumbicon cameras, but I fully accept that that is "not on". My own feeling is that just because there are difficulties and arguments against, arguments that I find rather powerful, we ought not necessarily to abandon the idea of going on with either sound broadcasting or television. But my personal preference at this stage would be to carry out some live experiments in sound before we went on to television.
There has been some discussion as to whether we ought to keep in line with the House of Commons in this matter. I do not think this is a subject of desperate importance. The House of Commons provided us with the money for our previous experiment. But I think it could be rather embarrassing if either House were to be televised or broadcast without the other. Therefore my feeling is that, on balance, we should keen in line with the House of Commons.
There is one other point where I disagree with the Committee. Although I again see the arguments, which are rather similar, I am not sure whether 1119 it is practical to ban still photography if you are going to allow continuous photography in television I think we have to be extremely careful, if we agree to go into this. We have to accept a lot of consequences, and it seems to me that if we have people taking moving pictures in or reproducing them from the House, it would become too ridiculously illiberal to say that you cannot put a still photograph in a newspaper, however undesirable noble Lords may think that is. This may, of course, be an argument against television. But I do not think it would be possible to prevent still photography unless we introduced some new and elaborate form of House of Lords privilege to do so.
I said at the beginning that I was speaking personally, and all I have done is to give my personal impressions related to the experiment. I think we shall now have to consider where we proceed on this matter. My personal view is that we ought to press on, certainly with sound broadcasting. In my opinion, before we went into a live television broadcast it would be necessary to test the opinion of your Lordships' House properly, by means of a vote. The House is somewhat divided on it at the moment; it has not had an opportunity to express a further view since noble Lords had the opportunity to see the previous closed circuit experiment. But I do think that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, can feel that his debate has served the purpose he wanted. It has put the matter back in front of us. I think it behoves the House, not just the Government, to see that it does not get overlooked. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that there was no Freudian or other reason why it did not come up earlier. Noble Lords are sometimes busy and sometimes have other interests. It will be necessary for noble Lords, if they want to see this experiment going on, to stimulate the interest of other noble Lords. The House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, as it is to the Committee; and with that rather ambiguous and indecisive view I will close.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, before the noble Lord does close, I hope he will forgive me for intervening, and I beg his pardon. He has not answered one absolutely crucial question. He said that 1120 the debate on Rhodesia, which was crucial in this House, should not have been televised, and I am in complete agreement with him. But who is to decide that question of what debates should or should not be televised?
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I think that is one of the fundamental dilemmas. The reason why I said it should not be televised was because of the nature of the obstruction and interference of the cameras and lights. Quite honestly, I do not know the answer. It would probably have to be managed in the way in which we manage everything in this uniquely anarchic society of ours—through the usual channels, the feeling of the House, the selection of suitable days and all that, to be considered perhaps by a Committee presided over by the Lord Chairman of Committees. I am sure we should not allow it out of our hands.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I have the fullest sympathy for noble Lords who are waiting for the next business, and I will be as brief as I can. But they will forgive me, I trust, if I pick up a few threads, particularly after hearing the interesting speech from the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I regret that we started this debate so late—perhaps if we had not done so there would have been a fuller attendance, and there would have been a greater appearance of interest. As it was, a number of noble Lords came to me before we began and said "I am very sorry; but I must go". I think the attendance in the House at this hour is not fully indicative of the interest that has been taken in this matter.
The question of brevity may have rendered me ungracious in not referring to the facilities which the noble Lord the Leader of the House, and the usual channels, placed at my disposal for this debate—and, indeed, to the encouragement that I received from them. And, not least, the participation of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in our debate, is greatly valued. Also, I failed in my speech to express thanks, on behalf of the Committee, to the noble Earl the Lord Chairman, who presided over our deliberations for so long and with such patience. I would also thank all the speakers who have taken part in this debate. I am sorry 1121 that I had to miss the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, and the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, but I heard all the rest; and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, that I think we have had an animated discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, said that the newsworthiness and importance of a debate were not necessarily the same thing. This is one of the points that I wished to make in my speech. This is one of the troubles about the Press as a medium for conveying to the people the problems which are so important to our democracy. It is a pity. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that the real solution is that there should be continuous broadcasts from both Houses. One noble Lord, who regretted that he could not be present to-day, but who is very knowledgeable in this matter, asked me the other day whether I realised that it is within the bounds of possibility, in terms of experience today, that there will be so many channels available, that every station in the British Isles may be capable of receiving a continuous broadcast live from the Commons and the Lords, at discretion, without interfering with other programmes. And that may be the answer—
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Of course there is a new horror if there is a continuous broadcasting. People have been concerned about inconvenience, but if there were continuous broadcasting noble Lords would then, if they were so minded, seek to speak at peak viewing times. This might be an advantage in regard lo ensuring a better attendance in the House later in the evening.
§ LORD FERRIER
Yes: if we confuse, which I have always tried not to do, the difference between the entertainment and the educational value, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, made such a strong point. I am glad to draw attention to that, because one of the factors which arise from this Report is that the shorter the edited edition the higher percentage there is of compère. In a 5-minute edition there are four minutes of compère; in a 30-minute edition there are something like 5 to 10 minutes of compère. This is a most inter- 1122 esting problem in regard to the dissemination of proceedings.
As for the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, to the red light, of course, he is interested in the subject and knows more about this business than I do. But I think I am right in saying that in this Chamber the instruments did not have the "glow-worm", and one could not tell which camera was operating at any given moment.
§ LORD FERRIER
I can speak from experience of another assembly at which I have spoken before the television cameras. Perhaps it is because I am not so practised as the noble Lord, but I am far more interested in addressing the audience in front of me than to worry about a red light going on in a camera, which I believe is the case in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
§ LORD BOOTHBY
My Lords, surely that would make it much worse, because everybody might then think that the lights were on all the time; so nobody would speak naturally.
§ LORD FERRIER
But that was the case in the experiment here: there were no lights and, for all we knew, all the cameras were on all the time. I do not believe that the point in regard to knowledge that the cameras are on is altogether valid. Of course, the televising of the Opening of Parliament ceremony is a quite different matter.
There is only one other point that I have it in mind to make. I agree with my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye that in "Yesterday in Parliament" the B.B.C. do a good job; and the programme is balanced as between the two Houses in a reasonable way. One of the complaints that I have made in the past, though it has now largely been met, is that when Parliament sits and if there is nothing interesting to go into "Today in Parliament" they say "The House of Lords also sat", and that is all that people want to know. The question of Party political broadcasts is quite a different matter, and I agree with other speakers that they might be abandoned.
My Lords, it only remains for me again to thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, to agree with the 1123 noble Lord the Leader of the House that this debate has been worth while, to apologise to those who are waiting for the next business for having taken so long, and to request of your Lordships that my Motion may be withdrawn.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.