§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the televising of the proceedings of the House of Commons.The case for televising the House of Commons is more compelling now than it has ever been because we are becoming remote from the people. We are losing touch with them and we no longer affect, impress and influence their opinions. That is a very damaging and dangerous state of affairs for any kind of democratic assembly. It is a trend on which we should take action because the House of Commons cannot stand idly by and see itself pushed aside, as is now happening. We are being alienated from the people.
This problem has arisen not because of any change by the House of Commons—we are probably no better and no worse than previous Parliaments—but by the rise of television, which has been stunning in its impact. Television enters people's homes; it wins their hearts and their minds. It is with them every day, and it has a tremendous influence on them. Its dominance is absolutely unassailable.
Most people get their news, and many get their views, from television. But this House is not part of that process and that is what is so damaging to us. People know very little about the constructive work of this House, of the Select Committees and of the Standing Committees. All that they get, apart from a few minor reports, are a few arguments on television between a few Members of Parliament, performers who are selected by the television producers. If people are asked what they think of politics, they never refer to the debates in the House but always to the professionals who appear on television.
In these circumstances it is incredible and remarkable that we are creating a barrier between ourselves and the people by rejecting television. Television today is the most important medium of communication, and we disregard it at our peril.
The refusal to televise our proceedings is based not on rationality but on fear. The fear is three-fold. First, it is a fear of the exhibitionists in the House who may play to the gallery. Secondly, it is a fear of those groups that would seek to further a cause, or to further—hon. Members may point to themselves—a constituency interest. Thirdly, there is a fear of the broadcasting organisations, because people feel that they may misuse extracts from our debates.
I believe that these three fears are groundless. In addition, they have been shown to be groundless elsewhere.
We have our share of exhibitionists, just like any other assembly, and they are entitled to be heard and to be seen if they have something to say. However, pure exhibitionism on the part of people who have nothing to say simply irritates the public, including the constituents of such people, so it can backfire on the exhibitionists. So that kind of criticism is quite misconceived. Televising the House would cool them rather than encourage them.
The same thing applies to the fear that some hon. Members may create wild scenes in the House for their cause or for their constituency. I recognise that this 167 behaviour can be a problem. But stunts are seen to be stunts. They are very quickly recognised by the public. People see through them. So they, too, will backfire on those who try them. They can become counter-productive. I do not believe that that is a valid criticism against televising our proceedings either.
As for the charge that the broadcasters would trivialise our proceedings, I believe that here the critics of my proposal twist the truth. The suggestion that the inclusion of entertainment in television programmes means the exclusion of responsible programmes is misguided and unfair to both the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority companies. They are all capable of putting on serious programmes about political and economic issues, so it is wrong to suggest that they would necessarily misuse our proceedings.
A moment ago I said that it has been shown that these fears are groundless. I want to back up that comment, because precisely the same claims have been made in many other countries which have considered televising their Parliaments. The fact is that apart from the Republic of Ireland and ourselves, every country in the Western world now televises its parliamentary proceedings—the big countries such as France and West Germany, and the United States' House of Representatives, as well as small countries such as Luxembourg and Israel—and none of them has experienced the catastrophic or comical consequences about which we shall hear shortly. In none of these countries have the great comedians or the great tragedians managed to make any impact. I ask the opposers of the motion to bear that in mind.
I do not believe that we are incapable of doing what has been done in every other country in the Western world. I do not believe that we have more irresponsible exhibitionists or that we have procedures that are not as good as those in other countries. What they have done, we can do. We should take advantage of this great new medium.
I am not suggesting that the House of Commons is perfect, but it is important that the House should be seen as the major forum of debate in Britain. In order to be seen as such it must use the major medium of communication, which is television.
We would have the additional safeguard in the Bill of a parliamentary broadcasting unit which would be independent of the broadcasting organisations and would be responsible solely to a House of Commons broadcasting Select Committee. That unit would supply the material to the broadcasting organisations, but the methods and the procedure, under the Speaker, would be determined by that Select Committee and not by the broadcasting authorities.
I hope that the House will accept the televising of its proceedings, because I believe that the drift from Parliament is damaging to us. We should try to restore faith in the House of Commons. We must recognise reality and stop the drift.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
I oppose the motion on the grounds that Parliament is about words, not moving pictures. If the Chamber were being televised now and someone switched on at home he would think: "There are only 70 or 80 members; so where are the rest?" Many hon. 168 Members who were here half an hour ago have had to leave because they have received a green card, such as I have been sent, from a lobby by a trade union, because there are committees taking place or because they have important business. They may be in their constituencies or attending a by-election which, if one has to stand on cold doorsteps, is much worse than being here.
However, viewers do not know that. They believe that this is the be all and end all of Parliament, and it is difficult to get it across to them that a large amount of work goes on outside the Chamber. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) mentioned showing off. About six weeks ago we had cameras here to record the State opening of Parliament. The leader of the SDP, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) damned near broke his neck while pushing people out of the way to get to the front of the procession with the other party leaders. I read the newspapers the next day and saw the television news. The television news was not about the Queen's Speech in Parliament. It was about Lady Diana's tiara and how lovely she looked. The cameras were on her.
I have been a Member of Parliament for 13 years and I have been mentioned many times in The Daily Telegraph, usually not flatteringly. The day after the State opening of Parliament my picture was in The Daily Telegraph because I was sitting here with my feet up on the Bench. They were allowed to take a photograph. The caption of the photograph was that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw was awaiting the Queen's Speech. That is the sort of thing that we should have to face.
If, during the State opening of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition had worn his donkey jacket that would have taken the cameras away from everyone and everything in the Queen's Speech. Television companies are concerned with pictures, not the content of speeches. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) demonstrated from the Side Gallery when you, Mr. Speaker, had to send for him and eventually ejected him from the Chamber. There would be much more of that if we had television cameras here, because people would try to make cheap political points. Television is naturally interested in combat, fighting and the controversies that we see on "Match of the Day", where a player is sent off or has a row with the referee, rather than in the humdrum. Television is not interested in the boring pros and cons of the Common Market, industrial relations legislation or sensible and responsible debates, such as the one we had a few moments ago. It is interested in the "Candid Camera" aspect.
My right hon. Friend talked about a broadcasting commission. To believe that any television producer would have a camera trained only on the Speaker is nonsense. There is not a producer in the business who would have dared not to show the sort of incident when Bernadette Devlin seized the then Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, by the hair. He would get the sack if he did not show it.
If we let cameras into the House it would turn into the equivalent of the party conferences. Anyone who has seen party political conferences will know that the speeches do not matter. The "Candid Camera" aspect matters. When the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was verbally garotting the Prime Minister at the Conservative Party conference, the cameras were not on him but on the Prime Minister to see what her reactions were. It would 169 be the same here. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) was sitting here and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was making a speech, the television cameras would be on the former. Any producer or editor who did not do that would be sacked immediately. Another example was the occasion when the present Secretary of State—then the Opposition spokesman—for the Environment swung the Mace around his head. That would be the sort of "Match of the Day" close up or slow motion cutting and editing that we should see. No television producer could resist it.
Many of my friends in the Press Gallery seem to be in favour of cameras being introduced into the Chamber. They had better beware, because with electronic newsgathering techniques and breakfast time television, the previous night's happenings in the Chamber will be on television the next day. Political reporting in newspapers will be dead, because no one would wish to pick up his morning newspaper and read about the previous day's Prime Minister's Question Time.
Already journalists must indulge in gossip. Stories about what has happened in the Tribune Group and leaks from 10 Downing Street are the sort of matters now being concentrated upon. If we have cameras in the Chamber it will be much more difficult to get across the serious issues.
Another major reason why I am against the proposal is that two Members of Parliament have been killed in the past two years. Two bombs have gone off here. IRA funerals and the blowing up of static motor cars by the IRA are deliberately staged for television. Television companies are tipped off when something will happen. President Kennedy was assasinated on television, as was President Sadat. When President Reagan was shot a photographer was handy. When the Queen had blanks fired at her at the Trooping of the Colour, it was seen on television. If the House of Commons is televised, sooner or later some martyr will undoubtedly take a pot shot from the Gallery at the Dispatch Box.
Those are a few reasons why we should beware. Despite what my right hon. Friend said, I am convinced that the best method of cross-examing Ministers is not necessarily in the Chamber. Often the three-minute interview on television by Sir Robin Day, where a Minister cannot wriggle and dodge the question because he is then asked supplementary questions until he provides an answer, is the best method of public accountability. That is the better way in which the public can realise what the Minister is trying to do than questioning in the House, which is often a charade. We are highly seasoned professionals and often we know what the questions and answers will be.
If all the Back Benchers try to ask questions during the 15 minutes of Prime Minister's Question Time one can understand why tempers become frayed and people shout out. Often the merry quip gets into the Michael White or Andrew Alexander columns.
The cameras would look for the sort of conduct referred to a few moments ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley) in describing the behaviour of the Secretary of State for Employment when he was on the Back Benches a few years ago.
Back Benchers should not fool themselves that television will help them. If the House is televised there will be three or four statements a day on every Government policy, because that is what the Front Benchers want. There will be less time for the Back Benchers and a better 170 platform for Government and Opposition Front Benches. We on the Back Benches will suffer, as will the responsibility and integrity of the House.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the risk of drawing undue media attention to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas), he is out of order in bringing a package on to the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have inadvertently brought a package on to the Floor of the House, for which I apologise. I had intended to remove it during the course of the Division so as to cause no offence and no interruption to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put us all at ease by taking the package out now.
§ Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nominations of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 158, Noes 176.172
|Division No. 25]||[4.39 pm|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone)||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Barnett,Guy(Greenwich)||Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)||Fraser, Peter (South Angus)|
|Beith, A. J.||Garel-Jones,Tristan|
|Benyon,Thomas(A'don)||Grant, John (Islington C)|
|Bidwell,Sydney||Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Haselhurst,Alan|
|Boothroyd,MissBetty||Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy|
|Bottomley, RtHonA. (M'b'ro)||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)||Healey, Rt Hon Denis|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Heffer, Eric S.|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hogg, N. (EDunb't'nshire)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||HomeRobertson,John|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Homewood,William|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Huckfield,Les|
|Carmichael,Neil||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Chalker, Mrs. Lynda||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Crouch, David||Lester,Jim (Beeston)|
|Cryer, Bob||Lestor, MissJoan|
|Cunningham, DrJ.(W'h'n)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Litherland,Robert|
|Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)||Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lyons, Edward (Bradf 'dW)|
|Dempsey, James||Mabon, Rt Hon DrJ. Dickson|
|Dover,Denshore||Macmillan, Rt Hon M.|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)||Marshall,D(G'gowS'ton)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Marshall, DrEdmund (Goole)|
|English, Michael||Marshall,Michael (Arundel)|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Martin,M(G'gowS'burn)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Mawhinney,DrBrian|
|Maxton,John||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Maynard, MissJoan||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Meacher, Michael||Sims, Roger|
|Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Skinner,Dennis|
|Needham, Richard||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Paisley,Rev Ian||Taylor,Teddy (S'end E)|
|Prescott,John||Varley,Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Race, Reg||Wainwright,R.(Colne V)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Watkins, David|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Watson,John|
|RhysWilliams,SirBrandon||White, Frank R.|
|Rodgers, Rt HonWilliam|
|Rooker,J. W.||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Ross,Ernest(Dundee West)||Mr. Austin Mitchell and|
|Rost,Peter||Mr. Jonathan Aitken.|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Costain,SirAlbert|
|Bendall,Vivian||Dean, Joseph(Leeds West)|
|Biggs-Davison,SirJohn||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Blackburn,John||Dunn, James A.|
|Brittan,Rt. Hon. Leon||Evans,John(Newton)|
|Brown, R. C. (N'castle W)||Faulds,Andrew|
|Cadbury,Jocelyn||Freeson,Rt Hon Reginald|
|Campbell-Savours,Dale||Garrett,John (Norwich S)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Glyn,Dr Alan|
|Channon,Rt. Hon. Paul||Goodhew, Victor|
|Clark,Dr David (S Shields)||Goodlad,Alastair|
|Clark,Sir W. (Croydon S)||Gow, Ian|
|Cocks,Rt Hon M.(B'stol S)||Grant,Anthony(Harrow C)|
|Gummer,JohnSelwyn||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Hamilton,James(Bothwell)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Pavitt,Laurie|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Pawsey, James|
|Hawksley,Warren||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Haynes, Frank||Pitt, WilliamHenry|
|Hughes,Mark(Durham)||Powell, Rt Hon J.E. (S Down)|
|Hughes,Roy(Newport)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Hunt,John(Ravensbourne)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Irving, Charles(Cheltenham)||Price,SirDavid (Eastleigh)|
|Janner,HonGreville||Pym, Rt Hon Francis|
|Johnson,James(Hull West)||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Jones,Barry (East Flint)||Ross, Wm.(Londonderry)|
|Jopling, RtHonMichael||Sever, John|
|Knight,MrsJill||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Lloyd,Peter (Fareham)||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|MacKay,John (Argyll)||Summerskill,Hon Dr Shirley|
|Marshall, Jim (LeicesterS)||Tinn,James|
|Marten, Rt Hon Neil||Townend, John(Bridlington)|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus||Waddington,David|
|Mawby, Ray||Wainwright, E.(DearneV)|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Miller, Dr M.S. (E Kilbride)||Waller, Gary|
|Mitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen)||Wells,Bowen|
|Monro, SirHector||Winterton, Niocholas|
|Moore,John||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Morris, Rt HonJ. (Aberavon)||Sir Ronald Bell and|
|Mudd,David||Mr. Christopher Murphy.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.