§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Before I call the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford), I must inform the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English).
§ 12.38 a.m.
§ Mr. Ben Ford (Bradford, North)
I beg to move,That this House approves the recommendations in the First Report from the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting which relate to this House.On 16th March the House approved, by 299 votes to 124, a motion to the effect that we should make arrangements for permanent broadcasting. That was a majority of much more than two to one. On 9th April the House resolved that it would form a Select Committee to progress these matters, and on 29th April the House resolved that a Select Committee should meet with a Committee of the Lords to consider these matters.
The Committee met very quickly after that—namely, on 4th May—and I was privileged to be chosen as Chairman of the Joint Committee. We decided, in view of the obvious desire of the House by that large majority, to push on with broadcasting and to get on quickly with the job. From that first meeting we issued a special report requesting observations from Members of Parliament, to which only one reply was received.
In this motion today we are requesting the House to authorise expenditure to enable us to construct a commentary box in the Chamber during the long Summer Recess. We are advised that this is the only opportunity available for such construction. If the work is not carried out during the recess, that will inevitably mean that it cannot be carried out until the summer of 1977, and the broadcasting of the House and the bringing of Parliament nearer to the people will be postponed for more than a year.
If the House agrees to the motion tonight, as I very much hope it will, we might be able to begin broadcasting somewhere around Whitsun next year. This, of course, is dependent upon progress in other matters. I hope that the 1635 House will bear these remarks in mind when considering the matter and will enable us to get on with the work.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham. West)
When my hon. Friend talks of Whitsun next year, does he mean the broadcasting of the House and such of its Committees as may be newsworthy?
§ Mr. Ford
I do. That is my intention. I intend to refer to my hon. Friend's amendment, which was not called, later in my remarks.
The siting of the commentary box was considered very carefully by the Joint Committee. Witnesses were examined and we went over a fair amount of old ground. We then came to the conclusion that scheme 1, which refers to the southwest corner of the House—behind where I am standing—would be the most appropriate.
The broadcasting authorities have all along been most insistent that they can carry out their work in relation to broadcasting the House only from roughly a floor-level position. Hon. Members will recall that during the period of the experiment there was a temporary structure in the south-east corner which was uncomfortable to the broadcasters and caused some inconvenience to Members. But apart from that the results of the experiment were very favourable, and the broadcasters afterwards endorsed their opinion that only a position at floor level was suitable for their purposes.
It became clear that either of schemes 2 and 3, in the south-east corner of the Chamber, would produce a loss of seats to Opposition parties. The other most undesirable aspect was that it would bring the advisers forward into the Chamber and would produce disturbance to Members while other Members were seeking advice or consulting, as the case might be. Another undesirable aspect was that it would thrust the advisers out from under the Gallery more into the open Chamber, virtually bringing them into the House. We thought that that also was quite undesirable.
On the other hand, scheme 1, which refers to the south-west corner—a diagram is attached to the report—takes up a Bench which is rarely used by Members and is altogether more desirable aesthetically. I might add, for the 1636 benefit of any aesthetes in the House at the moment, that the scheme has been approved by the Royal Fine Art Commission.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
Has the Royal Fine Art Commission given its view on the other two schemes?
§ Mr. Philip Whitehead (Derby, North)
My hon. Friend would not wish to continue without admitting to the House that it is £10,000 more than the cost of scheme 2.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Is it true that the BBC contributes nothing towards the cost? There is great discontent in Scotland at the fact that Radio Forth, Radio Clyde and BBC Scotland will have to pay for broadcasting facilities in the proposed Scottish Assembly.
§ Mr. Ford
The BBC is happy to provide the technical equipment.
The amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), which has not been selected, requests an assurance that the broadcasting of the proceedings of Committees should commence at the same time as the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House. I completely agree with him. If he examines the report that we issued in connection with the broadcasting experiment earlier this year, he will see that we emphasised that we saw the broadcasting authorities and gained assurances from them that they had taken into account the broadcasting of Committees. I can assure my hon. Friend and other Members that it is my firm intention, as Chairman of the Joint Committee, that the broadcasting of Committee proceedings shall commence at the same time as the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House, subject to the wish of the Committees themselves. They will say whether or not their proceedings shall be broadcast.
1637 We have stated the technical requirements, which are fairly minimal, for adjusting the Committee Rooms to enable broadcasting to take place, but that is subject to the House willing the means.
I believe that the Joint Committee has worked as quickly as, if not more quickly than, any Select Committee in the history of Parliament. We saw it as our bounden duty to implement the clearly-expressed desires of the House to make arrangements for permanent broadcasting.
I take this opportunity to express my thanks to my colleagues on the Committee, the staff of the Committee, who served us exceedingly well, and also the witnesses, who often came at very short notice, sometimes at only a day or two's notice, to appear before the Committee and help us with our deliberations.
I wish that this debate had taken place at an earlier date, which would have enabled us to get on with the work, but let us be thankful for small mercies. I hope that the House will endorse the Committee's First Report and approve the motion which is now before it.
§ 12.48 a.m.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) for saying that he is committed, as is the whole House, to the broadcasting of the proceedings of Committees with those of the House.
I must express a little reservation, however, because my hon. Friend said that the broadcasting of Committees is dependent upon the House willing the means. Unfortunately, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the House cannot will the means, because no Back Bench Member is capable of moving a motion that imposes a charge upon the people—in other words, expenditure—without the consent of a Minister. I therefore express the hope that the Leader of the House and the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply to the debate, will give the same assurances as those given by my hon. Friend and say that they are personally committed to the proceedings of Committees and of the House being broadcast at the same time.
That is the will of the House. It was stated on 16th March. As my hon. Friend said, the House decided, by an over- 1638 whelming majority, that it wished all its proceedings to be broadcast—not in the sense that every word we say should be broadcast but in the sense that they should be capable of being broadcast and be open to be broadcast if they are newsworthy.
Sometimes proceedings in Committee are more important than proceedings on the Floor of the House, and vice versa. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has on many occasions expressed the belief that Committees detract from the Floor of the House. Nevertheless most hon. Members, particularly the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Members and members of Select Committees, believe that it should be possible to broadcast the proceedings of Committees.
As I understand it, that will need a small modification to a couple of Committee Rooms—a Select Committee Room and a Standing Committee Room—replacing microphones by those suitable for broadcasting, which is a much cheaper process than all the alterations that my hon. Friend has been suggesting. That is not in the motion because it is not in the report. I should like an assurance from the Minister, therefore—because only a Minister can give it—that Committees will be broadcast as the House originally wished.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)
May I give that assurance to my hon. Friend? I know that this is a matter which concerns him and other hon. Members. It might help to facilitate the debate if I make that clear at this stage. What I cannot do is commit the Government, the House or anybody else to any major expenditure other than what is contained in the motion. If it is as simple a technical matter as my hon. Friend says, involving two Committees—two Committee Rooms, and therefore two Committees—I suspect that it would not be beyond our wit to find a way and the means of doing that. But I cannot commit anybody to major expenditure other than is involved in the motion.
§ Mr. English
I entirely accept the assurance given. I wanted only the assurance that the House would not be broadcast before it was possible to broadcast its 1639 Committees as well, that the two would be coincident.
I understand that my hon. Friend, not being a Treasury Minister, is not able to commit the Government to expenditure. What some of us were suspicious about was that there was an attempt to broadcast the House alone, deferring the broadcasting of Committees. My hon. Friend's assurance is entirely satisfactory. I accept it and I shall vote with him.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Before I call the next hon. Member to speak, I should point out that this is a very narrow debate. The Chair has been indulgent because it understood the point that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) wished to make. Now, however, I must ask hon. Members to confine themselves to the last sentence in the first paragraph of the First Report which contains recommendations by the Committee as to the siting and design of the commentary boxes in this Chamber.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
Further to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will continue to be indulgent during this debate for the very good reason that there are wider implications in the somewhat narrow point that the House is being asked to discuss. Many hon. Members will wish to explore these matters before making their decision. It would make the position of hon. Members more difficult if you did not feel able to be indulgent.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Chair must listen with care and see how far the exploration goes, because we are bound by a very narrow debate on this subject.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The motion refers to the siting and design of commentary boxes. That is all I can tell the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
Further to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, can the debate include reference to the part of the report dealing with the House of 1640 Lords, since £30,000 for what appears to be a Victorian greenhouse is a considerable item of expenditure?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I draw the hon. Member's attention to the motion, which states specifically that it relates to this House only.
§ Mr. Roper
Further to what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I ask you to reconsider your last ruling? If you look at the First Report of the Select Committee, you will see in bold type in paragraph 6 a reference to what used to be the Ladies Gallery and in bold type in paragraph 12 a reference to the commentary boxes in the south-west corner. I should have thought that provision in the Ladies Gallery was within the scope of the motion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If a matter is contained in the report, it is in order to discuss it. The House will understand the difficulty in which the Chair is placed. This is a narrow debate, and I hope that hon. Members will do their best to confine themselves to the main subject.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
Further to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I ask whether the assurances given to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham. West (Mr. English) were intended to include Select Committees?
§ Mr. English
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assumed that the assurance given to me by the Minister included Select Committees.
§ Mr. William Price
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was certainly my intention.
§ 12.53 a.m.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) and his colleagues on the speed with which they produced their report. It was in keeping with the way in which the House wished to see progress made in this matter.
I am astonished at the size and cost involved in the preparation of the commentary boxes. I am aware of the restraints placed upon a designer in fitting 1641 a new permanent structure into the Chamber, but to see an estimate laid before the House which includes £18,000 for mechanical engineering and £20,000 for other engineering is astounding.
I welcome the comment of the Minister, on the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) which was not called, that there might be an opportunity to broadcast Committees simultaneously, but within an estimate of £38,000 there must be room for more than merely the commentary boxes to which we are being asked to agree. In dealing with the question of cost, I must ask the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate the extent to which competitive tendering will be involved to seek to reduce the figure of £38,000.
I understand the necessity of extending into the Chamber and removing the Back Bench which is used less frequently than many other Benches. However, everyone in the House must read carefully, within the report of evidence submitted, the extent to which the broadcasting authorities require to have room to move and the availability not of space for the utilisation of broadcasting equipment or themselves but space for the provision of research assistants and others who can aid them with research material during the course of their live commenting on the proceedings of the House. That is indicated in the evidence attached to the report.
Some of the comments made by witnesses suggested that they were extremely anxious to have an uninterrupted view of the Government Front Bench. That I can fully understand. Those of us on the Opposition side of the House have an uninterrupted view of the Government Front Bench, and we would be willing to share it with any mortal who has the degree of tenacity that we have here, looking at it day after day. However, there was an implication in the evidence—I hope I am not straying out of order in referring to the evidence—that this was because some witnesses saw from this side of the House a greater media interest.
Those of us who occupy these Benches, and the substantial number of parties here represented, will welcome the Committee's comments that emphasis must be laid, particularly in broadcasting the 1642 proceedings, on the rights of minority parties and that, if anything, the onus on the broadcasting authorities is one of being able adequately to cover the shades of political opinion expressed in the House and, indeed, the large number of persons who are not always within the purview of the Government Front Bench of the day.
That surely was part of the thoughts that went through our minds when we were discussing broadcasting in general on a previous occasion. We laid stress then on the educative part that broadcasting would play to the wider public outside, and a large part of that education would be to demonstrate the full workings of the proceedings of the House and not to provide an additional public and free platform for Government Front Bench spokesmen.
In welcoming the report and the speed with which it has been presented, we must all be very lively to the fact that a substantial onus is now placed upon the broadcasting authorities, if the scheme proceeds, that they should handle the proceedings of the House with an eye to the education and information that can be purveyed and not with an idea that they can sensationalise the proceedings. That is why it is so vital that the commitment on Committee coverage should be made here and now. That is an aspect of Parliament that is notoriously badly handled by the media. It is an aspect of increasing importance and one which deserves the recognition which sound broadcasting might, with good will and sensible handling provide.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
My hon. Friend has referred, rightly, to the importance of the work that goes on in Standing Committees and Select Committees. It could well be that these proceedings will be recorded, but are they likely to be broadcast? That is the answer I should like tonight.
§ Mr. English
Surely the answer is that which I gave earlier. Whether the House 1643 itself or any Committee will be broadcast is dependent to some extent upon the newsworthiness of the proceedings. What I am trying to ensure—as I believe are most hon. Members—is that there should be no discrimination against Committees because they are Committees.
§ Mr. Shaw
I should like to qualify the stress that the hon. Member laid on the newsworthiness of the proceedings. It is not the job of the House to offer facilities to the media purely for the newsworthiness of the proceedings. It is the job of the House to express its proceedings to the public in a manner which is both educative and informative as well as newsworthy. I would expect that to apply to Committee proceedings, although they may be less newsworthy. Many Committee proceedings, such as those on the Finance Bill for example, may not be newsworthy but they are extremely educative and informative.
Is the Minister therefore satisfied that the £38,000 is a sensible figure in relation to the amount of construction that is necessary, and will he give a commitment to competitive tendering? Will he underline the point about Committee coverage and say that within that figure, if it is confirmed at £38,000, there must be provision for equipment in Committee Rooms to the technical extent required? I repeat my approbation to the hon. Member for Bradford, North and his team on producing the report.
§ 1.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Joint Committee Minutes of Evidence, price 55p, say on page 3:For this work to be started in August, it would be necessary for the documentation for contract action to be completed by the end of June.May the House know whether this was done? Otherwise, it seems pointless to go on debating the matter.
§ Mr. William Price
Might I deal with this point? The Joint Committee, of which I was a member, had in mind the fact that if we wanted this work completed in time to resume broadcasting when we returned after the recess, it would certainly have been necessary to stick to that timetable. It became impossible to do that and it is now impossible to get broadcasting back in the House by then. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) talked about Whitsun. I hope that that was pessimistic.
§ Mr. Price
I did not. I have in mind the beginning of 1977. But that means that if the House reaches a certain decision tonight the work will be put in hand in the normal way, all above board, but we shall not be able to complete it before the end of the Summer Recess. The rest of the work will be completed at weekends between October and when we resume broadcasting. That is now the situation.
§ Mr. Roper
I am grateful for that information. The point of concern is that section in the Minutes of Evidence when Mr. Ellis and Mr. Thurston, in answer to Question No. 96, said that the deadline for them for even doing the work on the commentary boxes was a decision by the end of June. I want to be sure that the decision which we are being forced to make tonight in a rather empty House must be made at this time in terms of work which has to be done in the recess. If it is impossible to do this work, in view of what is outlined in the evidence, the question of reaching a decision is less important.
§ Mr. Ford
That evidence was given on the assumption that the commentary boxes would be completed, externally and internally, by the end of the Summer Recess. There are certain electrical and air-conditioning installations which will not be completed even if we pass the motion, but the physical external alterations will have taken place and it will be no inconvenience to the House when the 1645 internal works are completed at a later date.
§ Mr. Roper
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. After Questions 96 and 98 by the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) there is a reference to what are called the life support systems, which are apparently necessary for commentators in the boxes, and which I understand will be provided later. I gather that the reference is to air conditioning, rather than liquid refreshment, which is required for the broadcasting of the House adequately. Earlier in the evidence given by the Department of the Environment there was a reference to the problems of adequate tendering if the decision were rushed.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having authorised us to discuss the former Ladies' Gallery as well as the Galleries at the other end of the Chamber. In addition to the £28,000 or £38,000 involved at the other end, are we authorising today a further £6,000 for work in the former Ladies' Gallery? Have there been discussions with the Press Gallery, and the Commonwealth Press in particular, about the use of the former Ladies' Gallery by the broadcasting authorities? The House is entitled to clear assurances, which do not appear from the documents which I have seen, that the Commonwealth Press has been consulted and that there will still be adequate facilities for its members in the Press Gallery after these additional places have been handed over to the broadcasting authorities for them to carry out additional activities.
I come to the primary item in the debate, the position of the commentary boxes at the south end of the Chamber. As one who has been a keen supporter of the broadcasting of the House, and who has voted for it every time it was possible to do so, I am extremely disappointed by the Committee's recommendation. If the debate had not come on quite so late I should not have had a full opportunity of studying the report and realising how disappointing the recommendation was. Having had a chance to read it, and particularly the evidence given to the Select Committee, I am very concerned at the decision to choose the south-west corner, not the 1646 south-east. I assure the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) that it is not because the broadcasters would have the advantage in that corner of seeing the faces of my right hon. Friends on the present Government Front Bench—for a long time to come, I trust—but because there are other good reasons why the south-east corner would have been the ideal solution, as appears from the evidence not merely of the broadcasting authorities but of the Department of the Environment.
Apart from anything else, when we are concerned about public expenditure we should be very concerned about the fact that the House will have to pay an extra 40 per cent. for a commentary box in the south-west corner compared with the south-east corner. We are told in paragraph 12 of the report oftwo factors which … militate against the proposals for the south east corner.They have nothing to do with the visibility of the Opposition or the Government, or the nearness of the minority parties. They have to do with the number of seats below the Bar on the Opposition side, which would be severely reduced. The seats under the Gallery would be too obtrusive if they were brought forward by one row.
The reduction in the number of Opposition seats by nine appears to be a serious factor, whereas the reduction in the number of Government seats is not. The number of seats on each side of the Chamber is approximately the same, taking into account on the Government side the official Box at the northern end—
§ Mr. Whitehead
Both alternatives are based on the assumption that the broadcasters need nine or 10 seats.
§ Mr. Roper
I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to the seat occupancy 1647 rate of the seats below the Bar, not in the body of the Chamber. I am sure he does not wish to give a false impression. That is so, although the seats below the Bar on the Opposition side are often occupied by Government Members when consulting advisers. They are frequently occupied, because that is where in Private Bill and other debates there are advisers who can be consulted. That does not occur on the Government side of the House.
Usually, although not at present, there are significantly more Members who wish to have seats on the Government side of the House, rather than on the Opposition side, so it would seem, prima facie, that if seats are to be taken they should be taken from the Opposition side rather than from the Government side.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I have sat in the Chamber frequently this summer, and on many occasions I have noticed that the Government Benches behind the Front Bench are completely empty—even when we were debating important Bills.
§ Mr. Roper
As I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North, we are considering the seats below the Bar, not those in the body of the Chamber, the occupancy of which varies according to the time of day. Assuming that there is a majority on the Government side, as there usually is, it is more reasonable to take seats from the Opposition than from the Government. Therefore, I find unsatisfactory the first of the two arguments in paragraph 12 to justify spending an extra £10,000.
The second argument for spending an extra £10,000 is equally unsatisfactory. It is that the seats occupied by the advisers, the Secretary to the Chief Whip and the Secretary to the Opposition Chief Whip from time to time would become too obtrusive if they were moved forward one row. They would be more obtrusive but, with great respect to those who occupy the officials' Box at the northern end of the Chamber, they would still be rather less obtrusive than the officials' Box. The relative obtrusiveness of the officials' Box and the advisers' Box is not a significant argument in deciding where to position the broadcasting box.
The Select Committee's recommendations are neither well thought out nor 1648 well argued. The evidence of the broadcasting authorities and the Department of the Environment is much wiser. I hope that the House, perhaps by postponing the decision tonight, will have an opportunity to chose the right solution—the cheaper solution—which is one of the solutions in the south-east corner of the Chamber.
§ Mr. Douglas Hurd (Mid-Oxon)
Is the hon. Gentleman taking into account in his calculations that if his recommendation is accepted there will be no major work until the next Summer Recess and by that time even the cheaper solution might well cost more than the more expensive solution would now?
§ 1.21 a.m.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
In presenting this report the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford) stated that the House had taken a decision in principle in favour of permanent broadcasting, and by a substantial majority. Of course, that is quite correct. It is equally correct that the Select Committee should have proceeded rapidly to try to implement the logic of that resolution.
Nevertheless, while I disagree with the principle, there is a major difference between principle and practice and until the House of Commons wills the means, namely passes the resolution necessary to commence the process of obtaining the money, then the House of Commons cannot truly have finally said that broadcasting should commence. Nor can one say that the acceptance of that principle need impose upon us the fact that it must commence immediately. The question of timing is a different matter from the question of principle.
While I disagree with the principle, I must compliment the Select Committee on the work that it has done. The way in which the report has been provided is immensely helpful to the House. I think that the designs which have been shown to us are in great taste and that great care has been shown in the design of these alternatives. The Select Committee is to be commended on the care, good 1649 taste and clarity with which it has presented these proposals to the House.
If the issue were solely that of a choice between a box positioned in the southwest and one in the south-east corner of this Chamber I would agree with the conclusion of the Select Committee. I think that a box positioned in the South-East corner is the logical and correct decision. But, frankly, I do not see that as the principal issue even within the relatively narrow point that we are discussing tonight.
There are other alternatives. There is the question of the cost and the question whether this is the right time for the House of Commons to approve expenditure of this nature. We have been told that the cost of providing a box is £38,000. That seems a small sum by House of Commons standards, but it is only when one gets outside that people ask why everything, even these small matters, seem to escalate beyond the cost that ordinary mortals regard as reasonable. Whether it is the cost of the canopy at the Members' entrance, or the cost of a box, these figures are quite substantial.
Even £38,000 is a considerable sum, yet that is only the trigger which will lead to the expenditure of £360,000 at least, as described in the evidence submitted by the BBC. We are contemplating the expenditure of £360,000 by the beginning of next year. It is only fair to the House and to the country to say that that is what we are deciding.
While there may be many who are in favour of broadcasting, both in the House and throughout the country, I wonder whether if the priorities were put to them, they would spend £360,000 in this way, at this time? I cannot believe that such a great benefit will be conferred upon democracy, upon this House and upon the country as to warrant public expenditure of that kind at this time. If we are genuine in our desire to cut public spending, I think that those who believe most passionately in these matters should be willing to make the sacrifice by postponing this project no matter how desirable it is for them in principle. Having said that I am opposed in principle, I am certainly 1650 opposed to spending £360,000 on it in the forseeable future.
I turn now to some of the points of detail. I question the proposition that the observation box has to be at Floor level. I know that the BBC and other commentators were insistent—I think that those were the words used by the hon. Member for Bradford, North—that it had to be at Floor level, but I do not think that the insistence of the commentators weighs particularly heavily with me. No doubt, if they were most insistent, they would have the place which is obviously most suited for general observation of the Chamber, which, presumably, is Mr. Speaker's Chair. I am rather impressed by their modesty in not claiming that right on this occasion.
The commentators said that they must have a clear view of the Chamber. I am puzzled. I should have thought that the logical position from which to get the clearest view of the Chamber would be the Press Gallery. If that is not so, perhaps it explains why representatives of the Press in their Gallery have failed to notice the place where the Member for Faversham usually sits. Perhaps they do not have quite so clear a view of the Chamber after all, but I should have assumed that that was logically the best position from which to see most hon. Members in normal circumstances.
There are occasions when great crowds assemble on one side or the other at the end of the Chamber waiting to go into the Division Lobby. Obviously, the view of the commentators would be totally interrupted in such circumstances. Moreover—I give this purely for the purpose of comparison—I understand that in the House of Lords the box is to be positioned in the Press Gallery above the Chamber. Apparently, it is unimportant that observers of the House of Lords should have a clear view of all their Lordships. I fail to see the logic of the Committees' argument in that respect.
§ Mr. Moate
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation, but, although it meets one point, it does not explain which parts of the House of Commons cannot be observed from the Press Gallery, and how the reporters' observation can proceed when crowds of Members are assembled in front of the observation box and moving into the Division Lobby. Such moments are often important in the House. As an example, I remind hon. Members of that important event in the House on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. I suspect that at that moment the events elsewhere in the Chamber would have been totally obscured to the reporters by the crowds assembled in front of the box. I am sure that it would have been very difficult for them to explain what was going on. Indeed, I think that it is a strong argument against broadcasting at all, because events such as that are inexplicable without reference to the whole history of what had happened in Committee and so on. But that is trespassing somewhat beyond the narrow confines of this debate.
I cannot believe that, for the purposes of observation, the observers are better off here at Floor level in the Chamber than in the Press Gallery along with other representatives of the Press.
The other argument invoked in favour of the box being at Floor level rather than in the Gallery was, I thought, rather strange. Apparently, it has something to do with people getting there in a hurry. What is that argument about? When do we see Press men in such a hurry?
§ Mr. Moate
I suspect—and fear—that they would be hurrying out rather than hurrying in. But they might also have to hurry out for calls of nature and so on. I suspect that that is more likely than any other reason. Confined in a small box which, presumably, would not have all conveniences, they might, I suppose, have moments when they had to leave in a hurry—but, apparently, only in the House of Commons, not in the House of Lords, where it seems that no one is ever in a hurry—which could be right.
1652 I am intrigued, because this question was put to Mr. Hardiman Scott by, I think, the hon. Lady the Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor), with reference to repositioning, and he used some rather strange language. He said:Were that possible, which would mean re- positioning your clock and so on, I do not think it would look all that attractive sticking out.I do not know to what he was referring when he made what might seem a most unflattering response to the hon. Lady. It is a most unconvincing argument.
I believe that we should consider having the observation box situated in the Press Gallery. That is where it belongs. We should give further thought to that point.
I should like to touch on two further points. First, this suggestion will involve the loss of 10 seats outside the House, but within the Chamber. We shall lose 10 seats at a cost of £38,000. If I could pick the 10 Members who might have to be excluded from the Chamber, I might not find too much dissatisfaction in expending £38,000. Nevertheless, it is a loss of space in a small Chamber. I do not feel that is a justified expenditure.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), I question the statement by the BBC that it would prefer the box to be on the south-east corner so that it could have a clear view of the Government Front Bench. Why should that be so, unless it feels that the Government Front Bench provides the best broadcasting material? I fear that is what will happen. There will be prepared speeches from both the Government and Opposition Front Benches, which will make the best broadcasting news material. The Back Bencher will be progressively cut out. That is a strong argument against broadcasting altogether.
§ Mr. William Price
Part of the answer is that the broadcasting authorities were able to show that, during the month's experiment, they used material from 350 Members, including Ministers and Shadow Ministers.
§ Mr. Moate
I accept that. I want to know why the BBC was so concerned that it should view the Government Front Bench. It is a mystery to me, 1653 particularly with this Government, but even with a Conservative Government. My proposition is that the observation box should be positioned centrally above the Chamber so that there is an equal view of all Members.
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)
My hon. Friend should realise that it is important for the BBC to see the Government Front Bench, because that is where all the depressing news comes from and the BBC is usually more interested in depressing news.
§ Mr. Moate
That might be true temporarily, but I think that we can look forward to better times ahead with a change of Government. However, my argument would be equally applicable then.
I am opposed to the principle of sound broadcasting of our proceedings, but I accept that the House has accepted it. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the House has stated clearly and categorically that this is the time to commence broadcasting. In fact, at this time of major public expenditure cuts, it is absolutely the wrong time to commit this House and the taxpayer to an expenditure of £360,000.
§ 1.34 a.m.
§ Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)
Those of us who may have to be a little critical of the report of the Joint Committee would not wish that criticism to be misunderstood as implying attacks upon either the great care taken by the Committee or the success of the experiment. Both those matters stand of themselves in this debate.
The experiment was a total success in difficult circumstances for both the broadcasting organisations which participated in it. The work of this Parliament was brought before a new wide audience through not only the local radio stations but the hard-pressed BBC external services. We should pay tribute to that.
We should also pay tribute to the work of the Joint Committee for getting its report to the House before the Summer Recess so that, as we are told, there will be the opportunity for work to go ahead in the recess. But we cannot move from there, as appears to be the simplistic view of some of the Whips, to the point of saying that we cannot make detailed 1654 criticisms of the report because to do that is to lose the whole principle of the matter and to cause at least one year's delay. I seriously question that view. There are two days left in this Session before we rise for the Summer Recess. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) has already gained one assurance, and I think that some of us would seek others.
A number of Members on both sides of the House have said that they question the advisability of spending the most money on the worst of the three alternative schemes. It is a pity that the confines of the debate are so restricted as some of us would have liked to consider the order of priorities that were imposed, in a sense, on the Joint Committee. Those priorities meant that we had to discuss the broadcasting of the House of Lords before we considered in detail the broadcasting of the Committees in this place, which many of us believe are more important.
Some of the arguments about the size of the commentary box and its positioning are forced upon us because we have gone along with the view of the broadcasters—namely, that they cannot, for the purposes of radio broadcasting of a permanent nature, have remote control cameras. Therefore, we face the problem of the intrusion of commentary boxes.
There is an interesting and revealing passage in the evidence where my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office was cross-examining officials of the Department of the Environment. He pointed out that we are now told that the special low-light-intensity cameras may be eight years away. We may challenge the broadcasting authorities about the use of remote control cameras to get rid of the need for commentary boxes under the Gallery, but we must accept the assumption, for the purpose of the debate, that the broadcasters must have commentators in the Chamber.
We now reach the stage of discussing where they should be positioned. I did not have the privilege to be on the Joint Committee, but I was on the earlier special committee of the Services Committee, as was the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud). The hon. Gentleman also has a background in broadcasting, and like me he would testify to the 1655 fact that there was a natural aggrandisement about the evidence that tended to be brought before us by broadcasters about their needs. That was perfectly natural as there is a natural desire to get in on the scene.
I remember the enormous convoy of people who went off to the party conferences when I was a young broadcaster. We have recently seen the splendid delegation from the BBC going off to the Democratic Party Conference in the United States—a rather larger delegation than that which went from the State of Pennsylvania. But that is another matter. The fact is that a large number of people want to get in on the act.
We are told in the report that the broadcasters will need to have the Ladies Gallery, and that they should be given that on a permanent basis. There will be the commentary positions below the Gallery. Bearing in mind the configuration of the Chamber, I accept that they need to have commentary positions below the Gallery, but I do not accept that it is so important that some production assistant should get the feeling of the place that we must hand over the Ladies Gallery for all time so that people can come and go to see "politics on the hoof" down here. However, we need positions for two or more commentators, and possible two of their reserves, deputies or assistants, the people who will take over if the commentators drop dead.
I seriously query whether we need to have positions taking up 10 seats in the Chamber, or whether we need to have the position in the south-west corner. It was the view of the broadcasters when they gave evidence to the Services Committee on the investigation on which I served that they wanted to have the south-east corner. That view was reiterated in evidence to the Joint Committee. That was the assumption in the evidence of the Department of the Environment's to that Committee.
It is another matter whether the broadcasters need to have the south-east corner. Assuming that they do, and if they occupy six or seven positions, one reaches the agonising argument whether seats should be brought forward one row and whether the advisers would then become obstrusive in the Chamber, with double-banking and all the rest of it. I 1656 wonder about that, and I also wonder about the rights of those in the southeast corner.
The answer seems to lie not in the reasons adduced in paragraph 12 of the report, but much more in the evidence given to the Committee that the Whips were not happy about positions being taken up in the south-east corner. The Minister is reported as sayingWhere do the Whips come into this?One might well ask. The Chairman of the Committee then said:Because they have expressed a preference to retain the seats under the gallery in precisely their present form.When the Minister asked "Why?" the Chairman of the Committee said:I cannot tell you exactly what their objections are.
§ Mr. English
May I assist my hon. Friend? In the original Committee some 10 years ago it was suggested that the reason broadcasters would not like that corner was that it was already occupied by the gentleman responsible for ensuring the air-conditioning in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Whitehead
That may be the case. We all know that that corner of the Chamber is occupied not only by hon. Members when there is an important debate, but from time to time by other Members. Some hon. Members have suffered back injuries, for example, and there was a case some years ago involving Bernard Floud, who wished to be in the Chamber but who was not physically able to sit on the normal seats. Some hon. Members have found it necessary to listen to debates while lying prone on those seats. Such Members have invoked semi-libellous suggestions that some hon. Members have been asleep.
§ Mr. Whitehead
It was then said… some of the people who serve the Whips' Office are allowed to go into that section. …".We are now talking about the south-east corner. That is a perquisite and some people regard themselves as having special lien on that corner. Quite apart from that, the Chief Whip's secretary and other representatives of the Opposition Whips' 1657 Office are to be found in that part of the Chamber, as well as advisers, and, indeed the Town Clerk of Hogsnaughton may wish to be present in the Chamber when a Private Members' Bill is being discussed.
It seems to me that broadcasters could manage easily with, at the most, five commentary positions in the south-east corner, at far less expense to the House at a time of financial stringency and control of public expenditure, without discommoding advisers, and without the broadcasters being forced into the second row in front of that position.
I see the Whips groaning in expectation that this debate might be taken seriously. The House has had only one opportunity to discuss this report, and we should be allowed to ask for amendments to be made in some respects. That is a point of substance that the Whips would do well to heed.
Finally, if we are looking ahead to a time—I think I am in order in saying this because it is mentioned fairly extensively in the minutes of evidence, and was also before the Services Committee when the question of the Joint Committee came up—when the commentary box facilities are linked not merely with the studios in Bridge Street but also with a centre for the origination of the signal within the precincts, I hope that we shall adhere in that respect to the view taken, if I read the evidence correctly, by the Joint Committee and by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke). That is that the position should be the one suggested—the former Doorkeeper's Room against the Members' Lobby.
There is a particular reason why I think we should separate the centre for the origination of the signal from the studios across the road. It hinges very much upon points which the Joint Committee has not been able to consider, such as the whole question of control of the broadcasting unit, the copyright and matters of that kind.
It would be out of order for me to attempt to go into them tonight, but it is right and proper to say that some of us would strongly endorse the view that signal origination should remain within the precincts, in the position that the hon. Member for Bristol, West and others have suggested. I shall welcome the Minister's 1658 comments on that, and I should like him to ponder seriously the view that many of us, who for years have fervently supported broadcasting the proceedings, cannot go along with the notion of choosing the most expensive scheme at the most inappropriate time for it to go ahead.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)
I agree very much with the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) about the number of positions in the commentary box. He and I and several hon. Members present here served on the Services Committee when the broadcasts were made for the trial period. I remember that at that time also the broadcasters asked for eight seats. They were whittled down to three, and they managed perfectly adequately, if uncomfortably.
From the minutes of evidence it appears that no one has tried particularly hard to dissuade the broadcasters from their demand for 10 seats. In view of the high quality of the broadcasting in the initial period which we experienced last year, I feel that to treble the number of seats is asking a little too much. I am very sorry indeed that the Joint Committee did not work on them with the same vigour as the Services Committee to get them to reduce their numbers.
I am absolutely in favour of broadcasting. It is a good thing to bring the House closer to the people. I think the experiment last year was highly successful.
As to the siting of the box, I am very much in favour of taking the advice of the people who are actually to sit in it. I believe that the broadcasters were totally right to point out that the southeast corner gives them a view of the Government Front Bench. While listeners hear the voice of any Member they might want to hear, it is expressions on the faces of the Ministers of the Government of the day that are of importance to the broadcasters, whether they themselves speak or are insulted or criticised by the Opposition. The most important thing is for the broadcaster to see the expressions on their faces.
When the experiment took place, there was very little commentary from the critics. It was very much a question of listening to the actual voices of the Members. I believe that the south-east 1659 corner is by far the best place, even if the Royal Fine Art Commission does not believe that the prettiness of the advisers would actually help the general aesthetic appearance of the House.
§ Mr. Freud
I do not think the hon. Member heard what I said. I was talking about the Royal Fine Art Commission's appraisal of the people sitting in the Gallery. The commission seemed to be agreeable to any suggestion made to it.
As has been said, the problem about agreeing to the motion is the size of the sum involved. Whether it be £38,000 or £28,000, or some in-between figure, it triggers off the expenditure of about £272,000, which seems to me to be a colossal sum. I feel that it should be recouped in part at least in rental, or in some other way, by the people using the facility.
I am particularly concerned about the sum of £10,000 for the storage of tapes. That seems typical of the sort of thing that is slipped into the report. I do not know how many tapes there will be, but I undertake to store tapes for half that sum and do very well out of it.
I am in favour of broadcasting, but I do not think that the question has been considered carefully enough.
§ 1.51 a.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Notingham, West (Mr. English) in connection with the need for some facilities, albeit as cheap as possible, in two of the Committee Rooms.
I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office—the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Price) —a question. I understand that this expenditure of between £33,000 and £38,000 is being borne by the Department of the Environment. If that is right, why is it —ask Mr. Tom Steele, the manager of Radio Forth, and certain members of BBC Scotland—that in connection with the proposed Scottish Assembly it is suggested that the local radio stations—Radio Forth, Radio Clyde and BBC 1660 Scotland—should pay for all the facilities?
I should like an answer to that question, at my hon. Friend's convenience.
§ 1.52 a.m.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
I shall not delay the House for very long. If somebody objects to something, he often says that it is the wrong moment for doing it. But it is right that we should think of the expense involved. Some quite extraordinary figures have been presented to this House, almost casually—figures with which we are supposed to agree, at this time of night, without a murmur. The sum of between £361,000 and £372,000 has been mentioned, but anybody who has had dealings with expenditure knows that the suggested maximum will certainly prove to be the minimum, by many tens of thousands of pounds. The cost of this project will rise, without any doubt, over the half-million mark, and apparently annual payments will have to be made by the House.
I apologise for not having heard the first of the speeches, but since I have been here I have not heard any mention of the subject of copyright. Will anybody pay for the copyright? Will there be any contribution from outside bodies, or will the total burden fall upon the House of Commons? We must remember that the House is not the most popular place in the country at the moment, and it does us no good to consider quite casually expenditure of this dimension without, apparently, considering the question of the way in which the money is to be provided.
All people are in favour of cuts in expenditure, in principle, but most of them say "My project, however, is quite exceptional and must go forward." We hear that said week after week. We are all guilty of it at some time or other.
I consider that this is the wrong moment for the House to consider this type of expenditure, with little care for the way in which it is to be provided, and I shall not support the motion, for that reason.
§ 1.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The House is unfortunate in that the Government have not tabled a "take 1661 note" motion in respect of the report and approved certain recommendations. I am sorry that they did not see fit to do so, because that would have made it easier to follow up the points made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) on matters such as copyright. These matters are very important.
I confess that I did not approve the motion to have sound broadcasting, not because I am against it in principle but because the experiment was far too short to commit the House to a permanent system. We should have tried it for a year so that we could determine the secondary effects over a period.
One of the things about the experiment which were not so good was that Government speakers occupied about 60 per cent. of the time. That point was raised in relation to the south-east corner, although I do not think that that necessarily outweighs the added complications of the south-west corner.
I am more concerned with the amount of time that the commentators need to be in the box. Obviously that will be at its greatest at Question Time, but if I recall correctly in the period of our experiment that box was not occupied very much. There were many complaints about its size and seating, but surely the seating was precisely what we occupy. We do not have much room but we have to be ready to stand up to speak, and we must have with us a lot of material. I would have thought that the facilities were not all that bad. There is therefore a case yet to be made for taking the considerable space which is being asked for.
§ Mr. Spearing
That may be so, but if we are amplifying the House we may be amplifying the Government instead. That is a wider issue that has already been decided in principle, but what the hon. Gentleman said has to some extent borne out my point.
§ Mr. William Price
Perhaps I should make clear what the figure represents. The 60 per cent. referred to as Government time included Labour Back Benchers. In that sense it is not strictly accurate to describe it as Government time or to suggest that my hon. Friends were always sympathetic to the Government.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for correcting me on that point.
I come back now to the schemes. Scheme 1 concerning the south-west corner is an apparently extraordinary choice. Not only is it one that the broadcasters find less convenient it is clearly the most complex. In answering Question No. 42 the witness from the Department of the Environment was asked about the supply of the materials. He repliedWe would have to presuppose some unconventional, though not necessarily wrong, methods of engaging the contractor".That was ominous to say the least. Because there is concrete flooring there and the need to reposition the Tannoy, which works very well and serves the House very well with its skills, considerable engineering work would be required.
In Question 43 the same gentleman saysThe engineering aspects will be much more troublesome.We know what happens once events take that course. Time goes on, complications ensue and the costs increase. So I do not find the case for the south-west corner compelling. I find the case for the south-east more attractive.
Perhaps we could go for the third solution which requires rather less space. I found it extraordinary that the Committee should have opted for the southwest corner. Perhaps their choice was influenced by the need for the commentators to see the Government, but I think that they will probably see the Government anyway, whatever their position.
If we approve the scheme we are also apparently approving expenditure outside. This has been called the "trigger". I should like the Minister to explain how we do that by passing the motion. Quite clearly if there are to be commentators' boxes in the House there must be equipment outside. We are told in the report 1663 that this will be at 2, Bridge Street and that it will cost £272,000. I have asked for these premises to be offered to Her Majesty's Stationery Office so that citizens can buy copies of Hansard and other excellent HMSO publications. The Ministers for the Civil Service have not been keen on this idea for the past six years, but it is about time that people got in the Parliament Square area Hansard and the White Papers and other documents on which this House subsists.
It would be ironic in the extreme if we spent considerable sums even without the physical refurbishments needed to fit in the editorial gubbins of sound broadcasting, but found it impossible to satisfy the need of citizens to be able to buy copies of Hansard, Bills and other documents in this area.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention, but I do not think that I should pursue that matter any further, bearing in mind the terms of the motion. However, I hope that this subject will be referred to by the Minister.
We do not want the Government to come to the House with one set of recommendations for £38.000 and then find ourselves having to pay at least 10 times that sum.
§ 2.3 a.m.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
The quality of the report is in sorry contrast to the lateness of the hour and the day of the debate. Some of the points raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House would have been more pertinent and practicable if we had debated the report nearer its publication date of 10th June.
The points that I wish to mention have been touched on by a number of hon. Members who have taken a different view from mine. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) made an important point in relation to the siting of the commentary boxes when he said that it was important for broadcasters to be able to see the Opposition parties and their 1664 Leaders and all Back Benchers, though especially on the Opposition side, rather than looking at the faces and listening to the words of the executive who inhabit the Front Bench on the Government side. Broadcasting the proceedings of the House will be a dramatic step forward in improving the influence, if not the power, of Back Benchers.
The corner of the Chamber on the Government side is a better site for a box than the corner on this side. I have no qualms about overriding the desires of the broadcasters to ensure that they do not make a slip from time to time whenever a Cabinet reshuffle has taken place.
With regard to the size of the boxes, it is to the advantage of the House as a whole that the broadcasters and those people who will be instantaneously commenting on what goes on here are in a reasonable state of comfort so that they can give vent to wise and wide-awake comment on the proceedings as they evolve. It is worth while to look forward to the day—it may be way off in the future—when we may be considering television coverage. It would be sad to have to start rebuilding all over again at huge additional expense at some time in the future in order to be able to accommodate commentators and cameras for the television broadcasts.
As to cost, we have to watch every pound. However, it is in peculiar contrast to the total of five speakers who spoke in the previous debate tonight, when considering an advance of £30 million to British Leyland—I was not present for that debate, but I presume that three of the five spoke against the proposal—that everyone taking part in this debate has been venting his wrath about the expenditure of a sum that represents about one-hundredth of that amount. This is in taking a step endorsed by the House in previous debate and which could be the single most important advance in the democratic process of the House of Commons. Sadly, that democratic process has not been evident through much of our debate and procedures during the past year.
§ 2.7 a.m.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)
I should like to raise the question whether it is essential, although it may 1665 be desirable, to have a commentary box at all for broadcasting. If one can pick up the sound and if a commentator is some way away from the Chamber with an Order Paper, the only people who will lose out are those who make interventions. A commentator can quite easily put in the Question at Question Time, and he or she ought to know which Minister is replying. The only Members who might lose out are those making gibes or interruptions from a sedentary position, because Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy Speaker invariably mentions the name of the Member called to speak. The only Members who do not have their names mentioned are those who rise without being recongised by the Chair.
I am not suggesting that this would be a perfect way to provide a commentary on our proceedings, but it is perfectly feasible to have broadcasting without any of these constructions at all.
§ 2.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)
I am not here tonight to give a Conservative Party line on whether broadcasting should be put on a permanent basis. We have a free vote, and for us that means just that—a free vote.
However, as a party we regret the circumstances which have led to this last-minute debate, at a late hour and at the very end of the Session. We also regret the need to place the House in something of a dilemma. We have already heard from other speakers "Vote for this and you can have broadcasting back by mid-1977. Vote against it and you certainly will not have it until the end of next year."
One could complain also about the constraints placed upon us preventing a wide debate. However, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have been most generous in your application of the rules of the order. Perhaps I may think that has been in response to what I said to you earlier. We have managed to touch on quite a number of the broader points, which will help the House to come to a decision tonight.
I suppose that one could criticise the time that we took to set up the Joint Committee. We cannot, however, criticise the thoroughness of its chairman, the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford). Nor can we criticise 1666 the officials of the Department of the Environment who gave us their ready assistance, particularly the highly-skilled draftsman whose work appears as the illustrations to the report. I know that they took a great deal of time and trouble on this work because there are other matters that concern the Services Committee and occasionally we had to wait a little while the work was being done on this vital matter.
I had the privilege of serving on the original Committee, on the Joint Committee, and, together with the Lord President and others, on the Services Committee. I have been chairman of that part of it which is concerned with the interests of Members and their accommodation. Space in this Palace and its surroundings is a scarce commodity and there is fierce competition for such as is available. But faced with the vote in the House of 299 to 124, we felt that we should give some priority to recommendations about space for the broadcasters. But, I hasten to say, not a square foot will be recommended or surrendered to them above their absolutely essential needs.
The Joint Committee made its report on this originally narrow issue and the Services Committee, being the servant of the House, did not wish to frustrate the activities of the Joint Committee. It took on board at once the question of accommodation and lost no time, at its very next meeting—which was summoned especially to deal with this matter—in endorsing what the Joint Committee had requested, subject of course to the agreement of the House. But there was no question of any obstruction or delay there by anyone.
The scheme which the Services Committee endorsed was Scheme 1. I do not want to make any play with what the Royal Fine Art Commission said, which caused some laughter in the House when it was referred to. I hope that the commission has as great a sense of humour about these matters as the House itself, which invariably takes a contrary view to the commission. There may be some consolation to be found in the fact that the commission thought that the canopy at the Members' entrance was a beautiful affair—although many of us regret that it cost so much.
1667 I do not want to do the Minister's job for him in referring to all the speeches which have been made—
§ Mr. Cooke
—but perhaps I could point to some of the questions which require an answer and to some of the pitfalls into which he might fall if he were not prepared to tackle them.
The House wants to know a good deal more than what the Minister has to say about this narrow report. The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) displayed tonight his usual thoroughness. He has been dealing with this question for much longer than other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate—
§ Mr. Cooke
I have been active here for eight years longer than that, but I have not spent so much time on broadcasting matters as has the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman and others mentioned Committees. Surely we should aim for as complete as possible a picture of the activities of the House. Broadcasting of Committees is essential. He said that perhaps a couple of Committee rooms could be set up for broadcasting—one Select Committee Room and one Standing Committee Room, because they are differently constructed.
That would not be entirely satisfactory. It would be all right as an experiment but we are aiming at something permanent. Those who want to proceed with broadcasting want to get it right on a permanent basis. Merely to have two Committee Rooms equipped so that if a Committee decided that it wanted to have its proceedings broadcast it would have to move to a different room when some other Committee was sitting there would hardly be satisfactory.
§ Mr. English
I agree with the hon. Gentleman but I am also trying to assist all hon. Members who believe in trying to keep down public expenditure. I understand that to adapt two Committee Rooms would cost about a quarter of the cost involved in the Chamber. That is very reasonable, but if it had to be done in 16 rooms it would cost proportionately 1668 more. I do not think that it is a permanently satisfactory solution, but it is a reasonable solution at this time.
What I do not wish to see, and what I believe the overwhelming majority of hon. Members do not wish to see, is the House broadcasting separately, with no broadcasting of Committees whatsoever.
§ Mr. Cooke
There are a number of imponderables here. The Government might also consider whether the Committee should have the power to decide whether it is broadcast. The House will not have the power but will be broadcast if we so resolve. I can conceive a Committee where the Government were on a hiding to nothing, such as the wealth tax Committee, where the Government majority might well decide that it did not want the proceedings to be broadcast, or a Committee might wish to protect a Minister coming to a public hearing.
Most hon. Members mentioned the question of cost. I hope that the Minister will be able to say a little on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) was the first hon. Member to talk about the so-called two-to-one coverage, or two-to-one advantage of the Government over the official Opposition. From the evidence of Mr. Hardiman Scott and the BBC memorandum it was clear that there was almost exactly a two-to-one difference in the coverage. There is no doubt that the Committee's recommendation on where the boxes should be was an attempt to redress this apparent imbalance. We came down in favour of the more costly position on the west side not merely because the commentators would have a good view of the Opposition Front Bench but because they would have a good view of the wealth of talent on the Opposition Back Benches.
The hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper), with his characteristic thoroughness—we have come across each other on a number of occasions in our parliamentary lives—asked many awkward questions about the boxes, the number of seats and so on. It is up to the Minister to try to straighten out the record. The hon. Gentleman talked about 10 seats that would be lost on the Government side, but apart from the reclining Member with back ache they are seldom used, 1669 whereas the seats on the Opposition side are heavily used, by Government supporters, too. Tannoy would be accommodated in the 10-seat box on the West side, which might be of some advantage if there were a technical problem and Tannoy and the broadcasting authorities had to be in communication.
§ Mr. Cooke
It is not for me to provide all the answers that the broadcasters might be able to think up when asking for a considerable number of seats. There will no doubt be a demand for more space as broadcasting expands. The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Annan Commission, and will know that the present choice, even in radio, may well be expanded as a result of Annan. It was to some extent to anticipate future demands that the recommendations in the report were made. If we had recommended the east side we would have been in a straitjacket.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) asked whether the commentators' box should be in the Press Gallery. We did not see the gentlemen in the Press Gallery pointing as my hon. Friend was speaking, but if we had seen them we would have noticed that they were pointing to parts of the Chamber they could not see. They cannot see some of the expert Members of the House who frequently sit near Mr. Speaker's Chair on either side. The Press Gallery does not command a complete range of view, although in the House of Lords, because of the configuration of the Chamber, the situation is different.
The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), whose expertise we welcome, challenged what was said in the Services Committee's Report. He is on record as having attended the meeting on Tuesday 6th July, at which the report of the Joint Committee was endorsed and a resolution was passed by the Committee concerning the specific point about Scheme 1.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Most of the discussion in the Services Committee was about the other matters which I raised with the hon. Gentleman in the debate, that is to 1670 say, the position of the former Doorkeepers' room, not about whether we wanted Scheme 1, Scheme 2 or Scheme 3. There was no extended debate about that.
§ Mr. Cooke
I hope the record is clear that the hon. Gentleman was present and had the advantage of hearing the discussion. The resolution recommending that the report of the Joint Committee should be supported was carried by the Services Committee nem con.
I agree with the hon. Member for Derby, North that it would be advisable for the place of signal origination to be separate from the rest of the broadcasting apparatus. We have not decided whether the signal origination should be done by Tannoy under the aegis of the House or by one of the broadcasting organisations under the aegis of the House. The Joint Committee has yet to report on that. We had to keep the option open. There is a room over the Commons Corridor between the Members' Lobby and the Central Lobby set aside for this purpose.
The hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) asked about the wider expenditure implications, and I hope that the Minister will deal with that matter. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked who should pay, and my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Sir J. Langford-Holt) was concerned about cost. He also referred to copyright. We have not considered that, but perhaps the Minister will give a hint on how that will be taken care of.
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) called for a wide cross-section of Parliament's work to be broadcast, and this we endorse. Tannoy can deal with the point he raised about signal origination. The Services Committee resolution refers to No. 1 Bridge Street, not to No. 2 Bridge Street. I do not want to go into the question where we might or might not be able to spread ourselves on the Bridge Street site, save to say that the Services Committee as the servant of the House has long requested Governments of all colours to make available more accommodation for Members and other purposes related to Parliament on the Bridge Street site. The only constraint has been of public expenditure, but the Government are not unsympathetic within the bounds of what we shall be able to spend, and we are 1671 all doing our level best without exceeding the limits to make the best use of the accommodation there and to decant out of this building into other buildings everything that does not have to be near the Chamber.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) had perhaps the brightest idea of all, that we did not need a commentary box and that commentators outside the Chamber would be able to recognise us and our procedures by listening. We might ponder on that during the recess.
In normal circumstances it would be undesirable for the Government or a Select Committee to ask the House to write a blank cheque. The Opposition are wholly opposed to the writing of blank cheques to cover unspecified public expenditure. However, if the House of Commons feels that the wider communication, possible through the broadcasts, is of such urgency, we would not wish to use any party influence to prevent it. Indeed, there are many hon. Members on this side of the House who would wish to give it a warm welcome.
§ 2.25 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Privy Council Office (Mr. William Price)
This is a matter for the House. It is true to say that the majority of members of this Government would welcome permanent broadcasting but it is certainly not our wish to railroad anyone into anything at all.
My Department and the Joint Committee were faced with a difficult problem. How could we implement a decision of this House, taken by a majority of 175, and how soon could we do it? It has been explained, and it is worth repeating, that we have a simple choice tonight, assuming for a moment that the House still wishes to have broadcasting at all. Do we introduce it in six months' time or in 18 months? What the Joint Committee did was take the decision of this House seriously and it has sought to find a way out of what has been a rather difficult situation.
It is a fact that we shall have to undertake the work in the Chamber during the long recess. To attempt to do it at any other time would, in my view—and I have taken expert advice on this—create quite unnecessary levels of inconvenience. 1672 I do not think that is a possibility. I am satisfied that it was not possible for the Joint Committee to make a full report in time for a decision before the recess. There are important points to be considered as has been mentioned—privilege, copyright, financing, accommodation, the parliamentary unit, and so on [An HON. MEMBER: "Defamation."] Defamation, certainly. These are matters which have to go before the Select Committee and it will be a little while before it will be in a position to report to the House.
§ Mr. Roper
I am concerned that the Minister can assure us that if the decision is made tonight, which is now well into August, it will be possible through the recess for the project inside the Chamber to be completed because certainly some of the answers given by officials to the Select Committee seem to indicate otherwise.
§ Mr. Price
It is important that I should make the position clear. My understanding is that the facia will certainly be completed and that the box itself will be up but that work will have to be done inside the box which will create no inconvenience to the House at all and that it will be done at weekends between the period on which we come back and the time at which we hope it will be possible to resume broadcasting.
What the Select Committee did was to attempt to find a way to introduce broadcasting as quickly as possible, but in a way which I must say most of us would agree was a rather poor second best.
§ Mr. Price
I was, in fact, going to mention that. It is absolutely right that the House should know what the situation is, and I will come to the costing in a moment. I will give the exact breakdown of how the £38,000 has been arrived at so that hon. Members can make up their own minds.
It would be futile to pretend that what we have found is an ideal solution. What we have done is the best that we possibly could, under difficult terms of reference, 1673 with the co-operation of the broadcasting authorities. Neither the BBC nor the IBA would have done it this way if it could possibly have been avoided. But we have given the House the opportunity to resume early broadcasting if it chooses to do so.
I would accept as perfectly valid, any arguments that it would be preferable to wait until the Joint Committee has presented its full report. That, of course, is the tidy way to proceed. But it then means—and this must be stressed—that there would be no broadcasting until early in 1978. It was that situation which we sought to avoid.
I would like to thank the Joint Committee for the speed with which it produced its report. It is for the House to decide whether it regards the recommendation as acceptable. Perhaps I can add my thanks to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Ford). No one could have done more than he has to get this Select Committee before the House. I hope that he is wrong about his forecast of Whitsun and I hope that I am right in my forecast of soon after the Christmas Recess.
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend seems to be implying something which I am sure he would wish to deny. I am sure that he would deny that the broadcasting authorities wish to broadcast the House alone, and not Committees.
§ Mr. Price
I do not know where my hon. Friend got that idea. I can deny it on their behalf. They are very keen to broadcast Committee proceedings as well the House, and I may add that I am equally keen to see them do so. But there is a problem which we have discussed, and I thought that my hon. Friend was satisfied with the answer.
The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) described the cost as astonishing, and I must say that I, too, find it difficult to understand. One might as well be perfectly honest about it. It is an extremely high figure for what seems to 1674 me to be a relatively small job. That is why I asked for a breakdown, and I will state it. Builders' work is £20,000, made up as follows: preliminaries and contingencies £2,000; screens and protection £2,750; demolition and clearance £2,800; construction £6,600; finishings and acoustic treatment £3,250; builders' work in connection with services £1,800; furnishing work £800. Mechanical and electrical work comes to £18,000, including as the main item £12,000 for air-conditioning modifications for commentators' and Tannoy boxes. I should add here in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) that in the figure of £38,000 the work on the Ladies' Gallery is included.
§ Mr. Giles Shaw
I am grateful to the Minister for producing a detailed breakdown, but I am afraid that it does not reduce the anxiety since the constituent parts are as frightening as the total. The anxiety which we are collectively expressing is that a way must be found to reduce the total sum, and perhaps the Minister will comment on whether that is possible.
§ Mr. Price
I have done that already. I have sought every piece of advice which was available to me. I have asked for the figures to be broken down to the last pound. I have read the figures to the House, and I shall be happy to give the hon. Gentleman a copy if he wants it before he decides how to vote. It is a substantial sum of money. It seems an awful lot for what is a comparatively small job. I can only say that these are figures produced by experts, and I am a layman in these matters. [An HON. MEMBER: "Paid experts."] They may be highly paid or not. All I can say that I asked for a breakdown of the cost, I got it, and I have given it to the House. Hon. Members must make up their own minds.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
As one who voted on many occasions for the introduction of broadcasting, I have to take into account also that we have had some other experts who introduced a White Paper on cuts in public expenditure and subsequently we had a further round of cuts in public expenditure. This has influenced me greatly. What do I say to the women in my constituency who sent me a petition asking for inside toilets for little toddlers in a 1675 school who will otherwise have to continue to tramp great distances down the school yard to get to the toilet? What can I say when we here are to spend an enormous sum on providing these broadcasting facilities? I am not satisfied, and for that reason I shall take the necessary steps to vote against it.
§ Mr. Price
My hon. Friend must do what he thinks right. I am not seeking to persuade him one way or the other. All I can say is that public expenditure in this country has not come to a full stop. I heard that same argument when I had a job to persuade hon. Members to accept their £6. It seems to me that anything to do with Members of Parliament or to do with the House of Commons always comes at the wrong time, and we shall never do it if we can find an opportunity not to do it. My hon. Friend talks of public expenditure. Only an hour and a half ago we agreed, without a Division, on a matter of which I approve—I have many British Leyland workers in my constituency—a far larger sum, and on Monday night there was astonishment that we actually voted on a matter involving £530 million. We are talking here about a relatively small sum.
§ Mr. Whitehead
Will my hon. Friend accept that one way he could save £10,000 now would be to take the view which, I believe, most hon. Members who have spoken take, that is, to have Scheme 2 and not Scheme 1? It is not too late to accept that.
§ Mr. Price
I am not absolutely sure of the constitutional position. That was a matter for the Select Committee, and it made the recommendation, not the Government. I went to the Select Committee and argued the case for the other box. [Interruption.] I was on it, and I argued the case for the other box.
§ Mr. Price
After I have dealt with this point. Many Members have raised the question of the box. There is no doubt that what weighed heavily with the Select Committee was the evidence of the BBC that it was absolutely crucial that it should be over there where it could see the Government Front Bench. That may have been a factor which should not have 1676 swayed the Select Committee, but it did. The Select Committee was faced with a situation in which, during the experimental period, the Government and their followers got 60 per cent. of the time and the official Opposition got 29 per cent. of the time. There was unanimous agreement on the Select Committee that this was a matter of some concern which should be looked at. There was no case for increasing the Government's advantages in the way that the BBC and the IBA suggested. That was the major factor.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how hon. Members ought to vote if they would like to see a box put in the "No" Lobby corner? The reason I ask that question is that presumably the Minister had something to do with the wording of the motion, and it does not make it clear.
§ Mr. Whitehead
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it help to solve the dilemma in my mind, which is apparently also in the mind of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley), if the Chair were to accept a manuscript amendment to paragraph 12 of the report?
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), for whose comments I am grateful, as a doubter put the case fairly. I should like to deal with the need for observation at Floor level. This is a matter of some importance. I refer to the point that I made earlier. During the experimental period it was possible for 350 Members to be quoted. That process was helped enormously by 1677 the commentators being in a position to see everyone clearly. It is apparent that from the Press Gallery it is not possible to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) asked about the signal origination. I can give the same assurance as was given by the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Cooke) from the Opposition Front Bench—that it will be within the precincts.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) argued that this proposal would trigger off other expenditure. I understand that it will not do that until the House has considered the final report of the Joint Committee. The hon. Gentleman wanted this money recouped in rental. We have never charged anyone in this building—Press, radio or television—for the use of facilities. That would be as true of his local authority as of this House. That would be an entirely new departure which, I should argue strongly, would be wrong.
§ Mr. English
My hon. Friend will recollect the first two reports on this subject. That was true except in so far as the authorities were making a profit out of them, in which case we would expect to recoup.
§ Mr. Price
I am talking about the situation as it now exists. I have spoken to the authorities at some length and I have described their position. I give the categoric assurance that the £300,000 to which several hon. Members have referred could not be spent as a result of tonight's debate. That is an absolute certainty.
§ Mr. Price
I shall need to look into that. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the broadcasting authorities are arguing strongly that local radio is not a sound business proposition at this moment. I doubt whether some of the small broadcasting stations could pay any sort of rental, or would be prepared to do so if it were demanded of them.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) asked about the Scottish Assembly, where he thinks we shall be charging for facilities for the Press, radio and television. I shall look into that matter tomorrow and write to him.
It was inevitable that the debate would go a little wider than the narrow issue of the Joint Committee's Report, despite your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not complain that it has gone wider. To an extent—not a great extent—we have reopened the debate whether our proceedings should be broadcast. I hope that the House will forgive me—in any event, I do not think the Chair would allow me to do so—if I do not rehearse the arguments as I see them for broadcasting our proceedings.
I believe that the time is right. There is a demand from the public and the broadcasting authorities are keen to return. In my belief Parliament would benefit from broadcasting. The matter has been discussed many times and I thought that the House had finally decided on the principle while leaving the Select Committee to find acceptable methods of implementation. It was in that spirit that we approached the matter and it is in that spirit that I commend it to the House.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 36, Noes, 9.1679
|Division No. 311.]||AYES||[2.43 a.m.|
|Allaun, Frank||Cryer, Bob||Freud, Clement|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Dalyell, Tam||Golding, John|
|Atkinson, Norman||Douglas.Mann, Bruce||Harrison, Walter (Wakefied)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||English, Michael||Hurd, Douglas|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Flannery, Martin||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoin)|
|Cohen, Staniey||Foot, Rt Hon Michael||McNamara, Kevin|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Ford, Ban||Madden, Max|
|Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Park, George||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Parry, Robert||Sims, Roger|
|Penhawgon, David||Stallard, A. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Price, William (Rugby)||Weatherill, Bernard||Mr. David Stoddart and|
|Rathbone, Tim||Whitehead, Phillip||Mr. John Ellis.|
|Bates, Alf||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Winterton, Nichoias|
|Brotherton, Michael||Ross, William (Londonderry)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Durant, Tony||Skinner, Dennis||Mr. Roger Moate and|
|Grist, Ian||Tinn, James||Mr. Peter Bottomley.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House approves the recommendations in the First Report from the Joint Committee on Sound Broadcasting which relate to this House.