§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Lord Soames rose to move to resolve, That this House endorses its decision of 15th June 1966 in favour of the public televising of some of its proceedings for an experimental period and instructs the Sound Broadcasting Committee to consider and report how this decision should be implemented.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is a simple Motion, inviting the House to endorse its decision of 1966 in favour of the principle of televising some of its proceedings and to remit the whole question once more to the Sound Broadcasting Committee which, after due consideration, would report back to the House.
§ I should like first to express my gratitude to my noble friend the Leader of the House for providing Government time in which to have this debate. How right he was so to do seems evident from the gratifyingly large number of your Lordships who have put their names down to participate in the debate. The large number makes it incumbent upon myself, as well as others, to be as brief as possible in our remarks.1190
§ After the decision of 1966, with its clear majority in favour, and after much to-ing and fro-ing between the Broadcasting Committee and the House, it was decided some three years later to set television on one side for the time being, for reasons which I shall come to later, and to proceed first only with sound broadcasting. Even that was not introduced until 1978.
§ In the 17 years which have elapsed since that debate, much has happened to warrant giving further attention to this whole matter. First, many technical advances have been made both in cameras and in lighting. In 1966, colour television was in its infancy: now it is recognised to be the most important and influential medium of communication—and certainly not one to be ignored if we wish attention to be paid by the general public to our business in this House.
§ Some members of the general public may read Hansard, some more read parliamentary reports in the heavier of the daily editions, and probably more listen to the radio reports. But added together, all those cannot amount to but a small proportion of those who would be likely to watch television extracts of debates which they considered to be of interest, either on a national or on a regional basis. Of course, much of the business of this House would not be seen to be of sufficient public interest to be broadcast, and would clearly not be transmitted. But I do not consider it immodest for any Member of this House to refer to this as a debating Chamber of potentially the highest quality, enriched by an important degree of detachment. It is also a Chamber of great talents, with Members of great distinction and high attainment from almost every walk of our national life.
§ Largely as a result of that fact, some of our debates are of the highest standard. Clearly, that cannot be applied to all of them—not by any means—but a number are of the highest possible standard. I am in no doubt that provided the business of the House that is transmitted is carefully selected and well edited, under strict ground rules designed to facilitate the imparting of information rather than the knocking or mocking, then (putting it at its very lowest) the televising of this Chamber must do more good than harm. If we think it right that a wide audience should have the opportunity to see and hear something of the contribution which this House makes to our national debates, then it is for us to arrange it—for if we do not, no one else will.
§ I now come to the point that a large proportion of our fellow citizens who think about these matters are well aware of the importance of, and the need for, a second Chamber. There are many who would wish to see this House reformed in some way or another, with the aim of making it more directly responsible to the people. Indeed, a lot of attention has been given to that aspect in recent years by people of great knowledge and experience; but that is as far as it has gone over quite a long period of time. If the past is any guide, it would seem unlikely that reform of this House is on the political horizon—principally because of the evident difficulty of the necessary degree of agreement being reached, either on the best type of reform or on the powers which a reformed House would need to have. That is to say nothing of the pressures which such a decision would have upon available parliamentary time.1191
§ Therefore, it would seem that not only is this the best second Chamber that the country has, but it is also the best second Chamber that it is likely to have, for better or for worse, for as far ahead as we can see. That being so, I hope your Lordships will agree that we should set about to try to make the most of ourselves, as it were; that we should go to some trouble to ensure that the work we do is known about by the public, and that it is thought well of.
§ That obligation, as I see it, has been reinforced by the growth in recent times of an apparently influential body of political opinion which would seek to abolish this House for good and for all without putting anything in its place. The part which that attitude played in the last general election is still fresh in our minds. While we may well hope that in the future wiser counsels will prevail, he would be a bold man who said that such a proposal will not be slipped into another manifesto at some future election, perhaps well ahead.
§ The main point I wish to put to your Lordships is that this House, whose powers have been cut to the bone; whose reform looks, to say the least, to be unlikely in the near or medium term; and which has recently been threatened with extinction as a second Chamber, needs to look to its laurels—and to its friends. Who are its friends? Although we are not an elected Chamber, and although we are perhaps seen as something of an anachronism in these times, and although we are in the nature of things on average a rather elderly House, I believe there is a strong body of public opinion which sees a second Chamber as a real necessity and which is therefore in principle well disposed towards this House. I believe that has been reinforced since sound broadcasting of this House was introduced. I believe that the public would like to see us at work, warts and all.
§ So much for the reasons which lead me to wish for facilities to be provided for the televising of this House. But I do not believe it would be realistic to talk in terms of this House being televised without giving consideration to the situation of the House of Commons. Those of your Lordships who have refreshed your memories by reading in Hansard the debates on this subject in 1966, 1967 and 1969 will have noticed that in the last debate, opened by my noble friend Lord Ferrier, some noble Lords, speaking in a personal capacity, said that it could be embarrassing if either House were to be televised or broadcast without the other. They felt, therefore, that on balance we should keep in line with the House of Commons. That was some 15 years ago. I believe noble Lords will agree that during that time the House of Commons has shown but scant inclination to lead on this matter. If past performance is any guide, if this House were to decide again to wait on a decision from another place we might be waiting for an endlessly long time.
§ As I have said, much that is relevant has changed since that decision to wait on the House of Commons was taken in the 1960s. It would be my hope that your Lordships will agree that the time has now come for this House to make up its own mind on the merits of its own case—faced, as it is, with its own difficulties and dangers—and to proceed accordingly. All that my Motion desires or suggests is that the matter be 1192 remitted to the Broadcasting Committee, which will consider all relevant matters, both of substance and of detail, and will then report back to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House endorses its decision of 15th June 1966 in favour of the public televising of some of its proceedings for an experimental period and instructs the Sound Broadcasting Committee to consider and report how this decision should be implemented.—(Lord Soames.)
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Viscount Whitelaw)
My Lords, I rise to intervene at this stage in the debate to put to your Lordships a few points which the House may wish to bear in mind relevant to my noble friend's Motion. Before doing so, I must make it clear that, speaking only for myself, I strongly support my noble friend's Motion and will vote in favour of it. I should say that I have been a strong supporter of televising Parliament, both this House and another place, since it was mooted in 1966, when I was on the losing side by one vote. On that occasion, if I may say so, I voted with the then Government Chief Whip. At that time it was suggested that very seldom could two Chief Whips have voted in the same Lobby in either House of Parliament and lost. We did, by one vote.
Perhaps because I agree with him, I thought that my noble friend made a very strong case, as he always does. I agreed in particular with what he said—perhaps I can speak only from very short experience—about the wealth of knowledge and experience in the House. It is because of that that I believe your Lordships will wish to consider the value of a wider public appreciating the wealth of experience which this House provides.
However, my purpose in speaking at this stage is to put before your Lordships some considerations which affect the running of the House. On behalf of the Government I am obliged to say only one thing. for which I am relieved. I need state only the obvious; namely, that they would wish to study carefully the public expenditure implications of any scheme for the televising of Parliament. On the general principles with which we are concerned today the Government remain neutral—some of them more neutral than others.
The Motion endorses the decision made by this House on 15th June 1966. That decision led to the setting up of a Select Committee, and in February 1968 to a closed circuit experiment. In March 1969 there was a debate on the results of the experiment, but after that no further action was taken. The principal reason appears to have been an unwillingness to introduce public broadcasting before similar arrangements were made in another place. When public sound broadcasting was introduced on a permanent basis in 1978, it began in both Houses at the same time.
If your Lordships agree to the Motion before us today, the result may well be that a television experiment takes place in this House alone. I am bound to tell your Lordships that my colleagues in another place feel that that is bound to lead to some practical and political problems. Undoubtedly, any decision to 1193 televise your Lordships' House would put pressure on another place to follow suit. It is, I believe, important that we should not act in a way which would make it difficult for those in another place to take their own decisions, in their own time. It may be, therefore, that the best way for this House to proceed, if that is your Lordships' wish, would be, as my noble friend's Motion says, by way of experiment for a limited period only. The House would then be able to look carefully at the results of the experiment before deciding whether to go ahead with any more permanent scheme. That would give those in another place a breathing space in which to consider their own plans, and the experiment in this House might well prove helpful to them in deciding how to go forward.
I would remind your Lordships that there was an interval of nearly three years between the experiment in sound broadcasting in another place in 1975 and the introduction of permanent sound broadcasting in both Houses. Nevertheless, the sound broadcasting of Parliament is now firmly established. With television as well, perhaps your Lordships may think, it is best to make haste slowly, though I am bound to agree with my noble friend when he says that up till now we have not been making haste at all, even slowly.
There are, of course, a number of ways in which an experiment in the televising of our proceedings could be arranged. Recent proposals for televising proceedings in another place have, for example, involved the concept of a parliamentary television unit. Among other things, this would obviously raise important questions of editorial control. Another alternative, which your Lordships might well prefer, would be the so-called "drive-in" scheme. Under such a scheme the broadcasters would install their own cameras whenever they wished to record or to broadcast the proceedings. Either scheme would raise important questions of editorial judgment and selection. My own feeling is that the most practical answer, at least for an experimental period, would probably be a "drive-in" basis, but any such decision would in no way limit the options for the longer term, either in this House or in another place.
Another question on which an experiment could provide valuable experience would be the form of programmes which the broadcasting authorities would be able to provide, and whether the format of such programmes was acceptable to your Lordships. Clearly these are all important matters affecting our proceedings, which the Sound Broadcasting Committee will wish to consider, if your Lordships agree to the Motion this afternoon.
Another example of a problem from the Government's point of view would be Ministerial Statements. If a Ministerial Statement were made in another place and repeated in this House, it might be felt to be inappropriate if only the repetition of the Statement could be televised. That particular problem could be overcome very simply by prohibiting the televising of Ministerial Statements originally made in another place. My Lords, if it were thought that I put that in to please my colleagues in another place, that would be correct.
I have mentioned only a few of the problems which will need to he considered. There are several other matters which will need to be resolved; for example, 1194 the physical accommodation of the equipment and of the staff operating that equipment, the restrictions to be placed on the use of extracts from recordings, the copyright in the recordings, whether an archive copy of some or all of the recordings should be retained in Parliament, and the position with regard to parliamentary privilege. All these points will. I am sure, be given careful consideration by the Sound Broadcasting Committee, if my noble friend's Motion is agreed to. I shall, therefore, say no more about them at this stage.
I look forward to hearing what other noble Lords have to say in this debate. With the leave of the House, I shall seek to reply to them at the end of the debate, and at the same time to state some of my personal views on the general principle.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I had not made-up my mind to speak in this debate until I found I was put in the honourable place of third on the list, and I am now committed. My reason for wanting to speak was to explain why, having opposed the proposal in 1969, I have come to the view that the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Soames, should be supported. My reason for doing so I shall seek to explain; and I should perhaps go back into history a little, because I am probably one of the last of the Reithian producers appointed to the BBC. along with other colleagues, some of whom have gone rather further, like the late Guy Burgess.
In those days we were not allowed to broadcast anything that was not scripted. We thought with horror of the possibility of having some popular author like J. B. Priestley being asked to broadcast. There was nearly a revolution. On the whole, politicians were people we preferred not to see, and when we did see them they were very reluctant to take our advice.
I support this Motion, but I must make it clear that I do not do so officially on behalf of the Labour Party. We have a free vote, and colleagues will express their own views. Nor do I support it entirely for the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Soames, gave. I do not believe that in the long run it will be possible for your Lordships' House to be broadcast and for the House of Commons not to be broadcast. It really would be such a nonsense and would expose us to a certain amount of laughter, however intelligent we are; though I believe that our debates are rather more orderly than those in another place. However, it would be inconceivable that the first Chamber in our British parliamentary system was not to be broadcast, whereas the House of Lords was.
Nevertheless, your Lordships have had a reputation as sometimes pioneering legislation and other activities which another place has been rather reluctant to tackle because there could be embarrassing party or personal issues which affect a Member of Parliament in his constituency. Noble Lords will remember some of the social legislation which we passed before it was taken up in another place.
It must be said, in fairness, that there are quite serious objections to the broadcasting and televising of Parliament. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, pointing out that we know one another here, that we do not pay attention to anyone outside 1195 when we are debating, and that we are not particularly aware of the Gallery. We have a degree of understanding and good manners, and our performance is judged by what is seen by people in this House, rather than by what people may or may not see outside.
For a Member in another place sitting for a marginal constituency there could be difficulties. I had a majority of only 16, and I must say that had the proceedings been televised, it would have presented severe problems as to whether I ought to spend all my time appearing in the Commons, to be seen hard at work, when in fact it was desirable that I should not spend my time there but should work on countless other matters. I have always regretted the hostile comments of the press concerning certain Members of Parliament who have not spoken in the Chamber but who have done sterling work in committees which was never recognised by the public. It would be difficult, and I can well understand the other place being hesitant.
On the other hand, as the noble Viscount said, there was an occasion when the other place nearly decided on the issue, and there was a very strange result. Your Lordships will remember that the late Dick Crossman, who usually got things right, did not entirely do so in the latter hours of that debate. It was almost by chance that many years ago the Commons did not vote in favour.
My view is that we ought not to wait any longer. Sooner or later broadcasting and television will come, as it has in other parts of the world. I hope that it will lead to a greater understanding by the public of what actually happens in Parliament. I hope, too, that broadcasting will not be confined just to what happens in the Chamber. but will reflect the work of Members of Parliament or Members of the House of Lords in other respects, in particularly in the very important committee work, which is growing all the time. Indeed, it was Mr. Crossman who was one of the pioneers of the development of committee work in the Commons. In many ways the work in the committees is probably more effective than are the battles on the Floor of the House, which maybe entertaining, and which some people regard as of primary importance. They are of primary importance in terms of our personal liberties. We must bear in mind the ability to bring matters to either House, and for people to speak on them Nonetheless, other work is also important. Therefore, I think that it will be necessary to approach this question with great caution to ensure that we achieve a balance—which is exceedingly difficult to achieve—and maintain it.
I am confirmed in my belief that we should go this way in view of the likely development of cable television. Hitherto there has been a shortage of space. Parliament would be competing against more entertaining activities—though there are times when both Houses can be exceptionally entertaining—to a degree that we would sometimes prefer other people not to see. But with the development of cable television and the prospect of more than one wavelength being available, the situation becomes a great deal easier, provided that it is not to consist merely of selected excerpts from Parliament which 1196 may or may not truly reflect the feeling of Parliament.
One must recognise that other Parliaments, such as the Canadian Parliament, are televised. Certainly one cannot turn on television in America without seeing proceedings in Congress in some form. I do not know enough about the manners in Congress, but I am bound to say that on occasions, the Canadian House of Commons resembles the British House of Commons, except that it is rather noisier because the Canadian Members bang their desks. Even that cannot be very edifying for the listeners. However, in the long run it will not be possible for us to deny to the public the right to see their Parliament at work, whether it be the Lords or the Commons. I believe that if the facilities are available, and if it can be properly done, an experiment of the kind proposed is desirable. We do not have the right to deny it.
I believe that initially it should be an experiment but if it is a success. I should be surprised if the Commons did not follow, bearing in mind that they previously so nearly decided to do so. However, I ask your Lordships to realise that it is a difficult decision for Members of the Commons, and that it will be abundantly necessary to get across to the public what the work of Parliament is about. as they still do not know. Therefore, it is not a straightforward issue, but I have no hesitation in saying, now that 14 years have elapsed, that we should support this Motion, and I propose to vote for it.
§ 3.47 p.m.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for bringing forward his very subtly worded Motion, and for moving it in such persuasive tones. Some noble Lords may have noticed that I had a similar Motion, though less subtly worded, on the Order Paper, but so as to enable the noble Lord, Lord Soames, to move his Motion it was necessary for me to remove mine. When there is a Motion which has behind it the combined weight of the noble Lord. Lord Soames, and the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, obviously it is very wise for me to withdraw my Motion and having heard the noble Lord, Lord Soames, introduce his Motion I am confirmed in that opinion.
I also recognise that this is a very limited proposal. It is not the last word on the matter. Noble Lords who think that we are suddenly opening the floodgates to having the whole place invaded permanently with television cameras should realise that the Motion asks merely for an experiment and suggests only that the Sound Broadcasting Committee should advise on the manner in which the experiment should be conducted. Your Lordships will no doubt have a second, if not a third, bite at the cherry, if any of you find it unpalatable on this occasion.
Having declared something of an interest, perhaps I should also declare something of a responsibility. The noble Viscount referred to the earlier debate, in 1966, in another place, as did the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. As noble Lords have been reminded, the result of that debate was a defeat by one vote. The Motion was in the name of the then Leader of the House, Mr. Richard Crossman. I was in charge of my small party group—it was a small group—and I was consulted at the time by Mr. Jo Grimond, as he then 1197 was, who had just arrived at Heathrow Airport from a visit to Eastern Europe. He asked whether he need attend for the vote. I said that he need not bother and that it would be won very easily. A little later Mr. David Steel asked whether he could absent himself from the vote in order to do a television programme for the BBC. I said that he could, with pleasure. When we lost by one vote I felt in part responsible, so I do hope that I can do something to make amends today.
As I have said, this is a very limited proposal. It seeks merely to undertake an experiment. If noble Lords are inclined, or tempted, to say that we have already had an experiment and to ask why we should need another one, perhaps I may give one or two reasons for it. In my view, the last experiment was an outstanding success. The tapes have been preserved and can be seen by any noble Lords who wish to see them. I thought that the debate which was televised was excellent. It was a debate on sport. Noble Lords whose names were internationally known spoke in that debate. They included Lord Burghley, my noble friend Lord Byers, who had been fleet of foot in representing our nation in the Olympic Games, and Lord Wakefield of Kendal, who for many years dominated the rugby field. We were able to see that, while they were not still fleet of foot, they were extremely fleet of tongue and did very good service. The experiment showed the House to be what it is—a debating chamber of the highest possible quality and one which should be seen more often by others.
Some noble Lords may feel that an experiment is a foot in the door for things to come. So be it. The matter will come back to your Lordships at a later stage if you decide to have the experiment. Noble Lords may also wonder why we should have another experiment. I would say for two reasons. First, the main objections to televising the proceedings in our Chamber in the past always seemed to be precisely the same as those which were advanced against the admission of the press two centuries ago. I think that it was the noble and learned Lord who now sits on the Woolsack who said that televising our debates would reduce the proceedings in the Chamber to the level of a music hall turn. When we had the experiment, all the fears were shown to be ill-founded.
There was one real problem—the obtrusiveness of the mechanics, machinery and personnel necessary for televising. On the occasion of the experiment noble Lords complained about the lighting, the apparatus and other inconveniences. We are now in an entirely different situation. Vast improvements and advances have been made in the technique of television broadcasting. It would now be possible to televise the proceedings of the Chamber without any intrusiveness. There would be no extra lighting or staff needed to move and focus cameras. Remotely operated cameras would be fixed. Frankly, the obtrusiveness of the equipment would be even less than that of the box up there which has been installed for sound broadcasting. I think that after the previous experiment many years ago, an experiment now would show the differences and that such objections are no longer valid.
There is a further reason why we should have another experiment. As the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, and the noble Lord, Lord Soames, have 1198 said, since the last experiment was conducted, the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament are broadcast on sound radio. Both channels now use sound tapes in association with still pictures, cartoons, other visual machinery or other pictures. If we have the sound, why not have the real pictures? On all four television channels about six hours a week are concerned with Parliament. At the end of each debate the main protagonists rush off in taxis either to Broadcasting House or to ITN to give potted versions of the debate. During the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget speech, for years we had a group of people talking about what he was saying. Messengers would come in to say that he had just said this, that or the other. Now at long last we can hear the Budget speech from another place on sound radio. But on television such debates are associated with cartoons and still photographs.
Those are two reasons why we should have a new experiment. First, the rules have changed. The apparatus is now much more simple and less obtrusive than when the previous experiment was conducted. Secondly, we are in a new situation in that we now have sound broadcasting of the proceedings of both Houses. Why not go the whole hog and have our proceedings televised?
It would be wrong for me as a member of the Select Committee to pre-empt the judgment and recommendations of the Select Committee as to the form of an experiment if your Lordships were pleased to pass this Motion. But my personal view is that we should not venture too much and too far into the idea of controls and setting up a House of Lords television unit, perhaps on the assumption that we are better at running television than the professionals. If we trust the broadcasters, we should let them in to do what they do. If we do not trust them, we should not let them in at all. After the experiment, if they televise our proceedings, and if it is done in a way which we do not like, we have the ultimate sanction to say, "That is it. Out you go". But my advice is that if we decide to have television, we should not try to control it too much. Let us have television, warts and all.
I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for introducing this matter. I very much hope that noble Lords will support this simple proposal.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Chichester
My Lords, I wish briefly to give support to the Motion from these Benches. I have been interested in how very often at the social gatherings which follow confirmations and similar occasions I am asked about the proceedings of this House. People are very interested when I try to explain how we are a self-regulating body and the atmosphere of courtesy that prevails. If further proceedings of this House could be televised, I am sure that it would do a great deal to help the understanding of the House in the country at large and to remove prejudice and misunderstanding. It is perhaps worth remembering that some proceedings of the House are already televised on the occasion of the State opening of Parliament. It would be an additional advantage for people to be able to see that we do something else besides this great ceremonial occasion—that we are a working body.
1199 May I add just one or two points from the experience of the General Synod of the Church of England, which has had some of its proceedings televised for several years now? As a result of this, may I say first of all that I have not noticed any tendency on the part of members of the General Synod to play to the cameras? I am rather reluctant to think that Members of this House are any less able to resist temptation.
I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said about improvements in techniques. In the General Synod we have found the lights very trying indeed. I am sure that this problem influences the debates both because of the glare that sometimes gets into the eyes of speakers and because of the heat created. We find that it is an enormous relief when the operators decide that a debate has reached a point at which it is no longer of any public interest and switch off the lights. We almost feel then that we can settle down to a proper discussion. Taking account of all that the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has said, I hope that the Committee will give serious attention to the problem of the lighting. This would suggest that we should have a fairly limited trial period so that we can find out how far the improvements remove this considerable disadvantage.
I should like to give support to the Motion. In view of the long list of speakers, perhaps I may also apologise in advance if I have to leave before the end of the debate.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, in asking, as I most certainly do, for your Lordships' indulgence this afternoon, I cannot avoid recalling a similarly painful occasion over 32 years ago when I made a maiden speech in another place. It was a singularly anodyne affair, which I can safely say gave no offence to anyone. It was lit up for a brief moment with the gratification which I felt at the presence of the Prime Minister who was still in his place to hear this important utterance. The Prime Minister at the time was the father-in-law of my noble friend Lord Soames. That brief moment of gratification was soon dispelled when he turned, glared and, concluding that he had seen enough and heard enough, departed. The only other thing that I recall about that occasion was the speed with which the apprehension and alarm which I felt gave way subsequently to the peacefulness of anti-climax. That left me with the conviction that a maiden speech is something one is better without and the sooner you get rid of it the better.
This afternoon I find myself in the unhappy position of being, I think, the first speaker who wishes to express some views aginst the Motion so eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Soames. I hope that I may be forgiven if I speak of Parliament as a whole. I do so for two reasons: first, I do not believe it realistic to suppose that if one House admits the cameras, the other will not do likewise; and, secondly, my own experience necessarily relates to another place.
On a previous occasion I supported the introduction of sound broadcasting. I believe that I was wrong and I should like very briefly to touch upon my reasons. I fear that where the interests of television and Parlia- 1200 ment come into conflict, it is likely that those of Parliament will, in the long run, be eroded. Television is a thrusting and intrusive medium, and I believe that those who handle it have little difficulty in persuading themselves that their interests should always come first on the grounds that they coincide inevitably with the national interest. Secondly, experience of sound broadcasts in another place leads me to believe that they have done little to enhance the reputation of that House.
Thirdly, there being no suggestion of total coverage, I think that partial coverage presents very real difficulties in the areas of selection, editing and comment. These inevitably will be in the hands not of Parliament but of the medium, and I fear that that will be a source of unease and difficulty to Parliament as a whole. Fourthly, I believe that whatever restrictions may be imposed in the long run are unlikely to endure. Suggestions were made recently in another place that the cameras will be fixed to the wall and will thereby be inhibited from focusing upon what is sensitive and therefore interesting. They will not be permitted to pan out on empty Benches; they will not be able to focus upon sleeping Members or take reaction shots. I most strongly believe that so hobbled and emaciated a version would very soon provoke demands for something more complete and more interesting.
My final reason for opposing this Motion is a real doubt as to how well or how far Parliament and television are likely to prove good for each other—and here I particularly wish to avoid the pitfalls of controversy. There is so much which is informal, confusing and, if I may say so, unexciting in our debates. Not all Acts of Parliament are either sensible or even comprehensible. Not all our debates are lucid and scintillating; the subject matter often enough makes that impossible, but I think we are obliged to ask ourselves the question: how much of that constitutes a diet suitable for television? I fear that there would be a tendency to highlight further those ritual occasions such as the annual budget. Recollections of that occasion—and this is certainly no party point—lead me to think of it as a feast of erroneous diagnoses, wrong forecasts and irrelevant remedies.
To sum up, Parliament is a very strange and unique assembly put together in strange ways. It is one very easy to criticise and to lampoon. It offers, however, a buttress to personal liberty, and an alternative to civil commotion. If now, in order to make itself more interesting and more entertaining, it accepts the yoke of television, I believe it will be putting in jeopardy things of greater importance and more real and lasting worth.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord Hill of Luton
My Lords, it is the first time in 20 years in this House that I have had the privilege of following and congratulating a maiden speaker, and I am particularly pleased to do so as he is an old friend from another place whose vigour shown over those years still remains alive within him. Indeed, in wishing for many more contributions from him, I hope that I shall be able to agree with some of them as I hear them.
The noble Lord, Lord Soames, put up what I thought was the most convincing and considered 1201 argument for the experiment with a view to the televising of this House. I propose to be very brief and limit myself to three points. First, the principle of the exposure of Parliament to the public was decided many years ago: it was decided, first, in relation to the printing of Hansard; and, secondly, to the admission of the press to the proceedings of Parliament. What is now proposed is that the television medium, which to some measure has displaced the press as a source of news, should now be admitted. After all, whether we like it or not, the most significant, the most widely listened to and observed news is now from television rather than from the press. Facing that fact, it seems to me inevitably to follow in an open democracy already committed to that full exposure that the door should be open to the medium which is the most effective exposure of information in this country.
Secondly, in the consideration that lies ahead, I hope that it will be accepted that it will not be for this House, or for a group of Members of this House, to determine what is broadcast and what is not broadcast. It must, I suggest, be the media, with their commitment to impartiality, who are responsible for the selection and use of the material provided for them by the proceedings of this House. Anything else would be gravely misunderstood. This is not an exercise in public relations for this House. It is making available, through the medium that is the principal source of news, what happens here to the general public.
My third point is just this. While I agree that it would be very timely for this House to be televised when its continuance and its composition are increasingly open to debate, it makes sense that the public should know something about what goes on in this House through the medium of television, but again not as a public relations exercise. That is not to say that we shall use this development in order to expound our virtues and to underline our qualities. It is that by making available information as to what goes on, the public will be better able to judge and better able to vote on issues concerning the composition and the future of this House.
We are deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soames, for bringing this matter up again and for dealing with it with such vigour and clarity as he has done today.