§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) to move the first Motion, may I point out that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak in what will be an interesting, important non-party debate? I again appeal, I hope this time successfully, for reasonably brief speeches. It will help m to secure a balanced debate if hon. Members who are opposed to the Motion will let me know, if they have not already done so.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under Lyne)
I beg to move,
That this House approves for an experimental period the broadcasting of its proceedings on closed circuits.
Hon. Members who have followed the history of this matter will realise that the Motion is almost identical to that moved by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services when he was Leader of the House. On that occasion, the Motion was lost by one vote. That was in November, 1966, almost exactly three years ago.
At that time, there were those right hon. and hon. Members who felt that they had sound reasons for voting against it. However, I think that a lapse of three years is adequate time in which to have had fresh thoughts about the matter and, sincea majority of one is so very small, I think that it is reasonable to bring it up again to see if the judgment of the Househas changed in the intervening period.
The whole discussion stems from the First Report of the Select Committee on Broadcasting, which was set up in 1966. 1618 It advised that a closed circuit experiment be carried out to obtain information which it felt that subsequent full television coverage would require. The Committee hoped that such an experiment, for example, would show us the kind of reaction shots that television cameras would give. In addition, the Committee wanted to clarify the rôle of the commentator and see how the editing would be done. It was concerned about achieving a proper balance between liveliness and informativeness, between Front Bench and back bench contributions to debates, and between the two parties. As a result of the Select Committee's Report, we moved to a decision.
At this point, perhaps I should stress the real and genuine need for experiment. There are those hon. Members who consider that it is only the thin end of the wedge and a means of obtaining television coverage of the proceedings of this House. I maintain that there is a genuine need for experimentation. I am sure that many hon. Members would be against television coverage if it were done in one way but for it if it were done in another.
In its memorandum to the Select Committee, the B.B.C. pointed out:… firm conclusions as to the editorial problems and as to capital equipment, recurrent costs, accommodation and staff requirements, can only be determined after practical experiments.In other words, not only is there a need for experimentation to convince hon. Members that the result would be of advantage to the House, to democracy and to the people; there is also a need for experiment to assess the technical implications which cannot he fully or even moderately assessed without such an experiment.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
The Motion does not make clear whether it is referring to steam radio or television. To which is it referring?
§ Mr. Sheldon
The Motion covers broadcasting. It includes television as well as radio. My remarks at this stage are concerned with television. Subsequently, I will deal with further experiments on radio.
I now turn to my reasons for bringing up this subject again. There has been a lapse of three years since it was 1619 first raised, during which time there has, in my view, been a considerable change of opinion both within and outside this House. On another occasion, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), for whom I have considerable affection and respect, called it an impertinence to bring it up again. However, I feel that after three years not only is there the need to test opinion, but there has been a change in the way that people have come to expect some of the important events of the day appearing on television.
The best examples are the events of this week when television has been on the moon. There is little doubt that whenever people find some interest in being at the place where events are happening, television coverage should be given.
There are obvious exceptions where safeguards concerning privacy and necessary secrecy are involved. But throughout all the changes over the past few years, the dominant one has been that television coverage has extended into areas where it has never been before. For example, matters of deep concern, such as the riots in the United States, have been shown all over the world. We have been inside Buckingham Palace. Television has been wherever the action has been.
There are those who are coming to accept that television represents the basic right of people to see what is happening in the world and, even more important, what is being done in their name. This may be called a new "right", but people have come to accept that wherever something of interest is happening television should be there, unless there are convincing arguments against it.
If I did not know the way that this House worked and the honourable reasons for opposition to the scheme, I should De questioning what was going on and the reasons why hon. Members do not wish to see what they think are honourable proceedings shown on television. I hope to prove that there is a growing body of opinion among hon. Members which accepts the eventual televising of the proceedings in this House as inevitable.
In this context, I draw attention to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in December last 1620 year to the Second International Symposium of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at Geneva, where he said:I think at a later stage there might be experiments in broadcasting live perhaps some of our big occasions, and possibly some of our Question hours…I suggest that if it is inevitable, the longer that we have for the experimental period the greater is the chance that we will get it right. If we accept the inevitability of television coming into this House of Commons, the sooner we start and the more experimentation that we undertake, the greater the chances that we will get it right within the confines of what we in this House would want to show of our own work day by day.
But experimentation in other countries is taking place all the time. In a report on the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting, Charles Wilson, Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, said:Inquiries in 50 countries showed that by 1968 29 already possessed radio stations which transmitted live or recorded broadcasts of Parliamentary debates; and in 21 television performed a similar service.Further on in the report, he stated:…it seemed clear that none of those assemblies which had made up their minds to adopt the new media had any regrets over this decision The fears seemed to be the prerogative of those assemblies which had not yet taken the plunge.This is a fair summing up of general opinion throughout those countries which have taken the plunge.
At the risk of boring the House, I should like to quote more from this Report, because it is important to get this part understood. Continuing his speech to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said:But I imagine we will do all this"—referring to experiments in television—with typically British caution, step by step, and at a speed which more adventurous countries would consider excessively slow.
Mr. Erie S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)
"Not next week."
§ Mr. Sheldon
That is obviously one of those cases where we will not get that kind of reply. I should like to ask how much is excessive caution? If we accept the inevitability of television, then step by step is almost a fast way of expressing what we have done.
1621 We had a debate on this matter three years ago. At that time it was envisaged that it would take a year or two for the experiment to get under way. So we have lost three years already. If this House came to a decision today and implementation were to follow within a year or two, that experimentation could be another year or so, followed possibly by further experimentation, followed by further experimentation on outside circuits into people's homes, and followed by a final decision. I do not know what step by step means, but it seems to be much faster than anything we are likely to find ourselves achieving, even on the most optimistic assumptions. If we accept the inevitability of televising our proceedings at some stage in future, even if the Motion is accepted, then clearly step by step represents a fair view of the maximum speed at which we are likely to proceed.
One of the main purposes of televising this House of Commons is the need to explain to those interested—not everybody is interested, of course—what we do and why we act in the way that we do. There is a body of opinion in this House which considers that an inadequate explanation of what we do would be more dangerous than no explanation at all. This needs to be considered. My view—and I am sure that this is the view of all hon. Members—is that this country is very well served by the House of Commons. As the right hon. and learned. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has said, Parliament is wonderful and unique. I accept this. But we must face the point that if we cannot obtain all information on television—and we cannot get all information about the House of Commons on television—that is not an argument for having less information than is required. I can remember days when we had enormous respect for those institutions about which we read and never saw. But the days when mysteries could be put forward as something in which a large part of the population could believe are past. People today are too well educated and too well informed, and if they find themselves being excluded from something, they have a right to question why that is so.
I appreciate the concern of hon. Members who think that some hon. Members might distort the processes of 1622 Parliament by their actions in this House if television is introduced. They are concerned that some hon. Members might start playing to the cameras, but over the years we have not been short of exhibitionists in this House, and they have been dealt with very effectively by the House itself. The more exposure there is on television, and the more people see just what happens in this House, the more chance there is that such exhibitionists will be seen to be just what they are. If the best way of dealing with them—and most of us have learned that this is true during our period in Parliament—is to deflate them by means of argument and debate, it would not be a bad thing to have that shown on television
The other matter for concern relates to the intimate behaviour of hon. Members in the House. I am thinking of the way in which we sometimes sit here with our feet up, or from time to time adjust our clothing, but we are, after all, only human. After many hours on these benches, we do things which may not be regarded as the height of etiquette in certain quarters, but those are natural and human things to do, and I regard them as desirable facets of human nature. If the House was televised, people might come to accept that Members are human, and that we represent them best because we have some of the qualities which they themselves possess. An understanding of what is right may eventually lead to an acceptance of what is right. I can offer no guarantees, but I think that further experimentation will show what can be achieved in that direction.
My own preference for the televising of the House is a video-tape recording. If such a recording was made of the whole of the day's proceedings, it could be made available to news items, to features such as Yesterday in Parliament, to regional programmes, and even to feature programmes which may be put out from time to time. For example, if there were a programmeon mental health, the producers might think it advisable to take a few shots of a debate which may have taken place fairly recently in the House.
That would be of value in lessening the importance of the editorial function. 1623 I know that some hon. Members consider that to be the greatest danger, that the person in charge of editing the proceedings will have a great deal of power and will be able, by a certain amount of selection, to distort the debate in any direction. If a number of people had access to the video-tape recording, so that the same people would not be responsible for the news items and for the regional programmes, there would be a dissipation of the editorial function, and power would not be concentrated in the hands of a few people. Even with a programme like "Yesterday in Parliament", there would be a number of different editors throughout the week or the month. That would effectively dissipate the power of editors, and we must bear in mind the important proviso that we would not be unaware of what was going on, and that if necessary we could make representations. I am not too concerned about that aspect of the matter.
Coming now to the technicalities, the suggestion now is much the same as it was before, namely, that there should be six cameras—two on each side, one above the Strangers' Gallery, one above the Serjeant at Arms, and a further two highup in the Chamber. The idea for the placing of the cameras does not seem to have altered much.
Lighting was shown to be a bit of a problem, but this is probably where the greatest development has taken place over the past three years. Colour television has now come in, and clearly this needs higher lighting levels than were acceptable for black and white television which, at that stage, the first report said was not a real problem.
Although colour television will require considerably higher lighting levels than monochrome—and we must not burke this—a vast amount of expenditure and effort is going into research on this problem, and we must accept that at the pace at which we are likely to move we shall be overtaken by developments in lighting which could reduce the levels considerably.
My preference is for an experiment in black and white, because, after reading the 1966 debate, it seemed to me that most concern was expressed about the editorial functions, the question of balance, and the way in which the pro- 1624 grammes would be treated. If those are the main sources of concern, black and white television could clear up most of the doubts. An experiment in colour television would, of course, have the added advantage of showing the levels of light intensity that would be required.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
At the time when we drafted that report the miniature Plumbicon cameras, which are hypersensitive, were not ready. They are now in existence, and at any rate for black and white they would mean that no extra lighting would be required.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, Who has done a great deal of work on this matter. I accept that the proceedings could be televised very simply in black and white, but the B.B.C. and I.T.A.are naturally concerned about colour telvision, and this would present further difficulties. So much for the technical side.
I hope that one of the earliest steps will be to carry out the recommendation of the Hansard Society, which said:We see no objection, however, even during the trial period, to the installation of a television screen in Westminster Hall, to which people waiting to get into the public galleries could be admitted, instead of having to wait in St. Stephen's Hall or in a queue outside.I see no reason why that should not be the first step. A large number of people come all the way to London to see how the House works. Very often they have to spend most of their time sitting in St. Stephen's Chamber, or even in the cold outside, and I see no reason why the society's idea should not be adopted as a first step. There is an interest in the House of Commons which we should welcome and encourage, and here at any rate we should at least to some extent be able to satisfy it.
I believe that the closed circuit radio experiment in May, 1968, was successful. It seems to have been carried out with little adverse comment. The Sub-Committee recommended the implementation of sound radio, although the First Report of the subsequent House of Commons Services Committee could not agree on this and left it aside, because—and this is very important—questions of cost entered the argument for the first time. But it called for further consultations on this matter. I must ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House what happened 1625 about those consultations. Have they taken place? They were suggested in December of last year, and I should like to know the outcome of those conversations.
This would be a suitable moment to go into the question of the cost of television. My right hon. Friend the then Leader of the House on 24th November, 1966, said:I will deal, first, with the economic argument, because although it is powerful, it does not need a great deal of discussion. In considering the experiment we cannot disregard its cost, which, by the way, has escalated sharply since the broadcasting authorities first gave their testimony to the Select Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 1612.]My right hon. Friend then reckoned the cost at £150,000, and the only information that I can obtain is that that amount of money, in real terms, probably represents the current cost, with a further 20 per cent. for colour.
The important thing is that the House —and the Government in particular—was prepared to consider spending £150,000 on a television experiment in 1966, so the argument about cost cannot be raised in 1969. In 1966 we were going through the strictest and tightest deflationary period of this Parliament, when we were doing our utmost to defend the £ at $2.80 and there was extreme economic stringency. If the argument about cost was not valid then it cannot possibly be introduced into the argument now, when things are so much better and we see improvements ahead. Bearing in mind, too, that it will take a year or two before the implementation takes effect, we can say that the cost of the experiment is not a matter upon which we should spend too much time.
§ I must obey your injunction for short speeches, Mr. Speaker, and I shall now bring my remarks to a conclusion. There are advantages to television, which has had an enormous impact on the life of this country, and upon people throughout the world, but there are also a number of dangers. One of the most important advantages is that it has made it possible to remove much of the humbug that goes on in our public life, and it has also exposed pretension.
§ There are dangers that we are all fully aware of. Loving this House, we do not want to change it, and it is undoubtedly 1626 the fact that bringing television into the House will involve some change. I am proud of the House and of my membership of it. But this House has nothing to hide. All that we do, day by day, both as Members and as a House, reflects great credit on both. My hope is that this fact can be more fully understood by bringing television into this Chamber.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton,Pavilion)
The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) has done a service to the House in raising this matter again. We have been discussing it now for about 15 years, and the time is coming when we should try to reach a decision. Having said that, however, I want to make it clear that I do not under-rate the importance of the subject. We are really talking about what ought to be the relationship between Parliament and the public between elections.
Down the ages this relationship has varied greatly. In the 17th and 18th centuries the dialogue between the Executive and the Legislature was carried on in, as it were, a closed circuit. Strangers were not allowed in the Galleries, and there was of OFFICIAL REPORT of our proceedings. It was all carried on in the atmosphere of an intimate club. That did not matter very much, because in those days of bad communications, with no national Press and expensive postage, there was little organised public opinion outside London; and the Pamphleteers. The City and the clubs provided as much background of day-to-day public opinion as Parliament needed.
After the Reform Bill, all that changed. We had a large educated middle class. There were railways, and there was cheap postage, and all this produced a national Press which reported the proceedings of the House in detail and carried them to every corner of the land. I have spent some years writing Joseph Chamberlain's biography, and have been amazed, looking at hundreds of copies of newspapers printed at the turn of the century, at the extraordinary detail in which our proceedings were reported. The most humble back bencher could expect to get at least a column in The Times, the Guardian or the Morning Post. There is no doubt either, from reading the letters and diaries of those days, that 1627 members of the Constitutional clubs and Reform clubs throughout the country read and studied and followed parliamentary form in great detail.
There was the most intimate connection between what went on in this House and another place, and the electorate of the day. Admittedly, it was a very small electorate. After the first Reform Bill the electorate in the normal constituency was about 5,000. When my father first stood for the House of Commons the total number of votes cast, with a 70 per cent. poll, was only 9,000. Strangely enough, that was at Wolverhampton. But the point I am trying to make is that there was a very close and intimate link between this House and those who elected it, and it was conducted on a day-to-day basis.
The situation then changed. The electorate expanded, and the rather sober and serious Press of the 19th century was followed by the popular Press of Northcliffe, the Daily Express, and so on. A change also came over the means of communication between Parliament and the electorate. The enlarged electorate was no longer prepared—perhaps in those days it was not sufficiently politically educated—to read our proceedings in any detail. So the mass meeting came into fashion. We tend to forget that until Mr. Gladstone's Midlothian campaign the mass meeting was a very unusual phenomenon. Cobden and Bright had held them once or twice, but they were unusual. It was not until the beginning of the present century that politicians spoke outside their own constituencies and took their views to the people, instead of expecting the people to read in the newspapers what they were saying here. Thus began the mass meeting, with politicians going to the people to report what was happening in Parliament. As a result the dialogue begun in Parliament between different political leaders, developed into a long-range debate with those leaders speaking from different platforms outside the House of Commons —and this was a new kind of dialogue.
This was the dialogue with which we lived until about 1955. Then came television, and in a short time two things happened. Television killed the mass meeting stone dead. It also transformed the character of the Press. The circula- 1628 tion of our great newspapers has not fallen very much, but they report even less of what goes on in Parliament than they did before 1950. Instead, the link between politicians and the people has become the party political broadcast and the panel discussion. The first is a limited operation, with the speakers selected by the party leaderships. The second conforms to no recognised rules of order. Those who take part in it are selected not by you, Mr. Speaker, but by Mr. Day or Mr. Dimbleby.
What has been the result? We are all increasingly aware that the speeches we make here have little or no direct impact on the public. They may have an influence on the Government and they may have some influence on the evolution of our own views within the House, but they seldom have any direct impact on the country at large.
Does this matter? Should we be content to be members of an influential club which can bring pressure to bear on the executive committee of the club? Should we be content to do that, or should we seize the chance which television gives us to re-establish a direct link between the House and the public such as existed between the House and the educated electorate through most of the nineteenth century?
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I do not agree with all that the right hon. Gentleman says about the way that the national newspapers report the House, but does not his local newspaper report his utterances at some length? Does he not find that this is a pretty general operation throughout the country, and that the local weekly newspapers give a great deal of space to their Member's views?
§ Mr. Amery
It is true that the local newspapers report at considerable length what their own Members say, but what used to happen in the earlier period to which I referred was that all hon. Members werefully reported and the educated electorate sitting in the Reform Clubs or Constitutional Clubs in every town followed thewhole parliamentary form and not just that of their own Member: they tried to follow the debate itself.
It is not easy to make up our minds on this question, whether we should be content to exercise pressure on the executive committee of the club or whether we 1629 should try to re-establish a direct link between Parliament and the people. If we adopt the hon. Member's solution, it will inevitably affect the character and, in the long run, the composition of the House. He referred to the tendency to encourage exhibitionists and histrionics. If that is so, it would only be a return to an earlier tradition. No one can say that there was nothing histrionic about Gladstone or Disraeli or Joe Chamberlain or Lloyd George. They would have been thought very curious figures in today's Parliament.
In any case, I would not be inclined to exaggerate the encouragement which television would give to exhibitionists. It isa very searching medium: it is not like a meeting. There is a man and his wife sitting by the fire after supper, looking at the screen, and they are not in the mood to be much impressed by histrionics unless they are pretty good. There has to be some pretty good clowning and pretty relevant interruptions to impress them. Of course it will give and advantage to the smooth talker, the man who is successful on television, but having watched many television programmes, I believe that the man who knows his subject well and can express himself clearly and concisely will come through successfully as well
The hon. Member dealt with the technical difficulties. I do not want to follow him in any detail, but obviously there is the problem of editing, which means selection, and selection is bound from time to time to be unfair. But which of us has not had cause to complain of unfair treatment in the Press at one time or another? There is nothing new about this. We may be treated unfairly by the television editing. but this is part of the rough and tumble of politics which one must accept. Television is not a monopoly. There are two main systems and there will be regional programmes as well.
At any rate we shall have this consolation, that those of us who appear on television programmes will have been called by you, Mr. Speaker, and not by some official of the B.B.C. or I.T.V.
§ Mr. Amery
There will be selection as there is in the Press today. There is editing of speeches, but the speakers are called in the first place by Mr. Speaker.
The Minister of Technology in a speech the other day said that Parliament is less dominant in the affairs of the country than it used to be and that Britain's political future no longer depended on the Palace of Westminster to anything like the same extent that most people thought. He went on to explain that so much of our destiny was now determined at U.N.O. and N.A.T.O. and, it might be later, in the E.E.C.
I see his point, but surely what Britain's governmental spokesmen say or do in U.N.O., N.A.T.O. or ultimately perhaps the E.E.C. are the words and actions of the Executive. What the right hon. Gentleman overlooked was the problem of accountability. After all, the basic principle of our constitution is that we are governed by the Queen in Parliament. That is to say, the Executive are under an obligation to explain themselves to the elected representatives of the people and to carry our support.
The question is whether this dialogue is best conducted in closed circuit or in the full glare of publicity. Are we simply concerned to influence Ministers or should our debates help to mould opinion from day to day? Of course there is danger in innovation, but on balance I think that there is more danger in immobility. Many people think that we are already becoming a kind of Augustan Senate, that we are declining in repute. If so, it is partly because the country does not know what we do and partly—let us admit it in all humility—because we lack the discipline or the stimulus of knowing that what we say really counts. I know many hon. Members on both sides who have often said, "It is not worth making a speech in this debate, even if though I feel strongly, because I will not get reported or have any impact."
This is a very difficult decision, but, on balance, I still take the view which I expressed when we first debated this subject 15 years ago—that we should seize the opportunity to re-establish direct contact between the legislature and the public, and in the process, set limits 1631 to the power of the Executive and restore Parliament to the pre-eminence which it ought to hold in the country and which I am not sure that it holds today.
§ 11.47 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) on the way in which he moved his Motion. I agree with the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) that he has performed a service. The tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech fitted into the main theme of my hon. Friend. I hope that all the speeches in the debate, although they reflect different views, will keep up that high standard.
My hon. Friend referred to a speech which I made at the Inter-Parliamentary Union symposium in Geneva last December. His quotation was exact. In view of my own position and because hon. Members remind me from time to time that, in November, 1966, I voted against the idea of experimental television of our proceedings, may I point out that I have made it plain that I have not closed my mind on this subject, or indeed on any other.
To quote from what I said at Geneva:My position on this question is basically that of a sceptic. I have yet to be convinced of the advantages for the democratic life of my country of broadcasting the proceedings of Parliament. In no way do I underestimate the importance of the matter nor the extent to which parliamentary institutions are under attack, but I need yet to be convinced that these institutions will be strengthened by the broadcasting of their proceedings.My hon. Friend mentioned what I said about future possibilities. I will not weary the House by quoting that speech, but I said that we should approach them in the spirit that I did at Geneva, when I argued that I was both a sceptic and a passionate believer in parliamentary democracy.
We may need caution, but it is right that we should debate the issue today. I make no complaint about that, and I believe that Government should take note of the arguments. I will try to summarise some of the arguments for and against the Motion which I, as Leader 1632 of the House and a spokesman of the Government, see as principal considerations in forming a judgement on this important matter.
The motion before us is in terms of an experiment in broadcasting on closed circuits generally; but, as the House will be aware, we have already conducted an experiment in sound broadcasting on closed circuit in May, 1968, on which we have had a detailed Report from the Broadcasting Sub-Committee of the Services Committee. So far as sound broadcasting is concerned, therefore, the requested experiment has already taken place. The Government will clearly take note of, and about the result of that experiment. But the aspect on which I shall concentrate is essentially whether we should have a similar experiment in television.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion rightly outlined the changing role of the Executive and of Parliament and he stressed the importance of informing the people. No one can complain about his analysis, but it poses tremendous problems for us, and this is the argument that we are having today. The whole issue now before us is self-evidently one of major historic importance. It is in the greate tradition of those controversies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the coverage by the Press of our debates was being considered. Those were the times when this practice was once attacked by the Prime Minister of the day as "A high indignity and a notorious breach of privilege".
§ Mr. Sheldon
Since my right hon. Friend is now leaving the subject of radio broadcasting, will he deal with the Ninth Report of the Broadcasting Sub-Committee of the Services Committee, which advocated a further extension of the experiment on radio broadcasting?
§ Mr. Peart
If my hon. Friend reads paragraph 2 of the First Report of the Services Committee last Session he will see that some members of the Committee were in favour of recommending that the proposed scheme should be adopted, but that the majority were of the opinion that present financial circumstances precluded any recommendation for expenditure on a project which was known to be controversial.
1633 My hon. Friend asked if there had been further consultations since then. The answer is that there have been none. But the Government will consider the views of hon. Members today, and we shall have to decide whether further action should be taken.
These are matters of great interest and of fundamental parliamentary concern. Today there will be speeches and arguments which will cut across party barriers. This is not a party issue.
This debate is no simple confrontation of so-called "progressives" and so-called "reactionaries". On both sides of this question we are equally aware of the need to seek new opportunities for informed participation in the democratic process, for bridging the gap between Government and the governed, and for stimulating renewed interest in our parliamentary proceedings. If we were all satisfied that the public broadcasting of our proceedings would achieve these desirable objects without risk of damage to the conduct of business in this House, then there would be no need for this debate. There are strong arguments for and against, and we must respect each other for our different points of view.
The balance of advantage in this matter is not self-evident. The House is split on this issue, and has been ever since the possibility of televising our proceedings was first raised. Moreover, the gap between the two sides is the more difficult to close because it is fundamentally about questions of judgment which are not subject to proof; it is about the preservation of an approach and an atmosphere which is no less real and important because it cannot be costed; and it is about the long-term effects of new features on well-tried institutions.
I know there are also technical factors involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne has dealt with some of them. I know that we cannot accept glaring lights which distract and disturb Members; that we must ensure that the television cameras must not obtrude; and that we need to be satisfied that the whole conduct of the televising of our proceedings can be done in a way which puts Parliament first—that the effective conduct of our business must 1634 come before the demands of a broadcast. There would also be certain legal difficulties affecting the parliamentary privilege and the law on defamation which would need to be resolved. Incidentally, these are currently the subject of consideration by a Joint Select Committee.
I accept that these are obstacles which, if they cannot be surmounted, might be critical. They were in the minds of many hon. Members when we last debated this matter in November, 1966. I think it is fair to say, however, that with the great ingenuity and technical capacity of our broadcasting organisations, these problems are already much reduced, and doubtless will get steadily less as time passes.
What we then come to is, quite simply, the basic question: will the televising of our proceedings further the cause of parliamentary democracy in this country, or will it not?
The fundamental arguments as to whether televising our proceedings is desirable have not altered in essence since our debate three years ago. For example, I do not think the case for broadcasting has been better or more simply expressed than in the Report to the House of the Committee set up to consider this problem in 1965. It said:It may be that the House suffers by comparison with other public bodies simply because its proceedings are never directly included in news bulletins, which are heard or watched by most people in Britain. The nation's most representative Assembly is thus the most remote from the public: this remoteness could be diminished without loss of dignity".Nor can we improve on the statement by the former right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale of the problem in 1959, when he said:All I am suggesting is that in these days when all the apparatus of mass suggestion is against democratic education we should seriously consider re-establishing intelligent communication between the House of Commons and the electorateas a whole".This is still the nub, as I see it, of the case for television. It rests on the hope that broadcasting, in particular the televising, of our proceedings, would revive what is considered to be a waning interest in parliamentary affairs in this country, and help to restore it to its rightful place as the nation's accepted 1635 forum of debate. It would substitute the real thing for the staged studio confrontations of our political affairs programmes, and by its use of experienced and politically impartial editorial staff, it would produce programmes of sufficient general and educational interest to hold a wide audience and to stimulate amongst the electorate a broader-based and informed interest in parliamentary affairs. This great new medium would thus be brought in to rejuvenate our old institutions,and bring to our relief, in the words of the Sunday Times last week.the therapeutic power of a vital tool of mass communication".To these arguments the sceptics, equally concerned for the good health of our parliamentary institutions, have raised a series of doubts. Some—the less important—are, in a broad sense, technical and I think can in the last analysis be surmounted. Others—the most important—are by their nature imponderables, and would only be completely disproved by the experience of many years. It is impossible to dispel a fear that televising our proceedings would change attitudes in the House, its informality and its intimacy, by any experiment, however well conducted, lasting only a few weeks, or even a few months.
One argument put forward by the opponents of televising our proceedings is that they would not command enough public interest. I do not think this is sustainable. I would agree that a ballby-ball programme—if I may use a sporting term—would be unlikely, except on fairly rare occasions, to have more than a distinctly limited public appeal, and I doubt whether the broadcasting authorities themselves, for various reasons, would welcome this form of programme. But a daily programme skilfully compiled from previously edited recordings, say of a quarter or half an hour's duration, would, I am confident, hold considerable and sustained interest for many viewers. I do not think we are being vain in believing that we could sustain the public's interest at least to this extent.
But, nevertheless, there remain more formidable arguments to be resolved. However highly we regard the objectivity of the broadcasting authorities, there must remain the major issue of whether the problems of balanced selection and 1636 editing to compile such a programme are not so great, and the temptation to treat the proceedings of the House primarily for its entertainment value so insidious as to be virtually insurmountable.
I know it can be argued that these are not new problems—that they are merely the problems which have long faced newspaper editors. But the particular danger of the immediacy of television—the importance of the choice of reaction shots, for example—puts, I think, a great and new responsibility and power into the hands of the producer in presenting a fair and balanced picture of our proceedings. Even assuming, as one can from our knowledge of the broadcasting authorities, their goodwill and great professional expertise, the producer will still be faced with many formidable and complex matters of great editorial delicacy; and, if these problems are not solved, far from television strengthening our democratic institutions, it may serve to undermine them.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question? He has suggested twice in his speech that a good deal of progress has been made since 24th November, 1966, when we last discussed this matter, in overcoming the manifest technical difficulties. Has any progress been made in the matter of the laws of defamation? Can he advise the House how the complete privilege accorded to speakers in this House will be translated to the television screen, and say whether similar protection against defamation will be accorded to the television companies and their associates?
§ Mr. Peart
On the latter matter which is important, as I have said, a Select Committee is looking at it now.
But even if these formidable problems can be overcome to the general satisfaction, as I have said, and an edited programme devised which is at the same time both viewable television and an impartial and balanced picture of our proceedings, there still remains the most important issue of all. What effect will the presence of the cameras have on the proceedings in the House itself? That it would have a considerable effect is, I think, undeniable. No Member here would be likely to be entirely oblivious that his every word and gesture would be recorded, and might be included in a 1637 programme shown to millions. But this, whilst it might damage something of the intimacy of our debates might well have compensating advantages.
There are obvious dangers, and it is right to point them out. There is the risk of Members playing to the cameras; playing to the gallery is not unknown today, and it is already possible for members of the public to watch our proceedings from the Galleries. But there are also benefits. Some of our debates might well be improved by the television cameras being present. This is not a matter on which there could be any certainty. No one can really say with any justified confidence what the long-term effect on our proceedings of television would be. We can only make up our own minds, accepting that those who may differ from us have equally the best interests of Parliament at heart.
Cost is another factor which the House will clearly have to take into account. It has been estimated that a permanent edited daily version of Parliament's proceedings on sound alone would involve capital expenditure of some £160,000 and running costs in the region of £100,000 a year. Any remotely realistic costing for televising our proceedings would obviously have to await a much clearer definition of the nature of the potential programmes. Should the House decide in favour of the Motion, further discussions would, I think, have to take place on this matter with the broadcasting authorities. The House may recall that the cost to public funds of the television experiment in the House of Lords, which extended over a fortnight, was about £18,000.
I have endeavoured to be as objective in this summary as I can. I have spoken today without seeking to influence opinions one way or the other, but merely to draw out what I regard as the principal issues at stake. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the opportunity be has provided for the House to consider this issue. I can promise him and his colleagues that all the views expressed today will be considered carefully and sympathetically by the Government.
§ 12.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)
I am sure that we are all grateful to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) for allowing us this opportunity 1638 to continue the debate that has been going on for the last 15 years. I think that the number of hon. Members who are attending the debate, and in particular the number who wish to take part bears witness to a very great interest in this subject.
When I spoke from this Box in the debate in November, 1966, I stressed that the opinions that I expressed then were my own and not necessarily those of the official Opposition. I speak under the same circumstances today. I must apologise for the fact that I shall not be here to vote at four o'clock as I have a longstanding speaking engagement in my constituency and I have to get the four o'clock train.
I was a member of the Select Committee. I agreed with their recommendations and I would have voted for this Motion had I been here to do so.
On that occasion we debated the proposal for an experiment, but we discussed at the same time, as we are doing today, the merits, the technical possibilities, the costs, the effect on Parliament and a wide range of other considerations as well. These matters have been dealt with also by two House of Commons Select Committees, by the House of Commons Services Committee and in three Reports from the House of Lords Select Committee.
Today, for the sake of brevity, I do not propose to cover all this ground again. I propose simply in this short debate to comment briefly on any additional knowledge that we have gained on the main points at issue since then, either from the House of Lords experiment on television or the House of Commons experiment on radio or from any other new evidence.
The simple basic essential of which we have to be sure, to start with, is that broadcasting of the proceedings in the House will be interesting to the public. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, in another place claimed that they could not possibly have any interest whatever, and several hon. Members in this House voiced the same view. In the last debate I argued that this would be a unique type of broadcasting and in that way would be uniquely interesting. At that time the experts—the Robin Days, Jeremy Isaacs and Barry Heads who were the professionals in this field one and all were sure that interesting programmes would 1639 emerge. I am bound to say that my confidence was somewhat shaken by the House of Lords experiment. It did not follow, judging by that experiment, that because the programme was emitted from a fascinating place, therefore the product would be fascinating. It was, in fact, excruciatingly dull. If this was a sample of how Parliament would be portrayed, one was bound to say that the proposition was a loser.
One had then to consider "Why is this so?". Was it the subject? The subject was sport, which is quite an interesting topic. But the public in general have sport presented to them in many more exciting ways than that. Were the speakers sufficiently expert? They appeared all to be ex-Internationals or ex-Blues. Some of them seemed a little worse for wear, but nevertheless they could not be called ignoramuses. Whatever conclusions can be drawn, the most obvious was that a full television report would be intolerable. I do not think that any of us consider this a possibility. We all know that editing is essential. The lesson we can learn is that the editing on some occasions will have to be very severe unless the subject is inherently interesting. Something like a Cup Final is inherently interesting, even though the football might be poor. Equally a dramatic occasion in this House, like the Budget debate, is the sort of occasion on which there could be a full broadcast.
We come to the thorny question of editing, highlighted by the Leader of the House, the art of cutting out the dull and irrelevant and presenting the interesting and informative. The House of Lords experiment illustrated the need for this editing, although no one doubted that it had to be done. However, it shed no light on how it should be done or who should do it. On that occasion we had the experts from the B.B.C. and I.T.V. but they could not be expected to make bricks without straw.
That reinforces my view that in the end we will return to the Select Committee's suggestion; a television Hansard will have to be available to the T.V. networks for them to use to best advantage. From this would be extracted material for daily and weekly reports, news reports, educational reports and so 1640 on. Only thus could television's assets, its immediacy and flexibility and regional possibilities be exploited.
Many hon. Members would hesitate to plunge so deeply, certainly to begin with. It may be that we will have to approach this in stages. In the end I believe that we will come to this. In 20 years hence we will be astonished at our present reservations. I have no fear that the editing and choice of material will be irresponsible or biased. By now the television networks have had a great deal of experience of current affairs programmes. Their record is by and large good, and I do not have the slightest reason to think that this record will not be maintained in dealing with Parliamentary broadcasts.
It is only by the full availability of material that we shall overcome the dilemma posed by the Secretary of State for Social Services in the last debate. He pointed out that if all that was presented to the public was a daily half-hour programme; a "Today in Parliament" type programme, then only 2 per cent. of all the material recorded would be used. Only with wider use can this wastage be avoided. He suggested an alternative of covering only selected debates. This is the conclusion reached by the House of Lords—what one might called the "drive-in" system. This is possibly a suitable start for an experiment or even for the real thing, to ensure initial success. I should be disappointed if it was our final conclusion.
The other important aspect on which we hoped for some guidance from the House of Lords experiment is the impact of the cameras on the House. All the noble Lords agreed that the cameras did not affect the performance, if one can so call it that, of their Lordships in debate. This confirms our experience of broadcasting of party conferences as only a small proportion of what takes place will be broadcast, only the key speaker talking on a key subject. will know for certain that he will appear on the screen.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) in the last debate, to illustrate that cameras were bound to have a bad effect, pointed out the effect that they had at a public meeting, how for instance violence tends to begin once it is known that the cameras are on. I do not think this is 1641 the correct analogy. This is an occasion when it is known that the cameras are on; but it will not be known here. We need not worry about the physical presence of cameras. We all know now, certainly as long as it is monochrome, that the lighting will not be over-severe and the Plumbicon cameras will be almost invisible.
A radio is the only experiment that we have had actually experienced, we should have something to say about that. When that experiment was taking place it did not create great interest in this House. We did not find Members crowding to listen to the sample programmes. Since then the Services Committee has produced its report and the decision was that things should be put off a little longer. My own view was that it was much less interesting than I expected, and I believe that in the years to come it will be television which will have the greatest significance.
In conclusion, I must, with Robin Day, marvel at and deplore the snail's pace at which the case for broadcasting has progressed over the years. By now, every scrap of relevant evidence has been taken; more than enough Select Committees have reported; the broadcasting organisations have loaned us the services of their most distinguished professionals to help in our studies. Once again today, no progress will be made, whichever way we vote, because nothing will be done until after the next election. I hope that the next Parliament will not delay in finally establishing this important link between Parliament and the people.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
If one wanted to be convinced about this one would rely on the admirable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). I thought it one of the most persuasive speeches I have ever heard on this subject. We then had a very powerful speech by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), whom we are glad to see back, making speeches of this character. They were followed by the Leader of the House who reminded me of the provincial mayor who swore during his year of office to take a straight line between partiality and impartiality. He was followed by the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan). I thought that 1642 he was beating a grand retreat from the speech he made on the previous occasion. I followed him with care, and he seems to have dotted all the "i's" and crossed all the "t's" and gone through all the small print.
I have always been obsessed with the matter of privilege in broadcasting. If cameras were allowed to linger on an hon. Member in an indecorous position, he would have an action for libel. It would be just the same as pulling a sentence out of context in a speech. That is a view for which I have some authority. I do not want to pre-erupt the report of the Select Committee, but the difficulty will have to be faced, and the broadcasting authorities will need to be in possession of full information about what they are taking on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne mentioned video-tape, and there are many dangers in that. There is no escape from privilege unless there is a continuous performance of the House during the whole procedure, so that a producer is able to assure the right balance. In the matter of privilege we are moving from the spoken word to the image.
I want in the major part of my speech to deal with the view taken of Parliament by people outside. Mr. Auberon Waugh, a literary name, said this in an article in last Sunday's News of the World:
There is the smell of death about Parliament these days.… Parliament has given up trying to influence the public and has now moved to the defensive. We see it when they refuse television in the House of Commons, knowing full well that the public would be appalled by the mixture of exhibitionism and mediocrity which only a few can witness nowadays.… If the Tories had the slightest idea of how to be an Opposition party,…He was speaking there in the context of the boundaries debate—… they would have raised such a scream that the Speaker would have had to suspend the sitting and the world would have learnt what was going on.In effect, the answer is to exchange mediocrity for hooliganism.
§ Mr. Pannell
I will give way in a moment. I want to affirm that I think that we are probably a better Parliament than any Parliament there has ever 1643 been before. Only the politically illiterate would suggest otherwise. I will give the proof. We are not only a better Parliament than ever before but a more literate Parliament. More people want to speak and to speak intelligently. There are not just the half dozen fashionable gladiators of a hundred years ago. That can be checked by going into the Library and reading the number of people who wish to speak in any Session. In my teens I wanted to come into the House, 30 years later I came in and, after 21 years in the House, I am not disappointed with it.
The stupid things that the Evelyn Waughs have said were said also by greater literary figures—[HON. MEMBERS: "Auberon Waugh."] I am sorry, Auberon Waugh, I would not insult his father.
In 1661 Pepys was speaking ofthe most prophane, swearing fellows that even he heard in his life.Hazlitt, who was probably the greatest essayist in the English language, speaking about the years 1812 or 1813, presumably the great days, said this:It may appear at first sight that here are a number of persons got together, pierced out from the whole nation who can speak at all times upon all subjects … but the fact is they only repeat the same things over and over on the same subjects.…Read over the old debates. They are mutatis mutandis as those of yesterday.…You serve an apprenticeship to a want of originality, to a suspension of thought and feeling. You are in a go-cart of prejudices, in a regularly constructed machine of pretexts and precedents…there is a House of Commons jargon that must be used by everyone…. you are hemmed in, stifled, pinioned pressed to death… Talk of mobs! Is there any body of people that has this character in a more consummate degree than the House of Commons?
§ Mr. Pannell
If Auberon Waugh had written that last Sunday his feelings would have been rather better expressed. Of course, Hazlitt was in the Press Gallery at the time.
Charles Dickens was in the House from 1831 to 1836, and he always referred to it as—The great dust heap of Westminster.1644 Carlyle deplored the sight of Members—sitting in their hats and talking to one anotherduring speeches. He wanted to know how it was possible to believe, much less to think, that in the Commons was rooted the strength of England and not its weakness.
Hon. Members may think that I have gone too much into the past, but I am trying to show that this is a continuing pattern, and there has never been an eminent literary figure who contemporaneously considered Parliament except with contempt. There is nothing new about it. We are not a degenerating body. People outside the House hold the view that was held of our distinguished predecessors whom we venerate today.
My next quotation is taken from Sir Harold Nicolson's book "King George the Fifth":[After the 1918 election Lloyd George was hampered] by the low intellectual level of the House of Commons which he and Mr. Bonar Law had jointly secured…Mr. J. C. Davidson [now Lord Davidson] communicated to Lord Stamfordham [the King's Secretary] some trenchant observations on the quality of his Unionist colleagues:…The first thing that struck me on entering the House of Commons was the high percentage of hard-headed men, mostly on the make, who fill up the ranks of the Unionist Party. The old-fashioned country gentleman, and even the higher ranks of the learned profession, are scarcely represented at all… I cannot help hoping that the next Parliament will be less full of the modern, and to my mind unscrupulous characters which are to be found in the present House.His Majesty minuted this letter with the words 'A great pity'". In case it is suggested that I am being partial, I commend to the House Viscount Samuel's "Memoirs"—[In 1918] The Government… had no difficulty in securing the return of an overwhelming majority of their nominees. But, as had happened at the 'snap election' of 1900,…That was another Tory majority—… and as was destined to happen again after similar haste in 1931, the House of Commons chosen in such circumstances proved among the least satisfactory of modern times. The historian surveying the last half century can hardly fail to disginguish the Parliaments of 1900–5, 1919–22 and 1931–5 as those which 1645 have rendered least service to the nation. Each lived in a state of confusion, and ended with little achieved.To bring the matter a little more up to date, some years ago I wrote an article in the Statesman in which I made the case, which was followed afterwards by several people, including Lord Butler, that the greatest qualitative intake of the Conservative Party since the Reform Bill was the 1950 intake. I do not want to make hon. Gentlemen blush; I am looking at this purely as a parliamentarian. One had only to look at the people who came in to know that they represented the most complete alteration of the Conservative Party that had ever been known. So they should not necessarily play this place down.
Nothing depresses me more than to hear a Member of Parliament lending his voice to the view that this a squalid place, full of squalid people, meanly paid and meanly esteemed. I get very annoyed about that, because I know full well that where democratic processes go down, they go down when people in a treacherous way reflect on the group in society to which they belong. A wrong done to society can be construed only in the context of the group that considers itself to be wronged. We parliamentarians understand Parliament better than do non-parliamentarians.
In exactly the same way I rather deplored the speech made two or three days ago by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology, in which he said that Parliament loses power to the people. He will be fighting the next General Election and, goodness knows, he had fight enough to get out of the House of Lords. It should be borne in mind that this House is the repository of potential Ministers. It is the power base of Ministers. Any Minister knows that, and he knows what a Minister must do. A Minister must be able to command if not the sympathy, at least the allegiance and respect of the House of Commons.
There are other things we do. I was conscious of this on the death of Hugh Gaitskell, which still oppresses me today. On that occasion, when this party had to choose a new leader I saw it at its best. In that fortnight, when we were choosing his successor, we were all hoping that we were choosing the next 1646 Prime Minister. So it is on the other side now. There is need sometimes for reticence in public life as well as vulgar publicity.
I could go on quoting what has been said in the past but I stop, except to reflect on the fact that £18,000 has been spent to televise the House of Lords. There is a legend, generally held, that the debates in another place are of rather higher quality than ours. These are the learned men. They do not have dragging behind them the people of Leeds, West or Ebbw Vale. Theirs is the distilled wisdom. It is nonsense.
Whenever I go to the other place I shed a tear for the great men of yester-year, and I am reminded of some words of Asquith in "Letters to a Friend." Writing on 30th June, 1925, he said:…I was ocupied yesterday with my budget speech in the House of Lards, with which I was fairly well satisfied, but it is an impossible audience: as Lowe said fifty years ago, it is like 'speaking by torchlight to corpses in a charnel-house'.I will not deal with broad principles. I want to speak about some facets of televising the House of Commons. There are those, like Auberon Waugh, who want to televise the House of Commons, not as a mixture of formality and entertainment but as a mixture of drama and hooliganism.
Comment has already been made on the fact that less is reported on television than in the quality newspapers, but the other day we had a most abrasive speech by the Leader of the Opposition on boundaries. It pleased his own side mightily, but the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) pleased our side as well. As a Member of or a visitor to this House for forty years, that was as good a piece of debating as I have ever seen. The remarkable thing was that The Times played up the Leader of the Opposition and made no mention at all of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale. On its front page I sometimes wonder whether the Press is a channel for or a barrier to information.
That being so, I am rather worried about what the tycoons of television might do. I am glad that you are in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, because I have previously said that if cameras there are to be, those responsible should put a bit 1647 more light on Mr. Speaker's wig and move the Serjeant at Arms' chair about six inches. I left the Ministry of Public Building and Works just about the time when we had that other television display here, with all the cameras and a great glare of lights—and no one to say who had given permission for it.
When a Royal Command Performance is televised the cameras are never turned on the Royal Box. Viewers never see the reaction on the Monarch's face. On the last occasion one could not see that the Duke of Edinburgh did not very much like Tom Jones' singing. As the cameras are never turned that way, viewers never know whether the Monarch frowns or shows mirth or whether She responds at all to the humour on the stage.
Exactly the same thing would have to apply here. The cameras would never have to be turned on you, Mr. Speaker, because to do that would be to destroy the impartiality of the Chair. I am told that Mr. Speaker Fitzroy would swear sotto voce and that he could be heard by backbenchers, who then knew that they had spoken for too long. Speaker Clifton Brown would drum on the side of his chair. I will not say what you do, Mr. Speaker, but I almost see symptoms of it now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne has made a masterly speech this morning. He played an honourable and skilful part in killing the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. It was a mixture of great research, erudition, selection and advocacy. It was really a considerable performance. Everyone who knows anything about this place knows that it was a terrific exercise in gamesmanship. But it would never come over television or, if it had, it would have come on as a filibuster. Only those who are professionals here knew what was going on then.
A trial period would not prove anything. The Leader of the House has said that only 2 per cent. of the output of Parliament would be included in the average programme. I do not think that the intrusion of cameras would do anything good for this House at all. I thought that I had come to the end of my quotations but I must finish with another. It is from St. Matthew: 1648Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them:Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.We have our reward in this place; not only the full power of this Chamber, but in the Committee Rooms and in the comradeship of the table, and so on. Members of Parliament, and Parliament itself, can be over-exposed. It would be far better for it to rest as it is.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
If I may say so with respect, Mr. Speaker, if the cameras were on you now millions would know that you will be hoping that I shall not speak at too great length, and nor I will.
Notwithstanding the historically sound arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) and the very powerful point he made about privilege and about you, Sir, one is conscious of the prevailing wind blowing very strongly in one's face if one rises to oppose the Motion admirably deployed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). I say that even after the speech of the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House described himself as a sceptic. I thought his performance gave scepticism an entirely new meaning. At least we should take note of one important difference between this debate and the one three years ago. The then Leader of the House had a strong predilection in favour of televising Parliament. I read into the speech of the present Leader of the House something quite otherwise. How that will eventually emerge in terms of policy yet remains to be seen.
One has an uneasy sense, in opposing the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne and his Motion, of not propitiating, perhaps even actively displeasing, a very important goddess, and a green-eyed one at that. She is a goddess who has us all, or very nearly all, in her embrace, and not least right hon. and hon. Members in this House.
I would acknowledge at once the moderation of the right hon. Gentleman's approach in his Motion and of the way in which he put it forward. His was the 1649 cautious approach, the most persuasive of all, an approach which seems to carry all the safeguards. "Let us give it a trial." That is the most persuasive argument for the House, as the hon. Gentleman knows quite well.
None the less, I do oppose the Motion and what he said, and for one main reason, the nature of this medium, which, I think, with respect, not everyone seems fully to understand. Those who support the hon. Gentleman and his Motion, and many outside commentators as well, see television as a technique which Parliament could profitably put to its service. I see it in a rather different light. I see television as a technique which will put Parliament to its service. We shall not, as some hope, use television to our advantage or, more important in the Parliamentary sense, to the people's advantage. On the contrary, television will put us to its advantage. I do not say that critically or even jealously. Television is fully entitled to its single-minded approach—and it has a single-minded approach; but we should be aware of it. We need to be aware that all subject matter is ultimately subordinated to its interests, as we shall be subordinated. It is a quite inexorable process from which no institution should be so arrogant or so simple as to believe it will seek and find exemption.
Of course, the lures are very strong. We have heard some today from the hon. Gentleman and also in the admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery). This is a highly intoxicating medium, numbering some Members of Parliament among its alcoholics. Why speak to an empty House when, in theory at least, we could have millions hanging on our lips? The argument is very persuasive. Parliament needs a dusting. What better than to bring the klieg lights in to do the job for us.
They are also—to take up a point made by the right hon. Member the Member for Leeds, West—rather intimidating. It may be said—it is said—that we are frightened of letting the cameras in. That is always very compelling. Indeed, the medium has become so pervasive and so persuasive that it can be argued, and it has been in some editorials, that to exclude the 1650 cameras actually amounts to a denial of democratic rights, and is in itself an affront to parliamentary democracy. From being an open question which Parliament should decide itself, it has become a rhetorical question: how can parliamentary democracy be served unless the cameras are upon it? That was the point which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West made when he quoted my friend Auberon Waugh. So those who take my line, as, perhaps, others will later in the debate, appear to be not only timid but appear to be bad democrats to boot. So the lures are very strong.
Not all hon. and right hon. Members who support the Motion are, however, ready to fall headlong. I admit that. We are going to put this goddess on probation, so to speak, before the final seduction scene. They pin their faith not only on a phased programme as an experiment which, to my mind, will tell us absolutely nothing, but on other precautions which might hedge televising of parliamentary proceedings. in my view these are not worth a damn. I have more sympathy with the whole-hoggers than those right hon. and hon. Members who delude themselves into thinking that we here can or would enjoy some special protection from excesses or abuses. There can, for example, looking ahead, be no lock and key for parliamentary video-tape—no privileged drawer for it. If material culled here is suitable for other purposes—and I can think of some hilarious purposes to which it could be put—it must be made available. Surely it cannot be treated as sacrosanct. We cannot be privileged in this respect. But that is a subsidiary point.
Where I take issue is with those who think that by adding this innovation, this dimension, to Parliament, we shall—
§ Mr. Deedes
The hon. Gentleman is much too honest to suppose that were this material taken away from film, he would shelter behind breach of copyright instead of privilege. He would not. Nor would I.
Where I take issue is with those who think that by adding this new dimension 1651 to Parliament in this way we would enhance its stature. Paradoxically, I think we might—if we remained, and could be sure that we should remain, as we are now; but I find this very difficult to believe.
There is an important difference, often blurred, between Press in that Gallery, and the cameras on that wall. The first, over the years, have not changed our nature much—some P.Q.s for the local Press, perhaps; some speeches for the old folks at home; but not much. This would change us a great deal more; and more, it would tend to change us not in ways we ought to change, but in ways television required us to change. And that is an important difference.
Ten days ago I sat here listening to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) make a speech on what was an immensely creditable parliamentary occasion. He delivered the speech—abrasive, whatever else one may say about its content—he delivered and finished it. That was not an inconsiderable parliamentary feat, and hon. and right hon. Members opposite shared fully in the credit of that occasion. They were indignant at moments, angry at certain words, explosive, yet they heard him right through. That is, in my view, what this place partly is all about. I wondered, as I listened, if that scene would have been exactly the same if the cameras had been on the wall. It is vain to speculate on this. There are the imponderables to which the Leader of the House referred, and some months or years will be needed before we find final answers. One thing is certain in my mind, that it would not have been quite the same.
Of course, we get the strongest assurances from the interests concerned that all will be well—that it will be all right on the night. It seems to me prudent to look very critically at such assurances. In the first place, there are two quite distinct elements we are dealing with in this medium today—producers and executives. The first enjoy, and perhaps rightly, a large measure of autonomy and independent judgment in what they do—except when they offend advertisers; and executives take some pride in the fact that this is so. Well, it may be 1652 that the majority of producers wish Parliament well and parliamentarians well, and will wish to show us in the true light. I wish I believed that to be true. We may be seen by millions, but what the millions see will rest in the hands of very few people. I have my doubts about some of those hands. Bluntly, I do not trust them: I do not trust them in terms of the objectivity which the Leader of the House spoke about. I weigh my words carefully here, but there are many ways in which it is possible in this medium to cheat, and some do cheat. It is very cleverly done. I am not taking the time of the House to illustrate it, but I know how it can be done. It is done and it will be done, I am afraid, in respect of this place.
It will run very well for the trial period on closed circuit, but after that the producers will take over and executives will come to us and say, "We have a problem here. What would you have us do—control it, censor it, interdict?" The public might well say, "Whether this is the real Parliament or not, we prefer it that way". We would then have another dilemma. In fairness, these people do not have, as we have now, an entirely free hand. They must hold and win audiences, and that will be true with Parliament as with anything else. With this technique they are drivers lashed to the wheel of a very powerful craft, the engines of which are not fully in their control. There is only one sin on television today, and that is having them switch over to the other channel.
There is another reason why I take these assurances with a degree of doubt. Parliament may have its frailties. But broadcasting today is hardly robust. The giant is poorly. Hon. Members on both sides have been expressing anxiety about the path to the 1970s. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) has resigned a post over this. I salute him; I agree with him. Yet some hon. Members are cheerfully willing to entrust this rather serious business to the same management criticized in the Motion signed by 50 or 60 hon. Members.
There remains, we all know, a number of things wrong with this place. Some are within our power to remedy, some are not. I doubt very much whether they will be remedied by the cameras.
1653 Some may be aggravated. We are not entering this out of a sense of exhilaration or a desire to show off the strength and quality of this place. If the truth were known we are entering into this much more nearly—and some speeches have reflected this out of a sense of desperation, a belief that this immensely powerful technique will change things for us—for better or worse we do not know; no matter, try it.
That is an unwise approach. If experiment we must with this mood-changing drug, let us start with a mild stimulant. Let us, if we must, give broadcasting in the 1970s a shot in the arm and allow the radio broadcasting authorities to make this little experiment. For the rest, we should not be over-persuaded. For my part, I doubt very much whether this institution here, groping for and perhaps finding slowly its proper rôle for this age, will find a profitable alliance, as junior partner, with this compulsive technique which as yet has no real sense of its role or of its direction.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Bottomley (Middlesbrough, East)
It is a pleasure for me to follow in the debate the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). We both have had experience of being televised in a programme called "Westminster at Work" on B.B.C.2. I urge as many hon. Members as possible to try to watch it to see how it portrays Members of Parliament at work and the impression which it could make on the public. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) on introducing the subject matter of the debate.
Perhaps I can, for personal reasons, comment on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell). He showed by his speech his depth of knowledge and the reading and research in which he engages. This is not often appreciated by my hon. Friends. I have always appreciated it because it was my privilege to work with him from our very early days in public life and, apart from today, I have seldom had cause to disagree with him. However, I cannot share his views on this subject. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under- 1654 Lyne in saying that Parliament's proceedings should be televised.
The public has the right to see its representatives at work. I believe that television is the most truthful and direct medium of communication. However good the newspapers may be—and some are better than others—the reporting must be selective. The public gets what the reporter wishes it to know. To those who feel that we are going too far in televising Parliament, may I say that they might consider—and I commend this to the Leader of the House in particular —the second special Report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration presented to Parliament earlier this year. It could well be the basis upon which an experiment in televising Parliament could be carried out.
As a Select Committee, we paid visits to several towns in England during an inquiry which we conducted into coloured school-leavers. At each of those places, the Press and television showed considerable interest in the work of the Committee. There was no televising of the Committee proceedings, which would have been contrary to the decisions of Parliament, but at Wolver-hampton we found considerable public interest and the Press and television followed us around. There was a good deal of filming and recording of what went on outside the Committee rooms. The local authorities and others concerned agreed that the television cameras and the Press could record and photograph members of the Committee in the course of several informal visits which we made to schools, youth clubs, factories and places of that kind.
However, the members of the Committee and I considered that these arrangements were unsatisfactory, for three reasons. First, the absence of direct film and sound recording of the examination of the witnesses meant that attempts were made to get evidence from them second-hand. The answers then given were not always exactly the same as those given to the Committee and there could remain untested some of the comments made by further questioning unless we specifically called the Committee together.
Secondly, there was the practice of television interviews with witnesses and others immediately after the examination 1655 of witnesses making statements under some pressure or strain, perhaps about the Committee or about the proceedings of the Committee, which could cause a good deal of trouble and possibly a breach of privilege.
Thirdly, the television teams, if diverted from the Committee itself, might do other things which would conflict with the activities of the Committee and make its task more difficult.
Finally, the authorities responsible for the premises where the Committee were meeting might be caused considerable embarrassment and trouble quite unnecessarily. We thought that when the public interest in the subject of an inquiry by Parliament was so great that television was attracted—and where it was not it did not matter—there should be facilities for televising the proceedings. If the television cameras are driven from the Committee room, they go outside to the factories and colleges and other places where, from our experience, they operated both faithfully and well, and the portrayal of our proceedings was adequate and satisfactory. So why object to televising the Committee?
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The right hon. Gentleman has complained that newspaper reporting tended to be selective. If the television authorities were allowed to televise his Committee, how would he prevent them from being selective also?
§ Mr. Bottomley
They could not be selective in the sense that the televising of the section of the proceedings concerned could not be edited. The report of a newspaper could be edited and could appear to be contrary to the proceedings before the Committee as televised at that time.
My belief and that of the Committee, of which I am Chairman, is that when we are sitting away from Westminster, just as members of the Press are able to attend the public proceedings, television and other mediums which are now prohibited from attending should be allowed to come in, too. As a result, we think that the televising of the proceedings of Select Committees outside this House could be tried with success and advantage. If it was done, the public would be able to see the practical 1656 way in which parliamentarians work and their association with wider activities outside this House. That would be to the benefit of Parliament's reputation.
Serving on the Select Committee were 16 hon. Members from both sides of the House expressing different views on the televising of Parliament's proceedings. They agreed unanimously that it would be worth trying an experiment involving the televising of the proceedings of Select Committees meeting outside the House. If 16 hon. Members of varying opinions come to that decision, I find it hard to understand why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has rejected the Select Committee's Report.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson
(The High Peak): I have a qualified sympathy for my right hon. Friend's point, but would not he agree that witnesses who have not before had the experience of appearing on television would find the occasion intimidating, possibly to the point of their being rendered inarticulate?
§ Mr. Bottomley
Such an experience would not be as intimidating as that which occurs at present when they are interviewed on coming out of the Committee room. Before the Committee, witnesses are examined and are able to consider their answers. If the proceedings are not permitted to be televised, the witnesses are interviewed with the aid of television recorders when they go outside. That is when they may be embarrassed and give answers which they may regret later. In view of that, the procedure outlined in the Select Committee's recommendations is best.
I commend it to the House as being the next best thing to the televising of the proceedings in Parliament, and I have great pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend's Motion.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)
I agree with so much of what the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) has said that I am sure he will understand if I prefer to concentrate my remarks more on the arguments of those hon. Members who have spoken against the Motion. In much of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman directed our attention to the possible benefits of televising the proceedings of Select Committees. I hope his words will 1657 be noted and his advice followed, but I hope that he will not mind if I do not follow him.
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) for giving us an opportunity to discuss this matter again and to reconsider our views. A number of his more specific suggestions were extremely interesting and must be explored further. Of special importance was his point about the possibility, indeed the immediate possibility, of relaying our proceedings to some place within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster so that members of the public waiting to get in to the Gallery might watch. I think that that suggestion has met with general approval, and certainly it would not meet with the kinds of objections which have been advanced against the other proposals.
I propose to deal with the matter under three headings: first, the reasons for trying an experiment of this kind, as I see them; secondly, some thoughts on whether it can succeed; and, third, my observations on the objections to trying such an experiment.
As for the reasons for trying to televise or broadcast our proceedings, even the opponents of the proposition agree on the importance of the public being as well informed as possible about the way in which this House conducts itself. If it is possible to add to that by broadcasting by television or radio, or both, clearly it is a good idea.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) made a very powerful and entertaining speech. However, I hope that he will give further thought to what he seemed to imply about those who sometimes criticise this place. I have been known, as have hon. Members in all parts of the House, to make criticisms of the services available to hon. Members, and I have campaigned for certain improvements. I have done it in the belief that this House is a valuable institution. I want to improve it and to increase the opportunities for hon. Members to play a part in it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does not think that we want to undermine this institution and lower its prestige in the eyes of the public. I wish to raise its prestige. Even in my short time here, I have acquired an 1658 immense regard for it, and I should like that regard to be shared by people outside.
I should like them to have a better understanding of how we do our business and how Members conduct themselves. I should like them to see that this place is not always divided into two hostile camps, with hon. Members locked in mortal combat. I should like them to see that hon. Members frequently combine together and that the party system is not quite as divisive as is sometimes suggested. At Question Time, they will see a good deal of synthetic indignation—
§ Dr. Winstanley
However, they will see that Members in all parties are on good terms with one another and that if one finds two groups of hon. Members not speaking to each other, one can almost guarantee that they are members of the same party.
Lessons of this kind could be valuable, and if they could be learned by what we are considering today, it would raise the prestige of this House and not damage it.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that he does not believe that television would alter the good features of this House. How does he relate that observation to his recent comment in an article in The Guardian to the effect that the party conferences have changed out of all recognition since the introduction of television?
§ Dr. Winstanley
I will come to that point. I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I was referring to the prestige of the House. An accurate portrayal of the way in which we conduct ourselves and do cur business presented in such a manner as to increase public understanding of the way in which Parliament works would be good for the prestige of the House. As for the hon. Gentleman's other point about the way in which television could affect the proceedings of the House, that is another matter, and I will come to it shortly.
Is there a demand? Do people want to watch the proceedings of the House? The first evidence that there is a demand is surely the fact that something like two 1659 hours a week on every channel and station is monopolised by programmes emanating from this place. They are not conducted here, but they are about the House. Commentators report what an hon. Member has said, and right hon. and hon. Members rush to the studios to give potted performances of what they have done here. That is clear evidence of the demand. Since there is such a supply of televised second-hand versions of the House, there must be a large demand.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The hon. Gentleman is himself a distinguished television contributor. Will he not draw the contradistinction between the kind of television on political topics that we have now, when certain political performers are selected by the television companies or the B.B.C. to dilate or argue on topics of which they have certain knowledge, and a potted programme—which is all that 2½ per cent. of Parliament's proceedings could be spread over 640 hon. Members, resulting in a mere garbage can?
§ Dr. Winstanley
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. My point is that it would not be a bad thing for the British public to see that, in addition to those who perambulate regularly to the studios to give these "potted versions" to which he has referred, there are many sensible hon. Members who make valuable contributions who do not seem to get heard to the same extent. It would be good for people to see that there are other sensible people who are not invariably selected for these kinds of performances.
§ Dr. Winstanley
I hesitate not to give way to my hon. Friend, but I should like to get on. I do not need any assistance to deal with this point. I will come to other aspects of the argument of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) in a moment.
I am implying that there is already a wealth of television and radio broadcasting about this place. Those in favour of this idea, if the experiment were successful, are merely asking for the 1660 addition of another dimension, so that, instead of saying that the hon. Member for so-and-so said so-and-so, we can actually have him saying it. I refer to the kind of performance that we get on Budget day that goes on interminably with people saying, "The Chancellor is now saying so-and-so and in a moment I think he will say so-and-so. Was that what he said?", and then we have a little debate on it. Surely to have this in actuality would be no great new departure. It would be adding a new dimension and making more effective and accurate something which already happens.
If we try to create programmes in this way, will they be any good? I do not think that they will suddenly go to the top of the pops, or whatever the phrase is. I know that people come here daily, apparently under the mistaken assumption that this is some kind of place of entertainment; but the fact remains that many people come twice or three times and continue to come to listen to the proceedings because they have a special interest.
The idea of transmitting continuously in toto on radio or television the proceedings of this House appals me. This would be an enormous expense. It would consume channels and wavebands which are in short supply, and would serve no purpose beyond producing a large amount of excruciating boredom.
§ Dr. Winstanley
As, indeed, in Tasmania and Australia. I should not like to support such a proposal.
When I ask whether it will do any good, I am thinking in terms of what goes on with an added dimension of actuality. That brings me to the main point of the debate, namely, consideration of the dangers and objections. What harm could it do? What are the pitfalls? Quite properly, points have been raised about editing and so on, and much has been said about possible inconvenience to Members. We have been told that there would be cameras here and there, lights, and so on.
We have talked about the House of Lords experiment. I was interested in the comments of the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) on the House of 1661 Lords experiment. He said that when he saw the programmes he found them very boring. I believe that they were, for a number of reasons. First, a subject was selected which no sensible, rational broadcaster would normally select. I cannot believe that, of all the subjects available here, the B.B.C. or Independent Television would voluntarily go to all the expense involved broadcasting short excerpts from a debate on sport.
Some of the debates in the other place, which have had some relevance and significance to decisions which have been taken, would have been fascinating on television. For example, I listened to almost the whole of the debate in the other place on Commonwealth immigration and the Kenyan-Asians. Seldom have I heard speeches of a higher or a more magnetic quality. I was fascinated, as indeed was the public. It would be of interest if they could hear certain other debates in which the proceedings in the House of Lords had some significance on what might or might not be done. But I cannot believe that an experiment on a sterile debate in which nobody is interested, save those taking part—and I make no criticism of them is valid.
I go further. I think that the experiment was done on the cheap and, because it was done on the cheap, it was done in a way which exaggerated, amplified or underlined the objections and fears which some hon. Members rightly had.
Several hon. Members have said that it will be inconvenient, because there will be cables to be tripped over and hon. Members bobbing up from behind cameras, and so on, which would be an added distraction. I believe that it is possible for the B.B.C. or Independent Television to televise and broadcast the proceedings of this place without intruding on our privacy in any way. They are obliged to do this with cricket matches. They do not come along and say, "We do not want the wickets here. Can they be moved? Can that sight screen go there? Would it not be better if this man fielded here, because we cannot get him in the picture?". They have to take what they can get. They would also have to take what they have got here. Unless they accept what they have got here, without interfering in any way with our proceedings, I should not support the idea. I am in favour of it, 1662 but if they are to do it they must do it in a way which does not obtrude upon our attention and does not inconvenience us in any way. If this were not scientifically possible, I would agree that we should reject the idea. We must not agree to the kind of arrangements which hon. Members feel would be objectionable.
I turn now to editing. This is a professional job. If it is to be done at all, we must accept that there must be some form of selection. We are never happy with the selection that is made. The extent to which criticism of the B.B.C. comes from all parties almost continuously is evidence that it does its job properly. I believe that over the years it has discharged its duty of being fair to all points of view in a highly creditable and responsible way. We should trust the B.B.C. and Independent Television to do it. If hon. Members who have doubts do not trust their ability to do it, there is no point in going on. It is no good having any other kind of procedure. It is no use saying, "We will set up a House of Commons Committee to decide what shall go out or to say, 'The hon. Member for so-and-so was on last week. It is now the turn of the hon. Member for so-and-so.'" That would not work. This is a professional job which must be done by professionals.
From what I have seen and learned of their professional conduct over the years, I am content to leave it to the professionals. If we cannot leave it to them, if we cannot trust them, we are right to say that we will not have it.
I come now to the important objection advanced, and advanced again in a most entertaining speech by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West, about the possible effect on hon. Members. The expression used by the right hon. Gentleman in the debate on 24th November 1966, was that televising our proceedings would bring the place down to the level of a music hall turn. I was interested to see that among the Members who trooped into the Lobby to support this point of view, that this was playing into the hands of the exhibitionists, were the hon. Members for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South, the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), the right hon 1663 Member for Leeds, West and the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck). It is interesting to note that the hon. Members who appear to have this terrible fear about exhibitionism are those whom I have never regarded as being desperately restrained.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
The hon. Gentleman is relating fiction. I have never expressed any fears or apprehensions about exhibitionism in this House or elsewhere, and I never intend to. I intend to go on being true to myself and behave in public and in this House as I have always behaved, and if the electorate do not like it they can vote Labour.
§ Dr. Winstanley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his assistance. I think that it is time I came to a conclusion.
§ Dr. Winstanley
I believe that this has been a valuable occasion. I have listened to some interesting speeches. I enjoyed in particular the speech of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), who I felt showed an extremely mature and responsible approach to the whole situation. I was delighted with the extent of his realisation that things have changed since the early nineteenth century, but I did not wholly accept his argument that there had never been political meetings before the days of Glad-stone's Midlothian campaign. The right hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that public meetings were then conducted by people not in the House but who thought they ought to be here. There were plenty of public meetings, but not of parliamentarians, but I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman's argument which followed from that line of thought.
We have had a valuable argument, and it would have been useful if other people had been able to share it. I do not share the view of those who say that this place has no authority. I think that it has, but its authority stems very much from the public nature of its proceedings. Were we to send the Press home, we might as well send the rest of us home. As a back bencher, I feel that I have certain powers to influence administrative events and to act on behalf of my constituents, but those powers depend on the public 1664 nature of this place. To add a new dimension, to add broadcasting and television to what we have already in the form of the Press, would not undermine the authority of this place, but would reinforce it.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
I shall do my best to speak briefly as we were asked to do, and therefore I shall skim rather hurriedly over one or two points which I should have liked to develop. Although I shall give way to interruptions if necessary, there is a well-known adage that interventions prolong speeches.
My only claim to speak is that I was Chairman of the Select Committee which produced this fairly massive Report.
§ Mr. Driberg
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I wish that hon. Members would look at the Report sometimes when they are considering this matter—I know that some have, and probably some have not —because it contains answers to a good many of the problems which have been raised in this debate. For instance, we dealt with questions of privilege, libel, and so on, and in this respect I cannot see that the difficulties confronting the editors of what has been called the "potted version" would necessarily be any different in principle from the difficulties which confront every newspaper editor every day. They all have to contend with difficulties of libel, privilege, and contempt of court, and though they sometimes come unstuck, they usually manage to cope with these difficulties.
Another point about the Press is that it has been said that the potted version each evening of our proceedings would represent only about 2 per cent. of everything said here. I do not know what is the average percentage in the Press. It is obviously higher in what is called the quality Press, but in the mass circulation Press the percentage of reports of our proceedings is very small indeed. I do not think that that in itself is a fair objection to raise against what we unanimously proposed—and I should like to emphasise that this Select Committee, after a good many meetings, and after interviewing a large number of witnesses, came to the unanimous conclusions which are summarised at the beginning of the Report.
1665 So much has been said about the Press and about selection that I must again point out that the Press, with this very small percentage of space for our proceedings, selects pretty drastically. But there is one respect in which television differs from the Press. Unlike the Press, television is under a statutory obligation to try to be impartial. In a recent debate, it was mentioned that The Times had reported the Leader of the Opposition very fully but had not reported at all my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), who made an outstanding speech. Had television been covering that debate, there would have been extracts from both speeches.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
The hon. Gentleman is drawing analogies between the Press and the broadcasting of this House. He is saying that the Press is selective. The public have a choice of newspapers. There are a number of different newspapers which give different reports. With television there would be two at most.
§ Mr. Driberg
I do not think that that is so. The public have some choice, but they cannot buy a newspaper, either on a weekday or on Sunday, which supports the party represented on this side of the House, which is voted for by about half the population. So there is not true freedom of choice of Press.
Another point is that it is not only what has been called the potted version which might be shown each night. There could be a more expanded survey at weekends, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, of the events of the week in Parliament, in which matters could be treated, still impartially, but at considerably greater length. Then again, if the B.B.C. or I.T.V. were doing a documentary on some important subject, such as housing, the videotape would be available, and there could be extracts from speeches made by Ministers, by shadow Ministers, and by back-benchers on both sides. There are all sorts of reputable purposes to which it could be put which would not damage the prestige of Parliament at all, but would actually enhance it.
I do not think that I need deal with the risk of exhibitionism and playing to the gallery. That presumably came in to some extent when the Press were admitted to this House. I do not think 1666 that there is any greater risk of it now than there was then, and this is one advantage of having an edited version rather than the totally impossible broadcasting of all the proceedings of the House. That would be impossible, for the reasons advanced by various hon. Members, and gone into in some detail in our Report. If there were an obviously exhibitionist Member who was merely playing to the gallery to attract attention to himself and build up his own reputation, I suppose the editor would exercise some discretion in using contributions by him.
§ Mr. Driberg
The Speaker does sometimes call what I might term, without offence, and without identifying any of them, exhibitionists.
§ Mr. Roebuck
My hon. Friend has moved to an examination of how the editing would be done. Is it his view that the editing should be done according to what the editor feels may be interesting to the public in general, or that there ought to be some discretion exercised so that each Member occasionally gets a share of the time available? If that were so, could not the situation arise that an hon. Member who did not turn up at the House for a long time would suddenly ring up the editor and complain that he had not been reported for X period of time, and the next time he rose to make an interesting speech on the Rats and Mice (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill he would get a long piece on it?
§ Mr. Driberg
There probably could not be any guarantee that every hon. Member would get his precise, mathematically calculated share of the time. That would be absurd, and impossible. But if a Member had been away from the House for some time, because, say, he had been in Vietnam observing the war there, and he came back just in time for a debate on Vietnam, I should think that he would have a strong claim for a little time. We cannot guarantee exact mathematical impartiality in that way,any more than the Press can.
§ Dr. Winstanley
Is not the point that the B.B.C., through its charter, and the independent companies, through the Television Act, both have laid upon them a 1667 duty to discharge their functions impartially, with proper regard to balance and the effective representation of minorities? Is not the whole point that they should merely be required to continue on that basis?
§ Mr. Driberg
That is what I have just said, in less eloquent but shorter words than were used by the hon. Member.
The question of entertainment merit, as distinct from information, was examined thoroughly in our interrogation of witnesses from the B.B.C. and I.T.V. They were decent and responsible people, and they convinced us that they could keep a reasonable balance between making the programme lively and interesting on the one hand and seriously informative on the other. Over the years there has been little criticism of "Today in Parliament" or "Yesterday in Parliament" on the grounds of balance. The programme is sometimes a little dull, but then Parliament is sometimes a little dull. It has not been much criticised for being unfairly selective.
What is proposed is only an experiment. It is an important enough subject for the experiment to be conducted carefully —much more so, I think, than the Lords experiment—and for a somewhat longer period. I do not think that we could judge the experiment fairly unless it continued for at least four weeks. Some people have said, "Ah, well, once the cameras get in there they will never come out again." I do not believe that to be so. The decisive vote will be taken after the experiment, when every hon. Member will have had an opportunity of seeing some experimental programmes of every kind, including programmes about Standing Committees—which are a very important part of our work—the potted version, and a somewhat amplified version, perhaps for Sunday afternoons. We shall all have had a chance of seeing the experiment and judging for ourselves, and we can then say "No" to it, if we want to. Nothing will oblige hon. Members to vote for the project after the experimental period.
Indeed, Parliament retains the ultimate authority. If, later on, for some reason that I cannot envisage, it were found that this project was in some way derogatory to Parliament—we have been 1668 given all sorts of assurances about not using the material in a way that would be at all derogatory or that could be considered as ridiculing Parliament; we went carefully into the question of reaction shots and Mr. Speaker's position—we could always put a stop to it at any future time. The ultimate authority rests with us.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he had "yet to be convinced." I believe that those were his actual words. Surely the experiment is the thing which will or will not convince him. Why not try it? There is a little urgency about this matter. It has dragged on to some extent. It is a year since the Sub-Committee of the Services Committee recommended consultations, which are now apparently to take place.
The best time for an experiment is late in January, because the outside broadcast teams of the television authorities are much busier in the summer than in the winter, for obvious reasons. I therefore hope that it may be possible to get on with these consultations with a degree of urgency, so that we may be able to have an experiment at the end of January—if the Motion is carried today.
At the end of this debate I, and no doubt other hon. Members, must go off to television studios to repeat the arguments that we have been uttering here. That seems a little absurd. Strong arguments have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and the views that have been expressed for and against this project will be repeated in the studios tonight. The vogue-words "participation" and "involvement", which mean something, mean also that we want Parliament to be closer to the people whom we profess to represent. I want to bring political debate back from the television studios and to make this House once more the main focus and forum of that debate.
§ 1.36 p.m.
§ Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)
Listening to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), my mind went back to an occasion—the evening of the publication of the Report of the Select Committee over which he presided with such great distinction—when we were antagonists or adversaries, if you prefer that word, Mr. Speaker, in a television 1669 studio, he espousing the unanimous recommendations of the Select Committee and I opposing them. I stand here today continuing to oppose the Motion on the Order Paper because, although I in no way doubt the sincerity of the hon. Member when he assures the House that no experiment in this connection would be irrevocable. I fear that it would be.
I fear that if an experiment were commenced it would never be reversed. It would be as irrevocable as, in another context, was the decision of the Lawrence Committee that the motoring allowances of Members of Parliament should be linked to first-class railway fares, and that they should never be reimbursed on the basis of a reasonable relationship between the actual cost of motoring and the actual journey by motor car—just because some ancient Committee, many years ago, so decided.
A most important point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley). I hope that I may call him my hon. Friend, for we have often found ourselves in agreement on many issues of great moment. I take issue with him in what he had to say about exhibitionism in the House and in public places, including on television screens and on sound broadcasting. It is interesting that when members of my staff were preparing a brief for me on this debate they drew attention to the fact that a certain newspaper had consistently written words, during the last ten years, to this general effect:Of course, if the proceedings of the House of Commons are televised, the principal beneficiary will be the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). His voice is so good, his appearance is so striking, his fluency is so remarkable that he will always commend himself to the television camera. So he will immediately support the televising of House of Commons procedures.So wrote the newspaper gossip columnists.
In fact, as always, these newspaper journalists are absolutely and utterly wrong. I have good and fundamental reasons forbeing not sceptical, as the Leader of the House is, about televising our procedures, but militantly opposed to doing so for the fundamental reasons which I hope to explain. They are in no way associated with exhibitionism. I answer the hon. Member for Cheadle in these terms. It is well known that there are relatively only a few Members 1670 of this House who perform a great deal on television and on sound radio—[An HON. MEMBER: "Perform?"]. Yes, that is the right expression, which I chose carefully—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am glad that the hon. Member agrees with me. Television is a medium of entertainment as well as instruction and of educational and news value. Telecasters and others concerned with the preparation of programmes will invariably, when they ask hon. Members to take part, consider the entertainment value of the Members whom they are inviting. I make no apologies for that. Were I not a Member of Parliament, I might well be a professional comedian—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am sorry that the hon. Member, in case HANSARD missed his interpolation, said to you, Mr. Speaker, "You are". What he should have said is, "The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) is". I respond at once no him by saying that we have televised in Glasgow together, in Norwich together, in London together and we have broadcast in many parts of the country. Probably there is no Member of the Labour Party whom I enjoy opposing more than the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton)—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am glad that he says that.
My reason for enjoying it so much is that he is an unequivocating and dedicated Socialist. I am an unequivocating and dedicated capitalist and Tory—and a Conservative: that is my party label. The television companies and the B.B.C. invite us to oppose one another for one reason alone—because they know that we are first-class entertainment value, the both of us—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am sorry that the hon. Member is such a tender hothouse flower and will not admit his own entertainment value. I am honest and candid 1671 in admitting my entertainment value, but then I have a lot to sell, in this House and elsewhere. Whether it is on television or on sound broadcasting, Parliamentary speeches or filling a public hall in the country, a politician is judged by the attractiveness of what he has to deliver—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me.
This is not a matter of exhibitionism, as the hon. Member for Cheadle described it. He then pointed to me and implied that I succeed in politics only because I am an exhibitionist. On the contrary, I succeed in politics because there is a demand for my services much larger than I am able to fulfil.
§ Dr. Winstanley
My staff has also prepared me a brief. I only wish to make it clear that my point was that it had been argued that giving effect to this proposal would prove a bonanza to the exhibitionists. I merely said that a careful examination of the voting list revealed either that the exhibitionists, or those who are sometimes regarded as such, took a contrary view, or that they otherwise exhibited an extraordinary altruism in their method of voting.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
There is no relationship at all between these two matters. I am not convinced that it is necessary or desirable to bring television cameras to this place. If the hon. Member's argument were true, that the British public desired greater knowledge and information about Parliament and larger reports of parliamentary proceedings, it is perfectly possible to allot greater time on television and sound radio than we enjoy at the present, which is minimal in any event.
I come now to my two fundamental objections. I have been called in this debate, I suppose, in advance of others, because it is known that I am militantly opposed to this Motion, whereas there are, I believe, more hon. Members here now who are supporters of it. My first objection must be in connection with editing. It has not yet been sufficiently powerfully stated that, if we have the present coverage which is accorded by 1672 B.B.C. sound radio to the proceedings of this House, my computation is that 1.8 per cent.—that is, one fifth of one per cent. less than two per cent., but in any event less than 2 per cent.—of our proceedings would find their way into a daily report. Were that the kind of edited report translated to television.
We have "Today in Parliament", which I try to listen to either late at night or in the morning, and, of course, on a usual day it is divided into 10 minutes for the House of Commons and five minutes for another place. If that were continued on a quarter-hour basis on a television screen, it would be about 1.8 per cent. of the proceedings of this House.
§ Mr. Driberg
I think that the hon. Gentleman is under a slight misapprehension. The B.B.C. made it clear to us in their evidence to the Select Committee that they would continue the present "Today in Parliament" or "Yesterday in Parliament" on sound radio in fulfillment of their statutory obligation to do so, and that the television programmes would be over and above that.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am sorry that I have not made myself clear. I am well aware of that. I said that if that amount of time and coverage were translated to a television screen, it would be less than 2 per cent. of our proceedings. That is the case. Of course, if the television programme is to be half an hour—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Very well, then the coverage would be of the order of 5 per cent. instead of 1.8 per cent., but that does not destroy my argument, fundamentally or in principle, at all.
Supposing that I am understating it, and that it were 5 per cent. That means—do let us understand the significance of this—that 95 per cent. would be discarded by television and 5 per cent. portrayed. Would my Worcestershire apples be reported? Of course they would not. Because there are to be no regional programmes—
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am not sure: "Broadcasting in the Seventies" does not say so.I am calling a protest meeting 1673 upstairs on 16th December on behalf of a large number of Tory hon. Members —the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) is calling an equivalent meeting on behalf of a large number of Labour hon. Members—protesting against the elimination of regional broadcasts.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I wish to be brief and I will not give way again.
Whether 1.8 per cent., 3 per cent., 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. of our proceedings actually appear on the screen, overwhelmingly the proceedings of this House will not be portrayed. Only a tiny, minimal amount of our proceedings will find their way into people's homes, and this must always be in our minds.
I would love the cameras to be on me now. [Laughter.] This is not a laughing matter. This is the sort of thing I love doing in public. I would love the cameras to take note of me and of my remarks during a parliamentary sitting, but that would not happen. The cameras would be on the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and on the occasional back bencher who steps out of line. As I am a party bigot who troops through the Lobby in obedience to the party Whip —only occasionally do I step out of line —only fleetingly would the cameras portray my political aberration.
I thank the Leader of the House for graciously giving way to me earlier and I assure him that I will give way to him if, in coming to my second fundamental objection to our proceedings being televised, I misrepresent what he said, for I wish my next remarks to be established for all time.
We in the House of Commons are utterly protected by the law of privilege in everything we say. There can be no argument about that. But once all we say is transmitted to television screens in millions of homes, we cannot be so protected. I am advised by leading members of the profession that it would be impossible to translate parliamentary privilege to give utter and absolute protection against the law of defamation to the proceedings of this House as related and portrayed on television screens.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
I am relating the advice that I have obtained, not through Select Committee channels, and if the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) does his homework he will find enumerable flaws in the processes of Select Committees. Their reports are not bibles. They are not my bibles, anyway.
Another grave deficiency in connection with the law of defamation is that if a speech of mine were abridge as to 98 per cent. so that only 2 per cent. of it were reported, and proceedings were then initiated against me on the basis of that 2 per cent., I would find myself in an extraordinarily difficult position.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
That could happen with an edited version. The hon. Gentleman is not a lawyer. He may be a jolly good joiner, but he knows nothing about the law or the Bar. I am advised that the substantial editing of a parliamentary utterance would, if related on television screens, lead to an action—unless it could be protected by absolute privilege—for defamation in certain circumstances.
I am equally advised that it is absolutely impossible—I use the term advisedly—to translate the law of privilege to television screens when speeches are related from this House through that medium into millions of homes.
Having regard to the practical difficulties—the first of editing and the second of the law of defamation; neither has been adequately dealt with by the Select Committee or adequately debated in the House—I am still greatly opposed to any suggestion that our proceedings should be televised or broadcast.
I cannot imagine anything more likely to bring Parliament into disrepute than to have had the television cameras here this morning. At one stage 16 hon. Members were in the Chamber, showing wide open spaces of green benches—so much so that the great viewing public would have immediately demanded to know why 16 Members could be seen on their television screens while 614 were missing.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to tell Gerald to get on with it, but this is a vitally important 1675 matter to my constituents, if the hon. Gentleman does not think that it is to his.
In a pernicious leading article under the title, "Let the people see", the Sunday Times stated on 16th November:Basking in the exclusive aura of the club, some M.P.'s may imagine that this historic truth needs no contemporary emphasis. Perhaps, as in 1966, fewer than half of them will be found present and voting next Friday. If that proves to be the case, and if a cautious experiment is again deemed intolerable, the Commons will have sadly misjudgd the esteem in which it is held and the therapeutic power of a vital tool of mass communication".I remind the House that 261 hon. Members voted on 24th November, 1966, out of 630. That meant that 369 did not trouble to vote. I will wager this afternoon that 261 hon. Members will not vote and that the turn-out will be substantially less than on the last occasion, thus adding great force to my argument about the wide open spaces of green benches.
We know of the great numbers of hon. Members who go back to their constituencies on Friday afternoons to perform the duties they were elected to do. They wish to be concerned for their constituents both in their constituencies and in the House. Let there be no hypocrisy in the House of Commons about the methods of communication between Parliament and the people, particularly when 16 hon. Members were present during the speech of the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee which investigated the question of broadcasting Parliamentary proceedings.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)
Perhaps not for the first time I find myself in substantial agreement with the substance, if not the form, of the speech of the hon. Member for Wocestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). I shall explain why.
I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) on having given us a further opportunity to debate this subject, but I cannot agree with those who have thought that his arguments were powerful. In my opinion, the arguments in favour of this Motion have been entirely defensive. I have heard no powerful argument in favour of the broadcasting of our proceedings at all. 1676 So far as there are arguments, they are academic and based on illusions. I suggest that the arguments against are practical and based on experience.
Apart from the desire of hon. Members to be "with it", to be carried along, as the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said, with the great machine that television has now become —the feeling that if rape is inevitable one should relax and enjoy it—which appears to be the view of those who are so much in favour of the Motion, there are four arguments put forward in favour of broadcasting our proceedings.
The first argument is that it will enable the public to understand how Parliament works. The second is that it will improve the understanding of political issues. The third is that it will enlarge the area of political discussion—and I think this was the view of the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)—and the fourth argument, presumably, is that it will make Parliament and therefore ourselves more popular.
The opponents of broadcasting are sometimes compared with those backwoodsmen who for long opposed the publication of the proceedings of this House. But the analogy is completely and absolutely false. As the right hon. Member for Pavilion said in an extremely interesting speech, before the illicit publication in the newspapers, chiefly The Times, and then the illicit HANSARD, there were no reports of our debates at all. It is still the case that it is a breach of privilege to publish them, although we do not take account of that any longer.
When these reports began to be published in the 18th and early 19th centuries they were very extensive and they were written for a small and relatively homogeneous reading public among whom Parliament played a more dominant role in the development of our affairs than it does today. A number of people have drawn attention to the other centres of power in our society—mention has already been made of the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology on this matter—and the influence that these other centres of power have and the fact that they had to be fully reported in the Press and on television.
When HANSARD became accepted, and even more so when it became supported 1677 by this House and finally made official, the need for extensive reports in newspapers disappeared. As we all know, in recent years there has been very little direct reporting of our proceedings, although there has been a growing amount of political comment by correspondents. This takes place in the Press, on radio and television. No doubt, that is what the majority of the public want. The newspapers and one of our television channels are commercial undertakings. They sell their services. They work in the market and presumably they know what it is they can sell. Otherwise, they would provide more and more extensive reports.
The argument that the public has a right to know what is going on here is correct, but the right to know what is going on is in no way guaranteed by the Press. But it is guaranteed by HANSARD in which every word that is said in this House has to be reported. I suggest to my hon. Friends who are interested in making the public better informed of the full range of what goes on in this House, that they should encourage a wider sale of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings—thatis to say, HANSARD.
It is quite impossible to follow the debates in this House from reports in the newspapers, even in the so-called quality newspapers, although I am afraid that in their case the Gresham's Law of increasing triviality is beginning to work. No doubt, a lot of what we say is not worth reporting. I also have no doubt that major decisions are not made here. They are frequently made either in Government Departments or in our Committee rooms upstairs, and this applies to both parties. This is perfectly true. Nevertheless, many debates here display a very high quality of knowledge, and I am sure we all have the experience of our constituents who have been in the Gallery expressing surprise at the degree of knowledge of hon. Members and the standard of debates in this Chamber. If these debates do not affect immediate policy—and they rarely do today, I admit—they make up, over a period of time, the political opinion on which, in the longer term, changes in our legislation and in our methods of administration are made.
In the evidence given to the Select Committee on Broadcasting, etc., of Proceedings in the House of Commons, in 1678 1966, there was published the result of a survey of viewers on the proposals to televise Parliament. This survey has been used in support of the argument that Parliament should be televised. I have a good deal of knowledge of surveys and I know that the way questions are put and how they are interpreted is an extremely difficult matter. They must not be taken to mean exactly what they appear to mean. People do not always understand the questions which are put. Certainly they do not understand the full implications.
Nevertheless, let me read three of the comments—not the answers to the specific questions—in reply to the open-ended questions. They appear on page 140 of the report:A very good idea. We can get an impression of the people who are running the country without having it second-hand. We can see it for ourselves and judge it for ourselves.The second comment is:I'd like to listen to the debates at first hand. I'd like to form my own opinions about what is going on.The third comment is:You never seem to have any idea of what is happening. The papers used such terms as Party Whips etc. but people do not know what is meant by those terms or by the other terms used.Do hon. Members really believe that a 15 or 30 minutes edited programme of the proceedings of this House for a whole day, and perhaps a whole night followed by another day, would in any way assist the public to understand what goes on in this House? It is quite impossible that they should understand it. They would get a completely false picture. What is newsworthy is what is instantly exciting, and this will be even more so on television than it is in the newspapers and on the radio. We all know that one of the reasons that the newspapers are becoming more trivial is because they are following television, and for that reason they are becoming less serious organs of public opinion. The suggestion that by this instantly exciting reporting the real quality of a long debate can be purveyed has only to be made for it to be seen to be nonsense.
The matter is even worse—and I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the 1679 Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) is not here at the moment—in Select Committees where the evidence of a professional witness can be distorted by a highly selective report of a tiny fraction of the evidence. I have a good example of that at the present time. Or take another case. A Member may ask a witness an absolutely outrageous question, perhaps implying corruption on the part of the witness or those whom he represents. That will get the headlines at the expense of two hours of serious questions and serious evidence.
Is there any reason to believe that edited broadcast reports, merely because they included a few hon. Members' voices would be any better than the reporting we get in the Press or would be of any more assistance to the public?
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Are we then to draw the deduction that we ought to suppress reports of Parliament in the Press?
§ Mr. Albu
Certainly not. What I am saying is that reports of Parliament in the Press are an absolute waste of time for those who want to know what goes on in the House of Commons, except perhaps for Front Bench speakers. My hon. Friend is on the defensive. He has no argument for the Motion. He is asking me why we should not be in favour of it. I see no argument for it. I think there are many arguments against it, and particularly those arguments which were put forward by the right hon. Member for Ashford. The only way in which there would be an advantage in broadcasting the proceedings of the House would be if they were broadcast continuously in the form of a radio HANSARD. Most hon. Members have said, and I agree, that this is an impossibility. Can two minutes live of a 20 minute speech help the public any more than the present methods of reporting to understand the difficult arguments a Member is trying to put to the House? It is not just that a headline may be false, but the part reported may be something quite irrelevant to the main argument being made. We cannot make a case unless we lead up to our main point by a fairly lengthy introduction. It need not be over long—it could take 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour—but it 1680 is the whole speech which is the argument, not just the conclusion.
If we were just discussing steam radio, I do not think it would make a great deal of difference, but television would accentuate all the worst failings of the present situation. It certainly could not resist the temptation to pick on the amusing, the eccentric and the extrovert. Let us face the realities of Parliamentary life—much of it is routine, even boring. Very little of it is exciting. Much of the debate is highly specialised. Broadcasting live excerpts for a few minutes a day from this mass of material will in no way help the public to a better understanding of the great issues with which we deal or how we deal with them. The nearest they can get, apart from sitting in the Gallery every day, is to read HANSARD regularly. We would be far better employed trying to extend the circulation of HANSARD than proposing this absolutely "phoney" scheme which will not have the effect that its supporters wish.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I do not know whether there are any signallers in the House, but if we were suddenly to send out — .. — .. — — — — — … — — — —., the electorate might quite justifiably wonder what on earth we were trying to say. That Morse signal was one frequently used in World War II, meaning "Report my signal". I have a feeling that the whole of this debate has been turning upon how to read Parliament's signals to the electorate and the electorate wondering what on earth the signals mean.
I started taking an interest in television in 1933. In those days it was the Baird process, a very interesting one involving a light falling on an object and then passing through a spinning, perforated wheel and falling on a photoelectric cell, which then caused modulations in light to be converted into modulations of electrical current, eventually conveyed by wireless waves to the receiving station where precisely the reverse process took place. When the receiving wheel was spinning at exactly the same speed as the sending wheel, then the picture was received. It was not impressive nor was the illumination very bright. We are tending to have our sending wheel spinning at a completely different 1681 speed from the receiving wheel so that the electorate does not know what Parliament is doing. The motivation behind this Motion is primarily to ensure that we get these two wheels in better phase.
I always listen carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). All the anxieties he has expressed are anxieties which I have shared from time to time, and which I still do share, not only about television but also the Press. I agree with those who say that there is a danger that instead of our using a modern method of communications such as television, to the advantage of Parliament and the electorate, there is a risk that those who promote that medium of communication will use Parliament for their own ends. I accept the force of the argument but it is not only television to which it applies. The Press does it too. If there is no particularly important parliamentary news arising out of the subject matter being debated, then if there is a rumpus over some preposterously stupid point of order and certain people say things which perhaps they might later regret, this gets the headlines in a number of newspapers. It has absolutely nothing whatever to do with anything of the slightest importance connected with Parliament.
We are prone to some exploitation, whatever medium of communication we rely upon to get the working of Parliamentary democracy across to the people. I am afraid, like so many other issues which come before us, that whatever we do about this it is bound to be a question of a nicely calculated less or more —between complete rectitude on the one hand and complete enormity on the other. At the moment a case has yet to be made that by televising in one form or another the proceedings of this place we shall do more harm than good.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
May I ask my hon. Friend a question which I put to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg)? Is he aware that the difference between the distortion of reporting in the Press and on television is that there is a wide variety of newspapers, but probably only two television channels?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I am glad that my hon. Friend has repeated that question, because I was proposing to deal 1682 with it. I accept that there is this distinction between the number of newspapers on the one hand and the limited number of television promoters on the other. I see that, because of the dissimiliarity between the numbers, there would automatically be a greater danger of misrepresentation. It comes down to the method employed for television presentation. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) takes the view that the fact that Select Committees of the House go outside, taking evidence in public is a bit too much. At the same time, he has been saying that if we want to educate our people into the workings of democracy it is no good thinking that we could do it with a quarter of an hour on television every day. Does he consider that television does or does not hold out any prospect of assisting in the process of helping the electorate to understand how Parliament works?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
We come back to the nicely calculated less or more. If we get too much television coming into this how are we to advise upon it? It is questionable whether quarter of an hour would be enough. I looked at the Lords experiment and was very interested in it. I thought that easily the best form was the half-hour programme, full edited. Continuous watching was very dreary indeed, not because of the personalities, but somehow there is an atmosphere when one is in the Chamber which is totally lacking which when it is seen on the screen. This would apply to our House just as much as to the other place.
Properly edited programmes by those who know how to edit are something we might try. I do not accept the view of the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) that it would be an irrevocable step—if we were to pass this Motion and have this experiment. It would not necessarily be with us for all time.
It is just worth seeing whether or not, With a full run at Question Time and with debate, we could get an edited 1683 version of, say, half an hour a day, to supplement what is done in "Today in Parliament", one of the most brilliant pieces of editing of Parliamentary proceedings one could wish for. This would give an alternative to the Press and that type of programme.
I heard the running vocal HANSARD experiment and I thought that was dreadful. There is a similar programme in New Zealand, and I am told that most New Zealanders think it is dreadful and yet it goes on. I suppose that the only value of that is to certain groups of the electorate who are interested in particular topics. There is something to be said for that, but heaven forbid that we should ever be condemned to having that system as the only way of conveying what goes on in Parliament to the people. We should all go mad, including the electorate.
On the technical side, a couple of weeks ago the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) and I went on the B.B.C. 2 Programme, "Westminster at Work", and, for the first time, I found myself in front of three automatically controlled cameras, with no cameraman behind them. This was one of the most startling experiences of my life. Talk about "Big Brother" watching you—there were three Big Brothers! I suppose that we shall get used to this, but the technical advance that has been made in television camera design, partly as a result of the American space programme, suggests to me that the hon. Members who are worried about the technical aspects and about being conscious of cameras gazing at them need not worry too much.
The cameras could be concealed so well that we should not think of looking at them, any more than we look at the Public Gallery or the Press Gallery when we are speaking. I only look at the Public Gallery and the Press Gallery when I am looking at the clock. I only wish the clocks were placed in the middle of the side of the Chambers, on either side, rather than at either end so that one would never need to look at the Public Gallery and the Press Gallery. Having done so, I see that I have spoken for quite long enough.
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
I am glad that my hon. Friend 1684 has given us the opportunity of reconsidering the matter on which we took a decision three years ago. At that time I had been a member of the Select Committee, but when there was a change of Government I, who was opposed to the televising of the proceedings of the House, was dropped from the Committee. I do not think that was done with sinister intention. I had the opportunity three years ago of voting against the proposal and, having heard the debate this afternoon, if there is a vote taken I shall repeat that vote.
The main question which has emerged from the debate is whether the televising of Parliament would make Parliament more accessible to the public and thus help it to fulfil its democratic purpose. One consideration which has not been fully explored is the nature of the medium of television. There is always an assumption that the camera cannot lie, but is it true that the television cameras mirror reality? I believe that, so far from mirroring reality the cameras distort it. Cameras can make the phoney look truthful, and the truthful shifty. A camera, far from exploring the real quality of a man, can glamourise him or caricature him. It is significant that, without any political comment, the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) was destroyed by the television cameras, which totally distorted his personality.
One of the arguments for televising not only this Chamber but our Committees is that in the United States the television cameras did a public service in exposing Senator McCarthy. It is perfectly true that, as long as Senator McCarthy was merely the subject of political debate he was able to blackmail and dominate American politics. On the other hand, while television in the United States helped to undermine the Senator by showing his twitching hands in certain famous images, it also revealed the danger of television. If twitching hands or twitching faces were to be the test of dishonesty, how many hon. Members of this House would receive the censure of the television cameras, particularly when waiting to make a contribution to the debate? It is not true that the camera never lies. It can and often does lie, making the beautiful ugly and the plain beautiful.
1685 The key men of television are those who have been spoken of who will determine what should or should not be used on television, the cameramen, the directors and the editors. At the crunch, against parliamentary television is the fact that the pictorial report of Parliament will have to be edited. There would have to be a selection of camera angles, a selection of exerpts, a selection of audience reaction and a selection of highlights in the day's proceedings. In other words, an enormous power would be put into the hands of the editors.
It might be possible to have a television team and editors who would be paragons of personal neutrality, but, once there is selection, there is bound to be preference, that fact cannot be escaped from, and preference involves many criteria which have nothing to do with Parliament as a deliberative assembly. After all, deliberation is our work.
One criterion must surely be the question: Is the programme entertaining? The hon. Member for Worcester, South (Sir G. Nabarro) emphasised the question of entertainment. It could be argued that our function is to ignore entertainment, to be simply ourselves, to argue and to debate, and that it should be left to the public to decide whether or not it is entertaining. But in this matter the public will not be the arbiter. The arbiter ultimately will be the television companies, the magazine programmes, and so on, which accept the programmes. The companies themselves, quite apart from the producers and editors, will have to decide whether it is worth while carrying on with the programme in the neutral and rather sterilised form which some hon. Members have proposed, or whether, because of the number of switch-offs during projection, it is worth persevering with at all.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
The eating of apples in the House has been referred to, but would not a television producer be likely to broadcast items of more value than the eating of apples?
§ Mr. Edelman
The hon. Gentleman is undermining the point which I am about to develop. If entertainment is to be the criterion of whether or not a selection or an excerpt should be made, that is to debase the standard and status 1686 of Parliament. It is not the function of Parliament to entertain. We are not a peep show or a raree show. Our function surely must be to deliberate and to judge. We come to our decisions according to our own esoteric habits assembled in a long history. We make good jokes and bad jokes, we indulge in private contests across the Floor, in dialogues, in mutual abuse, and this has its own quality which is a product of a long conditioning. I think that our debates are none the worse for that. Ultimately, what emerges is serious discussion and serious deliberation.
The High Court of Parliament is more than a talk shop; it is a workshop of legislation, where hon. Members should be turned inwards to their task and not be looking constantly to an audience to see whether they are being approved or disapproved.
There is a practical analogy with the lower courts of law, where most of us would hope never to see television cameras. The real drama of the courtroom is much too poignant to be a subject of entertainment for the public. None of us would approve the idea of seeing the reaction from the judge, or even from witnesses, and least of all from the accused. That is not something which should be projected on television for the entertainment of people lolling back in armchairs.
The main case against television in the courts is that the camera imports a certain physical prejudice, either in favour of or against those who are involved. We ought to consider this question of physical prejudice. During this debate we have heard the comparison drawn between Press reporting and reporting on television. Press reporting deals with the spoken word, and with reasons. Even when the report is truncated, what emerges is something which objectively belongs to what is said and what is argued.
With television we are in a completely different context. A Member of Parliament, even though he be a Solon of wisdom, may have some kind of facial blemish: the television camera would import into the debate something which was completely irrelevant to his argument. A man with a facial tic, however wise he may be, may be at a great disadvantage compared with a handsome 1687 nonenity without a blemish. I remember an hon. Member of an earlier Parliament —he is a Member no longer who had a strong speech impediment—and it was not a stutter. He won great respect for his admirable speeches. But I must say that on television, to those unacquainted with his record and who did not know the contribution he could make, he would have been a figure of fun.
We must ask ourselves: are we going the way of United States politics, where photogenic actors are entrusted with office merely because they are good on television That is a serious question. We have seen in the United States how, simply because people photograph well, they are promptly appointed as candidates, and thereafter they are entrusted with very heavy responsibilities of office.
If it is the case that television is to operate on the basis of selecting those who are most attractive physically, those who are most pleasing in their person, we need not argue that the editors will tend to focus the camera primarily on exhibitionists. Their selection will inevitably be conditioned by what is most pleasing in the image. Our function is not to present images but to present reasons. That is an added argument against the intrusion of television.
In that connection, let us consider what things are most likely to be attractive to the television producer—and perhaps I may say that I have had some small experience of television production. What is attractive is the drama, which can promptly attract an audience; a drawing-room or a living-room audience, perhaps chattering away. In television drama there is nothing more arresting than a milk bottle thrown through a plate-glass window—that is the conversation stopper which draws people from lethargy or indifference.
Is anyone to believe, turning to another scene, that in the representation of Parliament, television producers or companies will be content, day after day, with merely presenting the bread and butter of parliamentary discussion? I do not believe that for a moment. I am quite convinced that after the initial experiment for which my hon. Friend so reasonably asks, once the television companies get the bit between their teeth they will not let it go.
1688 We have seen how the independent television companies have produced prospectuses of the rather splendid public service programmes they will present, and what has happened in the event. Having got the franchise, they lower their standards, they lower their sights, and what they proposed is not what they ultimately deliver.
We can be quite sure that if the television companies got their foot in the door of this Chamber they would be very hard to dislodge. Once they found that the programmes were not attracting audiences, but they saw opportunities of attracting wider audiences by putting a different emphasis on what was exciting and dramatic—in short, the parliamentary punch-up—we can be quite sure that that is where the emphasis would be put, and the whole rather sublime reason put forward would no longer have any validity.
Parliamentary privilege is a most important matter in this discussion. It is not the privilege of the Member of Parliament but of his constituents. It is something which we exercise in order the better to serve our constituents and the country. It is a privilege that we have in order that we may address ourselves to the Executive, and say to the Executive certain things which, owing to the limitations of the law of libel, we cannot say outside. The present state of the law of privilege, which is still under discussion, is one which at least permits us to exercise not only that right but that duty.
If we had television, the statements we made, protected by the law of privilege, would in present circumstances have to be excised from the video-tape. That, in turn, introduces an arbitrary right of selection on the part of editor or producer. Things would have to be cut out quite arbitrarily because in the editor's or the producer's judgment it might infringe the law of privilege—
§ Mr. Michael Foot
Why does my hon. Friend think that in this respect there would be any difference between reporting in the newspapers and reporting on video-tape?
§ Mr. Edelman
Because with the newspapers there is qualified privilege. That means that the newspapers can report things which, on television, would have 1689 a different impact, because that impact would be wider and visual and more direct, and there would be more danger to those concerned in the matter. In any case, even if the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) were correct—and I do not consider that it is correct—would any of us be willing to sustain a situation in which we, under the protection of privilege, could make statements which would go out on television, with all its visual impact, and which would be damaging to the citizen who might find himself perhaps justly aggrieved?
§ Mr. Michael Foot
What about the citizen now? His name may appear in the newspapers all over the country. The Member of Parliament has to take responsibility for saying such things knowing that they will be reported over the length and breadth of the land. So, in that respect, exactly the same principle applies to television.
§ Mr. Edelman
But I make what I consider to be an important distinction between the printed word and the visual impression gained from television. We cannot ignore the fact that here we are dealing with different media, and that these different media have different impacts. It is no use comparing the printed word with the image on the screen, with all the passion that might be imported into a physical image of the person who is making the statement, and say that the one is not more harsh, if I may use the word, than the other. I think that the impact of television is harsh, sometimes, and sometimes cruel, and it is an impact with which we should be concerned.
Limiting myself to the simple question of the privilege of the House, I believe that the exercise of privilege in the way it has been historically exercised is tolerable as long as we are concerned with statements made in the Chamber, and the written word in reports. Once transferred to television, it would become an intolerable infringement of the rights of the individual.
I do not think that parliamentary television would in any degree be an enhancement of the present situation. I do not believe that it would improve our communications with the public. In short, I do not think that it would in any 1690 degree be a democratic reform. I think, on the contrary, that television of Parliament would destroy a large number of democratic defences, and for that reason I hope that this obnoxious proposal will be thrown out.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
With regard to the speech we have just heard by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) I will only say that I think that the hon. Gentleman has understated the case of the Member of Parliament who may be at a disadvantage for photogenic reasons. In my belief there was at least one prominent Member of this House who was driven from office by the manipulation of camera angles—not a desirable event. That is a personal belief of my own. Apart from that, 31 did vote against this proposal the last time it came before this House. I was somewhat open-minded when I came into that debate I must say that I have not heard anything today which has changed my opinion.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), in the early stages of the debate, made a speech full of very interesting historical allusions, but it seemed to me that his speech was based on a misunderstanding. He seemed to be assuming that the impact of the televising of this House would be similar to the impact on the public of the great public meetings in the great days of Disraeli and Gladstone and so on and that it would be similar to the impact of the extensive reporting of parliamentary debates at any earlier period. That was assuming, of course, that the television reporting of the proceedings of this House would also be extensive, but most of this debate has made it quite clear that that would not be so. We have had various figures bandied about, whether it would be 2 per cent. or otherwise.
I have twice during the debate intervened to ask hon. Members whether they thought there was a difference between the Press and the television in that, although the Press may take an unbalanced view of a debate and show some bias in one direction or another, at least the public has a choice of a large number of different newspapers which may take different views. The hon. Member for 1691 Barking (Mr. Driberg), I think it was, replied to that by saying that his party was not represented by the Press at all. Well, that surely is a matter for his party, but at least the Press does not take a unanimous view of the debates of this House. We have only to look for instance at reports of debates on the Common Market, when we shall find a variety of different views expressed and different emphases put on the speeches which are reported. If, with television, there are only one or two reports, I do not see how the unbalanced picture can be avoided. It would all depend on the editing. It is a very difficult thing to do even if the editor uses the greatest discretion in trying to be objective.
For instance, we in this House know the background of an hon. Member addressing us, and if we have a debate on divorce or abortion and a series of hon. Members make passionate speeches against the Motion we know perfectly well what evaluation we can make of those speeches when it so happens that most of them are Roman Catholics. Again, if an hon. Member in a debate about power stations makes a passionate speech in favour of a power station being coal-fired we know that he may be influenced by the fact that he comes from a mining constituency. Another hon. Member will make an impassioned plea for the retention of a railway line because it happens to be in his division. We know what evaluations should be made of speeches on all sorts of different things. We do not say that it is improper for an hon. Member to make a speech in favour of the interests of his constituents, but we evaluate the speech in the light of our knowledge of his concern. However, the general public, given a two-minute extract from a speech, will not know the hon. Member's background, and the editor would not have time to explain it, and so the public would get a distorted picture, perhaps of the speech, but certainly of what is going on in the debate as a whole.
As I said, I intervened twice in the debate to ask about the question of selection. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) did not appear to know the answer. He just said that we would have to put up 1692 with it. As to there being insufficient variety in the television reporting, as compared with the Press reporting, he accepted that it would be so. That is the fatal defect in the televising of short extracts of speeches made in this House.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I think my hon. Friend has made just as strong a case for having more television reporting.
§ Mr. Wilson
If we are prepared to say we should have television of the whole of the proceedings all the time, if that were possible to do, and if anybody would ever listen to it all, there might be something to be said for it. Even so, although I have no first-hand experience of it, I am told that in Australia when they did have continuous radio broadcasting of Parliament, people did not listen to the whole programme. I remember being told by a Member who had gone to witness a budget being introduced in the Australian Parliament the astonishment he expressed at the changes which were made in what one would regard as the normal arrangement of a budget speech. All the new financial arrangements were set out in the first five minutes of the Treasurer's speech, and all the argument was put after that. When that Member inquired what was the reason for making the speech in that astonishing fashion, he was told that it was because the public could not be expected to listen to the broadcast for more than the first five minutes, and so all the proposals were set out at the beginning, and the rest of the speech was carried on for the next hour or so afterwards, on the assumption that the public would not be listening. That was gross distortion of what ought to have been happening. I do not know whether that in fact took place, but that was what I was told took place, and if it did take place there was great distortion of the speech and debate, something not at all desirable.
We have been appealed to to speak shortly, so I do not think I need say more, but it is the question of the editing which worries me, and makes me think that it is undesirable to agree to this Motion.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
None of us who was here three years ago will forget the drama of the 1693 vote which took place when a Motion similar to this was defeated by simply one vote. It was a story of "if only" —if only we had persuaded one or two more hon. Members to vote for the proposal, if only we had been better organised, we would have got the proposal through. However, the Motion was lost, but although I regret that decision, I am not unduly disheartened by it, because I believe that on that occasion we simply postponed the inevitable. In this electronic age when television is the main medium of communication it is impossble for this House for too long to afford the dubious luxury of refusing to participate in television. That was the effect of the refusal three years ago, and it will be the effect of an adverse vote today, but I believe that it was a mistaken policy and I hope that it will be changed at four o'clock.
There are pandits, there are distinguished academics, there are television journalists, indeed there are individual Members of this House, who seek on television to interpret the House. Many of them render a valuable service, but at best they are second best, and the best of them recognise this. Some of the most persuasive arguments in favour of this proposal were advanced in The Times recently by Robin Day. I suggest that tie could not represent the B.B.C. or the I.T.V., but—and I say this after working for eight years in television—he was reflecting the views of the responsible people who work in broadcasting and who produce political programmes for television. This may not sway some people who are suspicious of television and of the people who work in television and who fear that our proceedings may be misrepresented. The record of the broadcasting authorities is important, and I believe that it should be taken into account.
I do not suggest that political programmes are perfect, and there is something in the charge levelled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) that television treatment of politics is sometimes trivial and inadequate. But the remedy for this is to show the proceedings of this House on television both directly and by potted versions. In assessing the manner in which the broadcasting authorities would deal with the proceedings of this House, we should not overlook the record, which 1694 is that the authorities have shown that they can and do produce fair, responsible and objective political television programmes.
We should not be surprised at that because the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. are enjoined by charter and by law to be fair and impartial. They have plenty of freedom, but they do not have the freedom to be biased. However, there are no such requirements on the Press. Some of the reports of our proceedings in the Press are admirable. But some of them are distorted. However, nobody seems to do much about it because we are anxious not to interfere with the freedom of the Press. If our proceedings are televised, it will counter the misleading reports of our debates which we sometimes see in the Press.
I therefore believe that this proposal should allay rather than arouse hon. Members' fears, and any proposal which can reduce the misrepresentation of our debates is to be welcomed. But suspicion exists, and it has a very long precedent. It goes back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when people in this House were arguing against the admission of the Press and of HANSARD. Those who argue that that is not analogous to allowing the entry of television put forward a false argument. Two hundred years ago Members were trying to prevent the main instrument of communication, journalism, from reporting our proceedings. Today Members are trying to prevent the main medium of communication, television, from reporting our proceedings.
I can understand the fear of some hon. Members that if this experiment is allowed to take place it will change the nature of our assembly and transform its fundamental character. If I shared that fear, I should be opposing this proposal. But I do not share it. Such a price would be far too high to pay for the admission of television.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could answer the question which I have asked two or three times in this debate. How does one deal with the problem that distortion, if it takes place, in the Press may influence only a few people because other Press reports will be quite different but that if it is done on television it will be a major distortion 1695 which will affect very many people because very many people will see it and there will be no alternative?
§ Mr. Ashley
We have distortion, which is the problem with which we are primarily concerned, of reports already. The admission of television, first, would ensure that reports were less distorted and, secondly, from my experience of working in television, I do not think it would distort the atmosphere of the proceedings of this House. In fact, I have no doubt about that.
I have produced television programmes in Downing Street and on dole queues; I have produced them at party conferences and in private houses. In my experience, television does not distort; it reflects. Television would reflect the proceedings of the House more accurately than they are reflected at the moment in the Press. I do not want to launch into a savage criticism of the Press because many of the Press reporters do an admirable job, but there is some distortion, and it is our job as Parliamentarians to ensure that we communicate with the public in the best way possible.
People who come to the House from the constituencies and observe our proceedings often leave disillusioned. They see 20 or 30 Members present, and they believe that this is typical of our debates. What is not explained to them is that many Members have multifarious activities outside the House. If the proceedings were shown on television, questions would be asked by viewers and they would have to be answered. This would lead to a far greater understanding of our proceedings. It would be healthy questioning. Instead of people leaving disillusioned and saying, "What a poor turnout that was", they would find out, because television would show them, exactly how our proceedings were conducted. They would discover that the attendance in the Chamber is one of the most volatile phenomena in Britain and that it is affected, not only by whether my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) is speaking, but by the fact that Members carry on all kinds of activities outside the Chamber. This is a difficulty, and there will be a healthy out 1696 come if we were to televise our proceedings.
If we accept this proposal, there will be change, but not in the fundamental character of our proceedings. It will be in the public understanding of the House. The function of this House is to legislate, and democratic legislation needs public understanding.
If we reject this proposal, we deny ourselves a tool of communication which is vital to a modern democracy. At 4 o'clock today, we have to choose between living in the past and adapting ourselves to the opportunities offered by this modern age. It is only by accepting the challenges and seizing the opportunities that we can bridge the chasm which has begun to grow in a frightening way between this House and the public. By accepting this proposal, we can give hon. Members an opportunity of speaking both in the House and in the home and, thereby, of strengthening the links between Parliament and the people.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) for introducing the Motion. However, as time goes on, I hope that he will realise, looking at this vast expanse of empty benches, that a vote today, if there is one, will be something of a charade. The opinion that it reflects will not be that of the House, and today's poor attendance tells us not only about Fridays but about the attitude of hon. Members to the televising of the proceedings of this House.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) has considerable firsthand experience, as a former employee of the B.B.C. I am glad that he spoke, with that practical experience, of the measure of responsibility which has been, is currently and will continue to be shown by those who work for the Corporation in television and radio and by the employees of the independent television companies when it comes to the expression of opinions on our political affairs. Their standards are second to none, but, running rather like an unhealthy thread through the debate, there has been an unreasonable fear that, if they were given the responsibility of televising our proceedings, ultimately they would let down 1697 hon. Members, themselves and the whole country. There is no reason to suspect that they would let us down if this House thought fit to grant them this privilege.
I believe that most people, including hon. Members of this House, are lukewarm about televising our proceedings. Despite my own respect for those who work in television and my appreciation of the power of television, I do not believe that the arguments for televising our proceedings are as overwhelming as some proponents would have us think.
I do not accept, for example, that the influence and reputation of the House will shrivel unless we allow in television cameras to project what we say and do. On the other hand, I respect the views of those who oppose the Motion. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) made a powerful speech on this point—
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I agree, and I will come to the hon. Gentleman's speech in a moment. They worry about the effect that television can have in changing what it records and reflects, and certainly it is not a passive instrument. I respect their concern to preserve the informality of this House, just as much as its formality and tradition. But, given the right ground rules which, after all, this House can lay down, I see no reason why the finest features of this House inevitably should suffer. This was the point I emphasised. We are surely able, without being accused of censorship, to agree the framework in which our proceedings should be transmitted. Arising from that agreement—
§ Mr. Mendelson
I know that the hon. Member speaks with considerable experience of these matters. Surely the ground lines will have to be laid down as a joint enterprise. If we were to dictate lines of approach which were unacceptable, either technically or commercially, to the television companies, they would not be obliged to accept them. It must be a partnership, so that they have as much influence as we might have.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
I take the point. One would not want to hand to the tele- 1698 vision companies a diktat. We would want consultations with them. There have indeed already been consultations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—not consultations in the formal sense, but we know that there have been talks and discussions with members of the different companies and there has been a Select Committee Report. These show that the House has been willing to listen to those who would have, if we gave them this right, the responsibility of transmitting our debates.
The point which I am trying to differentiate is this. There is all the difference in the world between censorship, the control of the editorial responsibility of an editor of a television company or the B.B.C., and what I would call the general ground rules. The one which would strike the broadcasting authorities just as forcibly as it does us is that extracts should not be taken from our debates and put into some sort of comic opera or comedy show.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
My right hon. Friend asks, "Why not?" But some people might think that, if this were done, it would be taking a particular point of the debate out of its context and ridiculing not only the speaker but the whole debate. There are ways in which we could agree that extracts from a recording should not be taken out of context. There is the charge which has been placed on both broadcasting companies to be fair and objective, and this is how it would be interpreted.
It is tempting, in view of this luke-warmness, to do nothing, but this would be wrong. I should like to deal with some of the arguments used by people who are strongly in favour of televising this House. First, I am sure that we can agree that televising the House is not analogous to allowing in the Press. In that case, the argument was whether we should have our proceedings reported. Surely we can also agree that it does not follow that what is recorded is just as suitable for television. As several hon. Members said, our methods are our own —the manner in which we reach our decisions, the work which is done outside the Chamber, all these things would seem to make it almost impossible for the cameras here to record accurately the 1699 activities of the daily proceedings of the House. As one hon. Member said, so many other activities take place outside this Chamber, in Committees and so on.
Even a television report of a debate, as opposed to the more traditional ways of reporting a debate, presents special difficulties. For example, those who report a debate in the media of the spoken word, radio, or the written word, newspapers, can more easily compress and edit without distorting what happens here. But when once one can see and hear what is going on, we move into another dimension altogether, which presents particularly intricate and delicate problems for the editors.
One is the question of time. A radio or Press report can convey more information in a short space of time. If the actual version is used in transmitting the proceedings of the House, and if the participants are seen, it is bound to take much more time to provide the same kind of information. If it is not possible to paraphrase, it will take a great deal of time in terms of editing to do justice to a speech or to a debate. It would also involve selecting a number of live quotations, which would slow up the process of imparting information, and therefore demand more time from the broadcasting authorities. In addition, it would present difficulties to those who are trying to compile the programmes. The question that I have to ask myself is whether, with their sense of responsibility, which I regard as high, the broadcasting authorities would be prepared to give up that amount of time.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson
Would the hon. Gentleman give the House the benefit of his further thoughts on the technical problems that would arise from the considerations which he has spelled out? Would it be possible to present a televised presentation of the day's happenings in Parliament given all the problems which the hon. Gentleman has spelled out, at, say, ten o'clock, or half past ten? I very much doubt it. The consequence would be that the programme would appear the following day, and would be much less newsworthy.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
That would be the case with the winding-up speeches 1700 which so often are of great importance to the outcome and tone of the debate. It would be difficult in the time available to carry out suitable editing which would give a fair account of the day's debate. That does not mean that with the installation of recording facilities it would be impossible, but it would depend on the time allocated by the broadcasting authorities, and I mean no reflection on their standard of integrity when I suggest that I doubt whether they would be willing to give up that amount of time to our affairs. I cannot see television providing a powerful platform for the projection of Parliament on the basis of a daily report.
One way in which we might overcome the problem is by having a continuous transmission which would be piped, not through to the public, but to the broadcasting organisations, and to Fleet Street itself, so that there would be full availability. It would then be up to the broadcasting authorities to take advantage of that opportunity and to intake such extracts as they wished to include in news bulletins, special programmes, educational programmes, and so on. The full availability approach has much to recommend it, as it would enable the extracts to go out over a wide range of the programme companies' and B.B.C.'s billings.
Although that would meet the objections of those who feel that a daily report could not do justice because it would be too short, it does not meet all the objections of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), and others, who are concerned about artificial selection, not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of the entertainment value of a particular participant in a debate. They wonder whether it will be too great a temptation to include frivolous interventions in the programme of what takes place here during the course of the day.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Is the hon. Gentleman perhaps under-estimating the effect of television coverage on the average person? It is all very well to talk about the sophisticated part of the electorate which is the smaller part—who read parliamentary reports, and so on. Is not the hon. Gentleman grossly underestimating the effect which this will have on the ordinary man in the street?
1701 I think that it will have a beneficial effect. The hon. Gentleman seems to be underestimating that.
§ Mr. Johnson Smith
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will not think that when I come to my conclusion. If one eschews that full availability, if one regards a daily report of 15 to 20 minutes as riot really adding up to a powerful projection of Parliament—[Interruption.]—In my opinion there are arguments for televising the work of Select Committees and I should have thought that there was an argument for a weekly report, which could take about 60 minutes, including the main features of the week's proceedings. On some occasions—important occasions, such as debates on the Common Market—with the agreement of both sides of the House our proceedings might be televised. I support this, because more and more people are acquiring the habit of turning to television for the news, and for opinions and debate.
It would be remarkably short-sighted of the House if it should resolutely turn its mind against providing an opportunity for people to see for themselves, at first hand, the House deploy in its own way the arguments which concern the nation. If we turn our minds away from this opportunity we shall be turning our face against the growing habit of people and also from the idea of communicating with them—and I think that we would regret that.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I agree with the closing remarks of the hon. Member for East Grinstead (Mr. G. Johnson Smith). As for his opening remarks, I regret the empty benches as much as he does, but that is an argument for the Government's providing time—I hope in the near future—for a full day's debate on this subject in the middle of the week. We are discussing a matter on which a decision should not be lightly taken by the House. We can appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments on both sides of the question.
I have been grieved and sometimes appalled by the conservative political monasticism of so many speeches in this debate. Here we are, supposed to repre- 1702 sent 50 million people, and the opponents of the Motion are saying, "On no account must we let them into our secrets". During the debate I detected some suspicion, and some terror—almost a hate —of television as a medium of mass communication. We have had the healthy cynicism of the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) about the television machine as a medium of communication, and the puppets that are manipulated by it. The charge has been made that television is essentially a medium of entertainment and that the television people would regard this place as a place from which most people should derive entertainment. It is true that some programmes on television are designed to entertain, but others are undoubtedly designed to educate, and we ought to give the television authorities an opportunity of proving that television is just as valuable an instrument for education as for entertainment.
This place is sometimes a place of entertainment—of varying qualities. If the House were to be televised the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro) would probably find his place on the commercials. We had from him a thunderous farrago of nonsense. We are accustomed to it, and the viewers would become accustomed to it. Nothing would be more healthy for the people than to see the hon. Member in this place, and to see his colleague the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Sir W. Bromley-Davenport). People would not believe it until they saw it.
One argument put forward for televising this House is that the Press do not tell us what happens. I often wonder, when I see reports of debates in the Press, whether I was taking part in the same debates.
We had a classical example, earlier this week to which reference has been made, when we had the exchange between the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). What could have made for better television, for better education of the people, than to see that live? But we do not get this impression from the newspapers. Nor will we ever get it. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Geoffrey Wilson) said that we have a choice of newspapers. It is Hobson's choice. What 1703 choice have we on this side? If any hon. Members in this House ought to be in favour of televising out proceedings, it should be us on this side, because we cannot hope to get a fair deal from the existing Press coverage of this place.
There are genuine fears about the experiment. But let me emphasise that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is only asking for an experiment. He is ultra-cautious, and he has a right to be. It is right and proper that he should at this stage be asking only for an experiment.
I am not afraid because the House of Lords experiment was, in the words of the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan), "excruciatingly boring." It is an excruciatingly boring and irrelevant Chamber. The adrenalin has long ceased to flow in that crowd there. There never is an exciting debate. We must not accept that as a genuine experiment in the televising of Parliament. That is televising a morgue, not Parliament.
There are genuine fears and suspicions of this medium. I remember the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) saying that it would change the character of the House, and, far worse, that we should have intrusion of cameras and personnel. I am not a technical expert in these matters, but I understand that the intrusion would be minimal. The cameras will be unobtrusive, there will be no intrusion of personnel, and there will be no additional lighting.
It is said that there would be scope for the exhibitionist. There is enough scope now for exhibitionists, and we know them, more or less—quality again varying. Initially, the exhibitionist would display himself; but the television medium is most revealing and it would quickly get the size and measure of the exhibitionist and give the public the measure of him too.
I come to the question about the danger of distortion, selectivity and the difficulties of editing. The distortion has been mentioned by several hon. Members. We have had references to empty benches, cutting of the tape, and all the rest.
This brings me to another serious aspect. I should like to see this experi- 1704 ment, if it is approved, preceded by a series of educational programmes about what goes on in this Chamber, in other parts of the House, and in the constituencies, designed to impress upon the public that not necessarily the most important part of an hon. Member's job is in this Chamber. Some hon. Members take the view that it is. Others occupy themselves more actively in their constituencies, in Committees, or even in the Library doing research. I should like the television cameras to be given much greater scope throughout the House to prepare a series of programmes for schools and for the public, showing the activities of Members of Parliament in their constituencies, in the Library and in Committees, and coming down to the House of Commons to give the benefit of their experience and the results of their research.
The public would be aware that when the House is empty, whatever the reason may be, it is not because hon. Members are sitting on their backsides doing nothing but because they are doing other parliamentary work of equal value in other parts of the country or in other parts of the building. If we are to narrow the gulf between the people and Parliament, we cannot afford to shut out the most modern medium of communication, which is television.
It is no secret that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke at a Labour Party meeting last Thursday night I was shocked and greatly disappointed by his lukewarm attitude to this subject. The inference of his remarks can be summed up by saying that he prejudged the debate by pointing out that costs had gone up astonomically and that, in any event, a vote on a Friday afternoon would not be representative of the House. If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House take that view, it is up to them to provide ample time in the middle of the week to enable all hon. Members to state their views. It is also up to them to give the full costs of a programme of this kind.
But whatever the cost, it would be extremely well worth while to do it because we are agreed that there is an enormous gap between the public and ourselves. They simply do not know what happens in this place.
§ Mr. Sheldon
My hon. Friend will be aware that the estimate of £150,000 for the experiment in 1966 would be inflated only by the way that ordinary costs have risen over the years. That estimate was accepted at a time of severe economic stringency following the July measures of that year.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I agree that the Government of the time were sympathetic to the experiment and that the then Leader of the House, now the Secretary of State for Social Services, was in favour of the experiment—that at a time which was economically less propitious. Since then there must have been a change of heart in the Government, which is not unknown, certainly in respect of the then Leader of the House.
The House has the right to a full debate on a weekday when all hon. Members may have a chance to express their views so that we may reach a definite decision on the subject. I hope that the Government will not use cost as an excuse for doing nothing. We have waited long enough, as have the public, and the problems of privilege and editing are not unsurmountable—that is, if we wish to get this place nearer to the people who sent us here.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
It is right that we should be debating this issue in the same week as the second American moon flight. We are not, and I hope we will never be, a television spectacular; but in contrast to the giant leap made by technology, particularly television technology, in recent years, the House is being asked to take only one small step today.
The Motion advocates an experiment on closed circuit and I support it, though I have an open mind about whether it should become permanent. A major problem for us is how to do a better job for those who sent us here and how to convince them of our relevance. We must, therefore, ask ourselves if this is a problem with which broadcasting, by sound or television, can help.
I do not see this in terms of desperation, a word used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), but, rather, in terms of the modernisation of Parliament along with other national 1706 institutions. My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) pointed out that television is unchallenged today as the foremost medium of mass communication. The generation that is now reaching adulthood rely overwhelmingly on television and have relegated newspapers to a relatively minor rôle in their daily lives. Are we to leave the television field to studio politics, with parliamentary politics wholly excluded, or are we to make a real effort to come to terms with television in this place? My view is that we should let this experiment go forward as soon as possible.
I accept what the Leader of the House has said, that this is a matter of judgment and that many of us are uncertain. But this is the point of having an experiment. Subject to that experiment, I believe that televising Parliament could be a very great help in bringing Parliament to life for the people, in bridging the gap to which the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) referred, in helping to inform people about current issues, and in improving the standing of politics and politicians.
There are many arguments against this and they were put most persuasively, I thought, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford. I should like to deal with one or two of them, but may I make clear first how I believe television ought to work? Certainly if we are to be broadcast live, it should be on very rare occasions such as the Budget. I should like to see a daily half-hour programme, or a longer weekly programme, produced by the broadcasting authorities but under the eye of a sub-committee, perhaps of the Services Committee, which would act as a watchdog for our interests.
"The Week in Westminster" on sound is not a precise parallel, but it gives me confidence that the matter of editing and impartiality is not an insurmountable obstacle. I am very impressed by the expertise in quick selecting and editing that the television producers have shown more and more in recent years. Much of the daily or weekly programme would consist of Question Time and the opening and closing speeches in big debates. If one took this week for example, I believe that a television programme would be not only entertaining but extremely important and instructional if it covered such subjects as the Springboks, the rabies 1707 scare, the problems of Ireland and the question of the Falkland Islands. That is just one week. I believe also that we should not confine televising to the Chamber. There are other things going on in Committees and elsewhere that would lend themselves to this treatment. Our objective should be a balanced picture of hon. Members at work in this House.
Now I want to touch on one or two of the objections. Many feel that this would change the character of the place and that it would lose its intimacy. I am not so fearful as my right hon. Friend, that we should find ourselves in the evil clutches of the television producers. I think this is a change of degree rather than a change of kind compared with the present situation.
Then there are the objections about privilege. Here again I think that the difficulties have been exaggerated and that they are not insurmountable.
Thirdly, it is objected that we might lower—lower further, some would say —instead of raising our own reputation among the rest of the country. I hope that if we were televised we would not lose the spirit and humour of this House. The presence of cameras would have, on the whole, a bracing effect on our discussions and would act as deterrent to the most extreme fatuities of Parliamentary behaviour.
In modest support of this view, may I quote a sentence from a letter that I had recently from the organiser of a party of women from my constituency who came here for the normal tour in the morning, followed by a visit by a few of them to this Chamber at Question Time. My constituent wrote:Everyone enjoyed the visit immensely and certainly came back with a great deal more knowledge on the work of Parliament; perhaps in future we shall not be quite so intolerant of the people trying to organise our future.This gives me some hope that if we were televised there would be a better appreciation by people outside that most of us here are human and not very extraordinary people, trying to do our best on behalf of our constituents.
I conclude by acknowledging, as others have, that opinion in the House is still deeply divided on this issue. So is opinion 1708 in the country, and in this at least we are reflecting current public opinion
I have raised this question of television at a number of recent meetings, whenever I have had the opportunity. I get a varying response from my audiences, balanced fairly equally. It is significant that the younger audiences tend to be much more in favour of televising Parliament than the average. I stress that I am not necessarily in favour of this as a permanent arrangement, but I do not think we can make up our minds without trying the experiment.
A lot is rightly said today about the quality of life, and a large and important part of that is surely the quality of our democracy. In our efforts to improve this quality, I hope that we may come to see television not as a sinister intruder but as an understanding ally. If we have a vote this afternoon it may not be of great significance, because the House is so thinly attended. But I hope that it will be in favour of the experiment. May I finally make an appeal to the Leader of the House, who is unfortunately not here now. We have his deputy who I hoped would be making his maiden speech this afternoon in his new position. The Leader has set in train a lot of useful improvements in the last year or two, for which we are grateful. Is it too much to ask that in this matter too he should give a stronger lead than he indicated this afternoon, and give us all the opportunity to judge the experiment so that we can then reach a final decision?
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)
One of the common themes which has run through the debate, present in the speeches of those who support this Motion and those who oppose it, is the desire to inform the public and provide them with a more adequate understanding of Parliament and the decision-making process. This point was very well put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) when he addressed the House in 1966. He concluded his speech by quoting the words of the Select Committee which said:… the House suffers by comparison with other public bodies simply because its proceedings are never included in news bulletins which are heard and watched, at one time 1709 or another, by most people in Britain. The nation's most representative assembly is thus also the most remote from the public: this remoteness could be diminished without loss of dignity."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 1730.]He went on to suggest that televising Parliament would bring the people closer to the body whose decisions so vitally affect their lives.
I want to introduce new arguments into the debate, because I believe that Parliament is very different now and fulfils a role different from the classical role which many hon. Members have argued today. This view is shared by a growing number of people, who no longer regard Parliament, as distinct from Government, as of any great consequence. There is evidence to support this view and I quote from a recent poll undertaken by N.O.P. This was undertaken last September and said that only 17 per cent. of the people, and I do not know how large the sample was:… had a high opinion of the sort of people who get elected as Labour Members of Parliament, and only 19 per cent. held high opinions of Conservative M.Ps.I am afraid that no question was put about Liberal Members. This is indicative of a feeling among radical students that Parliament is of no consequence. This sentiment is shared by an increasing public. It is relevant to ask why this is so. Here I will quote from the excellent foreword written by my right hon. Friend to the classic study by Bagehot on the British constitution. He said:One result of the virtual disappearance of the M.P.'s independence is that the point of decision has now been removed from the Division Lobby. …
§ Mr. Jackson
I am attempting to do that. I am suggesting that the public is interested in the decision-making process and that Parliament has ceased to be vital in that respect. My right hon. Friend also said this:The debate on the floor of the House becomes a formality, and the Division which follows is a formal conclusion. It is what is said and done in the secrecy of the party meeting which is now really important—though the public can only near about it through leaks in the Press.1710 If my right hon. Friend were writing that foreword now, he would perhaps revise that passage, but the remarks which he has made on the role of Parliament as a deliberative body would certainly stand. He went on to say that parliamentary control is now a fiction, and he concluded—The Commons still have a useful job to do. But today it is not very much more useful than the job allotted by Bagehot to the House of Lords. If the peers provide one reservoir from which Governments are drawn, the House of Commons is a much more important one.I have been a Member of the House for only three years, but my experience reinforces this view, which is also accepted by many members of the general public, particularly those who are more sophisticated.
§ Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)
My hon. Friend quotes my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services in his foreword to Bagehot will he also remind the House that in the last debate on this subject my right hon. Friend was in favour of televising the proceedings of Parliament?
§ Mr. Jackson
I am aware of that, but it is nevertheless appropriate for me to quote his views on the role of Parliament.
My basic objection to televising the proceedings of Parliament is that it will add little or nothing to the understanding of the public on how decisions are made. Decisions are made not in this Chamber but the televising of parliamentary pro-an opportunity of seeing the Chamber at work, the impression may be gained that decisions are taken here, whereas they are not.
The public should be provided with an insight into the working of democracy, but the televising of parliamentary proceedings will not do that.
§ Mr. Jackson
No, I will not give way. May I illustrate my contention by suggesting how the television medium might have treated the debate of two Sessions ago on whether London's third airport should be built at Stansted. The reality of that issue was that the Cabinet was deeply divided. Yet this issue would have been presented as a debate, after 1711 which not more than 10 hon. Members abstained from voting, and the Government's decision was endorsed by the House. The public would have been given no insight into the deep division of opinion which existed, and I doubt whether, subsequently, the public would have been told that, because of a change in Government personnel, that decision was reversed.
Similarly, I wonder how the medium would have treated the debates last Session on the reform of the House of Lords. Hon. Members will recollect that, seven or eight weeks prior to the introduction of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) introduced under the Ten Minute Rule a Private Members' Bill to abolish the House of Lords. It secured the support of more than 100 Members, but it is very significant to note that about 70 of those who were then prepared to abolish the House of Lords were in favour, eight weeks later, of giving it additional strength—
§ Mr. Jackson
My point is that that facet of Parliament concerned with the role of the Whips and party discipline which is vital to an understanding of Parliament would in no way be illuminated by television presentation. This point was very adequately touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). Without an understanding of party discipline and the role of the Whips the general public cannot understand how Parliament functions.
I doubt very much whether commentators would be given an opportunity of explaining to the public that debates are largely irrelevant when it comes to the way in which hon. Members vote. There would be very considerable objection from both parties if it were suggested that producers or editors should be allowed that degree of editorial freedom yet, without it, the whole presentation would be largely meaningless.
My third submission is that from the television of parliamentary proceedings the general public would have no understanding of the Executive's control of parliamentary time—
§ Mr. Jackson
My hon. Friend says that they are not that stupid. The scandal of the last three years is that we have had to rely on the luck of the Ballot to debate Vietnam. Had it not been for the good fortune of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) the House would have had an opportunity. There are many hon. Members on both sides who are concerned about this issue and who think that the House should have an opportunity to debate it, but we are deprived of that opportunity because of the Executive's rigid control of time. Do we really think that by televising Parliament the public would be given an insight into this aspect of the way in which Parliament works?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) is obviously not giving way.
§ Mr. Jackson
I suggest that the Chamber has ceased to be a deliberative body but has become a glorified Press conference at which rival claimants clamour for coverage. I feel that that is how the Chamber would be presented by television, and that it would lead to no enrichment of the general public's knowledge of how Parliament works. On those grounds I oppose the Motion.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)
Although we are discussing whether or not to experiment in televising the House, we are really asking ourselves whether we should allow those who we represent and govern to see how we carry out that function on their behalf. I want the people to know how the House operates. I have been a Member of Parliament for only a short time, but I now know that it is a vastly different place from what I imagined it to be from outside. That being so, I believe that it is for each of us to support an experiment which would bring in the cameras and, I hope, would keep them here.
No politician can conceivably suggest that television has not already played a dynamic part in the political life of this 1713 country. Political leaders vie to get on television whenever they have the opportunity, and what worries me most is to see how programmes like "Panorama", "This Week" or even the "David Frost Show" are given the opportunity to question Ministers in a way which is denied to hon. Members. Whilst such a circumstance exists, this House will lose prestige and importance. I want the House to become the focal point of this nation. I want our deliberations to be followed in every home in this land and to be intelligible to them, because I believe that is the best way of making the standing of this House as high as it conceivably can be.
I for one resent bitterly those who describe any hon. Member as simply lobby fodder. Let people come here and see what Members do and they will realise that they do a good job of work. If the cameras were in this Chamber people outside would know that. So why are we prepared to rely solely on not impartial observers from the Press, or the HANSARD record as the only record of what goes on here other than a 15-minute "Today in Parliament" programme on what is so often described as steam radio?
Television is the modern medium. It is the medium which attracts the mass audiences. Television is the greatest educational medium ever devised by man. Yet here we sit debating against each other as though this House was a preserve of our own, as though this House had no significance to those who walk about a few hundred yards away. We must change that circumstance. We must bring in the people to see what we do and if—and this may be the fear in the minds of those who talk as though we who want television to be here are on the defensive about parliament—by bringing the cameras in we find that what we do is unintelligible to the general public and it means that we must change some of the procedures of the House to bring it up to date, then telling the people in my opinion is more important than preserving some archaic privilege.
What should be the form of television presentation? I agree wholeheartedly with those who say that a television HANSARD is not really what is wanted. We want to make Parliament interesting to 1714 the ordinary person. We do not want just a boring endless programme of speeches because most of our speeches duplicate the speeches of other Members to a point at which if it were not for our local newspapers and constituents we would not include those pieces in what we say. Therefore, what we say must be edited. I am perfectly prepared to accept that those who are professional journalists are better at editing than we are. I am not concerned about the problem of impartiality. I believe that the Press gives quite a good coverage of our proceedings but because of the sanctions already imposed on both the B.B.C. and the Indepent Television. Authority the impartiality of what we are likely to see on these programmes will probably be greater than anything we read in a newspaper.
There is always the danger of somebody saying that what he said had been distorted. Is it beyond the wit of this House to devise some machinery of appeal by which a Member, if he feels that he has been maligned, can safeguard himself? Is it beyond the wit of the House to have a privilege sanction which will allow us to say whatever we must without this danger? I cannot believe that it is if we have the will to succeed. But therein lies the nub of the problem. Do we want this experiment to succeed, or do we desperately hope that it wont. If it is anything like the only debate which I have seen televised from the Greater London Council, it will be a boring, dismal mess, for the simple reason that there the cameras tried to do the whole job with minimal intervention from a linkman. Therefore, whatever goes out from this House must have some sort of link element provided by the producer, no doubt through a newscaster.
Having said that, I mast sincerely hope that those of us who want the prestige and importance of what goes on in this House, to be improved, those of us who want to see the importance of each back bencher, re-emphasised, will support this Motion today. It is a Motion which if carried into effect will bring great prestige to our democracy, to what we do, and to all that we stand for, and I am sure that there is nobody here who would wish to put the clock back and prevent the advent of such a thing.
1715 We are discussing the possibility of an experimental programme. Well lets have it, and the sooner the better. It was to have been in January three years ago. Why cannot it be January next year? There is no technical problem, there is no economic problem, there is no legal problem. Let us have the cameras in. Let us get used to living with them and working with them, and then let us see what they have done. I think it may be wise to have some impartial observers to see the telerecordings with us because, perhaps, they will prevent us from being too prejudiced about what is viewed. Surely there can be no harm in the experiment. Surely there can be no harm in seeing what it would be like. So much of this debate has been on hypothetical fears about what it might be like. Since we do not know what it will be like, why should we not take this minute first step forward so that we may see for ourselves? There could then be another debate for which, no doubt, the Government would want to find time.
I stand here to say that if we bring the cameras in, if we can make what we do intelligible to the public, it is likely that we shall give this House a new prestige and new standing in the eyes of the nation, and in turn, give to each one of us an even greater responsibility in the job we are trying to do.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
We should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject today. I hope that the Government will provide more time on another day so that we may have a fuller discussion.
Some of the speeches made today reminded me of the debate, which I have been reading, which took place in the House of Commons in 1738, and the fears which led to that notorious resolution that it was contempt of Parliament that its debates be published. A number of hon. Gentleman who spoke at that time expressed great misgivings about what would happen to the House of Commons
§ —how the House would become a mockery if reports of its debates were published.
§ I am not surprised at some of the opposition to the televising of our proceedings. I find it impossible to believe that we shall remain untelevised, but any who wish to see television here should have reckoned upon the resistance of many hon. and right hon. Members to change the ways of Parliament. It is an extremely difficult job. It would indeed have been foolish for anyone to have under-estimated the conservative feeling—indeed, on both sides of the House—against any change, against any innovation, in the way in which we conduct our business. Just as it was important and essential to Parliamentary democracy that our debates should be published, so I believe it is absolutely vital and essential for parliamentary democracy today that the television cameras should be allowed into our Chamber.
§ With all due respect for some of those who oppose the Motion, we must get rid of the idea that we are some kind of exclusive club, and that the people outside who sent us here should have no right to look on. The accommodation for visitors is very limited, and the number of our constituents who can come in is very few indeed. I see no reason why millions of people should not have the opportunity of watching us in action. And we should not forget the very name of our place.
§ So I hope that we shall overcome the resistance, and recognise that television is inevitable, and just as it was wrong for the House in 1738—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 75, Noes 32.1717
|Division No. 10.]||AYES||[4.0 p.m.|
|Albu, Austen||Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Batsford, Brian|
|Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian||Baker, Kenneth (Acton)||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Ashley, Jack||Barnes, Michael||Booth, Albert|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Pannell, Rt. Charles|
|Boston, Terence||Howell, David (Guildford)||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn, Arthur||Howie, W.||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Braine, Bernard||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus,N&M)||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Ryan, John|
|Chataway, Christopher||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Coe, Denis||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Sharpies, Richard|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Latham, A.||Sheldon, Robert|
|Dickens, James||Lane, David||Silkin, Rt. Ho. John (Deptford)|
|Driberg, Tom||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Thorpe, Rt. H i. Jeremy|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|English, Michael||Luard, Evan||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)||Lubbock, Eric||Whitaker, Ben|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||MacColl, James||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||MacDermot, N iall||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Macdonald, A. H.||Winnick, David|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Mayhew, Christopher||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Grant, Anthony||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||W orsley, Marcus|
|Gresham Cooke, R.||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Golding, J.||Murray, Albert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Norwood, Christopher||Mr. Eric S. Helier and|
|Hamling, William||Nott, John||Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson.|
|Haseldine, Norman||O'Halloran, M. J.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Hunt, John||Parkyn, Brian (;Bedford)|
|Allen, Scholefield||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Powell, Rt. Ho, J. Enoch|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Renton, Rt. He. Sir David|
|Boyd Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Judd, Frank||Roebuck, Roy|
|Costain, A. P.||Longden, Gilbert||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Deedes, Rt. Ho. W. F. (Ashford)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley|
|Drayson, C. B.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Weitzman, David|
|Edelman, Maurice||Mendelson, John||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Ogden, Eric|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Onslow, Cranley||TELLERS FOR THE NOES|
|Gorden, Harold||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Sir Gerald Nabarro and|
|Hastings, Stephen||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Mr. David Ginsburg.|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.