§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, on returning to the television debate after that important Statement, I should like to say that it is, of course, a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, on this subject. I think that the noble Lord may be a little worried because on a previous occasion he was somewhat concerned to find himself in agreement with me. I have to tell him that on this occasion I am in agreement with him, and I think that perhaps both of us had better start worrying.
However, this issue is not one on which we need to divide on party political or even non-party lines. It is an issue as to whether we take the view that we are, as it were, a private organisation whose proceedings must be kept rather to itself and not spread too widely, or, if they are known at all, must be sifted through some other organisation and should not be seen directly by the public. Of course, we have proceeded to the point at which they may be heard.
However, before I go into that, there is a further point on which I find myself in agreement with the 1209 noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, which was when he congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on his maiden speech. I am very happy to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord from this side of the House. He and I have shared another Chamber over a period of time. I have heard him speak on a number of occasions, always with clarity. I cannot say that I frequently agree with him, and on this occasion it follows that, as I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, I am unable to agree with the content of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, much as I admired its delivery. Nevertheless, I am sure that your Lordships will look forward to hearing the noble Lord many times in the future.
As we are being broadcast, the question, therefore, is: should we be televised? I am very much a radio man, and here I had better declare an interest because I have written a radio play which has been broadcast and I have written another one which is to he broadcast next year. But this is an area in which radio is pre-eminent. It is possible to argue that in the radio play there is an art form which is distinct from any other art form. I do not think that the television play has established itself to that extent, because the view can be taken that the television play is perhaps a rather inferior form of cinema. One cannot take any such view about the radio play.
However, where television comes into its own is in the documentary area. When one is trying to present an actual event the radio becomes very much second-rate. Someone has to describe it; it has to be sieved through another person. I am bound to say that much of the sieving which is done in the press by the political correspondents does not strike me as being very competent at all. Here we are debating whether or not we are to rely upon sound alone, and one knows what a wrong impression one can get. I take the view that reliance upon sound alone in our two Chambers has not had a good effect. I think that the clarification and the presentation of the events themselves by the addition of vision will, after a period, be beneficial rather than otherwise.
Let us suppose that the scene is outside a factory gate and one is listening to radio. One hears simple uproar; one gets a version of the event through a reporter, and some of the reporters are certainly very brilliant. But, however brilliant they may be, one gets simply their picture; one gets a more complete understanding if one actually sees what is happening outside the factory gate, sees the people taking part, observes the actions and reactions of the crowd and, if they are concerned, of the police. One has a more accurate picture of what is good or bad. The question really is: do we wish to give the public a clear picture of what goes on? I think we do; I think we have to do so. We have a duty to do so. It is appropriate; and I can see nothing wrong in this Chamber taking the lead on this occasion.
There is one other point. I should like to comment on something that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, said on the question of responsibility. It seems to me that he is right when he says that the responsibility for the day-to-day broadcasting should rest in the hands of the media people themselves. Nevertheless, I think that there ought to be a retrospective control; that the Sound Broadcasting Committee should become a total 1210 broadcasting committee and should, perhaps meeting once a month, have the right to survey what has happened during the previous period and then to indicate to the media people where they think they may have gone wrong without any attempt to exercise any day-to-day control.
We should have the responsibility to exercise a retrospective opinion on what has taken place, and to ask the broadcasting and television authorities to take account of what we have said. It is possible that we might come to the point where we should wish to withdraw the facility. After all, what we are proposing at the moment is only an experiment. I take the view that we have to accept the changes which have taken place in the media. It is our job to present ourselves to the public. The noble Lord, Lord Soames, seemed to present his argument almost as putting a case for this House against the other. That is not a view I share at all. But, in spite of that, and for different reasons—some of which I have tried briefly to place before your Lordships—I shall find myself with the noble Lord, Lord Soames, in supporting his Motion tonight.
§ 4.42 p.m.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, I should like to have said to my noble friend Lord Soames, if he were in his place, that regretfully I shall not be here at the end of the debate. I had not counted on it taking quite as long as it has done. I, too, should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord. Lord Peyton, on his speech, which I thought brought a sense of realism which slightly countered—shall I say?—the easy enthusiasm of some of the earlier speakers.
If we look at ourselves today, we are a public meeting. We look at the Gallery of spectators. In fact, there are not many of them there on the whole. Well, there are a few of them there. We look at Hansard, which is published every day. I wonder how many people in fact ever read Hansard? We have our gatherings reported on the ether, and so far as I know we get about three or four minutes in the morning and about the same amount in the evening. The truth is that we are not very newsworthy. I have great doubts whether indeed the thought that we will present ourselves fully to the public will ever be realised at all.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, that the documentary films are by far the finest produced by the television authorities. Some of them are perfectly beautiful. But are we a documentary? Are we really a colourful documentary which would present a colourful picture? I am afraid I doubt it very much. What is more important to me is how it will affect the work of this House. Will it help, for instance, one of the most important of all committees, the European Committee, which the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, leads? It is particularly important in view of some of our discussions yesterday. No other country examines so closely the details and problems of the European Community.
Would it affect our Committee stages, which frankly would be incomprehensible without the papers—and sometimes are incomprehensible with them. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is right: will the television authorities ever want to televise a complete debate? If I may take the noble Lord's speech 1211 yesterday on the Falkland Islands, you could not cut that up very well. It was a complete speech. developed stage by stage. I doubt very much whether that would ever be considered sufficiently newsworthy to do that.
We had this experiment 15 years ago, and I understood very well why we did not continue it. It was quite intolerable. We had cameras in different parts of the Chamber, and the heat from the lighting was intolerable. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said that the progress of science had altered all that. Maybe it has. But that leads me to the proposition that we ought to be clear what exactly we are letting ourselves in for.
The result of the televising 15 years ago was unsatisfactory. The interviewers, two distinguished men of great ability, interviewed the speakers, rather like a benevolent schoolmaster putting on his best pupils at the time of the annual gathering, and they made one sentence, or possibly two if they were lucky. But it did not represent in any way the workings of this House. We are not advertising individuals here. We want, if anything, to show how this House works. I doubt very much whether it ever presents the colour which would be necessary or pleasing to the television authorities. I therefore suggest that before coming to a full decision even for a 6 months' period we should have a full demonstration of what exactly is involved.
There have been several suggestions that there could be ground rules. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, said that there ought to be retrospective examination. I do not believe that the television authorities will allow any alteration of their editorship. The only control we will have is when they can do it, and on that I think we should insist. I do not believe that we can exercise any influence in this House on their freedom, which quite reasonably and properly they cherish very greatly. Therefore, we would have to accept fully the way they handle it. I therefore say that we ought first to have a demonstration to see exactly what is involved: and, secondly, we ought to make it clear that we must control when the television photography is to take place.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Howard of Henderskelfe
My Lords, in view of the number of noble Lords who wish to speak this afternoon and this evening, I hope that I shall be able to limit myself in inverse ratio to the number of years I have spent on my gubernatorial duties at the BBC and take only a few minutes of your time. I should preface this, however, by saying that for many years I have believed that the two Houses—this Chamber, and this ancient Parliament—are the centre of our democratic life, and that without them our democracy would soon perish. What happens in this Chamber, in the other House, and in the surrounding Committee rooms, is of immense importance, though at times extremely dull. It is not telegenic. Nevertheless, it ought to be available, and I have said this for many years.
It ought to be available just as Hansard is published in which people can read in full the words that we utter in this House: just as we have much shorter extracts on radio. It sometimes seems to me that we have even 1212 horter extracts in the heavy newspapers, which seem to forget that this particular House exists, particularly if you get a country edition published before 9 p.m. Because of all that, and because, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, the centre of news nowadays, from where people get their news, is television and to some extent radio, and not the newspapers, in the same way they should get their idea of the proceedings of Parliament from the televising of this House.
There is another reason why this should be so. Many of us are quite accustomed to appearing before television cameras in studios. I am even more accustomed to metaphorically being the other side of the cameras and concerned with the directors, the presenters and the interviewers. All of us, on whichever side of the camera we are, know very well that this is a very false situation. If the programme is subsequently edited, it is particularly a situation in which you feel unsure that what you aim to get across you are getting across, and in which you are never allowed enough time to say what you want to say, and it is a situation in which people are not on their own home ground. In this and in the other place, noble Lords and Members of Parliament are on their own home ground and nobody, except literally their peers, can say them nay. We have existed for 600 years without a chairman, which must be unique for any assembly. To give the opportunity to the public to see how their legislators conduct themselves is something in which we are lagging sorely behind if we do not do it.
There are no substitutes. Nobody would pretend that party politcal broadcasts, getting as they are nearer and nearer to the brief that is prepared by admirable advertising companies, are a substitute for the proceedings of the House and what is said here.
On all counts, I believe that we should do this, but there are some problems. People talk about experiments and demonstrations of what may happen. The problem is that we cannot have an experiment of what the broadcasters would wish to do in the long run. I will explain why. They would wish to have eight unmanned cameras, cameras which would be remotely controlled, so that there would not be men with great big cameras dotted round the House. Those cameras would take at least 12 months to deliver. Therefore the BBC and ITV cannot demonstrate within the next 12 months what such televising of the House would be like. However, they could do something else: they could produce five manned cameras. I am not pretending that that would not be an intrusion on your Lordships' House. Those cameras would require little if any more light than we have at present. I am not quite sure why the General Synod of the Church of England has to have so much extra light thrown on its proceedings. I will neglect to make the obvious jokes about that. The sensitivity of present cameras is such that little or no extra light would be required.
As I have said, if that were to be done on a permanent basis the cameras would be unmanned. They would be nearly as unobtrusive as the microphones now are, so that there would be a fully realistic impression of the debate.
1213 If your Lordships decide that you wish to have an experiment, it would have to he done on a drive-in basis: that is to say, room would have to be found in our congested yards for the necessary vans, not only for the transmitters but for the video cameras and so on. This is not to say that it should not be done, but it would not he fair to your Lordships to talk about this without describing some of the difficulties which would ensue.
What would we expect from this? We could have cable channels which would transmit continuously. The Home Secretary could decide to take the channels from the 405-line television and allocate these. That is very unlikely. but he could decide to do so and put out a continuous programme as is done elsewhere in the world.
The cost would be considerable. The costs of an experiment would be heavy but not undue—about £50,000 a week, including the salaries of those involved. The cost of permanently televising the House would involve equipment costs of about £3 million for the cameras and their installation and another £500,000 for the video recorders and their installation. I would remind your Lordships that the 1968 experiment was funded by the Government, but was jointly provided by the BBC and the ITA. I have no idea whether your Lordships' committee would have it in mind that the same procedure would he adopted, and the arrangements which would be made would not be at all difficult to organise.
I return to the point that unless we can see as well as hear our proceedings, I do not believe that the public will have a fair idea of what parliamentary democracy is all about.
Lord Home of the Hirsel
My Lords, the noble Lord is talking about the channel lasting all day, as it does in the United Nations in New York, which is much the most satisfactory way of broadcasting an assembly. Is the main objection to that the cost?
§ Lord Howard of Henderskelfe
My Lords, the cost would be great. I am not sure that the Home Secretary would be willing to give those channels because I imagine that, if the other House was to be televised as well as our own, two channels would be required for this purpose. No doubt the Leader of the House, as a former Home Secretary, will have his own observations to make on this subject. It is perfectly practicable, particularly with the advent of cable. I doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, will be able to receive it at his home in Scotland, as I doubt whether cable will ever reach where he lives, but that is neither here nor there. I do not wish to anticipate the Second Reading of a Bill which will be put before us very soon. Nevertheless it is practicable, and that is the issue to be resolved.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, I am glad to be allowed to take part in this debate because on 15th June 1966 I led the opposition to the Motion at that time.
Times change, and I believe that two great changes have taken place since that time. The first is what was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Soames, in the 1214 powerful discourse he gave in supporting the Motion—the technological progress that has been made in presentation and the tremendous growth in the number of viewers compared with 1966.
The second change is one which is likely not to find complete agreement on all sides of your Lordships' House, but it is something which must be said if one feels that way. It is that the estimation of Parliament in the view of the ordinary man in the street and his respect for Parliament have been considerably eroded during the last 15 years. No longer does the ordinary man in the street look to the other place—not this place, for we get far too little publicity as it is—as a body that debates great home and foreign issues dispassionately, reasonably and calmly. It is small wonder that there is that thought in the mind of the man in the street when one considers that statements and views in another place are closely controlled by the lash of the whip. Too often the proceedings descend almost every Question Time into unintelligible uproar which does not gain much respect for the House of Commons from the great listening public. Yet, some 30 or 40 yards down the passage from another place one can find debates conducted in an orderly manner, differences exposed fully but without rancour, and views given, often with authority. One does not find that in another place. If we accept the principle that the electorate has the right to see and hear how they are governed, then I claim that at the present time your Lordships' House can better meet that right than can anywhere else. This is our chance to enable the public to see, and learn, how they are governed.
I sincerely support the noble Lord, Lord Soames, in his view that we should not wait for the House of Commons. I look round here at my old colleagues who were in the House of Commons. The procedures there are very slow, and business is very congested. I hesitate to think how long it would take before the House of Commons would agree, if we do not go forward on our own. We may be an unelected Chamber, but we have become fairly representative of all sections of the public. The present House of Lords structure may be indefensible in theory, but it really works very well in practice; whereas I could cite political views which one can support in theory, but which do not work very well in practice. In the light of the views of a certain political party, our future may be uncertain, but I am reminded of the words of (I think) Mr. Asquith who, in 1911, said:The reform of the House of Lords brooks no delay".There has been a lot of delay since, and I think that there may he a good deal more in the future.
Of course, television has its dangers for both Houses; though I think that the danger is much greater for the other place than it is for here. Let me cite one danger. I have a friend who is a Member of another place. He is not a member of my party, and he holds his seat with a fairly narrow majority. He is very much against television, and I shall tell your Lordships why. He works very hard in another place in the week, and at the weekend he goes up to his constituency and works very hard. He gets into the sleeper and comes down by train on Sunday night. He goes to the House and takes his place on the Bench. There is some debate going on which does not have any particular interest 1215 for him. His eyes close, his head nods, the camera views him. He says, "I would lose my seat". My Lords, that does not apply to your Lordships.
On the other hand, can any noble Lord stand up and say that when in your Lordships' House an able Minister deploys, necessarily at some length, the details of an intricate Bill framed by parliamentary draftsmen in language completely unintelligible to the ordinary person, his eyes have not closed and his head may not have nodded? If any noble Lord will stand up and say that, I shall give way to him in admiration.
That is a danger of presentation—and a very real one—which no doubt will be looked after by the committee, about which the noble Lord reminded us. But that is the detail. The committee can iron out those matters. The big point is that here, in the House of Lords, we have, as a second Chamber, an opportunity to play an enhanced role as one of the Houses of Parliament, to be heard and seen exercising our rights and fulfilling our duties. That is what I want to see, and that is why, personally. I now most earnestly support the Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Soames.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Strauss
My Lords, I am glad to be able to speak in a debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has spoken. I used to know him very well in another place, and I always used to admire his contributions, though I seldom agreed with them. I should like to say, first of all, not only that I welcome the noble Lord, but that I think his speech today was more forceful—which is saying a lot—than they usually were in the other place. Secondly, I should like to say that I agreed wholly with the general line of his argument.
Some noble Lords have expressed gratification that an opportunity may have arisen to reverse the decision made in another place some years ago, when that place turned down the proposal to televise the House of Commons. I found that occasion a very satisfactory one, and I shall tell your Lordships why. I arrived almost too late to vote in the debate. Like others, I had been told that the Motion to televise the House of Commons, proposed by Dick Crossman, was bound to be carried; so I didn't bother much about whether or not I should be there. When I arrived a little late, I had literally to push my way into the Lobby. Therefore when the vote was announced by the Clerk I was extremely gratified to find that the Motion had been defeated by one vote. I was delighted that I had been there, and, quite falsely, gave myself the credit for what I considered to be a very satisfactory vote.
I do not believe that the situation has changed much since then, except, of course, technically. In principle the difficulties are the same, and it seems to me that the arguments against televising Parliament are the same today as they were then. Many times in those days there was put forward the argument that in a democratic society the public is entitled to see and hear what its representatives in both Houses of Parliament are doing and saying. I was never able to agree with that argument. The public is entitled to know what is happening, the public can read what is happening. the public on some occasions may be able to get 1216 into the Galleries here. But to be present and to attend I do not consider to be an entitlement which every member of a democratic society can claim—any more than he can claim an entitlement to attend the Law Courts. The Law Courts must be open to the public, and anybody must be entitled to go and listen to the proceedings there. However, they are fully reported, as are the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament.
What happens in these Houses is known to all the people who want to know about it. It is reported in all the papers, there are sound broadcasts and televised discussions, and there are party political broadcasts which I believe put people off politics, rather than attract them to them. Therefore people who are interested in politics today know what is happening. They are able to understand, if they care to read about them, what are the background factors that develop before a Bill is presented to, or passed by, this House.
Would the public be better informed, would it understand Parliament better, would it respect Parliament better, if it saw and heard all the activities that went on, either before a Bill came to the House or during the general procedures of the House? Most of the procedures of the House, important as they are, are very boring. Moreover, being largely concerned with legal affairs, they really do not give any excitement to a viewer or enable him to understand better what is happening here. I do not think that the argument of entitlement to come to either House is really important, or the argument that it will be a revelation to the public if it comes here and finds out how we do things.
What is important to the public is what we do, and the public is able to understand, to learn and to read the arguments advanced by Ministers and by the Opposition about those things which are proposed. Then the public, knowing what is happening, what the facts are, what the propositions are which Parliament has decided or is going to decide, can take action by bringing pressure on its Members of Parliament or, if necessary, on Members of the House of Lords, and can vote at the next election in the way it thinks is right. So I believe that the argument about entitlement is a false one.
The question is really: will either House of Parliament be more highly regarded and be more influential in our society if all our proceedings are put on television? I do not believe that it will. I cannot believe that it will, We have had the small experience of Questions in the Commons being broadcast and my friends and acquaintances, as well as myself, deplore the damage that has been done to the parliamentary image by those broadcasts on so many occasions, with the angry roar, the bad manners and so on. I do not think it is desirable. I know that that would not happen in your Lordships' House. We behave in a more gentlemanly way and we do not have these excitements, outbursts of temper and so on, which are bringing Parliament into such ill repute.
But in considering this Motion, I am not really concerned with this House. It has been urged over and over again—and it was urged on television at midday today—that the passage of this Motion today will mean it is more likely that the Commons will have to pass a similar Motion, because it would obviously seem ridiculous to everyone if a situation arose in 1217 which the affairs of the unelected House were televised for everybody to see and hear, and the elected House, which is the important House where major things happen and important Questions are asked, were not televised. Therefore, the argument and the pressure for televising the proceedings in the House of Commons, if we passed this Motion today, would be immense and might be irresistible.
It is for those reasons that I hope that this Motion will not be passed. If it affected only the Lords, I would say, "That is fine. If people really want to see what we are doing here and listen to the very fine speeches which are made, and the arguments which are put forward, they are welcome". But that is not the issue which we are discussing today. We are considering whether the major House in Parliament should be televised, with the effect that that is likely to have on the image of Parliament as a whole.
My view is that the present situation—I am conservative about this, if nothing else—of televising certain aspects of Parliament, such as the ceremonial and other activities which take place, in order to bring politics into people's homes, is wholly desirable. But I am very frightened at the idea that they should he enlarged and become progressively acceptable and demanded by the public. If that happened, the standing of Parliament would not improve; it would go down.
A regrettable fact is that, so far as one can judge by figures, the interest in the Commons has diminished over the past 10 or 15 years. Without exception, the percentage of voters who bother to go to the polls at each election drops. That can only mean that people consider the Commons less important in their lives, or in the life of the country, than they did before, and I cannot believe that televising both Houses would have any salutary effect.
The reason is quite simple. The Commons consists of public representatives who depend on the votes of their constituencies and I believe—however noble they may be, however little they may want to do it—that when Members of the Commons get up to speak they are bound to have in mind the fact that they are speaking not to their colleagues in the House, and trying to persuade them of the correctness of their views, but speaking to the public. The whole atmosphere, tenor and climate of the debate changes—and in my view for the worse.
The situation would be particularly grave during the months before an election when Members get up to speak. I guarantee that there would be far more demand to speak in those pre-election months than normally, because every speaker in the House would hope that at least some of his constituents would be listening to him. So, again, for that reason the tenor, the general feel, the atmosphere of the debate and the great value of the debate in the Commons would suffer.
Therefore, I say—I have frequently been in a small minority and I may be again tonight—that, on balance, in the interests of parliamentary democracy we have gone far enough. It would be unwise to introduce further television into this House, and certainly into the other House, and I will therefore oppose the Motion.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, I start with a declaration of non-interest, in that I am no longer active in television, although I was for many years, including at the time that the original Motion which has been brought before us again by my noble friend Lord Soames today was debated in June 1966. I voted for that Motion 17 years ago and I shall vote for this Motion tonight, if the House divides.
The debate has continued sporadically ever since over a lengthy period of years, but I want to argue that the situation is no longer the same as it was in 1966. The main new factor has been the sound broadcasting of the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament over the last five years, having being introduced in April 1978. Not much has been said in the debate so far this afternoon about the impact of sound broadcasting on Parliament. Some speakers have referred to it in passing. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, more than any other speaker, dwelt on the effect of radio and he described its shortcomings as a result of its one-dimensional quality.
But to me, the real significance of the broadcasting on radio of selected extracts from the proceedings of both Houses is that it has answered some of the questions which underlay the doubts expressed in the debates in the 1960s, several of which have been rehearsed once again today, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, who has just spoken.
Two of the principal objections that have been consistently put forward are: first, who is to edit, who is to select the contributions that are actually chosen for broadcasting to the public? Secondly, there is the fear that speakers will play up in some way to the microphone or to the camera, thus altering for the worse the deliberative nature of parliamentary debates. The answer provided by radio to the first question is that, as in any other factual broadcast, it is only the broadcasting organisation itself, through its established editorial procedures, which makes the selection. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, devoted part of his speech to this proposition. The considerations which are brought to bear are those of topicality and relative news value, backed up by the requirements of political balance and the network of understandings which have grown up over many years. These are contained within the general framework of the accountability under which the broadcasting organisations operate. This was always the best solution and greatly to be preferred to the only other alternative put forward: that Parliament should set up for itself some kind of selection or editorial process. That would have been undesirable on grounds of principle.
We are speaking not of good publicity for Parliament—something which, incidentally, every institution craves. We are speaking about access for the instruments of a free press, which is a very different matter. In any event, it would be quite impracticable to suppose that any parliamentary committee could hope to reach agreement on matters so sensitive and delicate which raise personal considerations as well as party advantage. So the problem of selection has now been resolved, not over a short experimental period, but over a period of five years of continuous practice 1219 in both Houses of Parliament, whereby extracts selected by the broadcasters have been broadcast by independent radio and on the radio channels of the BBC.
The second question is whether the presence of radio has altered the nature of parliamentary proceedings. It is hard to say whether or not this has happened. As the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, has just stated, some Members of the House of Commons regret the broadcasting of the noisy, rowdy proceedings at Question Time. But the House of Commons has always been a very rowdy, noisy place, and that is reflected by the broadcasts on radio. Nevertheless, at the same time there is value and merit in such broadcasts. There is. moreover, the fact that at the time of the debates on the Falklands Islands crisis most radio stations devoted long periods of time to the continuous broadcasting of the debates on the Floor of the House of Commons. That was a notable public service, which was in the interests of a democratic society.
We have just heard an authoritative speech from the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, who until last year was the chairman of the governors of the BBC. He spoke about some of the cost considerations and described the technological improvements. He referred to the fact that over the last 17 years technology has, naturally, moved on. The level of lighting required is now less than it was; the cameras are less bulky and less obtrusive. These are considerations which we need to bear in mind.
Since I referred earlier to the broadcasting of the debates on the Falklands Islands crisis, I should also like to mention that one of my noble friends on this side of the House, who is a Member of the European Parliament. has reminded me that only last month the debate in the European Parliament on the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe was broadcast live on one of the West German networks for a continuous period of three hours, such was the intensity of interest in West Germany in the issue.
The same has been true on occasion regarding the proceedings of the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations. Almost since their inception their debates have been made available for broadcasting. That is also now the case with debates in the House of Representatives in the United States, and in about 23 other parliamentary assemblies in different parts of the world. In each of them people have grown accustomed to the presence of cameras, as we in this Chamber have grown accustomed to the presence of microphones.
Those of your Lordships who took part in discussions as to whether the annual party conferences should be televised will remember that exactly this argument was raised then. There was doubt about whether or not speakers would play up to the cameras. But if it were now to be suggested, as from time to time it is, that the broadcasters should remove their cameras or reduce their coverage, the protests from the party managers would be absolutely automatic: it would be said that such a thing would be unthinkable and against the interests of the parties.
1220 The reason why it cannot be claimed that the presence of cameras and microphones has altered the nature of party conferences and other parliamentary assemblies is that an immediate, live audience is much more compelling for a speaker than the knowledge that some part of his speech may or may not be broadcast. If it is the broadcaster who makes the selection, the speaker has no control over whether or not his speech is broadcast. That is another reason why it would be folly for any speaker to try and play up in some way to an indirect audience out of sight, rather than addressing the people in front of him. After some years of experience in this field, my own observation is that the most effective speeches in the place where they are delivered are those which are most effective when they are broadcast.
Acceptance of the sound broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings has, in my opinion, removed the last remaining arguments of principle against the televising of Parliament. There is no longer any case to be made out for excluding Parliament from coverage by the most extensive medium of communication known to modern society. Television may or may not be the most powerful medium of mass communication, but nobody can question that it is the most extensive. The programmes on the national networks of the BBC and independent television are available to virtually the whole of the population in this country. In a democratic society, the viewers are the same people as the voters and it can only be to the advantage of those viewers to see how their legislature is performing its duties and to hear the arguments and the counter-arguments rehearsed in debate in Parliament.
To concentrate on our own proceedings, we in this House have nothing to fear from television. We may lack some of the excitement and drama of another place, but we can make up for it by the expert knowledge, independence of mind and seriousness of intent which lies behind the speeches which are made on almost all, if not all, occasions. The fact that Members of your Lordships' House are generally courteous towards each other as well as knowledgeable of their subject is likely to add to the credit and the standing of the House. I share the view of my noble friend Lord Soames who said, in opening the debate, that at a time when the value of a second Chamber is questioned by some it can only be to the advantage of this House that its proceedings should be seen from time to time by the public.
The last remaining question upon which I should like to touch is the crucially important one referred to in his speech by the noble Lord, Lord Strauss,and by the opener of the debate, my noble friend Lord Soames: whether or not this House should move in step with the House of Commons. We do control our own procedure, and we have jealously preserved the right to do so. Sometimes this results in our doing what we believe to be right at the time that we think we should do it. I have in mind the establishment of the European committees in 1973, well in advance of the House of Commons and not altogether with the enthusiastic support of the Government of the day. Who can doubt that the inauguration of those committees was a great step forward and one which added to the stature of this House? Sometimes we 1221 believe it to be right to move in step with the House of Commons, as happened over the introduction of radio broadcasting.
The admission of members of the public and members of the press was of course a matter of contention in Parliament for centuries; but I wonder how many of your Lordships are aware that it was the House of Lords which first made formal provision for access by the press? I have looked up the record—or rather, the excellent research staff in your Lordships' Library have done so for me—and it is interesting to note that the House of Lords was the first to provide specific accommodation for the public—but more specially, for the press. The first Press Gallery was opened in the House of Lords on 15th October 1831. As the third Lord Holland observed in his diaries,Reporters, ladies, Foreign Ministers, and people were for the first time admitted to a gallery allotted exclusively for that purpose in the House of Lords".It was only after the fire of 1834, when the House of Commons was accommodated temporarily in the old House of Lords Chamber, that the precedent set by the House of Lords was adopted. The Press Gallery in the House of Commons was first opened on 9th February 1835—four years later. If history repeats itself—as well it might—it would be for the benefit of Parliament as a whole.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, may I first sincerely congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, upon entering this House. I have had the great pleasure of debating with him in another place—sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing. I hope that in the not too distant future we shall be able to check up on one another, by watching the way in which we deliver our speeches and listening acutely to what the other has said. through the medium of television.
It seems to me that both Houses are groping very cautiously—with extreme caution at some times—towards taking advantage of something which the majority of people want to see. When it is asked whether the majority of people in this country are interested in politics, the answer must be that it seems they are at the most crucial time—when they are electing a new Government—because we have the highest voting percentage in the world. In the United States they are lucky if 50 per cent. of the electorate vote. We think we are doing pretty badly if we achieve a figure of only 73 or 74 per cent. I trust we shall hear no more about the people of this country being not particularly interested in politics. That is usually the argument of those amazing politicians who would try to take the politics out of politics. The same kind of argument will be made this evening.
Ever since Aneurin Bevan suggested, in his speech on the Humble Address on 3rd November 1959, that we had to consider this matter and move towards it, there have been massive debates both in and outside Parliament. In true British style, we are moving very slowly towards achieving something which we know full well we should have grasped years ago. By our failure to allow the televising of Parliament, we have allowed a much more sinister development to grow; the power of the man or woman who is not interested in entering the thralldom and cut and thrust of politics 1222 but who wants to become a household name on television or radio by interviewing on the subject of politics—but who has never voted for any issue which affects this nation, great or small. That is something we might he able to reduce. It has to go on—of course it has—but if this House can be televised we shall have shown an example to another place. They have debated it often enough, and they have rejected it very narrowly. They are to debate the matter again shortly, and tonight I hope that we shall show them a good example.
At one time, I understand, people were not allowed to listen to the House of Commons or to this Chamber. That situation has gradually changed. They were then not permitted to hear debates, other than by being present in the House, on the radio. That always seemed to me to be a crass absurdity, when they were able to read the sometimes most appallingly biased views of this nation's so-called free press, which on many occasions have caused in me the possibility of wishing to vomit. Actually to listen to what was being said was looked upon as being a gross abuse of Parliamentary practice. The same kind of argument was made when Hansard was first proposed. Every one was shocked. Most people said that it could not happen, but within years it was happening.
I have been looking at what happens in other countries which do not enjoy our great history. I discovered that many countries have already taken good advantage of exposing their democratic Chambers to the general public. It warmed my heart to learn that that was happening in West Germany. I am old enough to remember when it was only through the Pathé News Gazette that we could see the lunatic Hitler at the Nuremberg Rallies: we could see nothing else. We did not even know that the Reichstag existed until it was burnt down. Now, the West Germans have moved ahead of us in allowing their people to see how their respective Chambers operate. I believe that we should do the same—not just because they and the Norwegians have done that, but because we should then be able to show an example of how to do it even better than they can. I do not say that in any arrogant way but, in my view, if we are not always the first innovators, then something we do very well is to improve upon that which has been done before.
I will refer now to a vitally important point that was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. He quite rightly said that in the case of anything we wished to say—and this could be for an experimental purpose—there should not be too much power vested in a group of Peers in this House. I agree with that point of view. I am also vehemently opposed to vesting enormous power in the hands of one employee of the BBC. We must, in a typically British way, find something between the two. If I may say so, I would only exclude from having anything to do with the views of how to improve the televising of Parliament the Members of both Front Benches and of the Whips' Offices. It is too serious a matter to leave to either Governments or alternative Governments or to their lashers of discipline. I do not think it would be impossible for the Back Benches to elect their own representatives to discuss sensibly and intelligently with the BBC how televising should be done.
1223 Another point I wish to raise was mentioned quite forcefully to me just after this debate started, by a colleague whom I met in the Ave Lobby. He said to me. "Of course, you will be wanting to have the House televised!"—as if that were some terrible offence. I acknowledge that I support the proposal, but I hope that I shall never be brought to order on the grounds of trying to make a speech from the Throne.
When it is argued, as it was in another place, that we cannot allow cameras into the Chamber because a few Members will "hog" them, that implies they will be controlling the broadcast—and I do not believe that will happen. The same argument was made when radio broadcasting was introduced in another place. Unfortunately, there is one serious criticism to be made of the BBC—and this will put me in jeopardy if the cameras ever come in here. But this criticism has to be made. I find it wholly distasteful that, whenever another place or this Chamber is broadcast, it is always Prime Minister's Question Time or a debate when there is quite naturally a great deal of excitement, anger, pathos, call it what you may.
As has already been said, this is nothing new in either of these Chambers to anyone who has read and studied the history of our Parliament. My particular view was, how could a number of the millions of ordinary people one day have the right to come here? We recognised one thing. or our forefathers recognised one thing. namely, that if we were to get ordinary working people in the House of Commons it was fundamental that they would have to be paid a salary. They would not be able to do it otherwise. They could not come from Glasgow, Yorkshire or South Wales for four or five days a week to the House of Commons without being able to maintain their families. That was looked on as something appalling, but it became a reality.
The same applied to many other things: allowing the press in the Chambers, allowing people to come into the Chambers, even, begrudgingly; sound broadcasting, which had to be fought for. We are fighting for this Motion now. I hope we shall win. I hope that Lord Soames's Motion will be passed. I ask the House to realise that it is for an experimental period. We ought to have the courage to expose ourselves at least to an experiment in democracy. I believe we shall be proud of ourselves when we can show to the rest of the world how one Chamber of the world's greatest democracy functions, to the benefit not only of the people of these islands but I believe to that of the peoples of the world as well.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, considering the connection that I had with the original experiment here, the Select Committee and the debate that followed it, I gather that some Peers took the view that I was sure to support today the televising of the House of Lords. This is so, but not altogether so, because my concernover a quarter of a century has been to facilitate and improve the reporting of Parliament's proceedings to the people by the media, whether by the press, sound broadcasting or television. If what we are discussing today is a contribution to that end, then I am in favour of it.
1224 It would be easy to dig over, as it were, the ground which we cultivated 15 or more years ago. However, the results are there for all too see, in Hansard and in the volumes of reports of the Select Committee and the representations made to the Select Committee by various units. As other noble Lords have said, the passing years have brought about significant changes in conditions and in the situation; so we must look to the future, not to the past. There have been technical changes, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, mentioned, in terms of photography, both lighting and recording. My noble friend Lord Selkirk referred to the heat, and so on, during the experiment that we had. Those days are over.
What is more, there is now a multiplicity of channels, cable television and the like. Nobody has mentioned video. In thumbing over some of the papers of years ago I see that one noble Lord contended that the evening papers in future will be videoed and that the video will be an important article in circulating information about news and Parliament. How is it going to affect Hansard? All these things will come out in the wash. Fleet Street is being dismantled by the trades unions. The tabloids take no regular part in the day-to-day politics.
Although sound radio retains its very important position—in saying that I confirm very much what my noble friend Lord Windlesham said—nevertheless the box is becoming more and more important in our complex civilisation. It is as important as the telephone or the water closet. Indeed, whether we like it or not, what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said on the BBC "Today" programme this morning—namely, that the time is bound to come when Parliament is going to be televised—is right. It is just a question of time, as I think my noble friend Lord Peyton said, and as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, said. The broadcast is now a definite factor in any system of parliamentary democracy. As Alistair Cooke said not so long ago,Television is today the conscience of the civilised world".One political development in our domestic affairs has been mentioned and the importance of it stressed quite properly. That is the introduction of sound broadcasting of proceedings. This is a step in the direction we all want to go. Sound recordings form part not only of programmes such as "Today" and "Yesterday in Parliament", but they appear in "The Week in Westminster", and over and over again their purpose is served. Of course, as your Lordships are aware, the BBC have a specific obligation to report daily on the radio. However, I wonder whether our Sound Broadcasting Committee, as it is entitled, is, in the terms of this Motion, the best authority to tackle the enhanced remit which the Motion postulates. This point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and by Lord Hill in some measure. Is it the right medium to be our adviser on the subject?
I say this because the BBC, far from enhancing their coverage of Parliament with the passage of time, have done the reverse. They have quite out-manoeuvred us, which they should not have been allowed to do. I refer to their retaining "Today in Parliament" for half-an-hour at 11.30 at night—and in doing so they comply unquestionably with the letter of their obligation—but with 150,000 listeners! However, presumably because 1225 of their quite unnecessary obsession with ratings, they have not only cut "Yesterday in Parliament", which is heard by something like 2 million listeners—cut it down to a quarter of an hour—but broadcast in that programme pre-digested versions by political correspondents at a peak time, 8.35 in the morning. I am not saying that their digestion is not very good. but it is not a report of Parliament, which it should be in my view.
An example of what I mean occurred the other day. The evening programmes carried an excellent report, 15 minutes or more, of an important debate on the National Health Service. Next morning they skipped the debate altogether; it was not even mentioned as having taken place. There is something wrong there. I am not complaining about the share they give to this House; I think that is just about right and we do get a fair crack of the whip. But I contend that as time goes on the television authorities ought to be put under the same sort of obligation which now lies on the BBC for radio. This has been touched on by one or two noble Lords who have spoken without specifically supporting the idea. I am reminded of a remark, which I looked up recently, by my noble friend Lord Birdwood who said in a debate that the newsworthiness and the importance of a debate were not necessarily the same thing. That is a compact way of saying what I think, and which has obliquely been mentioned several times in today's debate.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk, may I respectfully point out, was wrong in saying how hot it was likely to be. That has been corrected by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe. No experiment would he adopted by the House, or its committee, unless it was with the latest possible equipment. By the way, my noble friend Lord Selkirk asked whether anyone read the House of Lords' Hansard. In fact, the sales of the House of Lords' Hansard are more than those for the House of Commons.
Another problem that persists is that of parliamentary privilege. This was touched upon by the noble Lord. Lord Hill of Luton. In one of the submissions of the record the ITA said:The Authority considers that if Parliamentary proceedings are to be allowed it would be vital to introduce specific legislation to protect the broadcasters".That is one of the loose ends still to be tied up. Another matter mentioned by many noble Lords, which I do not propose to refer to, is whether we would be out of step by going ahead of the Commons.
Speaking of the other place, my mind goes back to 1971, or thereabouts, when my noble friend Lord Whitelaw was Leader of the House in another place. It was possible that they had in mind to adopt televising their proceedings but they were inclined to hesitate because of this problem of privilege. I remember suggesting to my noble friend then that it might be a good idea to have a temporary screen in Westminster Hall on which could be shown, on a closed circuit, the proceedings in progress so that some of the patient folk who come to visit the Galleries can follow what is going on before they find their way upstairs.
§ Lord Soames
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? A great deal of the most interesting matters that he is covering will, we hope, be considered by the 1226 Committee. What we are about today is trying to reach a decision on principle as to whether or not we should go ahead.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I entirely agree, and I am coming to my final point. Be that as it may, I return to the words with which I began: namely, that my concern over the years has been to improve the reporting of Parliament to the people. This Motion would he a small step in the right direction. That is why I support it. My heart goes out to the folk who stand in the street and sit in rows in St. Stephen's Hall waiting for the chance to get into the Gallery.
It is clear that my noble friend's Motion is no simple thing. If I have spoken too long it is because it is worth going over the difficulties that persist. We must face them. I cannot see that a continuous programme could be broadcast. Who is going to edit it? What about Scotland? There is much we can say. Nevertheless, I support the Motion and I wish God-speed to all who strive to implement it.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ The Marquess of Tweeddale
My Lords, I oppose the Motion but most of the points that I intended to make have already been made very well by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on the one hand, and the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, on the other. Therefore, I shall be brief.
My first point is that if we have cameras here on an experimental basis I think we can certainly count on having them for good. That is as clear as daylight. There is something unstoppable about television in present-day society, whether it is a question of the number of sets or the number of cameras. Secondly, I oppose the Motion because I do not think there is any necessity to have cameras in the Chamber, any more than there is any necessity to have cameras at an orchestral concert. What really matters here is what is said, not what is seen. Although the public have an undoubted right to know what is happening here, they do not necesarily have any right to know which noble Lord is on his seat, who is yawning, or even who may he asleep at any particular time. Moreover, I do not think that cameras in the Chamber are desirable because of the nature of the Chamber and the nature of television.
As has been pointed out, we do not address the nation in this House, nor even someone who may he held to represent thenation—I refer to the Speaker of the House of Commons—but each other. The atmosphere in this Chamber, as visitors often point out, although in its way very imposing, is surprisingly intimate. I am afraid that the atmosphere of what one might call gentlemanly intimacy is not likely to survive the introduction of cameras. The result of bringing cameras into the Chamber would be an enlivening of the proceedings, but I do not think that that would amount to an improvement in the standard or quality of debates.
Indeed, I can think of few things that have been improved by being televised. Television is essentially a very bland medium. It is capable of bemusing the watcher but it has difficulty in really interesting or involving the viewer. For this reason it is more or less inevitable that edited broadcasting of the proceedings 1227 here would be biased heavily in favour of the sensational and the ephemeral rather than towards the substance of what goes on. The television picture of the House at work is likely to be very distorted. I believe that more should be heard of this Chamber on the wireless, but I do not believe that there is any necessity for this Chamber to be seen.
§ Lord O'Neill of the Maine
My Lords, I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion and I hope it will be passed with a large majority. I recently had the good fortune to attend the Assemblée Nationale in Paris. I was surprised to find that I was sitting next to a television camera. It was completely silent, not a sound came from it. There did not seem to be any extra lighting in the Chamber and there was certainly no extra heat. It is therefore obvious that these things can be arranged. The Prime Minister, M. Mauroy, opened the debate and the camera focused on him as he spoke for nearly one hour.
The next day the debate was on the front page of Le Monde so obviously it was considered to be an important foreign affairs debate, as it was. However, I was surprised and rather shocked by the fact that there were only about 100 deputies in the House out of a total of 485. An important debate like that in either of our Chambers would produce a packed audience. I asked about this and was told that it was perfectly normal. The reason that I mention it is that it shows that cameras do not drive people into the Chamber in the hope of being televised.
Like many other noble Lords, I think that on the whole the BBC does a very good job. However, I wish that it had not shoved "Yesterday in Parliament" into the "Today" show on Radio 4. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier. touched on this to some extent. I think that it was much better before the BBC did that. I hope that it will give consideration to returning it to its previous position. I know that that has nothing to do with television but it is an important point.
This week in your Lordships' House we had one of the most important debates in Parliament on the Falklands. What struck me most was the remark that the noble Lord, Lord Buxton of Alsa, made in introducing the Motion. He indicated that the war in the Falklands was caused in 1967 when officials indicated that we should probably be prepared to cede sovereignty. To my mind, that was the most important part of the debate. The next morning I listened with interest to "Yesterday in Parliament" but there was not one word about it. It is a matter that would have been of great interest to the British public.
I think that television when it is working might avoid things like that, especially if one day we have a television channel devoted to this Chamber. From what the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, has told us, the cameras will not start whirring tomorrow, but I hope that this Motion will he passed so that the arrangements can he put in train.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Gaitskell
My Lords, I wish to make a very short speech. I am entirely in favour of the words of this Motion. It is an extraordinarily cautious statement. Let us consider the wording. The debate is 1228 about, "televising some" of the proceedings of this House, "for an experimental period". What could be more cautious than those two phrases? I see nothing wrong with the Motion. I am personally not afraid of expressing myself about anything, and nor do I think is any noble Lord—so what are we talking about?
We could easily vote for the Motion without taking any risk whatever or having any need to apologise to anybody. I am in favour of televising this Chamber. If we make mistakes, I think we can improve on what we do. But there is everything to be said for making Parliament and this House as open as possible.
I wish to add one very personal statement. When my husband died, it was Harold Wilson—now the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx—who put me into this House. I am eternally grateful to him for what he has done. I could not enjoy being here more. For anyone interested in politics and who takes them seriously, this is an excellent House. Even though it may not always be perfect, it can be made so. I am all for the televising of our proceedings. There is little else that I can say.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords. Abraham Lincoln once remarked:There are few things wholly good or wholly evil. Almost everything of government policy especially is an inseparable compound of the two. So that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continuously demanded".I feel that that remark is particularly important in making what judgment we do about the issue which my noble friend Lord Soames has brought before us tonight.
In this nation we have had something like 200 years of constitutional and technological change affecting politics. Just about the time when the suffrage was effectively revised to enable all adults to vote, a series of technological changes began which were probably more important than some of the changes in the suffrage. I refer to the introduction of the microphone at public meetings, the use of radio and television for party political broadcasts and the Gallup polls. I mention all these things because, looking back, it is perfectly obvious that some of them were far more beneficial—and quickly so—than people at the time supposed, while others have turned out to be worse. For example, the introduction of party political broadcasts has, without question, transformed—in my opinion, adversely—the character of elections. The end of the political meeting seems to me to be one of the things we must most lament in the development of politics in the last generation or so.
I think that my mention of these things also reminds us that anyone who should take what my noble friend Lord Soames might think is a negative view of the Motion should not necessarily regard himself, or be regarded, as reactionary, and nor should anyone who takes a positive view necessarily in the light of eternity be expected to be regarded as progressive.
A number of points of view have been put forward as to why we should once more entertain the idea of this innovation: it is desirable that the public should be allowed into our proceedings at one remove, but nevertheless allowed into them. We have had the suggestion that it is beneficial that we, as 1229 parliamentarians—Members of the House of Lords—should in reverse penetrate through the medium of television into the houses of the public at large. We have had the suggestion that the use of television would he good public relations for this House and for Parliament in general. We have had the suggestion made by many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that this is the wave of the future; if we do not vote positively now, we are bound to do so some time in the future. All these points of view need to be considered quite carefully and without rancour or asperity.
The first two points are certainly open to question. The public is perfectly able to understand what we are doing here by means of studying Hansard, looking at newspapers and listening to the radio. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, has said that the dimension of observation by sight of what we are doing is even more important. I perfectly accept that that is a view, but as a matter of fact, my belief, as one who lives by his pen—and therefore I should perhaps declare an interest—is that the understanding of what goes on anywhere is better if one reads the written word than sees what has actually happened. The written word demands an effort of intellect and imagination. I suspect that the consequence is that the experience concerned enters into the memory rather more effectively than if one were, by chance, an observer of the occasion.
I come to the question of whether this House or Parliament in general needs public relations. I do not feel that that is the case. On many occasions—and most recently this year—the electorate has voted for a party which has made it perfectly plain that it believes in the future of the House of Lords as it is now.
There is then the suggestion that because other countries have done this we should contemplate doing it ourselves—yet we have many other eccentricities. We have an effective group of working hereditary Peers. Here again we are exceptional, and no one would suggest that we do not make a major contribution. We have the presence in our legislature of Lords Spiritual, and this is an exception. Perhaps, at some time in the past, people thought that might be rather surprising; but with the increasing importance. in my opinion, of religion in world politics we may come to find one day that we are more satisfied than any other nation that we have the presence of Bishops on their Bench.
Thus I am not completely convinced by the arguments that have been put forward; but I might, nevertheless, entertain the idea of an experimental period were it not for two other matters. The first is the question of the selection of material which would be used (and a good deal of attention has been paid to this). I must confess that I agree with my noble friend Lord Peyton (whose maiden speech I much enjoyed and on which I warmly congratulate him) in suggesting that the odds would be that such selection as would be made would be bound by the nature of things, by the nature of the fact that television is concerned to entertain as well as to inform, to get high ratings as well as to educate, and would be bound I think to concentrate on the eccentric, the brusque, the rough and the exceptional.
1230 There is a second point relating to the selection: that was one to which attention has already been paid by my noble friend Lord Selkirk when he spoke of the nature of a speech. A speech should have a shape, an argument, a beginning, an end and middle. I agree with him that it is most unlikely that a speech as a whole would be likely to be broadcast due to the selection process, unless there was the eventuality, which the noble Lord, Lord Howard, thought of as a very unlikely eventuality, of a full channel devoted to our affairs.
The next point is this—and it was touched on very eloquently by the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, when he pointed out that the debates in this House have a peculiar intimacy. I have not been here very long, only two and a half years; a short enough period, nevertheless, not to feel impatient for innovation, but long enough to appreciate the quality of the debates. Our debates often have a very special mixture of the conversational and the rhetorical; the ceremonial and the ordinary, which surely would be altered were there to be a constant programme on television playing on our affairs. It may be that it would not be a substantial change, but it would be a change. How big that change would be and what it would be like would depend on our judgment about what television usually does to politics.
I recognise that television has made many remarkable contributions to entertainment: to our knowledge of sport, of nature and of science. It has enabled us to see films without having to experience the rigours of the cinema queue. But I am doubtful whether television has made the major and positive contribution to politics which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, suggested.
I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that there are often beautiful programmes on television devoted to politics but I very much doubt whether it can be said as a whole that television has treated politics with the complexity and the depth which is necessary. Indeed—and here again I agree with the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale—there has been—not always but often—a tendency to emphasise the superficial and the bland. For all these reasons therefore I have come to believe that the case for alteration has not been made.
The second Lord Falkland (the grandfather I think of the Lord Falkland who gave his name to the islands with which we were so much concerned last year) in a quotation which was a favourite one of the late President Kennedy, said:When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change".I mention President Kennedy to show that it is a quotation not necessarily of the blackest reaction. I hope very much that as many of your Lordships as feel appropriate will vote against this Motion tonight.
§ 6.14 p.m.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly support this Motion. As the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, has said, it is to television that the majority of people look for news nowadays, and they will do so still more in the future when the advent—which I find so very exciting—of cable television is upon us; so I think it is high time that our proceedings were televised. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if we do not now let 1231 ourselves, or arrange for ourselves, to he televised, in 1984 it will he as if we had refused to admit the press in 1831: so I warmly welcome the prospect. I have long felt that nobody would want to abolish us if they knew what we did, and I sincerely hope the proceedings in another place will also be televised because we have nothing to lose.
Having had my mind set at rest about the obtrusiveness or otherwise of the equipment, my principal concern is about editing. There can be few noble Lords who have not had the experience of making a point and giving an illustration to emphasise it, and then finding the illustration, shorn of the point, picked up and quoted by the media so that it appears at best irrelevant and at worst meaningless, and I am sure we all hope that this will not happen. For this reason alone I certainly agree with the various noble Lords that there should be a monitoring committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has voiced my fears lest noble Lords should start speaking to the television audience instead of to the House. I wonder what has been the experience of the Synod in this matter? Most of the speeches in this debate so far have been commendably brief. Could this be because we all want to get home to our television sets to watch "The Great Palace" which is to be broadcast at 9.30 tonight?
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I hope that the House in deciding—as I hope it will—to vote against this Motion will do so on the grounds of the argument and will not be swayed in voting for it by the extraordinary argument adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that since it is bound to come anyhow we might as well vote for it now. Being mortal, all of us are destined to die, but moral philosophers have never thought this fact a justification for suicide.
It is a most peculiar Motion because—to some it may seem inappropriate—we have seen its mover, my noble friend Lord Soames, tiptoe—pirouette—round its real content, which is to pave the way for television in another place. I would have thought that those of us who care about parliamentary government and its reputation would have taken on board the undoubted fact that the sound broadcasting of Parliament has done it a great deal of damage. You have only got to go to any political meeting or private gathering and someone will say, "Is that really how the country is governed?"
Some people say this is a distortion that radio has brought because you only get the sound. Those of us who avail ourselves of the privilege of sitting in the Peers Gallery are, in a sense, private television cameras, and what do we see? What we see in Prime Minister's Question Time is no more elevating, no more a tribute to our democratic institutions than what people at home hear on the radio. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether we may not see one day the statue of Oliver Cromwell come to life like the Commendatore in "Don Giovanni" and march into the House on one of these occasions and repeat his famous words:It is not fit that you should sit here any longer … You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing".1232 I think that the arguments, in Parliament's present frame of mind, at any rate, against televising the other place, are overwhelming. Let us come then to our proper business, which is what we do about ourselves. It is extremely important that the country should know more about the way we operate and the work that we do, much of it, as noble Lords have said, not in the Chamber at all. It is also important that people are in a position to read or in other ways have communicated to them some of the important speeches and arguments that can be put forward in this House at greater leisure and sometimes to greater effect than in another place.
I believe, however, that it is important to look at this from the point of view of the consumer. It is said that we need television because our proceedings get so little reported in the newspapers. Why is this so? One reason is that so many of our proceedings of the greatest importance and interest take place fairly late in the afternoon or in the evening. Is it not better, rather than that the Broadcasting Committee should look at television, that the Procedure Committee should look at our procedures to see whether it would not be possible to postpone to the evening the largely formal business that often takes up the first hour or two of our affairs and bring forward to earlier in the afternoon the important debates to which we would like attention to be paid? In other words, I feel that this television idea is a distraction from our proper business of making clear what is, and should be, the contribution of this House to the government of the country.
The second point that I would like to make is one that I think has been touched upon and sometimes dwelt upon by a number of noble Lords. It is that there is inevitably in what is being proposed—the Motion refers to some proceedings and not to all proceedings—an element of editorial discretion. I fear that not everyone was in accord with the noble Lord, Lord Hill (I am sorry that he is not still in his place) when he said that there was general confidence in the political impartiality of the IBA and the BBC. That general confidence may exist in them as institutions. It is not necessarily a general confidence in those who actually operate on the ground. The various remarks that have been made, not for the first time, about the treatment of our proceedings on radio in "Yesterday in Parliament" bears this out.
Therefore, I think that it is extremely hard to see how the editing is to be done in a way that meets the expectations of those who favour this experiment. It is my view that there is one very successful, and only one very successful, contribution of television to politics in this country. That is the televising of party conferences. I think that one does learn a lot. This year I stayed at home and watched all four party conferences for long periods. The reason is that you get a picture of a meeting. an assembly of speakers, largely uninterrupted by commentary, largely unselected, and sometimes incapable of being selected in advance.
If it was a complete picture of the proceedings of this House that was intended, I admit that my misgivings would, to some extent, be allayed. If, when we get this extraordinary extravagance that we are apparently going in for—cable television—some entrepreneur was prepared to buy our proceedings in toto and use one of his channels in toto to make them available, and if the 1233 sum paid was enough for us to add to our amenities in certain respects, I would again be prepared favourably to consider it. It would then be likely, as mentioned, I think, by a previous speaker, that some other entrepreneur would sell another cable to the other place. That would create a problem that has come up in relation to cable television generally. What do you allow the children to see? Would parents have a sort of dual key in order to cut out Question Time?
These are possibilities. However, we are told that, on expense grounds and on technical grounds, they are possibilities very far ahead. If that is the case, and if what we are really being asked to do is to submit ourselves to editing, to the choice of some, no doubt, industrious and intelligent young men and women as to what the public should know of what we do and say, I think that the price would be high. I join with my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton and the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, in saying that it would affect our proceedings, not, I think, in the rather obvious way—I do not think there would be many camera-hoggers among us—hut simply because much of what we do and much of our ritual, our repetition of the words "my noble friend" and so forth, which are part and parcel of the way we conduct our affairs, would he unintelligible or seem faintly odd to people not here.
Although I do not think that we would suffer the discredit that the other place has suffered through radio broadcasting, we would, I think, be obliged, in some respects, to change our ways. Since our ways have been developed for the public service to get through a programme of legislation and to discuss matters of policy and which, therefore, must be considered for the time being right, I would not like to see them sacrificed on the altar of new technology.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I should like first to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on his maiden speech. All of us must try to keep our speeches short, as my noble friend who has just sat down did. I should like to take up one small point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. He gave some rather horrifying and costly details of the ambitious schemes that I presume the BBC might wish to install. It should be said that it would be a job for the committee to consider alternative schemes and possibly to ask for alternative tenders. There may be other bodies, such as Channel 4, which might be able to fulfil the task much less expensively. I do not wish the figures mentioned by the noble Lord to be carved in tablets of stone and possibly accepted as being the best quote.
I am afraid that, on this occasion, I do not agree with my noble friend, Lord Beloff. It is one of the few occasions when I have not agreed with him. I believe that radio broadcasting has done this House immeasurable good. It may have reduced respect for the other place to some extent. I have the feeling that if a person shouting like a baboon in another place is seen on television, his constituents will pretty quickly write to him to say, "We did not send you there to behave like a baboon. We sent you there to be a civilised person contributing to the debate in a civilised way". That would be a self-regulatory way of 1234 raising the standard of behaviour in another place. I have perhaps more confidence than my noble friend in the judgment of constituents.
I am lucky enough to have been connected with television almost since its invention. It was 50 years ago that I joined EMI on a graduate apprenticeship and found myself designing the first television sets put on the market in 1936. Later, I joined the BBC Television outside broadcasts department, which was great fun. It was suggested—I believe rightly—that it should possibly he the OBs, on a drive-in basis, which should undertake the experiment here. They are very different people but just as enthusiastic, I am sure, as when I started many years ago. That experience is my excuse for taking part in the debate.
I wish to underline that Britain started the first public television service in the world. We have had our debates. We have havered. We have wavered. What is sad is that we still have not—I hope that tonight we shall—made up our minds to go ahead. We have always in this House taken a more forward-looking view. It would be nice to have the House of Commons with us, as my noble friend who opened this debate with such a masterly speech, remarked, but I do not think that we should any longer wait on them. We should go ahead with the experiment and see how it goes. No doubt the other place would study the results as well and we should both gain from the experience.
Democracy as a whole is under attack, as we have seen from what happened yesterday as regards the Brent Council, as reported in our papers today. Parliamentary democracy is also under attack. There are those who take a cynical view, but ill-informed mockery does not do us any good. Let us give the nation a chance to see what goes on in this House and (if they will come with us) what goes on in another place.
Television is the most dominant medium for information, instruction and entertainment. It is far more dominant than our newspapers today, and I cannot help feeling that it is wholly wrong that Parliament should be the one place—with the possible exception of the law courts—which is not televised and where democracy is not shown to be working. People do not understand what this House contributes to the parliamentary scene.
While we have been arguing, discussing, debating and sometimes winning or losing by a single vote, the rest of the world has gone quietly ahead. Why cannot we trust our people like the rest of the democratic world? Even those who are not for democracy, like the USSR, televise their parliament. The Commonwealth has been a little slow. Perhaps it has inherited that slowness from us. Australia, which pioneered the sound broadcasting of its Parliament in the 1930s—50 years ago—has not accepted television. Canada has had an edited edition since 1977, which it does very successfully, and I believe that it is reasonably popular and well conducted. New Zealand has no television. As someone said earlier, the United States Congress is very thoroughly televised.
In fact, I think that at the last official count there were 24 countries which televise their Parliaments; the Inter-Parliamentary Union said in 1978 that there were 22 such countries. Let us consider Western Europe. France has live and edited television on a very 1235 regular basis. West Germany has had recorded television for 30 years, and live television for 20 years. Italy has live and recorded television for five or 10 minutes at a time, every day. The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden all have it, and yet we are told that we cannot have it or should not have it. I cannot help feeling that it is wrong for us to stand back any longer and I hope very much that, if a vote takes place later, the Motion which my noble friend has put down will be widely supported.
As I said earlier, editing plays an important part. Many of the countries that I have quoted have edited versions of their Parliaments. Who does the editing? I am sure that we can trust the broadcasting authorities to have general supervision and to set a high standard. A parliamentary committee will be needed, which should perhaps sketch and mark out the court in which the game is to be played and lay down certain basic rules, as my noble friend suggested in his opening speech. It must also be borne in mind that the IBA supervises programmes and tries to ensure that they honour the balance which each programme company tries to keep. However, the BBC is judge and jury in its own case and I think that it carries out the task rather less well than the IBA. So perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt; perhaps there ought to be more careful supervision of the BBC's balance of programmes, particularly in their current affairs programme.
I still think that we shall perhaps need a parliamentary committee of some sort just to act as a supervisory body. Someone has to adjust the rules. Someone has to ensure that everything is going all right, while leaving the editorial content and the choice of what is televised to the individual companies. If televising were to take place in both Houses, I hope that a joint committee would be set up, or perhaps separate committees with a common secretariat, because I feel that the more connections we have with another place the better for both of us. But, if not, then perhaps we should set up our own committee to watch over this experiment and, if it becomes permanent, to supervise the rules and the balance of the programmes.
I sincerely hope that the Commons will join in. I have no doubt that, if they do so, 85 per cent. of parliamentary televising will still be about the Commons, but we should get 15 per cent. and that would be very worth while, because people would begin to understand what we do, what we stand for, and the way in which we conduct our business. As I said earlier, Britain was the first nation to start a public service. Is it to be the last of the advanced nations to start the televising of its Parliament? I hope not, and I hope that tonight's vote will ensure that we go ahead with this experiment. I am confident that it will lead to the general televising of Parliament.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I am sorry that I missed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil. As a journalist, I have heard him on many occasions, and he has often given me anguished delight—delight at his style of utterance, and anguish at the arguments that he has advanced. Thank God that today we are not debating a party subject and I am able to agree with almost every word that the noble Lord. Lord Orr-Ewing, has spoken!
1236 In the light of what this House has become, with its enormous development of informed talent, and in the light of the role that television now plays in the life of the nation. I have come to the conclusion that we have no moral right to keep cameras out of this Chamber. Now we have an opportunity of letting everyone into our public gallery, just as everyone can see a cup final or a coronation. Our deliberations, too, are a national event. We do not own this Chamber; we are the custodians of its fabric and its traditions, but we do not own it. It is the people out there who pay the expenses and the salaries, and who pay for the maintenance of this Chamber. Of course, when we are televised the audience for our deliberations will be limited, but that is unimportant. What matters is that the nation has the chance of watching us, or watching something else. What matters is that the nation has the right of choice.
I was rather astonished to hear my noble friend Lord Strauss say that people can find out from the newspapers what is going on in this Chamber. I was equally appalled to hear the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, say that people could read Hansard, or the newspapers, or listen to the radio. Let us take the example of a young housewife whose family newspaper is the Daily Mirror, or the Sun. She will find very little about Parliament in those papers. When is she to listen—8.40 in the morning when she is getting the children off to school, or 11.30 in the evening, at the end of a busy day?
Newspapers no longer give a high priority to parliamentary debates. The Times has maintained the traditional page; the Daily Telegraph, which reports with enormous skill, nevertheless has cut down the amount that it gives to Parliament; my own paper, the Guardian, almost neglects the reporting of Parliament and always seems to feel that, if it reports our debates, it might offend its radical readers who long for the day of our abolition. Yesterday we had in our Chamber a notable and very remarkable debate, which was informative, frightening and inspiring. This is the one assembly where the Church and Chapel, the law, and the politicians, can engage in a moral argument. The Times gave the debate justice. The Daily Telegraph did very clever, newsworthy coverage. I say that because if there is anything that is news, it is the juxtaposition of three things: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, the police, and young blacks, and so the Telegraph concentrated entirely on Lord Scarman's speech and on nobody else's. As far as I could see, the Guardian a paper which is very concerned with race relations—and which had a good piece about it elsewhere—did not give anything to the debate.
To newspapers words are no longer of news value if they are just words. What matters is the political struggle, the contest for power, and recording of decisions which are about power. Since this House has very little power, it is not very newsworthy.
In the papers yesterday the most newsworthy event in regard to this House was that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was on crutches. The only way in which members of the public could follow the proceedings of our House in any detail would be by subscribing to Hansard, which is for a very small—and affluent—minority.
1237 There are many forms which reports of this House might take, from "Tonight in Parliament" to a kind of documentary based on a major debate, such as we had yesterday; or, given new technical developments, there could some day be a continuous and complete reporting of both Houses of Parliament.
I hope that tonight this House will accede to the proposition. I hope that, after consultations with another place and with the broadcasting authorities, the broadcasting committee will recommend some experiments which will lead to permanent arrangements. I do not think that we ought to be engaged in a race with the other House to be first before the cameras. I hope that we can reach an accord with them. On the other hand, if they are totally opposed to televising the proceedings, and are opposed to it for all time, I do not see why they should exercise a kind of psychic moral veto over this House on the question of television.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say that he did not mention the possibility of video cassettes of debates.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I think that against the video nasties we would be one of the video niceties. If there is a permanent record of what goes on in this Chamber, I think that it should be quite possible for someone to make a kind of feature film out of various debates in this House.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, as the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, said, the arguments have been pretty well put by now. However, I think that one ought to examine the arguments that have been put to see how they fit in with one's instinct on this matter. The one part of the debate—and I think that I have heard it all—that disturbs me a little is the suggestion made from one or two quarters that one can separate the two Houses; that it may be difficult in another place but we would come out of it all right.
We are talking about the effect that the televising of the proceedings will have on Parliament. We cannot separate the Houses. We are part of Parliament. Without this House, it is not Parliament as Parliament has been built up; and without the other place, it is not Parliament. Therefore, we cannot argue in isolation as to whether it would have a good or bad effect on this particular Chamber.
The other point that disturbs me a little—and I think that my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing emphasised it—is what is said in the Motion—that we are only asking for an "experimental period". We have had our experiment. I remember vividly the previous debates which eventually resulted in sound broadcasting being accepted. The whole argument then was that we will not have television at this stage but we will have an experimental period of sound broadcasting. So the experiment has been in existence for some time.
I wonder how many of my noble friends think that Parliament as a whole has been enhanced as a consequence of the experiment of sound broadcasting? I should have thought that the effect it has had on the status of Members of Parliament and on the status of 1238 edicts that we send out from this House, with all the power of the legislature behind it, has been that, as a consequence, Parliament has been weakened. I believe that we ought to approach the thinking on this subject, particularly now that it is at the formal Motion stage, by asking ourselves how it will affect our parliamentary system as a whole. Although we talk about nuclear bombs, unemployment and social needs, what we really should he concerned about at the minute is whether the parliamentary system itself will survive, with all the freedoms that we hold so dear. Therefore, while there is that possible doubt, we must not allow anything to happen that would weaken the parliamentary system.
Again, my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing listed a number of countries that allow television broadcasting of their Parliament's proceedings. He suggested that because they allow it, we automatically ought to follow, otherwise we are being old hat and are falling behind. He said that we invented television, but do not use it in our Parliament, whereas other countries do so. Six of the countries on the list he quoted have one-chamber Governments. Will we follow that lead? That would mean that the abolition of the House of Lords would fit into their pattern. Six of the countries he quoted are republics. Does that mean that our monarchy system, which has proved itself so pliable and so sensible, is to be altered? I do not think the fact that other countries televise their parliamentary proceedings has anything to do with what we ought to do. Their parliaments are quite different from ours. In our Parliament we have the ultimate and the full power. My noble friend referred to presidents and special presidential powers; but to some extent they weaken the ultimate powers of their parliaments. So our Parliament is much more important to us because of that ultimate power than the parliaments of any other countries.
I ask myself: if we allow the television cameras in, will it do good or will it do harm? I do not think that it will do any good, because all of the good that has been quoted that could come from it—for instance, letting people know what is happening and giving them a clear understanding of what goes on in Parliament—is already being undertaken. I do not add to the criticisms that both Houses of Parliament receive from the press. I do not criticise the help that Parliament receives from radio broadcasts. We cannot rule out the fact that at the minute television plays a great part in explaining to the people what goes on. Quite a lot of television coverage reflects what goes on in this place. The only difference that the cameras would make is that people would see the lips moving when the arguments were being adduced. That is the only difference. The actual arguments would be the same, unless they were altered because of the siren-like appeal that the cameras have by causing people not to be normal any more. I defy any noble Lord to think that he can be as objective and as free when he knows that he is having his photograph taken as when he is not. It makes a difference to the general psyche and to the general way in which to present the argument. I believe that to allow the cameras into this House and the other place at this time would interfere with the general value of the contributions that would be made.
1239 I also believe that it would weaken the respect that the people of this country have for their Parliament. That is very important. Invariably Parliament brings restriction and pain to people. Nothing very pleasant usually flows out of Parliament. It restricts someone from doing something or causes extra pain because of imposing extra taxes. If you ask people to expect restrictions and pain, they must have a great deal of respect for those who impose it and from whom they are prepared to accept it.
I have been interested in Parliament and politics for many years. My claim to having a view at all is the fact that I became a parliamentary candidate in 1938 and a Member of Parliament in 1950. My first official contact with politics dates back to 1934. With 50 years of reasonable contact behind me and having fought 15 elections—12 of them parliamentary—I have pretty good contact with the people which enables me to have an instinct as to how they might react.
We have had the radio reports direct from Parliament, with all the bear garden approach that seems to come over the air. As regards our supposed benefiting because we have come over rather better, it is not that we have made any great positive contribution, it merely means that perhaps we have been a little better, or less worse, than the other place. King Midas was asked to adjudicate between two flautists for a great prize. It was said that he heard the first, and gave the prize to the other one without listening to him. That is the only advantage that we have had. It is a relative one.
In my experience over recent years, I have seen the status of Members of Parliament go down. When I first became a candidate in 1938, my recollection of the status of Members of Parliament in terms of people being prepared to accept the edicts which came from them is that it was higher than it is today. I believe that that loss of respect, that lowering of status, which is vital if we are to have ordered government, is mainly due to the extra projection which has not concentrated upon the words. It is our words, what we say, the words that we produce in legislation that are important, not how we look.
I cannot make myself believe that either in your Lordships' House or in another place our pictures will enhance our status. It is the words we speak and the legislation we produce which will do that, and because I think our status would he injured I hope that we shall not give instructions to the committee to make any preparations for any further experiments in that direction.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, surely the importance of this Motion transcends personal preferences, or twinges of political camera-phobia, to which some of your Lordships have adverted. It reaches out into the realms of the public domain. For your Lordships' House is a vital component part of' the machinery of overt constitutional government. Yet beyond those Brass Gates, few know of our doings. Our order of debate, our conduct of business, are wrapped in the mists of the miasma of ignorance.
It is not to the point to criticise the extant system of newspaper reporting, radio programmes, or television 1240 coverage. Why? It is because those instruments of dissemination, even if improved, even if perfected. could never afford a substitute for the proposal of this Motion—live TV of some of our proceedings. For, if seeing is believing, what is not seen live on TV is not so easily believed today. Why should there be any loss of respect? This is a concept that is wholly not understood.
How else shall these mists of ignorance be dispelled? How else may we refute the case which questions the value of this very institution? If we do not take the initiative, who else shall take it for us? The situation in your Lordships' House is not the same as that in another place. Arguments about the want of wisdom of television in another place are surely hardly to the point.
In the other place, the media coverage is adequate—some complain that it is more than adequate. Elected representatives keep in touch with constituents, and so far as I am aware no Member of the other place has as yet suggested the abolition of the other place. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, my noble friend Lord Beloff, and other noble Lords who think likewise, surely what action is taken in another place is a matter for the other place. We control our procedures. We do not have to move in step. We have often led the way in the past, and if it seems sensible for us to do so on this occasion, why should we not do so again?
Implementation of the principle of this Motion envisages not only the difficult questions of selection and balance but those of who is to decide such questions. My noble friend Lord Windlesham assumes that such questions shall lie within the exclusive province of the TV companies. "For", he says, "we could not make such decisions for ourselves". Perhaps—and I defer to his experience—broadly speaking, that might be right, but in practice would not your Lordships prefer the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that a joint committee should be set up so that this shall not lie within the exclusive province of the TV companies, but within their province while we shall have some say? In my respectful submission, the concept of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing is commendable.
These means of implementation—call it anything you like—are really not before us today. When brought before your Lordships' House by the Sound Broadcasting Committee they will not doubt warrant careful scrutiny. Perhaps before the report is laid it is premature to raise objections in advance. As yet, is it not fair to suggest that the objections so far raised are illusory rather than real?
To conclude, it is surely wide of the mark to consider whether, the parliamentary system will survive. It could not crumble at the touch of a camera. It is surely wide of the mark to suggest that the Motion serves as a distractionfrom our proper business. That could be put right irrespective of a camera if it is wrong, and I am in no position to suggest that it is. There is no question of entitlement. It is a question of advantage. Should we not support a Motion which envisages review at the end of an experimental period? Should we not seize the advantage, for a great principle of importance is at stake within the public domain. An innovative step, a timely reform, is proposed. This 1241 surely warrants massive support in any Division tonight.
§ Baroness Gaitskell
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he agrees that surely we should not be so cautious? We should not be so afraid? We have nothing to be afraid of when we speak in this Chamber, and in what we have to speak about. The more we stand up for ourselves the better it is, and the better it will be. I do not understand people who are afraid of being televised at this time. It is bound to come. We may as well be ready for it.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell—and I am extremely indebted to her—echoes with far greater eloquence than I could ever hope to muster, my innermost thoughts.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, as I rise to speak in this debate this evening I feel it is one of the issues of the greatest importance to your Lordships' House. It seems to me that the issue lies in how the BBC propose to display and keep safe with the public the reputation we at present enjoy. That is one of the most important issues which face us.
I listened with interest to what my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing said about our inability to do what other Parliaments in other parts of the world do; that is, televise their proceedings. I listened to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, who said that we had no right to keep television cameras out of the House. That is not the predominant issue in the debate. I shall say some harsh words about the BBC and this proposal that we should be televised and also some words in praise of the corporation. I propose to deal with the words of praise first.
For their televised broadcasts of Parliament the BBC deserve the highest praise. They are past masters in the picture they display of our great inheritance, accompanied by the people who give an account of what they are seeing. This evening many will say that when they have seen broadcasts of this House, "It was wonderful. I had never thought it would be like that". These are expressions I have heard about the programmes that the BBC are televising at present. The BBC are particularly adept at portraying national events. The wedding of the Prince and Princess of Wales was an example of televised broadcasts in which they excel. Other examples are the overseas broadcasts which are absolutely first class and listened to by millions of people.
I remember many years ago being 12,000 miles away from this country out in the jungle when King George V came to Westminster Hall to receive the loyal greetings of both Houses of Parliament. At that time we were listening to the cheering crowds which met him and the Queen and the speech he made at the end of it. I was standing next to a young Malay who said to me, "Having heard the King speak has made me want to do something better with my own life". Such incidents reinforce my argument about the great contribution the BBC has made to our national life and inheritance.
I have heard some arguments in the debate that because of the technological advance television broadcasting can be better, but it is 15 years since we 1242 had the last debate on this subject. Great advances have been made and they justify our having television in your Lordships' House. The arguments continue: we cannot stand still. We must agree to experiments in the televising of our debates. I regret that in that connection I cannot agree.
What is to be decided tonight, which has been touched on by other speakers, is what the public shall see. The BBC have great power: they are a law unto themselves in many things which they do, and nobody can deny that. They can cut parts of the tape to be televised and can re-edit. How will the selection be made of that part of our proceedings to be televised? Is all this to be left in the hands of the cameraman operating his camera or will an officer of the BBC be behind him to give him advice? None of these decisions is in the hands of your Lordships. If the power were in your hands the stock answer from the BBC, if there were interference with anything that they wanted to televise, would be that your Lordships were imposing a censorship.
Above all, I should like to know from those noble Lords who advocate the televising of proceedings—apart from the civilised way in which we deal with each other and our proceedings—what precautions they suggest should be taken to ensure that the difficulties which I have suggested might arise are dealt with? I maintain that the BBC's complaints commission set up as a forum where issues may be taken is a farce as it works at present. Have we advanced in our principles during the last few years? When these have been attacked, as they have so often on BBC broadcasts and television. have those principles not been very difficult to return to, and have those people who have attacked those principles in our public life been able to suggest any replacement? I suggest that they have not been able to do so.
§ Lord Howard of Henderskelfe
My Lords, I rise to make a factual correction. What was described as the BBC's complaints commission is a programme complaints commission appointed by Government and nothing whatsoever to do with the BBC, except in so far as the BBC has to answer it and to publish the results of the adjudications.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord if I have given the wrong picture of that. but if a person had a complaint he would complain to the BBC. The complaint would go to the BBC, who would answer the complaint. That would return to the complainant and another complaint would follow. That is a very laborious way of dealing with the issue and was never satisfactory in its outcome.
I have nothing further to say on this subject. This is a vital issue in the debate. I have great praise for some of the things which the BBC do. If they are allowed to proceed as they do at present without any safeguards in the way that television broadcasts are transmitted to the public, there is a great danger that we might rue the day and regret the decision to give them this power.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, I have listened carefully to almost every speech since we started at about quarter past three. Having listened to those speeches I have read and re-read the Motion. Many noble Lords 1243 seem to have assumed that the Motion is seeking an experiment in televising the proceedings in this House. It is not doing anything of the sort. It reminds us that we have had the experiment and is instructing us to get on with the job as we had the experiment some 16 years ago.
The experiment was in my time—just. I remember it taking place as many other noble Lords must. I should like to make it absolutely clear that if we are considering yet another experiment, with outside broadcast units being wheeled in for that specific purpose on that occasion, a number of noble Lords will feel that it was not worthwhile. We should take into account what the House has already decided that there should be televising of this House, but the method should be watched over for an experimental period.
In doing that, I personally would be saddened if we were to go it alone without the House of Commons, but that may be necessary if they do not go along with us at the same time. I say "saddened" because many of us in this Chamber have been in another place and we understand that on occasions it is noisy. This has been referred to on some occasions as oral violence but, if one looks and thinks back a little and looks at some of the prints of a hundred years ago, there, too, one sees the Members of the House of Commons with fists raised and mouths wide open. the only difference being that they wore top hats in those days. I do not like it; I did not like it when I was part of it. But it is part of our Parliament. That is why I feel that, although it may have some bad effect, it is better to cover the whole Parliament than this Chamber only. But, if we cannot have that, I am quite prepared to go along with covering only this Chamber.
The Motion before us requires that we should refer the whole question to the Sound Broadcasting Committee. My noble friend and ally in front of me will, I hope, not think that I am disagreeing with him when I say that I doubt if that is the right body. The Sound Broadcasting Committee has a great deal of experience in the sound broadcasting of both Houses. I think it would be much better for a new—a Select Committee if you wish—joint committee of both Houses to be set up to look at the whole question. I suggest that the Government might be prepared to do that quickly and look at both Houses at the same time, because, from my understanding of the position, the House of Commons are now nearly in the position of deciding that they, too, should like televising of their own House.
There will be technical problems for the committee to look at, whether it be the Sound Broadcasting Committee or whether it be a new Select Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, mentioned to us the problem of manned cameras. If we were finally being televised outside any experimental period, we should not have manned cameras, we would have unmanned cameras with a console outside the Chamber somewhere controlling their movement. This is the sort of thing that is done. It is extremely expensive and would take some time to fit. One cannot buy that sort of camera off the shelf. Another problem that the committee will have to look at is the question of time. I know that some Members have suggested that almost 1244 the whole of our proceedings should be covered. That is really nonsense. One would not get an audience for a full coverage of Parliament, so it must be the interesting parts of our procedure which are covered—for example, Question Time.
There would be difficulties about Question Time, but it would have great appeal. Perhaps it would have to have sub-titles running underneath explaining what the Question is about: because the words that we utter when we ask a Question convey nothing. Or perhaps there could be a commentator explaining exactly what happens. I feel also that the committee might have a look at the whole question of editorship. It is not going to be an easy one. I have been chairman of the IBA and I know some of the problems. But, in view of what was said in the last speech—and the noble Lord, Lord Howard, joined in and mentioned it—if any Member who had been televised felt that he has been badly quoted, wrongly quoted, or that there was an infringement of the Act, he should have available to him the full services of the Inquiry Committee, which is doing an excellent job. It is called the Commission of Inquiry; it belongs neither to the BBC nor the IBA, and it is chaired by that distinguished Member of this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Pike. Anyone who felt that he had been personally misquoted would first of all complain to the broadcasting authorities themselves, but there would be redress.
These problems would have to be looked at and the final thing that would have to be looked at would be the question of cost. It would be costly. I am quite sure that neither the BBC nor the IBA nor cable television, when it comes, could possibly afford to cover the whole cost of it. The Government will have to face up to the fact that there will necessarily be some cost. On the other hand, with video taping, there would be some income to the broadcasting authorities arising, provided that that was in the agreement.
I do not intend to go any further except to say that my colleagues on this side of the alliance, although it is a free vote and they will vote as they wish, would, I think, generally prefer to see this House televised; but that, if the other House came along with us, it would be a better proposition. Perhaps I may say that I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Soames, that nothing should be hidden. It should be, to quote Cromwell, as he did, "Warts and all".
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for enabling us this evening again to discuss the question of televising the House. I must say that I agree with many previous speakers that, though we are not a democratically elected body, and we are the secondary body of the Legislature, the public have a right to know what we are doing. For very many years Hansard has provided that record and, for the public in an era of increasingly better ways of communication, more than that is now required.
As we have been reminded, since 1978 our proceedings have been sound recorded, and edited extracts from those recordings have been broadcast. I may say that I welcomed that decision of the House at that time, as I had already for five years seen the effect of the broadcasting of Question Time at the Greater 1245 London Council. That was certainly beneficial there, as it enabled people to realise what a great city authority was doing for our metropolis.
I could not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soames, when he said that the question of this House being abolished was one of the major issues at the last general election. I do not see the question of the televising of this House as an issue related to the question of House of Lords reform. The question before us tonight is the question of public access. As I have said, that access was initially granted by admitting the public to the Galleries, then through Hansard, and then through radio. Now it is proposed to grant access through television.
Logically, it should be a complete record on cable. Indeed, the cable channel operators will have 32 channels to play with. Four of the channels are already spoken for, and so they will have 28 to fill up. I should have thought that it would not be difficult for them to find a channel or two to devote exclusively to the televising of Parliament. I understand, following a discussion this morning with some people involved with cable, that one of the problems that cable operators will find will be to produce sufficient British products to achieve a suitable balance in their total network; and it is felt that to be able continuously to televise via cable both Houses of Parliament would enable their British quota to be considerably enhanced.
In this regard I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that he need have no fear of children being forced to watch Question Time in the Houses of Parliament, since I am also told that it is quite possible for people subscribing to a cable system to say that they do not wish to receive a particular channel. Therefore, they can say that they do not wish to receive the parliamentary channel.
As I see it, the major problem that faces us with the televising of Parliament is whether we should provide under our own control a television recording of what happens in the Chamber, with the media able to use from it such extracts as they wish, adding their own commentary; or whether the media should have total control with guidelines. What has concerned some Peers is that, in their recordings, the television cameras might pick up not only individual speakers, but also the personal foibles of Peers in the line of the camera. Indeed, from viewing the experimental film made in 1968, it is clear that this is a real problem and that the camera should concentrate specifically either on individual speakers or on long shots of the House as a whole.
This brings me on to the whole problem of who edits and how the editing is to be carried out. Undoubtedly, if complete programmes were made in this House, there would be a danger of censorship and also a danger that the programmes would be very boring. On the whole, I think that the present arrangements for the broadcasting of Parliament have worked well; but they have caused problems and have given rise to frequent complaints. My position as Opposition Chief Whip means that those complaints about broadcasts come to me fairly frequently. They are usually of the nature that the proceedings in this House have been neglected in one or other of the programmes.
1246 This problem was highlighted last Thursday, a week ago today, when we had a debate on the NGA dispute. I gather that the debate was reported very fairly in "Today in Parliament" last Thursday evening, but the following morning there was a very distorted report which gave the impression that this House was truculent and unruly. This was achieved by running various episodes next to each other and it did not give a true impression at all. Indeed, I would go further and say that a consequential statement arising from that was not reported at all. Having said that, I must agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, that eventually it is the media who will have to decide what is and what is not to be broadcast.
We have had some debate this evening on the technical aspects of broadcasting and we have all been grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, for his expertise in this area, and for informing us of the problems of an experiment. I was equally grateful to learn—as indeed one already knew—that some of the problems of the past, such as hot lights and obtrusive cameras, can now be overcome.
The right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Chichester, was concerned with the problem of Peers playing to the camera. I do not think that this is a great problem, though I suppose that somebody investigating the average length of sittings of this House, and finding that over the past 15 years it has increased considerably, might say that that was a result of the proceedings of the House being broadcast. But others might think that there were other reasons for that.
This problem was also raised in a robust maiden speech, on which I must congratulate him, by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, who doubted whether Parliament and television were good for each other. All I can say is that I am no longer conscious—and I do not think other noble Lords are conscious—of the Sound Broadcasting Box situated above the Clock in the House. Furthermore, I do not think we are any longer conscious of those in the Public Gallery—although I may add that if my wife is in the Public Gallery I am concious of the fact.
When the noble Viscount replies, I hope that he will be able to confirm that if this Motion is passed tonight it will in no way bind this House to proceed with the televising of the proceedings, with or without an experiment, before the other place comes to a decision to proceed with a proposal or with an experiment. I do not think that we should be in the position of bouncing the other place into a decision to televise by taking an irrevocable decision ourselves tonight.
As I see it, the Sound Broadcasting Committee could come up with proposals for an experiment and could also indicate when, and in what circumstances, that experiment should take place. They could suggest a similar experiment in another place—which would indeed be presumptuous of the committee—or a period of time before any long-term decision is taken, to enable attempts to be made to get an agreement with another place. This is a question of moving step in step with another place and it is a matter that has been raised by a number of speakers. Some noble Lords have suggested that it should be ignored, but it is something of which we much must take account.
1247 I tend—rather unusually—to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, who said that we are talking about the televising of Parliament as a whole. But I must also agree with my noble friend Lord Shackleton, who put it in a rather different way when he said that it is not possible for this House to be televised in the long-term, without the other place being televised as well. I fancy that those two noble Lords might find themselves on different sides in the Division Lobbies this evening.
We must remember that, however much we are devoted to our work here, we are a revising Chamber and we are not the primary Chamber of Parliament. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to clarify this point. Indeed, just before I rose to speak the noble Lord. Lord Aylestone, gave a rather different interpretation from what my interpretation had been of the Motion before us this evening. Therefore, it is important that we should get clarification. Finally, my noble friends will be voting one way or the other on this issue, according to how their minds have been swayed in the debate this evening, or how they might be swayed by the final words of the noble Viscount.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I think it will be agreed that we have had a very remarkable debate. We have had very nearly 30 speakers. In fact, unless I spoil it by going on for too long now, we shall have had 30 speakers in about 4¼ hours. I think that your Lordships will agree that this has been a very remarkable example, and it is one that might he followed on some other occasions, though to say that might be tempting fate too far.
Perhaps I may start by congratulating my very old and noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil on his maiden speech. He and I were colleagues in another place for a very long time, so it is a great pleasure for me to be able to congratulate him here tonight. He knows that I do not agree at all with anything that he said in his maiden speech. But, equally, I have to admit that he put forward all the arguments which I have to answer to my own satisfaction in coming to my own view. That, after all, is the importance of the debate, and I very much congratulate him on putting his views so clearly.
I think that I should just answer the point made by several noble Lords, which was underlined just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, about how we proceed and how our relations will look with another place. I hope I made it clear in my first intervention that I foresaw difficulties, both practical and political, in one House proceeding ahead of the other. That was deliberately done and, after the debate, I still feel that that problem remains. After all, many of those who have spoken have experience in both Houses. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, a predecessor of mine in this office, probably faced the same problem with his colleagues when the question was raised previously. We are both anxious on this score.
The noble lord, Lord Aylestone, said that he would be prepared to go it alone. Nevertheless, he would, he said, dislike having to go it alone, and it would be much better if it were possible for both Houses to act 1248 together. I learned much from his considerable experience when I became Opposition Chief Whip in another place. He had previously been Chief Whip for many years and was Leader of the House when I was Opposition Chief Whip. I agree profoundly with the noble Lord about that. The answer I must give to all noble Lords who have raised the point is that, as I understand it, if this Motion is passed by your Lordships' House tonight, the question will be remitted to the Sound Broadcasting Committee to devise a basis on which they should come back to this House, and to your Lordships, as to how we should proceed with the experiment. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, described it as a cautious Motion. The noble Baroness is correct: it is cautious. When we reach that stage we shall be in a position to consider how and in what way we should proceed.
It is also true that the period of time during which the matter would be discussed by the Sound Broadcasting Committee would enable another place to take their discussions further. It would be possible for more discussions to take place with my colleagues in the Government. We should then be better equipped to see what might be the attitude of another place. I said at the beginning of our debate that I believed it would be unfortunate if another place thought we were determined at all costs to go ahead without giving them time to consider it and if another place felt that in some way we were seeking to "bounce" them. Unlike my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls and other speakers, I want the whole of the proceedings of Parliament to be televised. I want the proceedings in the House of Commons to be televised. I have always wanted their proceedings to be televised and I shall give some of the reasons why I believe that they should be televised. If I did not, I am not sure that I should want one House to go it alone, but in the circumstances I have to say that I do want those proceedings to be televised.
On that basis, perhaps I may mention some of the points which noble Lords have made. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, spoke of the last experiment when the sports debate was televised. Yesterday afternoon I watched a recording of that debate. I agree with the noble Lord: I thought that it was very good. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, with his many years of experience, said that television was the best exposer of information. I am sure he is right. The noble Lord also said that we must not engage in a public relations exercise. He is right about that, too. The noble Lord said, too, that it made it slightly easier to deal with the considerable problems of editing, a problem which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and others have mentioned. Those problems are perhaps more difficult than he imagines, and will cause us difficulty both in the Sound Broadcasting Committee and afterwards.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, said that the public had a right to be given a clear picture of what is going on. I have considerable sympathy for his point of view. My noble friend Lord Selkirk raised some powerful arguments against the televising of proceedings. As one who has great respect for my noble friend and his knowledge of this House and of public life, again I have to answer to my own satisfaction some of the powerful points which he 1249 made. The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Henderskelfe, gave us the benefit of his very considerable technical knowledge after his long time as a governor and chairman of the BBC. He gave us a clear picture of some of the problems which we shall have to face in the Sound Broadcasting Committee and some of the problems which, if televising is to go forward, I shall, if I can, have to square at some stage with my colleagues and with the Treasury. However, we shall have to see how we get on.
The noble Lord, Lord Strauss, made a very powerful speech, as he did in the past. During our long careers in the other place I sometimes agreed with him. I do not agree with him tonight but I have great respect for the views he has put forward. My noble friend Lord Windlesham, who has considerable knowledge of these matters, pointed out that in the past the House of Lords had led the way. It led the way over the press gallery between 1831 and 1835. It is possible for us to lead, and I say to my noble friend and to your Lordships generally that, if we decide to pass this Motion, we may well be leading again. It is the speed at which we are able to lead which is important. We have to get another place to decide that they believe it will be worth while. But in itself it would be an act of leadership and, some would think, an act of leadership which is somewhat overdue.
The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, said that he was in favour of the televising of our proceedings but he said that he disliked television performers. I understand his point of view. Sometimes I dislike them, too. My noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine spoke of his experience of the French experiment and said that the cameras do not necessarily act as a magnet. He is probably correct. My noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton made a very powerful speech against the Motion. I disagree with one point that he made. As a great exponent of the written word he is right in saying that it is extremely powerful, but it is only powerful for those who are prepared to read it, and even the writings of the noble Lord may not reach quite so wide an audience as either he or many of us should like. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, pointed out very clearly that a great many people do not read the written word and, if they do read the written word in the press, have considerable difficulty in divining much of what is going on in Parliament. What I might describe as our popular newspapers use their space for other matters which they believe are of greater interest to members of the public—and perhaps they are.
It is equally true that some of the popular newspapers rely on reports from very amusing sketch writers about what goes on in Parliament. It could be said that I am one of those who has suffered considerably from sketch writers over the years. I should not be fair to myself if I said that I thought they were always fair. Sometimes they are fair, but sometimes they have a touch of prejudice about them so far as certain individuals are concerned.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is in favour of the experiment. However, she is worried about selective quotation. So am I. We all suffer from that. The monitoring committee which she mentioned might be the answer. I was surprised by what my noble friend Lord Beloff, for whom I have great respect, said. He said that he was against the televising of the 1250 proceedings in another place. I understand his view, but I question whether sound radio is necessarily the best example of what might happen if the proceedings were televised. The situation might be very different. I believe that television rather than sound radio would be much better for another place. I shall come back to that point in a moment.
My noble friend praised the party conferences. The televising of party conferences is one of the reasons why I have become increasingly certain that the televising of Parliamentary proceedings would be a good idea. I was surprised that my noble friend took the opposite view while supporting the televising of Party conferences. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, who has considerable knowledge of television over a very long period of time, said that he felt that television was likely to improve behaviour in another place. I do not believe he would suggest that it needs to he improved here. I, too, believe that it would. My view is founded on my belief, after the considerable period of time during which I sought to represent a constituency in another place, that my constituents would not have enjoyed seeing me partaking in some of the activities which sometimes happen there. However, my old constituents, country people in the North of England, might take a different view. Nevertheless, I suspect that constituents would still have the last word on the matter and I do not believe that they would like much of the behaviour that they would see.
My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls does not want the proceedings to be televised and he made his position very clear. Far be it from me to argue with him. He has had considerably more experience of fighting elections and winning them by narrow margins than anyone in this country.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
But he won more than he lost, my Lords. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway believes it to be the machinery of overt constitutional government and feels that we should go forward with the experiment. My noble friend Lord Gridley is against it. He has reservations about televising proceedings, which perhaps can be answered so far as the activities of the BBC are concerned. However, he has some doubts because of the experience of sound broadcasting. I hope that I have referred, albeit briefly, to most of the many points which your Lordships have raised. Perhaps I may pick up one or two others as I come to give my final views on my own personal position.
The basic reason for my support for the televising of Parliament is a simple one. Television occupies a central role in our national life. If anyone doubts that, let them consider the increase in, and support for, all those sports and other activities of our national life which are televised. They become far more the centre of life than they were before. We also have to remember the many people who become household names through appearances on television programmes. That again shows that television is at the centre of our national life.
1251 If television's central role is accepted, then, in my reasoning, it follows that the nation's Parliament—the centre of our democracy, and admired throughout the world despite all its imperfections—will, in the end, either be televised and retain its central role or become increasingly irrelevant and disregarded, if it continues with its refusal to let the cameras in. I can respect the feelings of the noble Marquess, Lord Tweeddale, and others, but I do not agree with them.
I shall give one other example. It has never escaped my notice that Members of both Houses are far from shy about appearing on television to advance their views. Indeed, we often see, and will continue to see, the absurd situation when Members of both Houses take part in a debate inside Parliament and then rush out immediately afterwards to go over the same ground in a television studio—or even, until the new studios came along, on the green in Parliament Square. I cannot believe that that is a sound way of proceeding.
But as a supporter, I have also had to answer to my own satisfaction the strongly-held objections of those who fear that the cameras will destroy parliamentary debates as we know them. There is, first, the powerful argument that television does not offer just a window through which proceedings are viewed. Rather, by judicious use of the cameras, it can provide its own scene. My answer is, first, that some ground rules would have to be agreed with the producer. I understand the difficulty of doing so, but I understand that ground rules are agreed for many other television occasions—I know they are, and I believe that they should be. Secondly, I do not accept, as I have said, that the introduction of television has in any way damaged party conferences and political meetings at general elections: quite the reverse; it has improved them.
Then there are those who fear that the introduction of television cameras will distort our proceedings in either House of Parliament or even force changes against our will because they would be ridiculed as stuffy and archaic. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, had that feeling in his mind. I recognise the risk, but I do not believe that the viewing public will be scornful. My confidence was reinforced last Sunday when I watched the noble Viscount. Lord Tonypandy, explaining on television the procedures in another place with, if I may say so, great appeal, great dignity, and a considerable sense of humour—which I believe would have appealed to a great many people in the country, and would have done much to translate our proceedings to the general public.
Lastly, I cannot accept the fear of those who believe that instances of unseemly or unruly behaviour by a few will do serious harm to the reputation of Parliament. My experience of 28 years in another place, where such problems arise, is that people who are anxious on those grounds severely underestimate the corporate will of Parliament. It is true that some Members who start by refusing to accept traditional standards—perhaps in any House of Parliament—take longer to tame than others. But on the whole, they are tamed in the end.
For those reasons, I do not believe that television will undermine our parliamentary proceedings. Quite 1252 to the contrary, I personally am convinced that in the years to come the institution of Parliament will gain in understanding and esteem throughout the nation. That is why I am so grateful to my noble friend Lord Soames for introducing this Motion, and why I shall enthusiastically support it in the voting Lobby afterwards.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Soames
My Lords, I am deeply grateful to those of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate, which I believe has been thought to be interesting on all sides of the House. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend the Lord President of the Council and the Leader of the House for the great support he gave to the concept of televising the proceedings of the House. I know it is something he has believed in for a long period of his political life. Indeed, for quite a while he and I have thought as one on this question.
Of the difficulties expressed by noble Lords, I will refer to only one or two. One of them concerned the House of Commons. Here I will refer to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, if I may: that he did not want another experiment for we had already had an experiment. In fact, the experiment of some 15 years ago was an experiment involving closed-circuit television. It was going to lead on to a general experiment but, for reasons that we touched on earlier, it did not develop into that.
If your Lordships' House passes this Motion, it will go to the committee, who will come back after some months of deliberation and report to this House upon the detail and the substance of how this matter should be handled. Many ideas have been fed to them from today's debate about the kind of matters on which this House will be looking to hear from them when they do report.
I should like to think that the committee will report positively and that, after a period of time preparing for it to happen, there will be the period of experimentation which is asked for in the Motion. During that period of experimentation, and in the time before that, I hope that there will be every opportunity for discussion along the usual channels between the two Houses, and for the other place to give what consideration they feel like giving to the matter. It is to be hoped that we might end up with both Houses being televised. I do not know. What I do know is that there will be plenty of time to consider the matter. It will not be the first time that the lead has been given by this House to Parliament as a whole.
If the House approves the Motion, which I earnestly hope it will, a great responsibility will rest on the committee to answer all the questions raised in this debate, and many others besides. We must all wish the committee well. Also, I should not wish to sit down without saying how much I enjoyed the speech of my noble and very great friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. He and I entered the House of Commons at about the same time some 30 years ago or more. I have listened to many of his speeches: they have all been as vigorous as the speech we have heard today—but I have never heard one with which I have disagreed more fundamentally. But he has shown in the way he put his points that we have a very good extra contributor to our debates in this House. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 24.
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Aberdare, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Baker, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Long, V.|
|Banks, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Belstead, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Birk, B.||Marley, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Mishcon, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Morris, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Collison, L.||O'Neill of the Maine, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Onslow, E.|
|David, B.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Denham, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Elles, B.||Portsmouth, Bp.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Reay, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Reigate, L.|
|Ferrier, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Feversham, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Savile, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Shackleton, L. [Teller.]|
|Glanusk, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Soames, L. [Teller.]|
|Hanson, L.||Spens, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hill of Luton, L.||Swann, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Howard of Henderskelfe, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Underhill, L.|
|James of Rusholme, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Kennet. L.||Windlesham, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Beloff, L. [Teller.]||McCluskey, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||Monson, L.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Burton, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L. [Teller.]||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Henley, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Jeger, B.||White, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.