HL Deb 28 July 1977 vol 386 cc1133-60

3.30 p.m.

The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord Peart) rose to move, That, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 16th March 1976 and certain Recommendations made in the Second Report of the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting—

  1. (1) the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority ("the broadcasting authorities") be authorised to provide and operate singly or jointly sound signal origination equipment for the purpose of recording or broadcasting the proceedings of the House and its committees subject to the direction of the House or a committee empowered to give such directions ("the committee");
  2. (2) the broadcasting authorities may supply signals, whether direct or recorded, 1134 made pursuant to this Resolution to other broadcasting organisations, and shall supply them to any other organisation whose request for such a facility shall have been granted by the committee, on such conditions as the committee may determine;
  3. (3) no signal, whether direct or recorded, made pursuant to this Resolution shall be used by the broadcasting authorities, or by any organisation supplied with such signal, in light entertainment programmes or programmes designed as political satire; nor shall any record, cassette or other device making use of such signal be published unless the committee shall have satisfied themselves that it is not designed for such entertainment or satire;
  4. (4) archive tapes of all signals supplied by the broadcasting authorities shall be made, together with a selection for permanent preservation, under the direction of the committee.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The House agreed in March last year that it would welcome the public sound broadcasting of its proceedings. Your Lordships have always been keen on this and indeed have been willing to lead another place at times. Now what I am asking is that we should agree the detailed resolutions which are required to put last year's decision into practice. The major resolutions, in similar terms, were agreed in another place on Tuesday and broadcasting there is now authorised. I very much hope that we shall not hesitate in this House and that we shall be able to go ahead with broadcasting the proceedings of Parliament as a whole.

As I explained at Question Time on 13th July, regular broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings, including edited summaries on the lines of the 1975 experiment in another place, are planned to begin in February next year. The time needed to provide specialist accommodation for the preparation and selection of recorded extracts means that only occasional live broadcasts will be possible before then. The broadcasting authorities have kindly expressed their willingness to work from temporary accommodation in the first instance and it is hoped that permanent accommodation in Norman Shaw South will be available by about October 1979.

I got the feeling in our recent exchanges that another full-scale debate was hardly needed, but I should refer to one point which is important. This is the question how debates and speeches are selected for broadcasting. The resolutions on the Order Paper are based on the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting and they have come to the conclusion that, in matters of editorial judgment, responsibility must rest with the broadcasting authorities. They were satisfied that a balance between the Parties, between the Front Benches and the Back Benches, and between the Houses could be set by the broadcasting authorities and they did not favour a Parliamentary broadcasting unit. I personally agree with them and I hope that this view will be shared by the House. On the basis of our experience, I am confident that we can rely on the broadcasting authorities to carry out their job responsibly. Moreover, they will be subject to the direction of both Houses, or Committees of both Houses.

I should at this point refer to proceedings in another place on the question of appointing a Committee to act on behalf of the House. Reservations were expressed by one or two Members on this subject, with arguments being put for a Parliamentary broadcasting unit, which are now under consideration. Without prejudice to any decisions in another place, I think the proposal in my second Motion is soundly based for the reasons given in the Joint Committee's report. We should, however, be willing to reconsider this if another place come to a different decision. My Lords, before I sit down I should like to express my thanks to those noble Lords who have sat on the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting. The Motions on the Order Paper are the outcome of their labours and I hope that we shall feel able to agree with their conclusions. I beg to move.

Moved, That, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 16th March 1976 and certain Recommendations made in the Second Report of the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting—

  1. (1) the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting 1136 Authority ("the broadcasting authorities") be authorised to provide and operate singly or jointly sound signal origination equipment for the purpose of recording or broadcasting the proceedings of the House and its committees subject to the directions of the House or a committee empowered to give such directions ("the committee");
  2. (2) the broadcasting authorities may supply signals, whether direct or recorded, made pursuant to this Resolution to other broadcasting organisations, and shall supply them to any other organisation whose request for such a facility shall have been granted by the committee, on such conditions as the committee may determine;
  3. (3) no signal, whether direct or recorded, made pursuant to this Resolution shall be used by the broadcasting authorities, or by any organisation supplied with such signal, in light entertainment programmes or programmes designed as political satire; nor shall any record, cassette or other device making use of such signal be published unless the committee shall have satisfied themselves that it is not designed for such entertainment or satire;
  4. (4) archive tapes of all signals supplied by the broadcasting authorities shall be made, together with a selection for permanent preservation, under the direction of the committee.—(Lord Peart.)

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support this Motion moved by the noble Lord the Leader of the House. I do so in the knowledge that, as so often in the past, your Lordships' House has been rather the more adventurous of the two Houses. As long ago as 1968 we had a three-day closed circuit television experiment in this House following which the Select Committee recommended an experimental period of public broadcasting of one year. A few months later another place authorised an experiment in closed circuit radio transmission, but it was not until 1975 that the other place agreed to an experimental period of public sound broadcasting. Following this experiment your Lordships' House and another place both resolved that they would welcome the public sound broadcasting of their proceedings on a permanent basis. For that reason the Motions now before your Lordships' House do not require a lengthy debate. On a number of occasions the House has recorded its views that broadcasting should take place. These conclusions are merely the "nuts and bolts" for the implementation of these decisions.

I welcome the terms of the report of the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting on whose recommendations these Motions are based, and I am sure I speak for all your Lordships when I express the thanks of the House for the work done by that Committee and for the common sense of their proposals. In particular I should like to refer to their recommendation in the first part of the Motion now before the House. Previous recommendations from committees of your Lordships' House have recommended that broadcasting should be left to the broadcasters, a principle which another place has hitherto rejected. However, the Joint Committee have come down on the side of the principle supported by your Lordships' House and against the idea that a broadcasting unit should be established by Parliament to do the work which it is proposed that the broadcasters should do. I am sure that is the right way to proceed. It would surely be much more expensive for Parliament to undertake this operation than it would be to leave it to those with the technical expertise.

I am glad that certain restrictions are being placed on the broadcasting authorities in regard to the use that they make of the material. It is obviously sensible that the recorded material should not be used in light entertainment or satirical programmes, and that broadcasters should not be able to make records or cassettes of Parliamentary proceedings without the permission of the Committee which we are to appoint to supervise the broadcasts. However, I think your Lordships all along have taken a rather more relaxed view than another place of the dangers of being included in light entertainment or satirical programmes.

There is one last matter to which I should like to refer; namely, the archives. The task of looking after these sound archives is to be entrusted to the Record Office of your Lordships' House, and I am sure that they could not be placed in better hands. The Record Office fulfils an important service to both Houses of Parliament—a fact of which many people are totally unaware. I think this new development of their function will serve to acquaint honourable and right honourable Members of another place with the work that this office does on their behalf. In dealing with the archives we are really left with three choices from the point of view of long-term records. Either after a certain period we can destroy completely all the tapes that are made, or we can maintain all the tapes that are made over many years to come, or, as the Committee recommends, the tapes should be edited and certain portions only retained. I know there have been various suggestions that to retain all the recordings would be expensive and would take up a great deal of space. I am told that it would require something between 25 ft. and 50 ft. of shelving per year.

There are a number of different opinions as to how much attention these tapes will need in the process of storage, and I hope we may hear from other noble Lords with rather more detailed knowledge than myself, because there appear to be two distinct schools of thought: one that they have to be dealt with on an annual basis, and another that they can just be stored indefinitely.

I myself am not happy about the editing of the records. How is this Committee to decide that the honourable member for X or the noble Lord, Lord Y, who has perhaps made one or two speeches of some, though not necessarily of great note, may not in 20 years' time become one of the most important figures in the country? Certainly, a lot of historians would want to be able to hear what he actually said, how he said it and what emphasis he put here and there. I think this needs further consideration before it is finally decided. We have a respite of at least a year in which this matter can be considered; I hope that further consideration will be given to it.

In conclusion, I would again express my support for the Motion moved by the Leader of the House and hope that it will command the support of your Lordships. It is now over a year since we agreed to the construction of that commentary box, and I think that it is high time it was put to use.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the noble Earl, I, too, agree that your Lordships' House has debated this matter so often and with so much accord that there is really little point in repeating all the old arguments. I agree, too, with the noble Earl, that your Lordships' House has set a proud record in this matter of open Government. Indeed, I think we can say that, with the TV closed circuit experiment in 1967 and the readiness to embark on the more recent sound radio experiment, your Lordships' House has blazed a trail which another place is now hesitantly and reluctantly following. Time will show that we in your Lordships' House have nothing to hide, and I think it may perhaps appear that it is not your Lordships' House but another place which may be in need of some reform, if not of abolition. We have already voted the end. All that remains for us is to vote the means, and that I and my noble friends will gladly do. I agree strongly with the noble Earl about the wisdom of not writing in too many restraints so far as the broadcasters are concerned and about the wisdom of relying on the provisions we already have. The BBC operates under its Charter, a Charter which requires it to select programmes fairly, to give proper representation to minority opinion, and in general to be impartial. And, of course, the independent companies operate under the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act, which similarly restrains them from partiality in any kind of way. In the end, Parliament has the last word. It does not need to have an elaborate system of restraints and scrutiny. In this regard we must trust the broadcasters, and, of course, if it does not work, Parliament has the last word and can always stop it.

Before I conclude, there is one other minor specific difficulty to which I should like to refer. It is one which I raised in your Lordships' Select Committee on this matter. It concerns Section 4(2) of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act. Among other things, that section requires the Authority to secure exclusion from its programmes of any expression of opinion on matters of political or industrial controversy or appertaining to public policy by members of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, members of the boards of any of the independent broadcasting companies and certain other people. It is a fact that some of the excluded persons under that section are Members of your Lordships' House. It is also a fact that an equal number are Members of another place. We there have a difficulty, in that, once broadcasting starts, if one of the prohibited persons—if I may so call them—is speaking in your Lordships' House and the proceedings are being broadcast, the Authority will immediately be in breach of the law if it is transmitting that person's words on independent broadcasting news.

That seems to me to be a ludicrous position. I have taken it up with the Home Secretary, and he has written me a letter which I received today. He refers to the opinion of the Solicitor-General, that Section 4(2) is capable of being construed as forbidding the inclusion, in programmes broadcast by the Independent Television Authority, of reports of proceedings in Parliament which contain expressions of opinion by, among others, a programme contractor, and recommends legislation to remove the doubt.

I am well aware that right honourable and honourable friends of mine in another place may already be asking the Government to include much legislation in the next programme. I am also aware that the principal complaint here in your Lordships' House is not that we have too little but that we have too much legislation. But I hesitantly express the hope that some attention can be given to this particular matter, because if it is not attended to I think we shall have a nonsense. The Annan Committee has recommended that this particular section should be radically reformed, if not removed altogether. The Committee has suggested that it provides unreasonable restraints on the expression of opinion by a whole number of people. The point is clear; it is that it erects obstacles to the ventilation of their point of view by people working in independent television. Annan recommends that this section should perhaps go altogether.

It seems to me that it would be a very small matter to introduce some kind of measure to make it clear that this section should not apply to Members of Parliament, either of your Lordships' House or another place, who are, of course, merely continuing to do their job. This merely technical matter of them being against the law is surely absurd, when one realises that there are no restraints whatsoever on those people expressing their opinions on BBC channels, be it radio or television.

Of course, the provision may have been wise in so far as individual people are concerned, in that it would obviously be wise to prevent somebody who owns a television company employing his own company to express his own views weekly on television. The Act enables that to be stopped. But why should the same person—say, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Bernstein—not be allowed to broadcast on any independent television or radio station anywhere in the country, while he is entirely free to broadcast on BBC? My Lords, I am sorry to go on about this matter. I really think it will have to be attended to; otherwise we shall have a difficulty. With that, let me say that I am entirely in agreement with what has been said on both sides of the House in regard to this matter, and I am sure that my noble friends will support this Motion enthusiastically.

3.49 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I rise to support one point made by my noble friend Lord St. Aldwyn. That is contained in the fourth paragraph of the Motion before the House, under which the Broadcasting Committee will be instructed to make a selection of the tapes of our proceedings for permanent preservation and to destroy the rest. I submit that this selection is wrong in principle and will be invidious to make. My Lords, history is made day by day. At the moment we cannot know what will be the importance placed in the future on any act, words or voices by historians, journalists or students. There is no doubt that sound recording will be of value to students of history, because sound records convey information and impressions additional to that of the printed word. My noble friend Lord George-Brown has just taken his seat. If he will allow me to say so, all his speeches read very well, but they will be far more interesting if we can hear them, and that applies to many other noble Lords.


My Lords, I make no charge. Noble Lords only have to come.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, in the future, when my noble friend and I have passed to yet another place, it will be a good thing if my noble friend's voice can still be heard. If selection becomes a decision of this House, which it will if we pass this Motion, on what criteria will the selection be made? Will the Committee instruct the archivist to preserve the tapes of all Questions and Answers but not of all debates, not of all stages of Bills and perhaps not of all Statements? Alternatively, will it require some other mixture? On what criteria will it make its recommendations? If it selects by reference to a subject or to the reputation of the noble Lord who has been speaking that will be flattering to some and scrub others right out. How can the archivist be sure which subject will be of no lasting interest or which noble Lord's voice ought to go down to the grave with him?

Thirty years ago, in another place, I used to sit on the second Bench directly behind Sir Winston Churchill. One evening an important debate was drawing to its close and we had just listened to two very poor speeches, one from each side. I lent forward and rashly remarked to Sir Winston that it was a great pity that we had to listen to so much rubbish when there were such important aspects of the subject left untouched. I shall always remember his sharp reply. He turned to me and said: "Oh do shut up; don't you know that if they didn't make bad speeches, we should never make good speeches!" That is, in fact, Parliamentary wisdom and any noble Lord who thinks that the sound of his speech ought, for its excellence, to be preserved for ever would be well advised to insist on the other speeches in the debate also being preserved for ever in order that a contrast may be made by historians in the future.

It has been said that there will be technical difficulties if we try to keep the whole record of the proceedings of this House. I believe that the fear of these difficulties has been based on an incomplete examination of the processes involved. In so thinking I am supported by the British Institute of Recorded Sound, by the BBC and by the Library of Congress, which has been doing this for a considerable time. As a matter of fact, the only essential requisite is to have a Frigidaire and to keep the tapes at a temperature not higher than 20 degrees. If we do that, we do not know how long they will last because it has not been tried, but they will last for an extremely long time.

I suppose that within a generation your Lordships will be able to search the debates in this House on a terminal linked to a data base which will be capable of both printing out and speaking out the passages to which you wish to refer. It would be a great pity if, at this time, we decided not to keep the whole of the archives intact. Therefore, I hope that the Lord Privy Seal if he is to reply, will give us an assurance that the Broadcasting Committee will be asked to look again at the proposal to select for preservation only a portion of our proceedings. That would be invidious and contrary to good scholarship.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, as noble Lords have already said, the principle behind the Motion has already been established and there is little more to be said about it. On the other hand, my memory goes back for 12 years to an occasion when a debate on procedure was inaugurated by my noble friend Lord Alport. At that time I fell foul of the Leader of the House because the question of broadcasting proceedings and of a Committee to be a watchdog on reporting Parliament was not regarded as part of our procedure. There is no need to go over that ground again, because paragraphs 1 to 5 of the Joint Committee's report set out the history of the matter.

We are concerned with the terms of the Motion. To my mind, the most important point has already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley; that is, that we must push on and that there should be no more delay. Many years have passed since we embarked on this matter and perhaps various aspects will be worked out as we go along. As was indicated by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, all sorts of wrinkles will crop up as time goes by.

I have certain reservations in supporting the Motion, one of which is the question of an obligation to report. The BBC has that obligation under Section 13(2) of its licence and agreement. This it has hitherto fulfilled—satisfactorily in its own eyes, I am sure—by the "Today" and "Yesterday in Parliament" programmes. I am one—I am sure that many other noble Lords will agree with me—who marvels at the skills which go to the making of those programmes. I do not know how many noble Lords saw the television programme on Saturday, 16th July called "Television and Politics" which gave an insight into the mechanical and technical complications involved and the skills of broadcasters. It also indicated the backup which is necessary to the mechanics of these programmes and which is set out in Appendices 8 and 9.

However, the BBC's programmes, which are obligatory, have set a tone and standard which will be difficult to sustain. I agree entirely with the Committee that editorial decisions must be left to the broadcasters. On the other hand, in terms of the obligation, the timing of the publication of broadcasts under this obligation is something at which I believe the Committee must look. I should like to address myself to this matter so that it goes on the record.

I do not believe that, in many respects, the BBC fulfils its obligation, particularly by broadcasting "Today in Parliament" so late at night. I asked a Question on this matter in your Lordships' House the other day and the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell was good enough to embellish his reply by sending me a letter which said in regard to the re-scheduling of the time from 11.15 p.m. to 11.30 p.m.: In response to enquiries on this point, the BBC explains that at that time in the evening radio audiences are generally very small and that there has so far been no indication that the retiming of the programme by a quarter of an hour has had any particular effect which could be quantified". I deduce from those comments that hardly anybody listens to the programme anyway. I feel that part of this Committee's task will be to ensure, in terms of the BBC's obligation, not only that broadcasts are made but that they are made at a time when they can reach the ears of the people who want to hear them.


My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier aware that that particular programme is repeated at 9.45 a.m. every morning?


My Lords, it is repeated at 8.45 a.m. in the morning. At that time in the morning most people are out at work and the rating is somewhere between 2 and 3 million. I did not mean to divert my speech to this extent, but the audience at that time of day is very largely white collar workers, commuters listening to their car radios and women in their kitchens. With most working people going to bed by 10 o'clock, and although the programme is repeated, neither time is convenient for many of those who want to listen.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that as well as being repeated the programme is also often re-edited at the earlier time in the morning?


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, is quite right. I did not intend to take this any further, but there was a remarkable instance only yesterday when the programme "Today in Parliament", dealt with the proceedings up to 10 o'clock and the programme "Yesterday in Parliament" contained a report of all the proceedings that had taken place through the night, whereas the proceedings of the previous day had been almost completely scrubbed. That is a technical skill at which I am sure many noble Lords marvel.

But the BBC have that obligation. My second reservation concerns all the trouble and expense to which both Houses of Parliament are going over introducing this procedure. Would it not be proper for there to be a similar obligation on the IBA that, if it takes recordings, it should broadcast them at times which are acceptable? That matter will have to be worked out as time goes on because we do not want to delay matters now. I believe that there should not only be a warranty that the IBA should broadcast, but that it should broadcast the programmes at reasonable times.

I greatly welcome the reference in, I think, the second paragraph of Appendix 7 of the report to the intention of both the IBA and the BBC to be less metropolitan in their broadcasting. It is very important that Scotland, Wales and the Regions should hear more of what is going on here. I hope that this experiment will be put into effect before we begin to debate these awful devolution Bills.

The Committee, indeed, has a task ahead of it. Indeed, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House pointed out, it has to oversee the restrictions, which I welcome. However, I wonder whether a Joint Committee is the right answer or whether, as time goes on, we shall not find that there should be a Committee of each House. However, that remains to be seen.

We do not want to spend too much time on this matter, although it is a pity that we do not have more opportunity to talk about it. However, the important thing is to get on with it. I have been greatly interested in the references made by the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, about the archives. I could not put my finger on it because I was so busy listening, but when he replies perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House could say whether the retention of a full record, of which I am all in favour, will not be amazingly complex, especially in terms of annual rewinding which as years go by will be very onerous. It seems to me that although a full record is to be desired, until there are very marked technical advances in the storing of records on tape it may prove to be very expensive.

In conclusion, as I have said I have the feeling that the Joint Committee might be replaced by separate Committees for each House. However, that can wait. The great thing is that no time should be lost in getting the system working and I hope that the Motion will receive the full support of the House.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House but, first, may I say how pleased I am that we are discussing this Motion at 4.4 p.m. rather than at 3.56 a.m., which was when it was discussed in another place early yesterday morning. This seems to be a far more appropriate hour to cope with such an important matter.

My first wish is that we should have no further delay. It is sad that this country, which has set world standards in broadcasting and in television and which has set the pace in both, should be so slow to introduce broadcasting from Parliament. Denmark started this in 1930, so we shall be only 48 years behind if we start it next year. Norway, Sweden and Finland have had it for decades. In fact, when Sweden rebuilt its Parliament in 1971 it made provision for cables, positions for cameras and television and microphones for sound broadcasting. In West Germany both radio and television have been allowed since 1953, so we shall only be 25 years—a quarter of a century—behind West Germany. France started it in 1966, and will have had it for 12 years when we start.


My Lords, in passing can the noble Lord say what we have missed that they have gained during that period?


My Lords, I shall enlarge on that in a moment; I have a very good answer to that. In Holland both radio and television broadcasting have been permitted for many years, and that also applies to Switzerland. The old Commonwealth has been a pace-setter—New Zealand was the first Commonwealth country to introduce soundbroad-casting of its Parliamentary proceedings in 1936 and it introduced television in 1963. Australia has had radio broadcasting since 1946–32 years before us. I cannot help feeling that that is a sad reflection on us.

My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, who is always very much on the ball, asked what we have lost. I think that we have lost something which is very important. This is an age when the main communication media are radio and television. We have dropped increasingly out of the ken, knowledge or enthusiasm of the country and the electors. This Government above all else have preached the importance of communication—as I hope has my side—between the different elements of our population whether it is in industry or in any other sphere. Surely it is wrong that people should be able to listen and to see almost every facet—including the Church—of our public life but not Parliament? Therefore, I hope that we shall make up for lost time.

There is an interest in Parliament. Indeed, particularly at this time of the year when many tourists visit our country, one only has to see the immense queues outside this House to realise that the interest is here. However, why should we ask people to queue for many hours—and they will see only a small portion and probably the most uninteresting portion of a debate—when we have an opportunity through modern communication media to make it available to so many more?

There have been differences of opinion as to whether the broadcasting of the House should be undertaken by a Parliamentary broadcasting unit or by the BBC. I suppose that I should declare an interest here having been in the BBC Television Service from 1937 until the War and then after the War. On balance I believe that the BBC can be relied upon to provide this service and probably will do it best. It must make a feed available to all other broadcasting, organisations. At the moment the only other organisation which may be involved is the IBA, but clearly many others will come along in the next few decades. I prefer that recommendation of the Joint Committee because not only does the BBC know its job but it has proven its capability. It has the producers and the engineers and would have the career structure.

If we had a separate organisation, it might start off being good, but then people serving in it would find that they were up a small and distinguished cul de sac, and there would not be the opportunities which are available to people serving in other spheres of this medium. I greatly hope that not too long after we start broadcasting we shall do as so many other democratic nations have done and allow television. Sound broadcasting of reported speech and of live speech are one thing, but television is immensely more compulsive and tremendously more interesting. Because of the delay we have one advantage in that now cameras are so small, so flexible and so sensitive that they will be far less unsightly than they would have been a decade ago. It is now possible to televise from your Lordships' Chamber without any reinforcement of light whatsoever. We can do it in this light as it is at this moment. Therefore, there has been some advantage in delay.

It is said that the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting will administer and will make judgments on this. The only reservation I have is whether they will be able to monitor the balance; not only the balance as between the Front and Back-Benches, which was mentioned in another place—of course the Back-Benchers won that argument on numbers—but also the balance between the various political interests and between Committees and the Floor. I wonder whether we ought not to have possibly a Parliamentary panel to consider complaints.


And balance between the two Houses.


And balance between the two Houses, as my noble friend says. The Press Council started off by being a body entirely self-governing and self-appointed, but over the years first it had a neutral chairman, and then the new Royal Commission report recommended a further broadening still where other people are brought in. I believe that the Broadcasting Council, which I have recommended from this House, will in the long run come. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, suggested in his report a broadcasting complaints commission. But what they made clear, and what I am sure is true in this day and age, is that no one will trust any organisation which is set up and which is judge and jury in its own interest. It must be more independent, and not within the confines of the BBC, or the IBA for that matter.

We have had a recent example on the question of police cases. It is in a different field but it is also very important. Police complaints were always investigated internally by the police. Eventually the Home Secretary of the day, Mr. Roy Jenkins, took the brave stand, against very strong views of Sir Robert Mark, that there ought to be an independent element investigating complaints about the police. I think that if that is true of the police it is even more true of the media. I hope that perhaps we can work out some form of a complaints commission. Perhaps if a complaints commission is set up as a result of Annan, there could be a broadcasting panel which would deal with matters arising from this initiation of broadcasting from both Houses.

We have been an unconscionable time. I urge that we now get on with the job, and put into practice the communication which we have been advocating in every other sphere of public life. If it is not brought in in this most important element of our democratic system, I believe it will mean that both the House of Lords and the House of Commons will progressively fade out of public interest and public consciousness.

4.13 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House at the beginning of his speech said that another debate was not necessary, with which of course I am in entire agreement. Indeed, there has been no debate today but a series of statements of approval of varying degrees. Therefore, I think, and I trust the House will think, that it is only fair and reasonable that those who have misgivings should be able to voice such misgivings even though they be swamped by the general approval which the House has given.

The first important point is one which was made unanimously on 16th March, and again today, that we cannot go it alone. If the other place goes in for sound broadcasting then we have to follow. Though I have misgivings, of course I concede that point at once. I am all for the objectives which were so clearly put by my noble friend Lord Ferrier of getting Parliament better known and Parliamentary affairs more widely discussed, but I fear that broadcasting does not necessarily mean better respect for Parliament.

Parliament, to me, is essentially a debating society. I think that debate must inevitably suffer in the future from the consciousness—even though a speaker may not realise it himself—that his audience is not the noble Lords opposite or beside him but an audience of millions. Therefore, it must influence the cut and thrust, or to and fro, of debate. I believe that our debates in this House and in another place are eminently suitable for expert journalistic reporting and summary such as we have in "Today in Parliament". It is too late now, but I must make clear that I should like the alternative—an enlargement in scope and time of "Today in Parliament", rather than have to listen to individual voices reproduced on a tape and listened to by millions of people, whom I do not think will particularly benefit from hearing the individual voices but would probably benefit more from knowledge of Parliament if they had a wise, carefully prepared journalistic summary.

Then the question I ask myself is this. So far as your Lordships' House is concerned, will broadcasting increase the knowledge and respect of the public for this House? My fear is that it will not. Our form of presentation in debate is very different, as many noble Lords here will know, from the presentation in another place. Here our debates are less contentious, possibly less exciting, but, I think we can claim on most occasions, with a deeper knowledge than is expressed in another place. It always seems to me that in another place—noble Lords here have done it; I have tried to do it—you make a speech which is a political success among your friends, recognised as a Parliamentary success, but the knowledge is fairly superficial. It is wide but the depth of soil of knowledge is fairly thin, and yet you are congratulated all the same. Here the depth is far greater. The area covered may be smaller but the depth is far greater, and that does not necessarily make for suitable transmission in broadcasting.

For the House of Lords I cannot see greater interest through broadcasting. My fear is that live excerpts from debates may encourage the listener to use the freedom of the knob and turn off instead of going on to listen. I, of course, go with the majority of the House in supporting this Motion, but I think we are being pulled along a road that will lead to no increase of that respect and admiration which is reserved for this House by the public. What will come about we shall see in the future, but I do not believe that I am alone in this House in expressing those misgivings.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I ask him whether he does not think that the reason why Parliament does not have the respect that some of us think it ought to have is due absolutely to the lack of knowledge of the whole procedure in both Houses? When they do have an idea of what is continuously happening, will they not learn to respect us?

4.20 p.m.

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

My Lords, I wanted to speak just in case there was a repetition of the somewhat dismal tactics adopted in another place in the middle of the night which I greatly feared might happen, but everything seems to be sweetness and light, except for the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, about which I can only say that he does not have a very high opinion of your Lordships' performance in making speeches. Whether he has an equally low opinion of the capacity of the broadcasters to edit attractively is something with which I can deal because I speak with experience of 26 years in the BBC making broadcasts very relevant to the subject under debate, and I have no hesitation in saying that the problems of editing this sort of continuous assembly were solved many years ago at party conferences, so nobody need have any fear on those grounds.

In the debate on this subject in March the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said he was against the whole idea because editing would be impossible. I missed my timing, being very green, because I could have assured him not only that editing is possible but that it goes on all the time; all the mechanical problems of editing and distribution are, and have been for years, well within the grasp of the broadcasters. To those who may think that admitting sound broadcasting of Parliament is the thin end of the wedge leading to television, I can only say to those who dislike it that to refuse access by radio now would be much more likely to bring the introduction of TV closer rather than to hold it back longer.

As for the idea of setting up a Parliamentary broadcasting unit, I am very much against it, mainly for the reasons I have given, but also because it is absolutely vital to maintain the editorial freedom of the broadcasters. By all means let us exert pressure in both Houses and from outside Parliament if we think the broadcasters are not doing their job properly, but the price one must pay for that is to maintain the editorial freedom of the broadcasters.

The operation will be expensive for the broadcasters but they accept that because they know it is worth it. I was interested in what the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said about the method of archival retention and I know something about this in the BBC, too. It is a very complex and difficult problem involving the problems of storage and conservation; it is a question of the sheer physical preservation of it all.

If there is to be selection then there is the problem of selection, and in my view there must be selection. I do not think it would be practicable to keep all Sittings of both Houses of Parliament—what about Sittings of Committees?—in toto. It would mean more than 15 or 20 feet of shelf space a year, even if some sort of microfilming of sound tape were perfected and its longevity could be guaranteed.

I also wish to comment on the request by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, to the Lord Privy Seal that he should encourage the Committee to look again at the placing of the programme in Radio 4. I think he was especially referring to the placing in the evening and I think that would be wrong. It is part of editorial freedom that the broadcasters should have freedom also to choose when they put it on the air. If one looks at the present Radio 4 schedule—I say this without having talked to any of my former colleagues in the BBC about it, so I have not tested them out—and if one looks at the Radio Times for Monday through to Friday now, one sees what goes on between 10.30 p.m. and 11 p.m., building up an audience for attractive repeats of popular programmes of the past. I should not be surprised if the Controller of Radio 4 wanted to put out the half-hour broadcast of Parliamentary proceedings with the extracts of speeches at that time. I may be quite wrong about that, but it seems to be the logic of present planning. It is a pity it is so late because it is too late for people who have to get up in the morning, and the repeat is after they have gone to work the next morning.


My Lords, I cannot remember whether it was on Friday last, but at 10.45 p.m. there was a quarter-hour repeat of "Take It From Here" first broadcast in 1958.

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

That is the sort of thing I mean, my Lords. I know that is going on now, but when the new schedule comes in, with vocal extracts recorded in a half-hour programme from our proceedings, the noble Lord will find it quite possible that that half-hour will be between 10.30 p.m. and 11 p.m. I am just guessing.


Very good.

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

I agree, my Lords. That is when I think it should be. Because noble Lords are no doubt anxious to press on with other business, I will not say more on the subject, except to assure the House that this would be a very desirable move and that the quicker we get on with it the better.


My Lords, when I was talking about timing I was remembering that the BBC's obligation is a day-by-day one; not only is their timing applicable during the day but they are bound to do it daily.

The Marquess of ABERDEEN and TEMAIR

One must not forget, my Lords, that the material from both Houses of Parliament is susceptible to being used in bulletins national, regional and local, BBC and IBA, right through the day and night. That is a valuable factor to bear in mind.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for not having put my name down to speak; but I feel that I must make a brief comment in this debate. As one of your Lordships whose career, such as it is, has been made primarily on radio and television, I feel that if the proceedings of this House or of another place were recorded on radio or television, it could do nothing but damage, damage to Parliament and damage to the country. The editing and selection alone would be an impossible task. Who is to choose? Speakers would have their eyes on the light to see whether or not it was on them; they would then not be talking to the House but to the public. I believe it would do unlimited damage to Parliament, though I suppose it is now impossible to stop it.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, apologise for not having added my name to the list of speakers, but I feel that I must make a couple of points. My noble friend Lord Eccles said they would select some of the tapes and destroy the rest. I do not see in the Resolution any undertaking to destroy. Will they be destroyed or will copies be kept by the broadcasting authorities if they so wish? As the Motion is not quite in keeping with what my noble friend said, I thought it would be useful to make that point.

The other point which interests me is that the Motion distinctly says that no "broadcasting signal" made pursuant to the resolution shall be used in a way which would bring satire against the House in programmes which are satirical. But we know very well that the choice of extracts can in itself be satirical. I have in mind the juxtapositioning of certain statements, and the way in which they are presented. Devoting two or three minutes to debates which may have lasted two or three hours can present the House in a different light than that in which it would appear in terms of the overall debate. I hope that the Committee will keep an eye on this point.

I agree completely with the general point made by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye; respect for Parliament is not likely to increase. Only yesterday I was talking on the Terrace of the Palace to a member of the Australian House in Canberra. He said that he had no doubt at all that the net result of the broadcasting of that Parliament had been a lowering of the respect for Parliament. That was the view of a person who is experienced in the Australian House, and who is in a position to form a view on the matter. I merely pass on to your Lordships the view of someone who has been a victim of the broadcasting of a Parliament not dissimilar to our own.

I should have thought that the importance of Parliament lies in not how something is said, but in what is said. We must remember the importance of what is said by the legislators in the various points they make and in their recommendations, which, at the end of the day, will result in legislation. My noble friend Lord Ferrier made a very interesting contribution, which included a little sidekick of the kind which often reflects how one really feels about a matter. He said that he was only sorry that there was not broadcasting when what he called "wretched devolution" was on the way. To me that remark clearly indicated that he would not be wishing to impress your Lordships, but rather opinion outside this House. That is natural; there is nothing wrong with it. But as the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, said, it is likely that there will be an impetus behind speeches aimed at impressing opinion outside the House. On the other hand, if one is addressing only one's colleagues, one is likely to be more objective, than if there is either a television camera or a microphone in the way.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. Despite what the noble Marquess has said, I believe this is the first step towards the televising of Parliament. Why should we want to turn your Lordships' House into a goldfish bowl? Why should we create an atmosphere in which people will be more concerned with the kind of impression they make outside the House, rather than with the contributions that they address to their colleagues here? I think this point applies particularly to the other place where everybody feels that he has to impress his constituents—and there is nothing wrong with that. But that kind of situation interferes with the objectivity and the impartiality which I believe a legislature ought to have.

I realise that it is too late to do anything about this matter now. Some of my noble friends have made the point that, once the other place has broadcasting, we have to have it. What guarantee is there that we shall not be put lower down the league in terms of esteem because of the short time devoted to what your Lordships have to say? What undertaking is there that we will have a proportion of the broadcast time which would be appropriate in reflecting the proportion of the power we have in getting legislation through Parliament? If there is one Chamber in the world where objectivity and impartiality are more important than the kind of picture which one presents, or how fluent one may sound when making points, it is your Lordships' House. This House is also the final court of appeal, as well as being Parliament, and I believe that we want the objectivity which can be brought about only if one is concerned principally with addressing one's colleagues on an equal basis, rather than being obsessed with the impression given outside.

4.34 p.m.


My Lords, I did not put my name on the list of speakers for this debate, and so I shall restrict myself to three or four sentences. While welcoming the general conception of this enterprise. I feel rather unhappy about some of the provisions in paragraph (3) of the Motion, particularly that which states that no extract from a tape or cassette is to be used in a programme which is designed as political satire. Here, by a most remarkable coincidence, I find myself taking the same point of view as the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls. Is it not a fact that some of the most valuable analyses of our political history have been made by political satirists? But here we are to impose a kind of censorship, a most drastic censorship, on the BBC, which we do not impose on the newspapers. The newspapers are as free as they can be to indulge in political satire. If we want to get the work of Parliament more broadly understood, we must consider to which part of the newspapers readers generally turn. They do not turn to the whole page of verbatim reports of Parliament, but to the article of the political sketchwriter, who undoubtedly imports much satire into what he writes.

Therefore I feel that when the programme of Parliamentary proceedings is broadcast it may be far more interesting to the general public if it imports a germ or two of satire, rather than be merely a humdrum report, to the effect that "Lord So-and-So" said this, and "Lord So-and-So" said that. I have exhausted my limit of four sentences, my Lords. I think we are being a little too touchy in imposing this restriction on the BBC. While I will not move an Amendment to delete paragraph (3) of the Motion, I hope that at some time in the future, once the programme has got going, the Committee will look at this matter, in the hope that the restriction now being imposed can be modified.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a short but interesting debate. I must confess that I always used to be a reactionary regarding this subject, and I do not apologise for that. Occasionally society needs some people who say "No", and the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, expressed what was my original opposition to this idea. I was always worried that once we started sound broadcasting of Parliament we would, inevitably, have to have television. I am not going to go into that argument today, but I believe that what we are proposing is right in the circumstances, provided we have the safeguards, and I take note of what noble Lords have said.

I agree with everything that the noble Earl, Lord St. Aldwyn, said. I believe that the question of a Joint Committee, which was also raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is important. We should remember that the Joint Committee can certainly be asked to reconsider the decision to keep a selective archive. I was intrigued by the noble Viscount's witty speech; I have in mind his reference to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, and, above all, the late Winston Churchill. I am sure that the noble Viscount's point was effectively taken by the House. This matter has been looked at before by the Joint Committee, and a decision in favour of it was made. But we must remember that tapes do not take the place of Hansard as the official record of the proceedings. Nobody has mentioned this, which I regard as an extremely important point.

I do not want to pursue the argument here. I think that the Committee should look at the points which have been raised by noble Lords, especially what was said by the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair. I knew the noble Marquess years ago, and I recall that at the time I first met him he introduced me to the BBC programme "The Week in Westminster". He knows so much about broadcasting, and I take careful note of his warnings. He takes the view, quite rightly, that we can go ahead; and I agree with him about editing. I think that we must allow some freedom in this respect, otherwise it would become a tepid programme.

The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, raised other matters, relating to Section 4 of the Independent Broadcasting Authority Act 1973. The IBA regards itself as precluded by Section 4 of this Act from including in its coverage of Parliamentary proceedings speeches, or extracts from speeches, made by directors or officers of programme contracting companies. I believe that this affects a number of Members of this House; and I suspect that it affects the noble Lord as well. The Government propose to bring forward the necessary Amendments to the Act to remove this bar as soon as a suitable opportunity occurs, but it is unlikely that this legislation could be enacted before broadcasting begins.

I realise that many noble Lords have differed on this question. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, took an opposing view to the matter. He regrets this move, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. But I believe that we have to live with this. We must ensure that we have the necessary safeguards, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, repeatedly stressed in his speech. I agree with him. I hope that the BBC will be less metropolitan. After all, London does not represent England, any more than any other part of the country represents England. We want a fair balance between the regions. I accept that. But in fairness I must say that the BBC and ITV have very good regional organisations, as is known by those noble Lords who represent different parts of the regions, as I once did in another place. So I am not afraid of that. I believe that, inevitably, they will understand this. My Lords, I am not going to make a long speech. I have given assurances on the salient points which have been raised, and I hope we can now proceed. Let us try it, and go ahead.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that I gave notice to the Whips' Office that I was going to raise my point about the Complaints Commission, but the noble Lord has completely overlooked it. I am sure it is an oversight. What happens if there is lack of balance? To whom do we complain?


My Lords, I am sorry. The Whips are very efficient, but I was not aware that the noble Lord had raised this point with the Whips. It is an important point, and I will look at it carefully. This is an Annan proposal. I am sorry I cannot give a forthcoming reply now, but I will look at it. I know it is always usually said: "I will write to the noble Lord", but if he would like to come to see me personally and have a quick drink, I shall be glad to see him.

On Question, Motion agreed to.