§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, after that rather sad Statement, perhaps we should return to the question of televising this House. There are too few occasions in this House when we have the opportunity of thanking the Lord Chairman of Committees for initiating a debate and for taking the chair at a Select Committee, as he has on this occasion. His work, and that of his committee, have produced a report with which we may not all agree in total but which, nevertheless, provides us with all the information we require for what is, after all, just an experiment.
I think that this Chamber is at its very best when we are a large number of individuals—I was going to say a mass—rather than when speaking to a party line. On this occasion we each of us speak as individuals, and should there be a Division—and I hope that there will not—then we shall each vote as individuals, because it is a matter for individual decision. Personally, I am in general agreement with the six months' experiment which will commence early next year, although I have some doubt—and it will really depend upon how much coverage we get—whether we can have a very clear picture in the short period of six months, at least one month of which may be during a Recess, unless the six months' period continues beyond that. I doubt whether six months is a long enough period in which to give us a true picture of what is called the "drive-in occasionally" experiment.
I cannot help but feel that we are getting this experiment very much "on the cheap", for £10,000 is only part of the annual salary of one cameraman. The two broadcasting authorities, the BBC and the IBA, will be footing the bill for the experiment because they hope that we shall approve it and will continue broadcasting beyond the experimental period. We must, however, bear in mind that if we agree to continue broadcasting beyond the experimental period, with full coverage of the proceedings of the House and a console control outside operating four or more unmanned cameras which, as the Chairman of Committees told us, will be strung underneath the 778 galleries, the cost will be very considerable. Furthermore, nothing stays the same in electronics. What is modern today is almost obsolescent as soon as one starts to use it. It means that what is considered now to be the best possible equipment could have been improved by the time the full proceedings are covered at the end of the experimental period.
The report states that our Tannoy sound system is adequate for the experiment. I am not quite so sure. Last week I carried out an experiment which had nothing to do with televising the proceedings of this House but with complaints that some of the speakers from this Bench cannot be heard very clearly by anybody who stands on the other side of the Bar. I found when I stood there that voices coming from this part of the House are inclined to rise and fall. Happily, we do not all have the same voice range; it varies from the gentle whisper to that of the noble Lord who could very easily address a public meeting in the open air. Therefore the sound engineers do a very good job with the system that we already have in order to make it possible for every Member from every part of the House to be heard. However, it would be a very different matter if that system were to be used for televising the proceedings of the House. No doubt the matter has been studied and the opinion is that it will be satisfactory; but noble Lords will know that before they appear on television a sound level reading is taken of each individual voice. That check cannot be provided for every Member of your Lordships' House.
Another point which has to be borne in mind is that Members do not always speak directly into the microphone. The microphone nearest to me is directly behind my head. That is not always the case, so hearing difficulties are not always the fault of the sound engineers or the microphones. One Front Bench speaker has the habit of resting one elbow on the Dispatch Box while addressing the Bar end of the Chamber and of resting his other elbow on the Dispatch Box while addressing the Throne end of the Chamber. Think of the problems that will create for a television sound engineer who is trying to cover his speech; the sound level will come and go. I make no criticism of the noble Lord because his speeches are all well worth listening to. Therefore television sound engineers will, I fear, have to mute the voices of some speakers and amplify those of others.
I am also concerned about defamation and libel. There are occasions in this House when a member of the public is named. This does not happen very often, but when it happens what is said may be defamatory and may malign an individual outside Parliament. The noble Lord is covered by privilege. It is possible that the broadcasting authorities are also covered by a form of privilege. But what is the position of the individual who feels that he has been maligned? Because this has happened on television, will that individual be permitted to take his complaint to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission whose job it is to consider the complaint of any member of the public who believes that he has been treated unfairly?
I am also concerned about whether the final decision on editorial control should be left to the House. The Chairman of Committees made it quite clear in his speech that editorial control should be left to the broadcasting authorities. This is as it should be.
779 However, it is also said that the final decision must be left to your Lordships' House. Are we the right sort of body to decide whether Party A or Party B has been well or badly treated in a television programme? Such a question will be brought to us only when the broadcasting authorities say that a complaint which has been made is not for them but for Parliament to decide. I do not believe that a body composed mainly of active politicians, with the addition of the noble Lords and noble Baronesses who sit on the Cross-Benches, is the right kind of body to take a decision of that nature. The Broadcasting Complaints Commission, to which I have already referred, could, with a slight alteration in its terms of reference, take a case of that kind under its wing. I hope that there will not be many such cases, but they are not unknown. I am in a position to know that one political party will complain that it is not getting so good a crack of the whip as another political party.
There may be value, if we decide to go ahead with full television coverage of this House, in providing tape recordings for the benefit of our colleagues in Europe. If our Italian and French colleagues in the EEC were interested in a debate which takes place in one of our EEC Select Committees—for example, on the butter mountain or, more enjoyably, on the wine lake—they would be glad if a tape recording could be provided. I do not know whether my suggestion goes much further than many noble Lords would wish. However, I believe that my suggestion ought to be considered.
There is another reason why we should be careful about what we discard as a result of televising the proceedings of the House. After the experimental period we ought to keep tape recordings not only for archive purposes but for very many historical purposes. By that I do not mean that we should keep tape recordings for a very long time, but tape recordings could be used in order to quote the speech of a noble Lord some 20 or 25 years after it was made. I hate to use the word "obituary", but such recordings could be used in that respect also.
There are a number of other items I should like to raise but there are many noble Lords yet to speak. My noble friend Lord Diamond has an amendment down on the Order Paper and I am sure that we all look forward to hearing him. I have one question in relation to that which the noble Lord might answer. What will happen if the senior Cabinet Minister is a Member of this House? Ought we not then to have automatic television of his contribution?
§ Lord Aberdare
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked many questions, but I can answer that question straight away. There would be no bar whatever on the television authorities using a ministerial statement made in this House and not just made in another place and repeated here.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, that was the only point I wanted to make on that aspect. I do not want to go on speaking for much longer. One could continue for a long time thinking about possible problems and snags, but we are after all talking about only a six-month experiment. I hope that your Lordships' House 780 will decide to go ahead. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I did not hear very much in his speech about the fact that this is simply an experiment—because that is all it is. Again with respect to the noble Lord, it almost sounded like a wrecking amendment to a decision as to whether or not we should allow the House to be televised at all.
I am sure that we shall have a good debate. I hope that as a result of the experiment we shall decide that it has been proved to be possible to televise this Chamber—and in the fullness of time the other Chamber, too—without so many of the problems which people feel may arise.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord Ardwick
My Lords, I hope that the defective microphones in this Chamber will allow the noble Lord who has just spoken to hear my speech as clearly as I have just heard his—with which, I may say, I almost entirely agree. I am a member of the Select Committee and must say that I was surprised when I read the amendment. The decision in favour of televising our proceedings for an experimental period was taken a full year ago by a three to one majority. If anyone believed that this House should not proceed with the experiment until the other place was ready to conduct a similar experiment, they had an ample opportunity then to express their view and put it to the vote. But to come along a year after the decision was taken to try to undo that decision—after months of effort to design and prepare the experiment and after months of effort by the Select Committee, by the Parliamentary Officers, by the broadcasters and by the technicians—seems to me to be an unwelcome and unusual procedure.
Object if you like to the findings of our report. Argue that the problems of the lighting and heat have not been completely resolved. Or say that we should impose more restraints on the broadcasters. But it is too late to argue that our experiment should be stopped in its tracks because another place has failed to take a step of this kind.
This House must always be sensitive about its limitations as a non-elected House. We must never set ourselves up as a rival to the elected Chamber. Even when we are exercising constitutionally what influence we are allowed to have over the other Chamber, we must be prudent and not push our luck too far. But we are, and must remain, masters of our own procedure. In that procedural respect, we must not be subservient to the other House.
Broadcasters may say over a cheerful drink that they regard our experiment as a challenge to the other House; that it is their sprat to catch a mackerel. But this was not in the minds of those of us who support the experiment. It is an experiment. It is a necessary experiment, though it may prove to be a failure. As the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, said, the proceedings here are quite different from those of a party conference. A party conference is all drama; it is natural television material. The proceedings of this House—particularly when in Committee on a difficult Bill—would rate pretty low on the TV scale of human interest.
781 The experiment might be a failure. It might show that there is no strong demand for the televising of Parliament. But it is an experiment which we can afford. Nobody will be able to say that what may be portrayed of this Chamber and of its Members will have a marked effect on the politics of the nation. There may be some minor risks in the experiment for the Government Front Bench—very minor—but for the rest of us, televising this House can contain no problems. We have no constituents. We have no local party committees. And we are here for life. Our interests are very different from those of a Member of another place representing a marginal constituency.
I said in the last debate that I had come to the conclusion that we do not have a right to deny the public access to this House by television. We are the custodians of this Chamber—the mere custodians. The public outside are the owners. The House of Lords has not been privatised. Not yet, and I do not believe that it ever will be—the possibility of it showing a profit would be very limited! The public pay for this House. They maintain its existence by acquiescing in its survival. At the same time, in the not very distant future the public may participate in a referendum in which they will be asked to choose between supporting or rejecting a proposal for our abolition or for our radical reform. It would be useful then if the public knew something about us.
In Britain, as in most other countries, Parliament is badly reported. Only The Times gives anything like a full report of the other place, and even then it is extremely economical in the space that it gives to this House. For most people, the only full report easily available is provided by Radio 4, which is under a legal obligation to do so. But for Radio 4, very few people would know that we still exist—unless we rashly amend some newsworthy governmental measure, and that is pretty rare.
The Radio 4 audience today is pathetically small. Radio is a minority interest. The medium of popular communication is of course television. As we saw a week or two ago, just one television programme can stir the conscience of the entire nation. Radio could not have done that, and nor could any newspaper—even using the brilliant shock issue techniques of the noble Lord, Lord Cudlipp. Not today. So, if a wider public is to be given a chance of finding out something about the everyday working of Parliament and of this House of Parliament, then television is the only possible medium that can reach that very wide public.
I hope your Lordships will say that we can go ahead with our experiment. I am sure it will have lessons for both Parliament and the nation. I am sure that Members of another place, whether they are for or against the televising of Parliament, will welcome our experiment. It will show them the possibilities, the limitations and the dangers. I believe it would be obscurantist now to turn back and say no to the experiment.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord Peyton of Yeovil
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, was, it seemed to me, a little peremptory in his dismissal of the arguments contained in the amendment which the noble Lord, 782 Lord Chalfont, so eloquently moved. Parliament, of course, belongs to the people and we are all concerned to see that Parliament survives the pressures of our time. Those of us who support the amendment, as I do, are concerned particularly because we fear that the intrusion, the incursion, of television will inflict lasting and unwanted changes upon Parliament.
I do not believe that this is the occasion to repeat all the arguments which were used in the debate a year ago. I want particularly to say that my anxieties have been revived, and even enhanced, in three respects by the report of the Select Committee. First, I doubt whether our proceedings are going to be of very much lasting interest to the television medium. These words came in an answer:I do not believe there will be many occasions on which the House of Lords on its own will merit full-scale coverage".That really does show the attitude of the media. Indeed, my noble friend the Chairman of Committees, in moving the main Motion today, said that once the novelty had worn off he very much doubted whether there would be more than two or three appearances a month on the part of your Lordships' House. Why, then, one is bound to ask, is there this anxiety on the part of the broadcasting authorities to knock on the door of your Lordships' House, and to do it so loudly? I cannot believe that what they really seek is admission to another place down the corridor.
There is also the question of intrusiveness. Again, I think the Select Committee report has done nothing to allay my anxieties. The presence of four cameras and their attendants, the heat and the glare of lighting four or five times what is normal in your Lordships' House, and whatever alterations to this Chamber may prove necessary in the event of something more permanent following upon the experiment, are things that, in my view, have not yet been adequately examined.
My third concern relates to editing. In the report this is stated to be a matter for the broadcasters, subject, it says, to the, "ultimate control of the House". What do those words really mean? I suggest to your Lordships that it is far easier to use such words than to invest them with any vestige of real meaning in practice. We should not ignore, in passing judgment on this question of editing, what has happened in another place, where attention has been concentrated on Prime Minister's Questions. It seems to me that those responsible have yielded to the temptation to convert public affairs, and the arena in which they are conducted, into a bullring.
As the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said in moving the amendment, and I agree with him, there is no guarantee that good conduct for the duration of the experiment will survive into any more permanent arrangement afterwards. The question was asked: How would pictures of noble Lords who had succumbed either to thoughtfulness or weariness be treated on television? The answer was very clear:That is a matter for the director who selects the shot.I like the words "selects the shot" because that describes exactly what it will be.
The report has done nothing to comfort me on those points. Nor has it made clear where, in the event of the experiment being adjudged a success, the money for the next stage would come from. I hope that perhaps 783 my noble friend the Leader of the House, when he speaks, will enlighten us on that. My own fear and my own prediction is that it would be very hard indeed to extract money from the Treasury for such a cause, and the broadcasting authorities seem to be equally reluctant.
There is one point that I should like to make about membership of the Select Committee. I rather had the impression—I may be wrong—that it is made up at present by those who are keen supporters of televising your Lordships' House. I welcome, of course, because I yield to no one in my respect for those who occupy our Front Benches, the fact that the Committee is to be enlarged by some Members of the Front Bench being included in its ranks, but perhaps it might be desirable (and I am not making a personal bid here) and sensible for some of those who have doubts to be included on the Select Committee. I was disappointed that in its report the Select Committee did not, it seems to me, echo any of the anxieties that had been expressed in the debate—hence, the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, has the pain of enduring a second debate on the subject.
I have endeavoured to keep my remarks short because there are so many who wish to speak but I now come to the last, shortest and most important part of my speech. My noble friend—if I may so term him—Lord Tonypandy is happily back in his place today, but he is as yet not allowed to make public speeches. He has asked me if I will repeat to your Lordships a brief summary of his views. These are his words:I have given serious thought to the subject of this debate. In doing so I have drawn upon my experience in another place, particularly as Speaker. I believe that the Select Committee has not taken account of what is the real aim of the broadcasters. They see an agreement of your Lordships' House and its use in this experiment as a means of obtaining a similar decision from the other place. Sound broadcasting of proceedings there has concentrated upon the noisy and discreditable moments. The broadasters' concern is, I suppose naturally, for the content of their own programmes, not the good of Parliament, and it is for these reasons that I shall vote for the amendment tonight.'".
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I support the recommendations of the Select Committee. I listened with much interest to the eloquent speech of my noble friend Lord Chalfont. It almost convinced me. It reminds me of what the lawyers call a dilatory plea—a plea for delay, ostensibly to gain time, but in truth to try to squash it altogether. His arguments were really saying how undesirable it is that this House, or the other House, should be televised at all. He did not really deal with the question before your Lordships; namely, whether there should be an experimental period of six months. That is the real point before your Lordships.
I should like to say a word on principle, and to refer for a moment to the forum of the courts of law. We do not allow any broadcasting; we do not allow television; we do not allow photographs in the courts of law. I hope that that will ever remain so. Their task is to decide disputes between individual citizens and for the judge and the jury to hear and see the witnesses and the advocates. The public as a whole do not come into that forum. But here your Lordships' House is the great senate of the nation where debates are held of the first importance on legislation, on policy and on the social 784 conditions of our country. Those debates are not merely of individual interest. They are of public interest to the whole community, on which the whole community should be asked to form their own opinion—a public opinion which is the most emphatic force in the land.
If we debate these great issues, surely the public at large should be able to hear and to see how your Lordships conduct yourselves. At the moment they can read it all in Hansard, but I am told that the issues of Hansard go almost exclusively to the institutions and the like. I know of only one private subscriber—and he is Queen's counsel—to Hansard. Very few people at large get Hansard. Of course, there are those short snippets in the newspapers telling people what goes on.
Surely, in principle, the people of this country should be able to hear and see how your Lordships behave and the arguments that you put forward, because, if I may say so, how superior they are to those that are heard sometimes in another place. The expertise of your Lordships, the knowledge of your Lordships, and the eloquence, if I may add, of your Lordships, is such that all members of the public should be able to see how you conduct yourselves, and how well you do it.
That is a matter of principle. I would therefore be in favour of televising in principle. But then, I agree, there are the practical questions—the heat, the glare and the lighting. I expect that many of your Lordships have been in front of the television cameras, as I have. For myself, I have got quite used to it. I do not think of any other audience at all. I just think of the people before me. I am sure that your Lordships would do the same. I am sure that your Lordships would not be influenced by any thought of outside hearers. I do not regard that as any practical difficulty, so long as the heating and the glare are kept under control.
Much the more difficult question, as my noble friend Lord Chalfont says, is the selection and treatment of individual issues in your Lordships' House which are to be broadcast. Who is to do it? No politician, certainly. And no judge; I would not have a judge do it. You can only rely on the independence—by statute, those reponsible are to be independent—and impartiality of the broadcasters themselves, subject, as they would be, to control by the committee and investigation as to how they have perfomed their work.
In the face of all the difficulties I would have thought that the right thing to do was to leave it to the broadcasters themselves, trusting to their independence and impartiality. If they go over the traces, let it be brought to everyone's notice by a Motion in this House, by the committee, or by whatever means it may be. These considerations, if I may say so, are matters for experiment. The fears that have been expressed can be tested in this experimental period of six months. I would have thought that such a period was quite ample. I join with my noble friend Lord Home. On this Motion, we should accede to the report; we should permit the experimental period of six months and reserve our ultimate decision on whether televising should or should not be made permanent. I support the report.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord Soames
My Lords, it has already been frequently stated in this debate, and the House has been reminded, that your Lordships voted by a majority of three to one in favour of the televising of its proceedings for an experimental period and instructed the Sound Broadcasting Committee to report not on whether, but on how, this decision should be implemented. I thank the Sound Broadcasting Committee for its most detailed report. I do not agree with everything that it contains. In the round, however, it is, I think, an excellent report which demonstrates that a lot of hard work went into it.
I would take up a point raised by my noble friend Lord Peyton, who seemed to infer that, by one means or another, the Sound Broadcasting Committee has been stacked to respond favourably. I think that I am right in saying, although it is not for me to defend it, that the Sound Broadcasting Committee existed as it is today before the debate even took place. It was there. It followed the House's instructions. And, undoubtedly, as the report says, if this Motion is agreed to, there will be the addition of whoever it is thought, through the usual channels and elsewhere, are the most appropriate people to serve on the committee.
What we are debating today, as I say, is not whether or not we agree to an experimental period. That has already been established. We are debating the report of the committee as to how such an experiment should be organised. This brings me to the amendment of the noble Lord. Lord Chalfont. The amendment does not seek to alter or amend the report, as the other amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, does and with which I must say I have a certain sympathy. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, seeks in effect to throw out the report, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said, lock, stock and barrel until the other place decides, should it ever so decide, to proceed with a television experiment.
Nearly a year has gone by since this House voted in favour of such an experiment. Much consideration has been given to the matter. So far as I know, no consideration has been given to it in the other place since the vote in your Lordships' House was taken; none at all. Indeed, I happened to read in today's Hansard that only yesterday in the other place the right honourable gentleman the Leader of the House, answering a question as to whether some experiment should not be made in televising that House, replied:It would be an affront to the House if I endorsed the doctrine of inevitability"—that is, of televising that House—in the matter of television broadcasting. In sheer terms of practicality, I think that the House would be well advised to see what is determined in another place tomorrow".—[Official Report, Commons, 26/11/84; col. 612]That is a reference to today. Are the Commons going to say that they will wait for the Lords? Are the Lords going to say that they will wait for the Commons? It is going to be a very jolly merry-go-round.
I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, did not, unfortunately, give your Lordships the benefit of his advice in the debate last year, the debate that ended in a decision three to one in favour of the experiment.
786 Had he been present, he would have heard that this issue of the Lords standing back to let the Commons take the lead was extremely well-aired in that debate. It was indeed probably the subject that was mentioned in more speeches than any other and there was a decisive vote in the House thereafter, unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, apparently was not able to participate in that vote. However, as I say, the question was given much consideration in that debate. It will certainly be an issue again at the end of the experiment when it is decided whether or not your Lordships' House will continue with television on a more permanent basis. Certainly that will be a major issue then. But I would respectfully point out to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that it is not an issue in the debate today.
The issue in the debate today is the report that your Lordships' House invited the Sound Broadcasting Committee to make, as to how we should proceed with the experiment. Indeed, the report's recommendations, except over the detailed point of Ministerial Statements, very properly make no mention of the other place or their agreeing to arranging to have themselves televised at all, for that was not indeed what the House commissioned the committee to do.
The other main anxiety which was referred to a great deal in last year's debate was the question of possible partiality by the broadcasting authorities. This has already been raised a couple of times in this debate. I would refer noble Lords to paragraph 12 of the report, which proposes that the same approach should be taken as is taken for other areas of the media—for the written word and for radio. Frankly, I do not see how any other solution could have been arrived at. One solution would have been that this House has a sort of broadcast committee or television committee and itself does the editing, which I do not think noble Lords, on reflection, would think a very good idea.
The other extreme is that it should be left entirely to the broadcasting authorities, with no interference at all from your Lordships' House.
The middle way, and what seems to me the right way—and I commend what has been stated in the report—is that there should be a liaison committee of Members of this House, formed between this House and the broadcasting authorities and strengthened in any way that it is thought fit so to do, which would be in constant contact with the broadcasting authorities and which would try to ensure that they keep on the road of impartiality.
As this is not a debate on the report, I must not myself fall into the error which I pointed out the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, did, of repeating why I think in principle it would be right to proceed with the experiment and why I am in favour of the televising of Parliament. All I would say is that parliamentary proceedings are about the only facet of our national life which is not televised. It is left to the written word and to radio to describe to the people the proceedings of Parliament. I must say my own view is that where the other place is concerned, it is the worst of both worlds having radio. Either you have nothing, or you have television, where at least people see what is happening, and why. Incidentally, television does not 787 always have the effect of making people more raucous; it often has a calming effect. I think there has been much evidence of this over the years. Even if you take it a lot further and think of wars, I wonder very much whether the Russians would still be in Afghanistan if on the television sets in Russia every day there were shots of the war and of people being maimed and massacred.
Surely the time has now come to make this experiment and I should think that this House is an eminently proper House for it to start in—for us to put our toe in the water, as it were. The experiment would, I think, help Parliament to consider whether or not television should be proceeded with. As to whether one House is going to do it with or without the other is surely a decision for after the experiment—not before the experiment, but after it. So personally I shall vote against the amendment, which anyway is, I think, out of place in today's debate, and I shall support the Motion itself.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Lord Strauss
My Lords, as has been said by many-previous speakers, the question whether or not this House should be televised has been decided. It was decided by a vote this time last year. What we have to consider today is really whether the report which is before us adequately expresses the desires of this House, and whether or not the proposal in the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is a wise one.
As one who opposed the whole principle of televising Parliament, on grounds which I do not want to repeat today, I think there is a great deal to be said for waiting to see what the other House will do. For one House to be televised by itself would be ridiculous, I think, and would be making a fool of Parliament. If Parliament is to be televised it must surely cover both Houses. The question this afternoon, as I see it, is only whether it is right and proper that the first step should be taken by the publicly-elected House—the only House that has a relationship with the public—or whether it should be taken by this non-elected House. There can be no doubt that if this House takes a decision to proceed, it will have a very considerable influence on the decision of the other House. I do not think that is the right way to go about it.
If the Commons decide it is desirable to televise their proceedings, then we must automatically follow them. But what can the experiment of televising this House reveal? It will of course reveal that there is a very high standard of debate and that the Members of this House are exceedingly knowledgeable on almost all public matters, are mostly very erudite and are very eloquent. It will also reveal that the affairs of this House are, on the whole, pretty dull. I do not think it will in any way answer the question whether the public interest is served by such television. That people may enjoy the televising of it may be so. I do not accept the argument that the public have a right to see what their elected representatives are doing, any more than they have a right to go and see what is happening in the courts of law. The question is: is it desirable, in the interests of our parliamentary democratic procedures, 788 that our proceedings should be televised? I very much doubt it.
As has been said by other speakers, particularly by my old friend the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, there is a great danger in televising the proceedings of either House of Parliament. Inevitably the broadcasters will pick out, as they have in the case of the Commons, those things which are newsworthy (by which they mean sensational), those things which are colourful, and they will not give a direct and true picture of what is happening. That is impossible; and I believe that the net effect of televising will be to lower the standard of this House—or of Parliament as a whole if the other House agrees to do it—and will not raise it. It will diminish it, and for that reason I am very reluctant to support a Motion which says that we in this House should proceed now on this experiment—the experiment can reveal very little that is going to be really of much interest to the other House—and that we should proceed before the other House has considered the matter and decided what it wants to do.
Therefore I feel that the arguments that have been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and particularly by the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, are the strong ones and should be accepted; and that we should not proceed any further on our own initiative but should wait to see whether the other House, the elected House, takes such an initiative. If it does, then of course we would be bound to follow it. I hope the other House will not take that initiative—I believe it would be damaging—but, if it does, then and only then should we follow its lead.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Dacre of Glanton
My Lords, I wish to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I do so basically for two reasons—first, because I do not think that this House ought to be the stalking horse, the guinea pig, the thin end of the wedge—whatever you may call it—of the other place; and, secondly and more importantly, because I think, with the noble Lord. Lord Strauss, that the whole proposal is misguided. The House of Lords should serve the public interest and not the entertainment industry.
First of all, what is the aim of this costly and inconvenient experiment? It is not to create more open government; that battle was fought and won long ago. It is simply, so far as we can see, an operation to circumvent the other place. But let us be clear. We are not the real target. We cannot compete in screenworthiness. Our grave, senatorial deliberations cannot compare with the effervescent vitality, the robust juvenile activity of the other place.
§ Lord Dacre of Glanton
My Lords, it is not merely a question of dignity; I think there is an important issue in itself. The televising of our proceedings may not damage the House, it may not damage us individually, but what is its advantage? Surely the question that we ought to ask is not, "What harm can it do?" but, "What is the public utility of it?" We are here in our public capacity to serve the public, not merely to yield 789 to pressure from outside on the grounds that we see no particular disadvantage in it.
This raises in my mind an important distinction. We are told that television is a means of education, of instruction, of communication which is important in public life. I agree entirely that television has that function, but it is a limited function. It does not apply equally in all directions. Television, as a means of education or instruction, is a means of bringing in the imagination to the aid of understanding. It introduces a new sense: one sees as well as hears, and this can be of very great importance. I agree entirely that there have been many occasions on which television has been an added means of instruction. We can think of the recent scenes of the miners' strike. The word "intimidation", in dealing with trades unions, has often been used in our discussions, but it was an abstract word; it had no real, visible impact until we saw on the television screen what it really meant. Equally, there is the famine in Ethiopia. Many other episodes are brought home to us in a vivid and useful way by television.
The same is true of great public spectacles, but these depend for their effect on action. Deliberation is quite different. If people appear on the screen merely discussing and debating, then imagination does not come in to help thought or understanding. What happens is that a superficial impact is made by the appearance, whereas the words and the thought behind that appearance make no impact at all and are easily forgotten. Anyone who has appeared on television knows how often one will meet in the street or in a train someone who will say, "Oh, I saw you on television last night". One will ask, "Did you agree with me?" He will say, "Oh, I can't remember everything that you said". That is not recalled.
Therefore when we appear—if we appear—on the screen, what will last will not be the nature of our deliberations, in which consists the value of this House; it will be merely a visual impression, perhaps transitory, or, if retained, then retained because of some extraordinary episode. Therefore I think that television presentations—the audio-visual aids, as they are called in the trade—are a two-pronged weapon. In some areas they are positively helpful; in others they positively hinder understanding. They replace rational thought with fleeting pictures, and it is the pictures only that remain. It is the difference between reading serious matters in a paper like The Times or a paper like the Sun, which is all pictures. Radio is not liable to this charge. There we hear the argument; the argument is all that is presented to us and it remains in our mind.
I maintain that our function is not to be a continuing spectacle but to be a reflective debating and revising Chamber of the Legislature. And that function, I believe, should not be trivialised. Trivialisation kills. When we watch the news on television, very often we see things which are important and are vividly brought home to us. But we see also a great deal of trivia introduced as unnecessary illustration, merely distracting us from a piece of news which would come to us with far more impact if we did not have these trivialities. I do not wish to see the serious debates of this House trivialised. The only answer to trivialisation 790 is on the same trivial level, and therefore it seems to me that the correct attitude to adopt towards it is to ignore it; and it is easier to ignore it if we do not allow it to happen.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Lord Broxbourne
My Lords, before I plunge in medias res into this interesting and absorbing topic, I owe the House an explanation and an apology. After I had put down my name to seek to speak, and after I had given some preliminary consideration to the matter. I was afflicted with laryngitis and thought that when the day of the debate arrived I might well be that pathetic paradox, the voiceless politician. I am aware that there may be those of your Lordships—I hope very few—who think that that may have been a consummation devoutly to be wished, but I am sure I can count on the kindness of their hearts to keep that matter to themselves. But if I am husky and more difficult to follow than usual. I apologise to the House.
I should like, respectfully, to tender my congratulations to the members of the Select Committee on the report that we are debating today. In their clear and comprehensive report they have, with commendable industry and clarity, set out both the issues of principle and the technical considerations governing the mechanics of televising the proceedings of the House, with the appropriate safeguards required. In so doing they have earned, and should receive, the gratitude of the House and, I would hope, of the public outside.
I am glad to say that I agree with the substance of the report as summarised in paragraph 48. I welcome an experimental period of televising our proceedings in the form described, and hope that it may turn out to be permanent. However, that is not a view which has been arrived at lightly. This question occupied my attention during many of the parliaments which I served in another place, and I have not found it an easy one. Nevertheless—and this brings me to the amendment—I think it may be easier to resolve the matter in the context of the proceedings of this House than in the context of the proceedings of the other place, because the style and tone of our proceedings lend themselves better, perhaps, to television presentation.
Of course it is not all one way. There are matters in which the advantage lies with the other place, and I shall come to them in a moment. However, let me first refer to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, which would reverse the order of priority and put the ball in the Commons' court. It is, if I may so describe it, a sort of "After you, Claude" amendment to which, of course, the other place might fittingly make the traditional response, "No, after you, Cecil", and that would be a recipe for permanent inaction—a relegation of this matter to the Greek kalends. Whether or not that is what the noble Lord wants, I do not know. However, he will recall—and if he does not do so the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, will remind him—the ancient legal maxim that people are presumed to intend the natural consequences of their acts.
I do not think that the evidence supports the proposition that television should start in the Commons, as the amendment suggests. I am sorry to differ from the noble Lord, for whom I have the 791 greatest respect, but if there is one matter in which I could conceivably, with the faintest scintilla of plausibility, claim an advantage over the noble Lord, it is that I do have experience of both Houses, and that must be relevant in any judgment as to where it is appropriate to start this experiment.
Of course, there can be no certainty in this matter—a not unusual circumstance in this unpredictable and uncertain world. One must try and make the best judgment on the evidence, and on that, conscious as always of the possibility of error, I believe that the natural order is for the House of Lords to proceed first. It follows, therefore, that in my view this amendment, which would reverse that order, should be rejected.
On the broad question of the propriety of televising the proceedings of Parliament. I think that most parliamentarians, in whichever House they serve, are subject to a conflict of sentiment—a type of conflict between heart and head. In our hearts we want, of course, to maintain the intimacy of parliamentary proceedings to which we are accustomed; to maintain the special character of our proceedings, which has survived the admission of the press and an element of sound broadcasting. On the other hand, we accept the right of the public to have as close, as vivid and as true a view as possible of proceedings which, after all, are being carried out in their name and on their behalf; and we recognise the value of television in bringing Parliament and people closer together, thereby giving strength and stability to our parliamentary institutions.
As in so many things, it is a question of where the balance of advantage lies. Whatever may be the differences in the mechanics, the admission of cameras and their techniques rests on the same principle as the admission of the press. Indeed, in 1771 Parliament rejected the admission of the press on very much the same grounds as many people now put forward to resist the intrusion of television. Of course, Parliament lost something by the admission of the press and the acceptance of first-hand reporting. No doubt the speeches written for the record by Dr. Johnson read better than the originals could possibly have done. But what they gained in literary merit they lost in authenticity and true presentation. After all, Dr. Johnson is on record as saying that he was careful to see that "the Whig dogs" did not have the better of it. In the end, as your Lordships know, Parliament reversed this rejection and substituted the principle of direct reporting—warts and all—for the more elegant period of Johnsoniana.
The admission of television reporting today is only an extension of that principle to a newer medium—an extension to which there can hardly be an objection in logic, assuming that suitable safeguards can be provided against the disruption and debasement of the proceedings of Parliament, as appears to be the case. In principle and in logic, therefore, the admission of television in the circumstances of today is right, and what is introduced as experiment should, one hopes, gain permanence.
There is, however, one further sobering thought. The possibility of impermanence, of a negative result to the experiment, tends to be viewed—at any rate by 792 parliamentarians—as a matter exclusively for the decision of Parliament. If Parliament does not like it, they feel that that is the end of the matter. But is it really as simple as that; or is there another side to the question? Will Parliament—or in this case your Lordships' House—not have to justify the experiment, to see that the interest created by such programmes among the viewing public justifies the media in continuing the experiment in perpetuity? I think that it must be so. After all, there will be no statutory duty, no express obligation on them to continue. The media must do what the public want and provide the programmes that please them.
It follows, therefore—does it not?—that if the experiment is to succeed and become permanent, with the advantage of bringing Parliament and people closer together, the House should play its part in making its proceedings attractive and easily intelligible. I would not want to be misunderstood. I would certainly not for a moment advocate the cheapening of parliamentary proceedings. The House neither is, nor should be, a place of entertainment. Its primary function is as a workshop for the fashioning and improvement of legislation and as a forum of discussion on matters affecting the public weal. It will be for television to present the essential business of Parliament truthfully and attractively, so as to hold the interest of the viewer.
I said earlier that in many respects the proceedings in this House would televise better than those in another place—it is more orderly, more balanced, quieter and more dignified in tone. But it is not all one way. This House suffers perhaps some disadvantages in the context of presentation. A large, and not least useful, part of our proceedings is concerned with the minutiae of Committee stage amendments. In another place this is relegated to the seemly obscurity of committee rooms upstairs. If I may dare say so, Question Time here lacks the crispness, spontaneity and variety of Question Time in another place. Again, there are no short Adjournment Debates, there are no what used to be called Standing Order No. 9 debates on matters of urgent public importance. That is all good material for television.
Then there is the manner and mode of exposition. This is a delicate matter, but some of your Lordships may have noticed, after his much acclaimed maiden speech, the observation of my noble friend Lord Stockton, in an article published in the Daily Telegraph on his impressions after revisiting Parliament for the first time for 20 years. Therefore if that judgment is right it may be that the presentation of our proceedings might not be an instant and spectacular success on the television screen. In a few minutes the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, may give the House his expert opinion on that point. It may be that a more spontaneous and more rhetorical mode of exposition could benefit our proceedings and television presentation alike.
Your Lordships may have noticed a very interesting article which was published in the Daily Telegraph the other day which was written by Godfrey Barker, its talented sketch writer, which concluded with these words:This means that Ministers in the Lords, unlike in the Commons, have to win the argument to win the vote. It is this that makes the Lords at present so exciting and so unpredictable to watch".793 Could he not logically and fittingly have added:and therefore a natural for television, with all the ingredients for success"?Against this background it may well be that hopes will be realised and the outcome will match the opportunity. In that event, it will bring not only enjoyment to the viewer—and that, after all, is not a negligible consideration in itself—but a greater understanding of our proceedings by the citizen and a keener intrerest in public affairs, thereby strengthening the democratic institutions which we are here to serve.
§ Baroness Gaitskell
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him why he is so anxious to stifle the voice of this House. I should like to know why people who speak as he does want to stifle the voice of this house.
§ Lord Broxbourne
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Baroness must have followed my discourse with rather less than her usual close attention and understanding. The last thing I want to do is to stifle the voice of this House. On the contrary, I want to ensure that the voice of this House is communicated to the citizen at large for the greater good of Parliament and public alike.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, principally for the reasons so well developed by him and so powerfully reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, on the Labour Benches. I also support the amendment because in my view the televising of Parliament is undesirable in itself.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, I shall explain why if the noble Baroness will listen to my speech. Not only is the televising of Parliament undesirable in itself, but this view has, I believe, gained much ground in your Lordships' House since the decision of a year ago which, after all, was taken by a comparatively few number of noble Lords—under 100 participating in that vote.
As I see it, there are powerful reasons behind the hostility to the view that our proceeding should now be televised—some general and some particular. The first is the feeling that debates in Parliament should be conducted in accordance with reason rather than emotion. Of course, this is not always possible; but anything which might encourage emotion rather than reason is surely undesirable. There is little doubt that television—whatever its great, and, on the whole, beneficent influence in many other fields—results, as often as not, and more particularly in politics, in the triumph of what is called "gut reaction" over reasonable argument. We just have to look at the recent presidential election in the United States to convince ourselves of that.
I was aware of this phenomenon as early as 1950 when television was still in its infancy. Your Lordships may perhaps recall that, slightly to my own alarm, for several months in that year I was what is called "a television personality". I am persuaded that this was 794 not so much due to the arguments which I deployed against Jakov Alessandrovich Malik, my opponent in the Security Council of the United Nations at the time of the Korean War—though I like to think that the arguments were sensible enough—as to the effect which for some reason or other I had on the mass audience. Considerable subsequent experience of television only confirms me in my view that it is not so much what you say in that medium that counts; it is, above all, the impression that you create.
Applying the principle to the possibility of this House being televised, what might we reasonably conclude? Members of this House, who would I think be pleased if they featured on television—and who would not?—might well be less disposed to make some clearly reasoned speech which was difficult to summarise and which contained no very quotable nuggets, than to think up a few powerful slogans which, suitably delivered by a noble Lord of attractive or dominating appearance, might will appear in the summary of the debate prepared by experts who, after all, would be solely concerned with producing what is called "good television".
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment. Will he explain to what he attributes his great success on television? Was it to his emotional effect, his personality or his arguments?
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, I have said that it is not so much what you say on television that counts; it is the impression that you create, which is a very different matter.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, that is my view. The noble Baroness may dispute it. That is my point of view—it is not so much what you say but the impression you create. Equally, any rather unfortunate incident, such as a verbal slip, or an unfortunate joke, might well also be played up.
As opposed to such possibilities as these, is it not clear that the existing system of broadcasting our proceedings, inadequate though it may be, is greatly preferable? In that daily summary of proceedings in Parliament—I think it is called "Today in Parliament"—anyone interested in our debates has to listen to what was actually said without being distracted by the appearance of the noble Lord who said it. Incidentally, this summary is usually very good in producing a sort of synthetical account of the proceedings, much better than that usually appearing in the so-called "serious" press which, if indeed there is any mention of it at all—and there rarely is—usually consists of one sentence taken out of context in the remarks of any noble Lord other than those of the Government spokesman and possibly the Peer who winds up.
In other words, radio appeals to the mass audience in a rational way, and that is why the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House of Lords has contributed so greatly to our reputation in the country and has given us such an advantage over the broadcasting of 795 the proceedings of another place. Heaven knows what would be the effect if the public actually saw what often happens there! No doubt it is this apprehension which results in an obvious reluctance to face the television cameras. You may say, does not this show that since we at least would not be exposed to the same danger, we can safely go ahead? But though the danger would certainly be less here than it would be down the corridor, it by no means follows, for the reasons I have given, that it would not exist. Of course I would not want to exaggerate it.
Those who say that it may not matter very much if we go ahead because the public, after a time, will be bored stiff by our proceedings may have a point. However, if they should be right, it would mean that we should for some reason have lost the influence that at present we undoubtedly exert—and that would surely be a great pity. What we want to do is to make the best impression possible, and here I am certain that television would do us little good.
I have dealt with the general argument in favour of rejecting the proposed experiment. I now turn to the particular ones. They seem to be twofold. In the first place it is quite clear from the report that control—and it would seem complete control—over what is actually televised will rest with a very small group of so-called "editors" from the BBC and ITA who will have complete authority to select such passages from our debates as they may wish to put over for presentation to the general public.
§ Lord Gladwyn
Yes, it is true; that is probably for about an hour a day. In other words, authority for such selection, which will no doubt affect the reputation of the House of Lords, would be entrusted to a few journalists whose impartiality and judgment may be impeccable but, again, may not. In any case, the public will not actually see what happens in the House of Lords. They will see only what the journalists see, which is a very different thing.
It is true that this House will "retain ultimate control" (I think the phrase is), but how could such control in practice be exercised? The committee was no doubt right to turn down the idea that selection of material for broadcasting should be left to a broadcasting unit employed by the House itself; so the "ultimate control" would in practice be a decision, in the event of serious objection, to cancel the whole system and simply stop televising the House.
That brings me to the second particular argument. The proposal now before us is, of course, for a provisional period only—we all know that—and naturally during that period the television editors will lean over backwards so as to produce, so far as is possible, a resumé of our proceedings which will no doubt give rise to only a minimum of criticism. But once installed here for good it is surely probable, to say the least, that they will be more and more likely to select passages which are, as the saying goes, "good television", and it would then be almost impossible for the House to exercise its final authority which, as I say, could only be to put a stop to such broadcasting altogether. If it did, it would be accused of being 796 terrified of the effect which the revelation of what actually went on during its debates was having on public opinion generally. Once you have the cameras in this Chamber, in other words, they are here for good.
There is one final and, to many people, conclusive argument in favour of televising the House which, at the risk of being unpopular, I would classify as dangerous. It is said that we should do nothing to interrupt the steady march of progress. Parliament in the past, so the argument runs—and, indeed, it has been developed by the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne—has always been initially opposed to any proposal for publicity. We know that for a long time there was no record of its proceedings. Then the public were admitted only after delay. Then journalists were reluctantly given a free hand. Finally, the proceedings were allowed to be broadcast on radio.
Television is now, therefore, according to this argument, simply the latest logical step to be taken, unless we are, ineffectively, to resist an apparently unavoidable historical tendency. That is the argument. And in a little while we shall no doubt be confronted, for similar reasons, with demands for the televising of all Government committees, and no doubt the Cabinet itself.
§ Lord Gladwyn
Well, my Lords, I well remember one of J. M. Barrie's most successful plays called, What Every Woman Knows. I do not know whether your Lordships have ever seen it. It is a good play. In it an up-and-coming young politician is at a loss to know how best to counter the argument of his opponents that he is a reactionary trying to resist what would now be called "the wave of the future", but was then known as "the flowing tide". He composes a rather pedestrian speech in his defence which is tactfully altered by his splendid wife, who inserts the sensible and vote-catching peroration,So vote for us, and dam the flowing tide!I shall, consequently, vote for Lord Chalfont's amendment, and, if that fails, I shall vote against the acceptance of the report.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I would not seek to follow the arguments of the noble Lord who has just sat down, but I should like to pick up one or two points raised earlier in the debate. I am surprised to find myself in this position, and I think that this is the only subject on which I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I feel his anxiety—and I think it is a general anxiety—about who is to guard the guardian, who is to control the editorial balance and impartiality. However, by and large. I go along with the arguments used by the noble Lord, Lord Soames, and in the interests of brevity I shall not repeat them.
Another point I should like to make to my noble friends is that these lights, which are currently giving 300 lumens at the Dispatch Box, are necessary for the present generation, or present make, of cameras. But so fast is the technological progress in the sensitivity of the cameras that each generation every three or five 797 years is immeasurably more sensitive than its predecessor. If this experiment is successful and we make televising a permanent feature, the cameras are likely to be much more sensitive and we shall not have to endure such a bright light.
I have to say, too, that I have never found a television lighting engineer who did not like piling on light just for the fun of it, because he gets the depth of focus and the clean picture. We saw it, of course, at the Royal opening of this Session. There was immense light, and of course the pictures were beautiful. But for everyday events we can work with a good deal lower light, and the new cameras will help us in that respect.
It was 50 years ago, as a young graduate at HMV, that I was one of the three engineers who were designing the first television receiving sets. I have taken a close interest in this subject ever since, and I was glad to serve on the broadcasting committee. I must confess that in 1935 I did not realise just what a dominant force television would become and how completely it would sweep the other media—particularly the newspapers—off the face of everyone's mind. It is true to say today—and this is apposite to Parliament—that out of sight is out of mind. I do not think we should neglect the opportunity of carrying out this trial, and personally I hope that it will be successful and that we shall go on from there.
I want to deal with three arguments which have arisen. The first is, no television of the Lords independent of the Commons. The second is that television would lower Parliament's standing. The third is that this is not the time for an experiment. This is the point of view put forward by Lord Chalfont's amendment. Let us consider the first argument: that televising the Lords is impossible without the Commons. In the 20 years I served in the Commons there were many debates in which views were rather narrowly divided and went across party, just as is the case with this debate. I remember on one occasion an issue was lost by one vote, and it was said that Dick Crossman had changed his mind during the course of the debate and that he swung the issue by going the other way.
I think that the Lords have always led in their desire to allow television, and it is worth considering why. I think it is because we are a more broadly-based House, with expertise over a wide spectrum; and we are proud of that. We believe that much of our work is both undramatic and possibly unappreciated, and that television would do us no harm; and we take pride in that our degree of tolerance here is high. Our experience is considerable, and our statesmanship unmatched in another place. So most of us feel—I know that there is a strong minority that does not—that by and large this is the ideal place to start the experiment and we should let it quietly go ahead.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, is my noble friend saying that he thinks we can get away with it and that the other place could not? Is that the burden of his argument?
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, if my noble friend will bear with me I will deal with the other arguments as I go along.
Surely the Commons will watch these results; and unless we experiment neither Parliament nor the 798 broadcasting authorities nor, above all, the people who should really be the judges, and the electorate, will have the possibility of making a reasoned judgment after the trial. I cannot understand, unless the noble Lord is trying to destroy the experiment and vote television out of Parliament for ever and aye, why this should be opposed.
The broadcasting authorities themselves will be exploring the type of programme which appeals to the public, whether they can do a daily edited service or whether there would be a longer summary at the end of a week. On all these things they have to gain experience. We and the public have to be the ultimate judges.
Lastly I put the view that the Lords were the first to allow the spoken word to be taken down verbatim. We did this in 1831. We were way ahead of the Commons then. There is nothing wrong in being ahead of the Commons when we see things perhaps more clearly than they do.
I now deal with my second point, the lowering of the standing of Parliament. I do not believe that television will lower the standards of behaviour. I believe that it will actually improve the manners and the standards of Parliament in general. I suspect that anonymous bad behaviour and shouting which cannot be identified is less injurious to the person than if he is seen to be behaving as Parliamentarians should not behave. I have great faith in the electorate, that when they see their representative, or some Peer they know, behaving in a manner which they think is wrong, they will not hesitate to write a letter to say so. I believe for all sorts of reasons that television will improve the manners and behaviour in Parliament if it is thought that they do not match the standards of the day.
We started the first public television service in the world in 1936 and we are now behind the rest of the democratic world in providing programmes of Parliament. Most Western European Parliaments have been televising for decades: West Germany for 31 years, the Netherlands for 29 years, Sweden for 27 years and the United States and Canada for many decades. Australia is also likely to go ahead. Among all the countries every one which has started television has never shut it off. They may have changed the format or changed what the public want to see. That is correct and the way that expertise evolves, but once they have tried it it has been so popular in the countries that it has been continued. I cannot see why we should be alone, particularly having been the pioneers, and turn our back on even a trial. It is said that we make the scientific discoveries but never push them through to production and utilisation. Here we have a chance and I hope tonight we shall not make yet another mistake and close the door to a trial.
In all these countries where parliament is televised brief extracts are included in general and regional news reports. Britain is alone up to the present in not allowing it.
The third argument is that this is not the time for a trial. I believe that it is exactly the time for a trial. We currently have four television channels and we are promised that in the next decade we may have twenty. It might be argued that we could put it off until there are so many channels that one could be devoted 799 entirely to parliamentary proceedings. But that is a long time in the future. In the meantime, it seems so illogical to me that we see on television every cultural activity known to man, every sporting activity, every sort of recreation, many religious activities of different denominations, activities showing us nature—and how successful those programmes are!—but the one thing in a democracy that we have not allowed the electorate to see is Parliament and the work it does.
I think it is a shame in many ways that we did not have this trial starting a few weeks earlier. What wonderful material it would have been, not only for ourselves but for our children and our grandchildren, if video recordings had been made of Manny Shinwell and Harold Macmillan; and, if I may say so, even today would have made very good television if many of these speeches had been recorded, particularly that made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning.
As the mother of Parliaments we should no longer deny the right of the electorate to see Parliament. Let us surely dally no longer. We have put it off and put it off again. We tried a closed circuit experiment in 1968. It taught us something. We have put it off already for too long. Surely we should remember what Lord Randolph Churchill said just 100 years ago—because these are the people who will be the judge—"Trust the people". I stand on that.
§ 5.26 p.m.
My Lords, I am strongly opposed to televising proceedings in your Lordships' House, even on an experimental basis. My main reason, I confess, is a negative one. There really have not been, for me at any rate, any convincing arguments mustered in favour of doing so. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, finished his very good speech (with every word of which I disagreed) by saying. "Trust the people". Which people, and to do what? He and I hunted in couples in the past, as we often have done on other matters, because we were anxious to end the BBC's television monopoly. We worked very closely with an old friend of many of us, the late Lord Selwyn-Lloyd. That was the slogan we used then, "Trust the people"; but what we meant then was "Trust the people to switch off", which is a very different thing. I do not know anybody who has been more highly critical of the lack of objectivity on the part of the media as between the political parties and the two Houses than he has and yet he now seems to have complete trust in the cameramen who may come into this Chamber.
§ Lord Soames
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for one minute. Which debate is he referring to when he says that he has not heard one argument in favour of the experiment? Is it this debate or is it that of 8th December last year? If it is this debate, this is not what this debate is about.
My Lords, I shall be coming to that. The answer to the question is that I am talking about the debate on 8th December, which I am very sorry to say I did not attend but every word of which I have read and re-read, and I am saying that I did not find the arguments convincing. I did not say that there were no arguments in favour—there were plenty—but that I did not find them convincing.
800 We have been told—my noble friend Lord Soames, a former greatly admired Leader of the House, was one of those who told us—that it would be quite improper for us to reverse a decision which was made in the last Session. It was made by a vote of three to one. That is perfectly true, it was 74 to 24; but that was only roughly half the number of your Lordships who normally vote in a division on a topic of any real importance, so it was not a particularly good feeling of opinion.
I cannot see why it would be wrong for us in another Session to have second thoughts. There has been no suggestion that this House would fulfil its role more effectively under the eye of television. No one has actually argued that. So far as the lights are concerned—which have hardly been mentioned—I find them ugly, dazzling, hot and aesthetically totally unacceptable. Furthermore, there is certainly no evidence of public demand. Our proceedings are hardly news. We rarely rate much mention in the serious press (and still less in the popular press) even when debating, and perhaps successfully amending, important legislation.
A comparison between the reporting of proceedings in another place and in your Lordships' House tells its own story. I have been doing a little mathematics. Excluding parliamentary sketches, feature articles and judicial reports, I reckon that The Times and the Daily Telegraph normally devote eight times as many column inches to proceedings in another place as they do to us. That tells its own story. The programme "Yesterday in Parliament", the reports of which the broadcasting committee considered very carefully, in 25 minutes every morning on radio covers the parliamentary proceedings. We are told that 900,000 people regularly listen to the programme. Their reports on our debates—and here I include our Select Committees—rarely rate more than two to three minutes for us and often only 60 seconds, and sometimes important debates are totally ignored. I am not criticising the media in saying this because their job is to satisfy public opinion and to titivate it. But to redress the balance as between ourselves and the other place in the newspapers or on television we would have to carry out all sorts of monkey tricks—and none of us is going to do that—or we should have to ask my noble friend Lord Stockton to make a speech every week.
So I say again that we are not news. I never see a lobby correspondent in the Peers Lobby. Our public gallery is nearly always less than half full and sometimes almost empty even for an important debate like this. We are not news surely because as a non-elected Upper House we have strictly limited powers and we use them with scrupulous care, and we observe constitutional niceties to the best of our ability. We shall stay not being news. Although many Peers—perhaps a majority of Peers—favour reform of your Lordships' House, this is not going to happen in the foreseeable future, I am sorry to say, because with reform marches more power. Then we would be news.
Do not misunderstand me, my Lords. In spite of what I have said, I doubt whether the standing of this House, quaint as we are in some ways, has been higher or its influence greater during my lifetime. In fact, I go so far as to say that I do not think there is another 801 country in the world with a second Chamber which matches us for a sense of responsibility and expertise.
I want to make only two further brief points, as all my better points have been taken already. My noble friend the Leader of the House, whom I am very pleased to see in his place, said on 8th December last, at column 1192:Undoubtedly, any decision to 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".But, surely, my Lords, if we were to decide today to reaffirm what we decided in the last Session, even for an experimental period, that is precisely what we would be doing—acting as a sort of constitutional guinea pig and bringing pressure to bear on another place. Quite honestly, I thought that that seemed to be confirmed by something that my noble friend Lord Soames quoted in favour of his arguments against televising the Chamber, though I thought it was one of mine, when he said that yesterday the Leader of the House in another place, Mr. John Biffen, in reply to a supplementary question, said that another place ought to await the decision in your Lordships' House before deciding what they themselves will do. So we are positively pre-empting their decision, we are bringing pressure to bear on them—which, with respect, is the very thing which my noble friend the Leader of the House advised us that we should not do.
For my part, I favour each Chamber doing its own thing. I see it as one of the great strengths of our constitution that each of us has differing roles and functions and quite different lifestyles. I cannot see television being a necessary, or even desirable, part of our lifestyle, and for myself I hope that it will not become part of another place's lifestyle, either.
As for the chance remark of my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing that the cameras coming in here would improve our manners and our behaviour, I was surprised to hear him say that. I thought that our behaviour was very good and that our manners were very good; though he may of course have been thinking of another place, which is surely the object of the exercise.
One last point, my Lords. What other countries decide to do now or in the future about televising their parliamentary proceedings has really nothing to do with us, any more than what another place decides should influence our decision. But we can learn from mistakes that other countries have made or the way in which they do these things. I thought that the broadcasting committee's drawing our attention to the fact that in the Canadian Parliament they allow only the photography of the head and shoulders of a Member was interesting. I was surprised that they did not make a similar recommendation to us. In Congress, just before the last presidential election, when some Republican congressmen were making election speeches for their constituents in Minnesota, or Arkansas, or wherever, Mr. Speaker "Tip" O'Neill ordered the cameras—he had that power, which is something which the Lord Chancellor would not have here. I am quite sure—to pan along the open benches and not to focus on the speaker. That is something which would not happen here of course, but perhaps 802 it could happen somewhere else. The Senate, I think wisely, have decided not to have television.
Nobody has yet mentioned that the GLC had it not very long ago. It was a disaster. They do not have it any more, unless Mr. Livingstone intends to re-introduce it. And, in lighter vein, when I was in Australia six or eight years ago, I actually was told that that very week a Member of Parliament who lived in Perth and who had lost his false teeth, took advantage of the cameras to ask his dentist to send him a new set. That camera was certainly useful to him.
I should like to sum up. I do not believe that a good case has been made out for televising our proceedings. We are not news, so my Lords, why waste time and money? We should not be the thin end of the wedge for another place, and what other countries do is their business alone. I was brought up, as were we all, with the saying: "Children should be seen and not heard". We are grown up now. What I am arguing is that we should be heard and not seen. Therefore, I would regard the introduction of television as wholly irrelevant and an irresponsible waste of the taxpayers' money. I strenously oppose the Motion and will vote for the amendment.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Hill of Luton
My Lords, it is 18 years since this House passed a Resolution in favour of an inquiry as to whether television should be used here. It is a year since the noble Lord, Lord Soames, introduced his Motion with the result that his inquiry by a Select Committee was set up. In my view, it has done a remarkably thorough and efficient job. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, moving his amendment, as he went on it became perfectly obvious what was his view. He does not want the televising of Parliament at any time, or at any cost. That was his view; and I suppose it is fair to say that he does not want the inquiry, lest it be a success.
My view is that I want the inquiry to be a success. I want it to be a success because I think that the public is entitled to know what goes on in Parliament, whether it be favourable or unfavourable; it is entitled to know. The other place delays a decision, and after some recent events there I should not be surprised if they delayed a decision for an experiment.
I want the experiment to succeed for that reason, and for another. It is in my mind; so let me mention it. The future of this House, its role, its structure and its composition before long, I suspect, will be a lively issue of public debate. Here and there have been signs of it, and sooner or later it will come up. I hope that by then the televising of Parliament will have begun, so that people will be the better informed before reaching that decision.
But as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, went on, it was perfectly clear that he was not so much concerned with the simultaneity between ourselves and the other place in starting this; he does not want it at any price. It was a general assault on the use of television. I, for my part, want it for the reason that I have given that surely, having set up this Select Committee which has reported so fully (and, I think, so fairly), the one thing that matters is that there should be an experiment and that the decision be reached after that experiment as to 803 whether television should be a regular feature of this House. Does that not make sense? We have had one experiment; but that was in closed-circuit television. This full use of television on the lines of the committee's report will enable us to reach a decision as to whether it is appropriate for the future.
It would be absurd for us, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is really suggesting, that we should not have the inquiry because he fears it might result in a report favourable to television; I do not know, for my part, the case for the inquiry on the lines that the Select Committee recommends overwhelms all others. Let us all reserve our judgment until we have knowledge of what it means, whether we are in favour or against. But do not let us pre-judge the issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, did today, knowing it would be wrong, knowing it would be unfair and knowing it would be useless. Let us have the experiment first and keep our minds open until the fruits of that experiment are clear.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I did not expect to be following the big guns, as I find myself doing. On one thing I absolutely agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hill; that was when he said that the public have the right to know what goes on in Parliament. That is the object of the exercise, is it not? Indeed, that is the object of the exercise that I have been sympathetic towards for many years, starting with the debate on a Motion introduced by my noble friend Lord Alport in 1965. Over and over again during the years we have tried to improve the information which brings about the object of the exercise, which is to bring Parliament to the people. At the back of my mind I have a recollection of one speaker—and I have been unable to trace the speech in Hansard—who said that,some day the House of Lords will be well and truly televised".The operational and important word there is "truly".
We owe a great debt of gratitude to this committee for their skill—and they are skilled people—and for their labour (hours of it) in producing this report, which is an important contribution to our considerations which are to end with the object to which the noble Lord, Lord Hill, referred.
In the debate on the 8th December 1983, which has been referred to, I made a reference in my speech to the doubts that I had in mind; inter alia, that the broadcasting authorities are to be the ultimate judges of what in fact is broadcast. At that juncture my noble friend Lord Soames interrupted me to say that the hope was that this committee, whose report we are considering, would consider these points in their discussions.
This in fact they did; but, with due respect, I feel that for all their expertise the committee could not see the wood for the trees. I say that; and it is for this reason that I support the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont's amendment. It is a long time since the view was expressed that it would be wise to let the House of Commons take action before we do, and this process—the process which is behind the amendment—will provide an opportunity to examine the problem in depth. One noble Lord said that the 804 object of this amendment surely is simply to delay matters. I do not think that is the case at all.
I think that the committee in one respect make a mistake on page viii, paragraph 12. They refer to the existing use of sound radio in reporting Parliament:This is the system under which Sound Broadcasting has successfully operated".I do not think it has successfully operated. The fact is that the sound broadcasting today of Parliament is less than it was previously. The importance of "Today in Parliament" is minimal in the evenings because of the low number of listeners. The BBC are perfectly legally correct in saying that by reporting in "Today in Parliament" they comply with the obligations laid upon them by Clause 13(2) of their licence and agreement, and they are entitled (as I consider it) virtually to censor the reporting of Parliament by cutting down their contribution to "Yesterday in Parliament". This is what worries me.
My noble friend's amendment would give time for further thought. I strongly feel that we must not accept that the broadcasting authorities shall be the final judges of what is broadcast, and I do not know how it is going to be corrected. That is the problem, and this delay might provide a way of finding out how it could be done. It might even mean an amendment to Clause 13(2). I think it is, of their licence and agreement. The present sound broadcasting, in my view, has not been successfully operated.
If one turns to the summary of recommendations (Paragraph 48)—and again this is a point to which one noble Lord has drawn attention—one sees that in subparagraph (ii) it is stated;Matters of selection and editorial control should be left to the Broadcasting Authorities themselves, subject to the ultimate control of the House".I forget which noble Lord it was, but one speaker said that that was all very well, but he wondered how it was going to be done. I believe for this reason that a good deal more thought should be given to the whole thing before an experiment is undertaken in either House. After all, where a middle course is open would it be wise to have closed circuit televising? And in terms of bringing the public to Parliament and vice versa, putting up a screen in the Great Hall and showing the crowds who wait in the street what really is going on before they go into the Galleries would be one way of approaching the matter.
Another middle course is this. Speaking as a Scotsman. I feel that we are much neglected in the North by being kept away from Parliament by the fact that "Yesterday in Parliament" is almost invariably extremely metropolitan. I would not agree with one noble Lord who said that radio was not of any great importance. It is of very great importance. I do not know how many of your Lordships listen to the broadcasts from Bush House; they are much better than the broadcasts from Portland Place. I am sure that considerations which might follow from the adoption of this amendment could enable more importance to be placed on the soundness of the radio contribution.
That is my contribution to the debate. I should like to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, not for fear of anything, except a feeling that 805 this is a matter to be thought out before we land either House with an experiment of this nature.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will accept my apologies for missing the earlier speeches. I have been working in court, but I shall of course read Hansard tomorrow. However, having spoken on 8th December, I was anxious to make a very brief contribution tonight.
Having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, had to say, I agree with him wholeheartedly. I agree with him when he says that the Select Committee has done a fine job and I agree with him when he says that the public is entitled to know. There are three views on this subject—go ahead with the experiment as proposed by the Motion; postpone the experiment as proposed by the amendment; and total opposition at any cost to the concept of televising our proceedings. This amendment, which will attract the votes of noble Lords in total opposition to the concept, conflicts with the free vote in a House of about 100 of three to one in favour of the experiment. As to the trappings of delay which clothe this amendment, one may well ask whether another place would be disposed to conduct its own experiment in the wake of those recent grave disorders as reported in Hansard, and so encourage further disorder by affording this potent public platform—
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, will the noble Lord permit an intervention? Does he not think it is also possible that the exposure of such disorders on television would lead to their being stopped, because they would be found by the public to be so unpopular?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, I accept the view of the noble Lord. I was expressing the view in relation to whether the other place would be likely to conduct an experiment as proposed by the amendment. It would be quite wrong and improper for me to express any further view on that. It is of course a matter for another place. But my view, for what it is worth, is that it is unlikely in the wake of the recent grave disorders that the other place would be disposed to afford this potent public platform and so perhaps encourage further disorder. I am not disagreeing with the noble Lord and it is purely an expression of my personal view.
If what I have said is right in this sense, the amendment must be seen, in effect, as a wrecking amendment, if not by design as was half-suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. No constitutional questions arise and, as regards our relationships with another place, paragraph 24 and recommendation 48(v) of the report appear to cover the problems which could arise on ministerial statements. So far as I am aware, no other serious problems arise.
If the question is whether the fears of those who oppose this amendment are real or chimerical, no answer can be given to this question as yet. This lies within the realms of pure speculation; hence the case for the experiment as proposed by the Motion. But as it is the affirmed policy of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition to abolish your Lordships' House, is it not of some import that the electorate should learn to 806 know just a little more about the institution which they are being invited to abolish? Is this an argument which could conceivably interest my noble friend Lord Chelwood? In this context, it is I think fair to say that no political party has so far canvassed the abolition of another place.
It was inevitable that your Lordships should have no hand in the editing; this would have been impracticable. This was discussed at considerable length on 8th December and paragraph 12 of the report reflects this. Of course, I understand the fears expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, on this score. But I hold to the view—and I think it is not a naive stance—that a limited experimental period means exactly what it says and if it comes unstuck for some reason, if it displeases your Lordships for some reason, then that experiment shall surely end.
There are, I concede, reservations. There always are in the case of an innovation. Paragraph 40 of the report leaves wide open the sort of pictures to be taken. Paragraph 31 of the report assumes that live television will be "rare after the initial week or so", without stating the grounds for such assumption. Also it is perhaps of importance that through this window to the world abuses of our procedure should not be seen as if they were commonplace.
Perhaps in this regard—I say this with due humility as a relatively recent newcomer to your Lordships' House, but I say it nonetheless—the dressing-up of speeches in the form of supplementaries at Question Time could warrant consideration of the Procedure Committee and of your Lordships' House before the experiment were to be introduced. I make that observation totally devoid of any personal or political content whatsoever. I make it because this could, perhaps, safeguard and secure the traditional bonds of self-regulation. Of course, in these days one dare not speak of divine intervention, either in the affairs of the Church or in the affairs of the state—such strange things seem to happen. However, but for the lay intervention of my noble friend the Leader of the House and of other noble Lords, and in particular the recent intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, our system of self-regulation could have been near to breaking point.
In conclusion, reservations notwithstanding, I support the Motion. Refusal to countenance an experiment in what, sooner or later, we shall all have to acknowledge as inevitable is but an ostrich act for which the amendment provides a most convenient sandpit.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I should like to join those noble Lords who have congratulated the Select Committee on their report. It has provided us with excellent material and has filled in some of the details we needed before we could discuss the matter any further. My views differ from those of some noble Lords who have already spoken, but I respect the views of all who have so far taken part in the debate.
I wish to make my point of view quite clear at the beginning of my speech. According to the Standing 807 Orders of another place, if there is a Motion to agree a report, my understanding is that I am entitled to debate the Motion and the subject of the report. Therefore, I disagree almost completely with the noble Lord, Lord Soames. I am sorry that he is not in his place, because I would not want it to be thought that I was disagreeing with him behind his back. However, the noble Lord was over-vehement in his attack upon the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who moved the amendment. He inferred that we ought not to discuss it because the House has agreed to the experiment and we ought to get on with it. I understand the impatience of those who want the experiment to take place as soon as possible, but I disagree with those who say that we should not debate the report. We are entitled to do so. As a result, I hope that we shall reach a solution.
The noble Lord said that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who moved the amendment was not present on the previous occasion. This was out of character with the standards which I have come to expect during the past 12 months. His criticism could reasonably be levelled at at least another 200 Members of this House. If the average attendance at an important debate is 300, more than 200 other Members are equally to be criticised. They are to be found on all sides of the House. Therefore, the tenor of the noble Lord's speech was not quite in keeping with the standards I have come to expect in your Lordships' House.
When the noble Lord, Lord Soames, addressed those remarks to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, who moved the amendment, I was reminded of the speech made last night by the Prime Minister. She referred to small minorities who wait until the majority have gone and then push in an amendment and get it carried with a minimum number of people present. I do not wish to be unnecessarily unkind, but with a total vote of less than 100 we are entitled to feel strongly about that kind of criticism. I was here and took part in the vote. I did not speak but I voted, as I voted at every stage in the debate, against the introduction of television cameras.
I want to vote against the report and I shall direct my remarks at it. We ought not to allow ourselves to be misled into thinking that we are discussing an experiment. Almost all of those who are in favour of the experiment are in favour of televising the House. We are not voting about an experiment but about whether or not the proceedings of the House should be televised.
The other point which I wish to make strongly is linked to my experience in the other place. I do not believe that this House is entitled to put the kind of pressure which it appears to be putting upon the elected assembly of another place. I agree wholeheartedly with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, on behalf of the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. He said that we ought not to put the kind of pressure that we are apparently putting on another place by televising in advance the proceedings of this House. In order to justify that view, I shall quote from paragraph 11 which states clearly:the BBC admitted that it could not 'justify televising the House of Lords alone on a frequent and regular basis'.".If the BBC cannot televise the other place they are 808 unable to justify televising the proceedings of this House alone. So much for democracy! If the BBC cannot have it all, they cannot justify televising this House alone. I believe that I am entitled to discuss paragraph 11 of the report, although some noble Lords believe that I ought not to do so. That sentence sets a more appropriate tone for this debate: whether we should be exerting that kind of pressure upon the other place. I do not believe that we should.
I shall not rehearse the problems which affect the other place but which do not affect your Lordships' House. As the elected assembly, the other place would be entitled to point that out and to take exception to anything we did which pre-empted their opportunity to discuss the crucial issue of whether or not we should televise our proceedings.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that he quoted a sentence which reads:the BBC admitted that it could not 'justify televising the House of Lords alone on a frequent and regular basis' "?That is the qualification.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, that is exactly how I read it, although I did not snap out the words with the same emphasis as the noble Lord put upon them. But the meaning is the same. The BBC could not justify televising the proceedings only of this House. They say in paragraph 11 that they need to televise the other place, too. We ought not to be in any doubt about that.
Before we agree to the experiment I believe, as stated in paragraph 48 of the report, the summary of recommendations, that we have yet to discuss the possible effects on this Chamber. I have listened to thousands of debates and have heard many speeches made by great parliamentarians. All of them have in common their love of Parliament and what it stands for. They fear that television may damage Parliament's image and support. We ought to listen to those who have a great deal more experience than have I. Throughout the years they have passed useful advice to me about the effect of televising Parliament.
I shall quote briefly from the 1966 debate, which is mentioned in paragraph 1 of the report. Therefore, I can justify, if necessary, why I refer to it. The then Member of Parliament for Saint Marylebone was Quintin Hogg. He is one of our most illustrious parliamentarians and is now Lord Chancellor. He is exceedingly wise, and in that debate he said:Of course, the experiment will have a certain limited value".He voted against the experiment in 1966.it will tell us whether the lights are correct"—if the lights had been left on for the duration of the debate, I venture to suggest that we should have voted long ago to end the experiment. Because of the bright lights I was beginning to fry after the first half hour and had a headache. He said:it will tell us whether the lights are correct, and whether a programme can be properly balanced. But it will not tell us the one thing that those of us who are afraid of the experiment want to know. It will not tell us what the ultimate effects upon the nature of our Assembly will be, because this, of its nature, will never show within five or eight weeks. Moreover, it will never show until there has worked through this whole Assembly the effect of the television programmes, viewed cumulatively, upon the public, and the effect of that public reaction upon Members, probably over years".—[Official Report, Commons, 24/11/66: col. 1663].809 Very wise sentiments; that one could not judge the experiment after six months because of the important ingredient—which has never been discussed—of the possible effects on the public.
That brings me to the other point. I have been fairly active over the past few years in and around London and other places, but I have never received any demand, nor am I aware of any public demand, for the televising of the House of Lords. There would probably be a greater demand for its abolition if a poll was taken. But there has never been a great demand for the televising of this House.
With all due respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, there is more demand for the televising of the Law Courts than there is for the televising of the House of Lords. There is a great deal more public feeling about what goes on in the courts of law than there is about what goes on in this Chamber. It is no argument when one appears to be saying that we think the public need the televising of this House and so we are going to give it to them, but that when it comes to the Law Courts, we do not think they should see what happens there—even though they want to do so. That is not a logical stance to take. I have those reservations about the experiment.
If we still have any doubts, we could consider the sound broadcasting of another place. This matter has been mentioned ad nauseam. We know the damage sound broadcasting has done—not just because of the behaviour in another place (although I believe that has been exacerbated by the intrusion of the medium into that Chamber) but also because of the significant choice of material. It appears that the choice of material is that which appears to do the most damage; the extract that contains the most rowdiness or the most emotion, and which therefore makes for good broadcasts. In this instance, it will be a case of what makes for good television. It will need to incorporate that element because, whether we like it or not, the medium is not interested in the issues or in what is being discussed—but in what makes for good television. The broadcaster is likely to ask himself, "Will it enhance my career? Will I be thought of as a better interviewer if I influence my subject to make a certain kind of statement? What question should I ask to make him say something outrageous?"
I comment from personal experience. Once, when I was a Member of another place and a Whip there, there was an important television programme containing a discussion on the Royal Family. It was one of those numerous occasions when there is an argument about the Royal Family. The programme was short of people and I received a telephone call in my capacity as a London Whip—as someone who would know which politicians were in London. I was asked, "Can you find somebody to appear on this programme?" I began to reel off a whole list of names, but was then asked, "But which of them would be prepared to say something outrageous about the Monarchy?". I put the phone down. I was absolutely horrified, but it taught me the lesson that what broadcasters need are people to say things which are outrageous, because that is what makes for good television.
We may believe that broadcasters are impartial. I have never believed them to be impartial. If I ever had any doubts, the past few months have dispelled them 810 and have proved to me that there is no impartiality in some of the reporting I have seen on television. I do not believe that we ought to import that situation into this House, and without any control on what is being broadcast.
I will comment also on the question of the pan shots. It is said that the cameras will focus only on the speakers. It might just be, unfortunately, that in panning to or focusing on a speaker, the cameras also focus on all kinds of other things which might not be to the liking of the public—who are not enamoured of this place already. Some of the things which you and I take for granted might not be understood by the general public. I looked around this Chamber this afternoon and noticed that a number of noble Lords were weary of the proceedings and were showing their weariness. A television camera would have exposed that quite ruthlessly. We have to be very careful about who controls any experiment and about what is shown.
We have to be careful also about the tailoring and the timing of broadcasts. We know from the New Zealand experiment the dangers there are. I believe it was the Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament who said that Ministers like best to speak at tea-time. They become friendly with the Whips so that they can get the right slot for the best coverage on television. The reporters were of course only too pleased with that situation. We have to be very careful before going into this experiment.
We know from the televising of party conferences how important also is the question of timing. We know about the number of references back which are made in the first morning of a conference when it is under the full glare of the television cameras—just before the election of the executive body or whatever. We can see this at all party conferences. The debates always falter once the television lights have been switched off. When they come on again, the demonstrations begin, and so on.
As to the question of practicalities, I have already mentioned lighting. The other aspect which must be considered concerns all the equipment which will have to be stored and kept—probably in huge vans. One has only to observe the televising of any event to see how many huge broadcasting vans are sited in the car park or in the roads nearby, with cables leading in all directions. How long will that last? Where will those vans be situated? Where is the space? There is no space to park now, without making room for huge television vans and all that goes with them. We must examine that aspect also.
Finally, there is the cost. I would like to return at some later stage and dispute the figure of £10,000 that has been mentioned. I do not believe it either, and I do not believe that anybody else does. That £ 10,000 will grow and grow, as all other estimates do. The figure is always very low when we are trying to sell, but once we have made the sale the figure creeps up. I do not believe we can afford such an experiment. In these times of stringency, we certainly cannot afford the cost of experimenting with something that nobody wants. Certainly I do not want it, and I shall oppose it.
§ 6.17 p.m.
My Lords, I suggest that the chairman and members of your Lordships' Select Committee 811 deserve our thanks for a thoroughly sound report. It is mercifully short and contains beautifully modulated arguments, which are so clearly and eloquently expressed that I found even I could understand it. I further suggest that the section of the report dealing with the evidence contained models of the interrogatory art. The questioning—more particularly by my noble friend the Chairman of Committees was—if I may so, short, designed to obtain information rather than state a view and incisively relevant. I congratulate and thank the committee—not least the clerk to the committee—and all who served it. I have always welcomed experiments, for without experiment how can we learn? Even this afternoon, by experiment we learnt something that has always concerned me—namely, that this Chamber, generally speaking, needs more light than we enjoy now. I had no idea until this afternoon what an astonishingly good-looking band of men and women sit opposite me.
All worthwhile points have been made so well by those who have spoken before that I have only one further submission to make. I have the misfortune and indeed the effrontery to disagree with a noble friend with whom I so often agree and whom I enthusiastically admire. I refer of course to my noble friend who is to follow me in this debate—Lord Harmar-Nicholls. May I ask him to consider that one of the reasons why those who respond negatively with such emotion to any suggestion that the proceedings of Parliament should be televised can be found deep in human nature? That reason is simply this: many have no objection whatever to the sound to their own voices, but they have a deep-rooted aversion to looking in a mirror. I most enthusiastically support the Motion.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I have to respond to the compliment paid by my noble friend, although we are on opposite sides of the fence on this occasion. When this subject was again put on the Order Paper the thought crossed my mind, almost instinctively, that this was a case of, "Physician, heal thyself, where we can, as a second Chamber, carry out for ourselves what is our real function in terms of Parliament as a whole. Our only power—and we use it, I think, effectively and with good value to the nation—is to give to another place time for second thoughts. It is a great power, and one hopes that when one gives that extra time it is usefully used.
Here we have a chance to give ourselves second thoughts. A decision was made 12 months ago, and much play has been made of the result. Much play was made by my noble friend Lord Soames and by the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. They were both adamant in saying that the decision had been made, we should keep to it and get on—no second thoughts! All I ask noble Lords to remember is that as far as my noble friend Lord Soames and the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, are concerned, you are dealing with two of the most astute and shrewd parliamentarians we have ever had. Of course they want to use all their influence and general power here to try and keep to the decision that they think is right, but which many of us think is not so right.
812 There really ought to be second thoughts because, however much they go on quoting the three to one majority when the decision was made 12 months ago, the fact is that the figures were 70 to 24. Are we suggesting that we should leave to 70 Members of the whole of our House a decision which may well interfere with the general presentation and the working of our parliamentary system? That is the effect it could have. I believe that if ever there was a subject which justified second thoughts in the light of that, this particular subject is it.
The other reaction I had to my noble friend Lord Soames—and I do admire him so much; he is a good friend—is that he gave the impression that the other place had not expressed any views on this. He said it in the form that the other place has not said anything over the last 12 months—or something to that effect—but he said it in a way which gave the impression that it had not expressed its views.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, perhaps my noble friend did not hear my noble friend Lord Soames in fact quote a remark made yesterday by the Leader of the House. Mr. John Biffen. He quoted from Hansard, so perhaps my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls was not in his place.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I was listening intently because it is a vital matter. It is perhaps the last chance that we have. It is vital that we should listen to what it is all about. Of course my noble friend quoted the Leader of the House in the other place. In addition, however, when my noble friend reads Hansard tomorrow he will find that my noble friend Lord Soames referred to the fact that the other place had not given any recent decision on the matter. We should keep in mind, in terms of what the views of the other place are, that in 1966 it turned down the idea of televising Parliament. In 1972——
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, the interjection is that they turned it down by one vote. It was a case of 131 votes, which in terms of actual figures is twice the 70 which has been quoted as regards the power we ought to exercise here. So the other place turned it down in 1966, and it turned it down in 1972. In 1975 it turned down television and suggested sound broadcasting as an experiment. The general impression left upon both Houses then was that broadcasting would be looked upon as an experiment to form a judgment as to whether this outside media ought actually to come into the Chamber of either House.
That is the experiment I have in mind, and which has been commented upon by several noble Lords. Can any noble Lord who has any contact with Parliament as a Member of either House truly say that the intrusion of sound broadcasting has raised the status of Parliament or of the Members of Parliament? Perhaps noble Lords have not had constituents whom they have had to meet, as some of us did when representing constituencies in another place. I have not yet met anyone outside Parliament who feels that the status and the standing of Parliament has not gone 813 down since we had sound broadcasting of both Houses. What I do know, however—whether or not it has to do with that, it has happened during the same period and it is too much of a coincidence to rule out—is that the status of Members of Parliament in their constituencies generally is nothing like as high as it was before broadcasting started.
I believe it is vital that we should not risk doing anything which is likely to interfere with the status, the standing and the general acceptance of Members of Parliament. At the end of the day, Members of Parliament pass legislation, and none of the legislation for which we are responsible is very pleasant. It is usually putting up people's taxes, or taking away some extra little freedom, or nannying people in some way. So it is vital that the people who have to tolerate the pain which flows from that should have it in their minds that the people with the power to bring in these edicts are perhaps a bit special and are not as ordinary as we would seem if it happens to be at the awkward times that the cameras are brought in. I believe that the intrusion of sound, and even more so the intrusion of the cameras, would undermine the acceptance by the electors of this country of the edicts which of necessity have to come from Parliament.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. Is my noble friend suggesting that it is somehow wrong or bad that constituents should have the opportunity of getting to know their Member of Parliament better?
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I think it is vital that constituents should know their Member of Parliament and should turn up to their meetings to cross-examine them to find out all there is to know about them, but to do so through their own eyes and to make their own decisions on what they see and hear, not what some editor with a camera chooses to let them see or some sound broadcaster chooses to let them hear. That is the vital difference. I am of the opinion—not that it would be done deliberately—that the distortion and the twisting that would inevitably come would have the effect of giving constituents a wrong view of what their Members of Parliament are really like.
I was very impressed, as we always are, with the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning. He speaks with authority, foresight and a power that is impressive. There are not many Lord Dennings about. I was very interested that he showed very clearly that his heart, his soul and his spirit were those of a lawyer. His pet is law, and how good he is at it! He said there should be no cameras in court. He said that they cannot have what they do interfered with by a wrong impression being given by a camera or a sound broadcaster as to how they arrive at a decision.
Sitting just behind the noble Lord, Lord Denning, there is another great character with great experience—the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. Just like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, when he was summing up in his great days, where he would fairly present the evidence, if I was summing up the contributions of the two noble Lords I would say that if one is going to arrive at a verdict on anything to do with law listen to what the expert witness, the noble 814 and learned Lord, Lord Denning, said: but if we are to make a decision on what is likely to flow from Parliament being televised, and the dangers and problems that could come from that, then we should pay attention to what the Speaker of the House of Commons for many years said. They are the two experts. I hope that, when we are forming our view on what is likely to happen, in weighing the views of those two great witnesses we will take into account the particular spheres in which they are the experts.
I am not terribly concerned about the effect that it will have on the House of Lords. I am not terribly concerned about the effect that it will have on the House of Commons. I am vitally concerned and disturbed at the effect that it could well have on the parliamentary system. It is vital we should not do anything that will undermine the appeal, the status and the general impression of our being in a position to produce legislation that affects people. Sound broadcasting has done that. We have had evidence of it in another place in the past week. I believe that television could multiply the impact on the general public and the working of Parliament by 10 times.
One of my earliest experiences in politics—I hate to think of the number of years that have elapsed since then—was to propose a vote of thanks to Stanley Baldwin in the Albert Hall in 1934. Fifty years is a long enough period to be able to form a judgment. I recall a sentence that he used. It bit deep at the time. I have remembered it, and I quote it often. He said that there had been a watchword running round the world since the First World War. The watchword was, "We have to make the world safe for democracy". Mr. Baldwin said that he would give his audience a much truer watchword than that. It was, "We have to make democracy safe for the world". If there was truth in his anticipation then, it has been proved now, 50 years later, beyond any doubt. We must not lightly do anything that will interfere with the status of Parliament.
My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing quoted the example of what various other countries have done. Many other countries have got rid of the monarchy. Are we to follow that? Many other countries have turned themselves into a republic. Are we to follow that? Many other countries have cut out the second chamber. Are we to follow that? If ever there was an issue on which we are able to make up our own minds without having to be a copycat, it is on the issue before us. We are the oldest of all of them, next to the Isle of Man. We have some experience. It is awful to sound pompous but if one is giving evidence one must. I fought something like 18 elections, both parliamentary and local government. I do not think that many people have fought more. I have won some and lost some. It is absolutely vital that we should not allow an impression of ourselves as legislators which will undermine the confidence of the people who have to accept what we bring in. And we are very ordinary.
I cannot accept the reaction of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, on another issue. The noble and learned Lord says that he finds the fact that the cameras are on him makes no difference. Again, on that he may be the exception. I do not believe that anyone is natural when they know that they are having their photograph taken whether by the cameras or by 815 a Brownie. It does make a difference. Our strength is our objectivity. Our strength is our naturalness. It is not necessarily the people who sound good and who are able to present their argument well that matters.
I suppose that the outstanding parliamentarian in the 25 years that I served in the House of Commons was without doubt Mr. Aneurin Bevan. I remember having a conversation with him one day about this. When he was bad, he was awfully bad. When he was good—as three times out of five he was—he was the outstanding man. I recall saying that one member of our party was making a rather hesitant and not very impressive speech in terms of presentation. I asked for his reaction. His reply was very enlightening and in keeping with the man. He said "I am not interested in how they say it; it is what they say that I pay attention to." And that applies here. It is what we say that really matters. If attention is diverted from the meat of what we want to say by the distraction of camera or even of sound, I believe that, as a consequence, the people will not be as well informed as they are at the moment.
In the last debate, there was reference to Hansard amid comments that television should not be allowed in Parliament. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing argued that because it is new and we are the inventors, we should have it in Parliament. It was argued that there might never have been Hansard. No one wants a secret society. Of course not. But there is all the difference in the world between having in Hansard what you have really said giving all the facts and setting out your evidence, and having this pictorial presentation which does not matter.
We talk about not wanting Hansard to stop. Where does this stop? Anyone who has served in Parliament knows that the Chamber is not Parliament, whether it is this Chamber or that of the other place. That is not Parliament. Parliament is what happens in committee rooms, in discussions that take place in the corridors and the contacts that you make outside. Are the cameras to be taken there? As the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said, where will it stop? Are the cameras to be taken into the Cabinet Room or meetings of departmental committees? If we allow this toe in the door, I foresee the issue going to lengths which people in the future will be sorry about. That is why we should consider it very carefully. This is not a wrecking amendment. It is an amendment that gives us a chance, in the shape of second thoughts, to reflect that the 74–24 vote, judged by experience since that time, may not have been the right one.
The move, if it is to happen—and it well might, who knows?—should not come from this House. It should come from the other place if it is to come from anywhere. The other place has the ultimate responsibility. If it interferes with what I call the parliamentary system, then the electors can get at those in the other place to deal with the matter. It is not for us to do that. If ever it is to be done, both Houses should agree. If it is to be decided by one House, it is not this House that should take that decision. And no one admires or recognises the quality and the value of the contribution of this House, more than I do. These are our second thoughts. I believe that we should end the decision that seemed to be made 12 months ago.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, I am sure that many of your Lordships will be indebted, as I am, to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, for at least two reasons. First, the noble Lord made clear—the same remarks go for every speaker who has opposed the Motion—that he wants reconsideration of the resolution which this House agreed in December last year. The noble Lord says that these are second thoughts and that he wants to go back on the resolution. So does the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. We are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, for making it clear that a vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is a vote against the resolution.
I do not want to use words like "wrecking amendment" because it carries overtones that are unwelcome in this House. But the effect is simply that at the end of the day we cannot go to the next stage as envisaged by the resolution. We cannot say how the televising of the House shall be done because that has been denied to us. We are therefore left with a resolution of last December that we should have an experiment; but we have no idea, should the amendment be accepted, of how that experiment is to be carried out. I say simply that it is the kind of amendment that is equivalent to a vote against. Of course, anyone is entitled to vote against. The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, thinks that all your Lordships should vote against because he has a number of hesitations.
The second reason why I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is that I, too, have a number of hesitations—deep hesitations which have affected me over very many years, both in the other place and here, when this matter has been discussed. I do not know for certain what is going to happen. I do know, however, that I am grateful to the House of Lords for being the kind of body that says, "We are not going to close our minds to a very important issue without having an experiment". I am grateful to the House of Lords for that. It is only after the experiment has been conducted that I shall have the facts: not arguments about whether the lighting will do this or that, but the facts as to what the lighting has done, and what the editing has been. All these various issues will be known to me then. I like to vote on a difficult issue by having first researched or got hold of the facts in some way or other, and here is an opportunity to get at the facts. That is why I am grateful to this House for having decided that the facts should be ascertained. Then everybody will be absolutely free—absolutely free—to decide in six months' time what they want to do in the light of the facts.
It is because of that that I want to say how grateful I am to the committee for having considered everything, for having reported fully, for having given careful consideration and for having made a number of recommendations—10 in all. I want to say to the committee that I am in favour of nine of them. I do not want to delay the House by giving the reason, but that is why we are here. We are here to consider this report, which was requested in order to know, not whether there should be an experiment but how the experiment should be implemented. In that sense I express my deep gratitude to the committee for nine of the 10 817 recommendations. I hope the committee will feel that that is not ungenerous, and that it is not bad going.
I want to spend the rest of this short speech—as short as I can make it—explaining why I think the committee were perhaps in error in the recommendation about which I am not happy; namely, Recommendation No. (v) that:The repetition in the House of Lords of ministerial statements made in the House of Commons and the subsequent exchanges should not be televised during the experiment, except with the consent of the Minister concerned".Normally we have a high regard for our committees and the work done on them, and I hesitate to take a different view even on only one out of 10 of the recommendations. However, I am much encouraged by the fact, first, that the committee themselves said that they reached this conclusion with reluctance; and, secondly, that they quoted what our Leader, the Leader of the House, had said—namely, that he was making his statement to please colleagues in another place. He did not put it quite as positively as that, but those are the words he referred to. So it is quite clear that the Leader of the House and the members of the committee which has examined this matter are not deeply married to this recommendation.
I want now to suggest to your Lordships reasons why, alone out of 10, this one recommendation should not be supported. The obvious first reason is the one referred to in the committee's report itself—censorship. Censorship is undesirable. It is something we all wish to avoid if we can; and censorship by an interested third party is the worst kind of censorship of all—and the interested party is, of course, a Minister of another place.
I think there are several more reasons. It represents an interference in the affairs of your Lordships' House by a decision of a Commons Minister. If I may say so, that is an undesirable precedent. It also means that you may have quite a junior Minister in another place, who has the responsibility of making the Statement, in effect denying the right of one of four Cabinet Ministers in your Lordships' House to be heard, and, even more so, of preventing response to the Statement being heard or seen on television—that kind of censorship. It can have that effect if the Minister in the other place so wishes. Suppose it is a Statement about foreign policy and it is repeated here, and suppose the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, ex-Prime Minister, decides to get up and make a comment. It means that some Minister in the other place has denied the right to televise what an ex-Prime Minister of the standing of the noble Lord, Lord Home, wants to say on a foreign affairs matter. So I think that perhaps on consideration the members of the committee, who have done an excellent job, will agree that there is some difficulty about that particular conclusion.
They talk about sensitivities in another place. Of course there are sensitivities in another place; but we have heard time and time again from Members of your Lordships' House who have been in another place and have spoken out of that knowledge and experience, making it absolutely clear that the sensitivities relate to broadcasting at all in principle and to televising in principle, and not to televising a particular part of our proceedings.
818 Of course I realise that such a piece of censorship would not be very effective. It would not be effective because certainly there is not a Minister or an ex-Minister in your Lordships' House who will not have had the same experience as I of preparing a Statement as a Minister and, before speaking, or before the event, issuing it to the press. Then, when you come to make the speech or make the Statement you decide, either inadvertently (it could be quite inadvertently) or for some reason or other, to leave out three words. There is no better way of publicising those three words. Every parliamentary correspondent is on to you and wants to know why you left out those three words. It could be for the simplest and most unimportant reason.
So I think that if it is known that the broadcasting authorities are going to be debarred from reproducing at the time, from televising, something that is being repeated here, they will take special steps to look into it and give it more publicity, as they so easily can; it is available to the press, it is available to the Galleries, it is available to sound broadcasting and all over the place. So I do not think it is going to be very effective. To have a very unpleasant situation of a Minister in another place exercising a measure of censorship over our own affairs, I think, is not worth that one.
But of course the main argument is that we are conducting an experiment. At the end of the six months we shall want to know what to do from there on. One of the things we shall want to know is: if we have television, shall we or shall we not exclude the repetition of Statements made in another place and the comments made on them? Of course, the other way round does not apply; the committee have made that absolutely clear. The committee have also made it clear that even this recommendation is only for the experimental period, and that they hold an open mind as to what shall be done at the end of the experimental period.
I am saying to your Lordships that I am one of those who are deeply troubled. I want to know which way to vote when the time comes. I want to have the facts. One of the facts I want to know is what happens when such a Statement is repeated here and is followed by questions and comments, and those are televised, either at the time or on an edited programme? I do not see why I should be denied the right to know what has been the effect of the televising of those items. So I leave it at that. I think the position is quite clear. I am most anxious to find out the facts. I am most anxious that at the end of the day, when the experiment has been made, it should help me—it should help all of us—to come to as objective a conclusion as we can.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, will forgive me if I do not follow him in discussing his amendment, if only because I have not yet had time to make up my mind on the pros and cons of his amendment. I warmly support my noble friend Lord Chalfont in his amendment because, like the noble Lord, Lord Strauss, and others, I believe that the introduction of television would be a disaster for this House—perhaps not in the very short term but certainly in the longer term—for reasons which in a moment I shall explain.
819 The argument advanced this afternoon that this House has already taken its decision should cut little ice with your Lordships. Surely every institution, like every individual, should have the right to change its mind, should have a right to look at the thing for a second time, as the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, suggested, particularly when one remembers that fewer than 100 noble Lords took part in the Division last December.
My first ground of objection to the experiment is that the medium is likely to obscure rather than enhance the message; I think the noble Lord, Lord Dacre, and the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, pointed this out very well. On radio, the arguments come through clearly, unencumbered by visual distractions. On television, the viewers' attention is likely to be diverted from the arguments to observation of personal idiosyncrasies which have nothing to do with the arguments: for example, is the speaker wearing a bow tie?; if so, is that bow tie covered with soup stains or congealed particles of scrambled egg?; or has the speaker got a mole on his or her left cheek?; and so on and so forth.
Of course the direct control by Parliament of the extent to which its deliberations are televised raises the question of unilateral selection, with all that that continue for ever, given that so much of our work is mundane, repetitive or highly technical. In support of this, may I cite the television critic of the Observer last Sunday? Writing about a series that has rightly received a great deal of critical acclaim—it concerns a number of young people whose progress from the age of 7 to 28 has been followed—he says:how could they"——that is to say, Granada—avoid, willy-nilly, picking seven-year-olds who were good on television: relaxed, articulate, engaging—'characters,' in other words?He goes on to suggest that had they picked children who were charmless, fidgety and inarticulate the ratings would have plunged; and no producer likes to see his ratings fall.
This brings me to the question of the dignity of the House. About five years ago I brought two young people here for the afternoon. The boy was in his early 'teens and his sister was a few years older. They came from a mixed background—a cosmopolitan and much travelled background—and were highly intelligent young people. They were most unusually rewarding guests who took a keen and perceptive interest in our proceedings. But there were two things that shocked them. The first was seeing certain people sprawled on the Front Bench, with their legs propped up, and the second was seeing a number of Peers asleep, or apparently asleep, with one or two of them snoring quite audibly. Here I might interject that when noble Lords bend to listen to the amplifiers built into the back of our Benches it may look to the untutored eye as if people are asleep when in fact they are not.
At first I was taken aback by the strength, by the vehemence, of their reaction, but in retrospect it seemed not unnatural. After all, we are steeped in the atmosphere of this House, but my two young guests had not been here long enough to absorb that 820 atmosphere. If it had been their third visit (shall we say?) things might have been different. The television camera is extremely good at capturing pageantry, but the clinical gaze of that camera is not good at capturing atmosphere, certainly not the totality of that atmosphere.
Let us remember, too, that the television generation, to whom I think few of us actually belong, not only in this country but throughout most of Europe, have been brought up to expect to see on their screens individuals—whether they be newscasters, actors in television commercials, actors in TV drama, participants in TV quizzes or those taking part in variety performances—who are alert and vigorous and whose teeth are beautifully capped, and so on. Most people who appear habitually on television are, at least to some extent, actors.
This brings us to the delicate question of age. As my noble friend Lord Tweeddale observed in so many words when we debated this matter in December last year, not many of your Lordships are in the first flush of youth. This fact cannot be gleaned from a sound broadcast alone. It is often said—with what accuracy I do not know—that in China, in Africa and in Latin countries old age is revered. I do not know about that, but it is certainly not revered in this country or, to be more specific, it is certainly not revered in British popular culture, of which television culture is a part. Here the late middle-aged and elderly may be treated with a certain degree of affection, it is true, but it is a mocking, condescending and pitying sort of affection.
This treatment extends even to those who one might describe as licensed "Grand Old Men" like the late Sir John Betjeman, Mr. Malcolm Muggeridge, and so on. It certainly embraces those of lesser eminence. One has only to think of "Dad's Army", "Last of the Summer Wine", "Steptoe", and so on, to see what I mean. In British popular culture the over-sixties are categorised generally as "pensioners", and in British folklore pensioners are deemed to be hardly capable of ordering their own lives let alone ordering the lives of anybody else.
The sad news from Bombay that we heard earlier this afternoon brings me to another point. Is there not perhaps a security aspect to this matter? The faces of Ministers of the Crown are generally well known to members of the public; it could not be and should not be otherwise. But at least Ministers have a certain degree of police protection. Back-Benchers do not. Will Back-Benchers in either House be quite so ready in future to get up and condemn, in forceful and passionate terms, the PLO, the IRA, the Baader Meinhof Gang, Colonel Gaddafi's hit-men and, nearer home, Welsh Nationalist extremists or the Animal Liberation Front, if they know that their faces are appearing for the first time on 10 million television screens, in front of some of which will be the activists of these organisations, ready to observe and, if possible, memorise—or, better still, to record on video tape—their faces with a view to possible future reprisals?
Let me conclude with a quotation from another television critic in last Sunday's papers—this time from the Sunday Telegraph rather than the Observer. He writes:
Television favours the articulate, the quick, the glib. It hasn't
much use for the tongue-tied. It is turning us . . . into a nation of performers. And with a performance, something private and rare in every human being is at risk".
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Lord Shaughnessy
My Lords, I should like to echo the sentiments expressed by other noble Lords in commending the Sound Broadcasting Committee for its thorough and meticulous examination of this question. I do not propose to detain your Lordships very long, but I should like to deal briefly with the matter of editorial control, which I think is of considerable importance.
In its inquiry the committee has considered two options relative to the control of the production and the transmission of the proceedings of the House. Under the first option, programming and production—in whatever form they may take—would be handled by a broadcasting unit employed by the House. Under the second option, the broadcasting authorities would select and control the material to be transmitted on what is referred to as a "drive-in" basis. The committee has recommended the second of these alternatives.
One has to accept that to set up a special parliamentary broadcasting unit with all the expense and effort that would be involved, for a six months' trial period, could hardly be justified. On the other hand, if it is eventually decided that televised proceedings will continue on a permanent basis, then I urge your Lordships to consider seriously the establishment of such a unit under the direct control of the House and to ensure, above all, that the so-called "drive-in" arrangement proposed for the trial period does not become entrenched as an irrevocable precedent.
There are at least two compelling reasons for that approach. First, to my mind it is difficult to understand how the House can retain over the longer term ultimate control over the broadcasting of its proceedings, as has been stipulated in the committee's report, if the raw material is selected by, and presumably becomes the property of, the broadcasting companies. In the second place, the possible extension of televising the proceedings of another place poses additional considerations. The case for a parliamentary broadcasting unit if both Houses of Parliament became involved, would then become practicable—indeed, in my view justifiable. Furthermore, the format of presentation and its impact on the constituencies and regions represented by elected Members of Parliament would become significant factors which I submit should rightly come under specific parliamentary control.
Of course the direct control by Parliament of the extent to which its deliberations are televised raises the question of unilateral selection, with all that that implies in respect to the freedom of the media's access to all of the proceedings. But I believe that the degree of parliamentary control envisaged need not create any danger of abridgment or curtailment of broadcasting rights or freedoms provided that an agreed code of procedure was established at the outset.
Whereas I understand the intention of the amendment moved in such characteristically articulate terms by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I 822 cannot support it because I believe that, if the various options are kept open as I have suggested, this House should proceed with the experiment—and I emphasise the word "experiment" as others have done—if only to obtain valuable technical experience and perhaps more important, the degree of public acceptance that the project might receive. In the last analysis, it seems fundamental to me that any enhanced exposure of the proceedings of Parliament to the public view, provided it is handled in an appropriate manner, must be a worthwhile endeavour.
§ 7.5 p.m.
My Lords, as we have heard this afternoon, most people hold fairly strong views on whether or not they want your Lordships' proceedings televised. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for having put down his amendment with which I agree. I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, with every word of which I think I agree. He pointed out a lot of very significant pitfalls into which we may find ourselves falling. I wonder whether we have not slightly pre-empted the real point: that is, if the televising of the proceedings is a success, then it is reasonable to assume that we would then wish it to be permanent. If it be that we do not wish it to be permanent, then there is no point in having an experiment. Therefore, the real question is that we agree to the expenditure of £3.5 million on permanent televising of the proceedings, provided that proves to be a success, and the experiment which we are considering now is the one which should lead to that conclusion.
I am bound to say that I have never been very much in favour of the broadcasting of the proceedings. My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls said that it has not done Parliament any good. I would modify that view slightly and say that it has enhanced the role of your Lordships' Houses but I do not think that it has done the other place any good. However, there is a very significant difference between broadcasting and televising. With broadcasting we do not know which excerpts of the proceedings will be used. But with television we know, for the lights go on and at that moment Parliament is being used by television and it is being used for television; and in my view that is the wrong way round.
When the lights go on people become alert, and when the lights are switched off the sense of drama and excitement goes, as we have seen today. I gained the impression when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, came to make her Statement that the drama and the excitement had gone, and one's attention was possibly less concentrated than it was previously. That is totally wrong and totally erroneous. However, it is not for nothing that the theatre uses lights to stress points either by switching them up or by lowering them. To pretend that we can come and take part in a debate and see the lights go on and, at another time, see them dim down without being affected in some way or another, is to mislead ourselves.
There are obviously drawbacks to televising the proceedings. There is the possibility—and let nobody discount it—of people playing to the gallery or of people being apprehensive when the red light is on, or of the television cameras panning in on some 823 somnambulant noble Lord. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that his friends were concerned when they saw people with their feet on the Table. I had the same experience when some Italians came and watched the proceedings of your Lordships' House. They were horrified afterwards and said, "Who are those people with their feet lying on the front table? Are they Communists?" I had to inform them, "No, they are not. They are Conservative Ministers of the Crown". People do not quite understand.
I once had the temerity to coin a law which modesty allowed me to call "Ferrers Law", which says that everything has the reverse effect of that intended. My fear is that if we televise these proceedings for all the good reasons which we have heard, we will in fact get the reverse effect and it will not do Parliament the good that it is anticipated that it should do. I think that we shall find ourselves in great danger if we walk out of step with another place. I remember that about four years ago there was great consternation as to what the role of Members of the European Parliament should be. I remember it being discussed by your Lordships' committees. The questions were asked: Where should they be allowed access? Should they be allowed in the Chamber? Should they be allowed on the Steps? Should they be allowed in the Dining Room? Should they be allowed in the Library? I remember my noble friend Lord Nugent making the uncharacteristically restrictive suggestion that they should be allowed in the Library, but that they must not sit down! The general tenor was that we should not move out of line with another place.
Yet here we would be inviting millions of people throughout this country and throughout the world to see what goes on in the House of Lords, with nothing to be seen from the House of Commons. I believe that that would put the most intolerable and unacceptable pressure on another place. We know what comprises this House—the people, the atmosphere and so forth. But what does a television camera see?—a small square of a person's head and shoulders. When the experiment was carried out in 1968 we had the cameras in the Chamber and we could go out to the Moses Room and see what was happening on the television screen. There was one noble Lord who was always scintillating in your Lordships' House—the noble Lord, Lord Goodman. When he spoke in the Chamber I could listen to him with fascination. But when one went and watched him on the screen in the Moses Room, quite frankly, uncharacteristically, he was boring. It was most astonishing, because one could return to the Chamber and he would be the scintillating person we have always known him to be.
Conversely, there was one noble Lord—and prudence dictates that I should not mention his name, especially as he is not with us any more—who could lay claim (and for this there are several contestants) to being one of the most boring speakers in your Lordships' House. When one heard him in the Chamber he reflected those qualities, and yet when one watched him on the television in the Moses Room one found him captivating.
The conclusion that I drew was that that which you see on the television is not the same as that which you see in real life. It really was most off-putting. I do not 824 think it is reasonable to argue that to televise the proceedings is inevitable, so one might just as well accept it; it is rather like saying that death is inevitable, so one might as well commit suicide straightaway. I hope that your Lordships will agree with the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and if the noble Lord wishes to divide the House, I shall go along with him.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Pender
My Lords, by this stage of the evening almost all points have been covered. I shall be very brief. I speak as one who has spent some years observing your Lordships in this Chamber. The argument for televising your Lordships' proceedings is powerful. The transmission of Front Bench Statements and discourses from distinguished noble Lords cannot but enhance the respect for your Lordships' House throughout the country, unfolding to the nation the reasoned debating skills that epitomise this House.
Would there have been televised proceedings, experimentally for video purposes, for that tour de force from the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, on 13th November. All your Lordships who were fortunate enough to be in the Chamber will not forget that day. That address would certainly have become compulsory viewing for all aspiring politicians.
Due to the initiative of my noble friend Lord Soames, this House is leading the way in debate as to the merit of exposure to television. I consider that we should contemplate the consequences should the House of Commons follow suit in permitting televised proceedings. What if the people of this country had witnessed that chilling scene in another place last Wednesday, 21 st November? A circus act is too polite a description. Would that behaviour create respect or ridicule? In any strata of society—and the Houses of Parliament are no exception—there is always a human element that exists to promote extremism or self-exploitation. I fear that such a group might find ways "to hog the cameras" at the expense of others. The Sound Broadcasting Committee would clearly have thought through their method of achieving fair distribution of reporting, but there is always the nagging feeling that sensationalism, however mild, might prevail over mundane matters that carry less general interest. I oppose this Motion.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Mountevans
My Lords, like others before me, I should like to commence by congratulating the Select Committee not only on the quality of its report, but on the pre-emptiveness of its questions and on its many reassuring answers which it obtained from witnesses.
The Motion commends to us an experiment and its mechanics, while the amendment enables us to go back once again over the underlying principle—the broad issue of televising the proceedings of your Lordships' House. I found that it is not easy to judge the influence of television. I set out to try to discover how people gather information in this country—which sources they use. There are no readily available figures, except perhaps those produced by the advertising industry, who point out that 63 per cent. of all money spent on advertising in this country is devoted to 825 televison, which implies that those who are paid to make judgments on the value and the importance of the media believe that television is the dominant medium.
If this is so, I do not think that we can afford to ignore it any longer. I am not saying that we should set out to sell ourselves, but I believe that, if we take the opportunity which this experiment offers us, we can use it to explain what we are about and what we do in order to counteract the very considerable ignorance which I find exists not only among friends, but also among casual acquaintances, the people who walk up to you in the street, to whom reference was made earlier today. There is a very great degree of ignorance about what we do.
It has been suggested to me that collectively we reached the final judgment in the case of Bromley v. GLC because that is the way in which the media project it: "A judgment in the Lords found so and so". We know that it is our Appellate Committee which reached that decision, but the great mass of the people do not know that. I think that many of them see us as bewigged and becoronetted, quietly going about our business, sometimes dozing away. I believe that we must grab the opportunity tonight to seek to counteract those images. My own favourite image is of the Swedish foreign-based correspondent who described the MCC's headquarters as your Lordships' private cricket club.
We must grasp the opportunity that is before us. I can appreciate that there will be problems not least in the lighting, which—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris—enhanced the view that I, (whose eyesight is not as good as I would wish) have of the House but which I think would have driven me to distraction by now, four and a half hours later. Perhaps during the course of the experiment the lighting can be varied a little and different methods can be tried to see which method, while satisfying the requirements of the television cameramen, makes life most equable and bearable for those of us here.
I should also hope that, as lighting techniques improve, there will be a matching improvement in camera techniques and that, at the end of the day, should our experiment lead to a decision for more prolonged televising of your Lordships' House, lighting will certainly be very much improved. Of course, I appreciate that the lighting we have today is partly governed by economic considerations, underlying the fact that we are talking about an experiment.
I was much struck by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing's, use of the word "trial", instead of "experiment", which I and most of us have been using. I hope that we shall have our trial for six months. Then let us reach our final judgment.
I find this preferable to seeking to preserve the "mystique"—and I pick the word out of Lord Chalfont's speech in moving his amendment. I do not feel that your Lordships' proceedings should be the subject of mystique any longer. I was reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, of Bernard Shaw's description of the art of the executioner as a highly skilled mystery, and I should like to finish by suggesting that your Lordships' proceedings are highly skilled but should no longer remain mysterious.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord Gridley
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I was greatly interested in everything that he had to say regarding the proposal that we should televise the House. I voted against televising your Lordships' House in our debate on 8th December 1983. I did not feel then that the time was right for televising our activities, and this amendment at least gives us the opportunity for a breathing space by proposing that we should not be televised until at least the Commons have considered the matter. I therefore support the amendment. I greatly fear that once television is installed in your Lordships' House, no matter what may happen in consideration of this in the future, it will be extremely difficult to remove the installation once it has been established or once it is agreed that it should be.
My comments concerned with the consideration of editing our programmes will be somewhat critical of the BBC's proposals and of the situation today, but whatever I may say about that I want to express my appreciation of the great contribution which the BBC has made, and continues to make, in our overseas broadcasts. In the extremities of war, I and others in a gaol far removed from this country were able to receive the transmissions of the BBC through secret installations of wireless receivers. In those days, which in a way were easier than the present, they maintained high standards of excellence with regard to the principles of our freedom. It was this information conveyed to us through illegal receivers which enabled many men to survive through the privations of torture and starvation when otherwise they would have died. That is a tribute I want to pay to the BBC.
However, I feel there are other things today which are distinctly different from considerations of a former time. I am sure it is universally agreed that the media today are more powerful in the formation of public opinion through the televised picture than they have ever been. It is in their power to influence public opinion, which can extend to attitudes which are good or acceptable, or harmful. As matters stand at present, your Lordships would have no say or control over the media in their presentation of any edited televised broadcast of your Lordships' proceedings. That means the cutting of the tape and the editing of your Lordships' proceedings. This presentation will enter the homes of millions of our people, and it must influence the attitudes they take towards certain issues.
If the BBC are to remain the sole judges, it is difficult to believe that the presenter of a televised programme will not, even if he tries not to do so, express a political view of his own. That is perfectly natural. This view might be the opposite of what we intend in making our speeches in the House of Lords, when Members speak with tremendous expertise and depth of knowledge on important issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, in his speech for the experiment of televising your Lordships' House, indicated that we had no right to deprive the public of seeing the televising of our proceedings. I cannot believe that when these programmes are broadcast comment of some sort will not emanate from the presenter of the programme, which we shall have no power on earth to influence, or interfere with, or alter.
827 Of course, I see the difficulties. If we interfere some will cry that this is censorship. I would submit that we are not interfering. We are concerned about our own House and the situation in this country.
We are a tolerant nation, which is one of our strengths. Today it is far from easy to govern: it is very difficult. It was easier in the days of Lord Reith. It was easier to govern in those days when the principles which supported our freedoms were accepted and supported and barely, if ever, questioned or challenged. Today most principles are under challenge.
If I say that it is one of the charters of the BBC to educate and inform—and I believe that these are the circumstances—can it be denied that in the presentation of some programmes which go out from the media there has been what could be described as a questioning of the will of Parliament to govern or, perhaps more accurately, a debasing of respect for the views of an individual who might hold high office? I suggest that when this happens and it is broadcast by television it must debase the respect for office, and eventually succeed in making any leadership in this country more difficult.
Today there is a challenge to authority. There are those who consider themselves above the law. Is it wise to leave in the hands of others an interpretation of our affairs and what we do in your Lordships' House in the proceedings which come before us? I am not implying any unworthy motives in any of the opinions expressed in this matter, but we have to be careful in the present situation.
In conclusion, I would say that I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and I shall support him in the Lobby if we go to a Division. I do not agree that we should televise our proceedings before the House of Commons comes to its own decision in the matter. Last, but not least, I cannot agree that in these circumstances it is desirable to leave the interpretation of our affairs in other hands.
§ 7.28 p.m.
My Lords, I have read the First Report of the Select Committee with great interest and would respectfully congratulate them on what they have produced. Noble Lords have touched on various aspects of the report, but, with permission, I should like to take up what I consider one of the most pertinent points that has been made this afternoon. That is not so much the inconvenience, disruption, discomfort that may be involved in televising your Lordships' House, but rather the point of it. What good is it going to do? What is going to be gained? That, if I may say so, is the point I should like to take up because it is the pertinent question.
It goes without saying that in a democracy it is essential that the structure of government should be one that is broadly acceptable to all sections of the community—not necessarily the party in power at the time, but the structure of government. This is something that I can say with some feeling because it is an aspiration towards which we have been struggling in Northern Ireland for the last 11½ years: to find a structure of government that would be broadly 828 acceptable to all sections of society. In passing I would say that my party, the Alliance Party, will keep on trying to find such a structure, difficult though it is and even more difficult as it is since recent events.
While I am no historian, it is true to say that a number of democracies have fallen because they had not enjoyed that confidence and identification on the part of the majority of the electorate. Sometimes it has been through corruption, sometimes through incompetence, but sometimes also through remoteness because the public did not know what their elected representatives were doing and how they were being represented. Therefore I suggest that it is essential that the electorate should have that confidence and that they should know what is going on.
A credibility gap can be a dangerous thing. It would not be over-optimistic to say that your Lordships' House is having a greater impact on the public now than it did some time ago, but that is perhaps no cause for complacency because, I regret to say, in the eyes of many of the general public your Lordships' House is irrelevant. Not only the general public, but even provincial journalists think that we come here day after day and sit in our robes with our coronets on our heads and talk about irrelevancies—amazing though it may seem.
Even I can remember the days when in the press parliamentary reporting was very much more comprehensive that it is today. The press does as good a job as it could reasonably be expected to do, certainly the serious press, but the serious press enjoys only a limited cirulation. To come to the notice of the general public we have to be one of two things in this House: either one has to be on the Front Bench, or otherwise one has to be outrageous—preferably both; otherwise we quietly pass unnoticed.
More recently we have had the benefit of radio reporting, in the form of "Yesterday in Parliament," which is helpful; but radio can sometimes give the wrong impression. I speak as an ancient past governor of the BBC. I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and I arrived in Broadcasting House on the same day in September 1977. I was privileged to serve under his chairmanship for five years and it was one of the most interesting and educative episodes in my life. He gave the impresssion, sometimes correct, that he was not stifling any expression of opinion on the part of governors; yet at the same time he conducted the business with great expedition. At the same time he was bulldozing away in the background to make sure that what he wanted to happen was going to happen and we only realised if afterwards. It was indeed an educative experience.
At that time we used to deliberate on the different ways in which the media of radio and television could most effectively be used. Mind you, our deliberations had no measurable effect on the board of management who had already made up their minds what they intended to do. It is an interesting point that radio can be more effective in some aspects, and television in others.
I would suggest that radio can give a false impression when recording parliamentary proceedings. Perhaps one of the reasons why Prime Minister's Question 829 Time in another place sounds on radio like a children's party that has got out of hand is that there is a microphone in front of every honourable Member, so that even a sotto voce observation is picked up and identified; whereas when sitting in the Public Gallery one hears just a general ambiance of cocktail party noise accompanying every speech.
Indeed, I have reflected that if the proceedings of the Northern Ireland Assembly were broadcast on radio, a very false impression would be given. When that stentorian voice of the reverend and honourable Member for North Antrim were heard, apparently uttering an insult, that would sound rude, but on television when the viewer saw that large, laughing face with the twinkling eyes he would realise that it was not rude; it was merely good humoured banter, which it so often is. Therefore I am suggesting that television is the best medium for conveying parliamentary proceedings.
Caveats have been mentioned, and quite rightly so. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, drew our attention to the fact that those of us who, like myself, from time to time close our eyes for a short period and allow our bodies to slump forwards or sideways—all the better to concentrate on the erudition of what is being said—might give a false impression. The viewer might think that we had fallen asleep. Indeed, I was accused of such a discourtesy in the Northern Ireland Assembly a couple of weeks ago. But I regained my composure quickly enough to be able to assure the honourable Member who was speaking that I would be the last to attribute to him the title of "Mogadon", which title I understand has been earned by a right honourable Member in another place.
Television can have its disadvantages, as well as its advantages. But I visualise that on balance it would be advantageous. I am sorry for harping on the Northern Ireland Assembly, but I am the only Member of your Lordships' House who can report directly on it. The press, who I think do a good job on the whole, can, even so, give a false impression. For instance, there might be a report:A furious row blew up in the Assembly yesterday afternoon"—but what the press do not say is that that so-called "furious row" was accompanied by hoots of laughter and a lot of good crack afterwards about the entertainment value which had arisen therefrom.
That would seem to be a digression. The point I am trying to make is that television can more accurately convey the mood of the House than can radio or the printed word. I would therefore respectfully oppose the amendment. I support the Motion because given careful editing, which I am confident the broadcasters are capable of, it would be an eye-opener to the general public to see the erudition and the dignity of the debates in your Lordships' House. It so happens, illogical though it may be, that we can draw on an enormously broad spectrum of expertise. Was it not the late Lord Arran who suddenly turned out to be the world's expert on badgers when that subject came up for debate? In the unlikely event of the topic of organ design coming up for debate there is the noble Lord, Lord Somers. He could tell us about the optimum wind pressures for chorus reeds or the composition of mixtures.
830 We have at our command in this House people who could tell us about anything. In that respect, coupled with the fact that I, (I think) am the only Member of your Lordship's House who has constituents to look at—and I do not mind about them; they can like it or lump it, whatever I say—we can say what we like. In that connection, I may say that constituents have said to me, "I don't agree with you, but I respect you because you say what you believe, rather than what you think people want to hear". This is the strength of your Lordships' House and it is a strength of which, in my view, the general public is broadly unaware. For that reason, and for the reason so eloquently and succinctly put by the noble Lord, Lord Hill—that the future of this House is bound to be under review from time to time, as it has been in the past—I entirely support the Motion and respectfully oppose the amendment.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the Select Committee on their report. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for the concise and understandable manner in which he presented that report. There was one remark that he made that struck me particularly. It was that the House of Lords will be treated by the BBC as an outside broadcast. That speaks volumes, does it not? The House of Lords will be treated by the BBC as an outside broadcast—on a par with the Saturday morning dog show, for example. That is the measure of how the BBC sees this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Soames, seemed to indicate and believe that we should not discuss the principles of the televising of the House of Lords during this debate. He seemed to imagine that because those principles were discussed last December that was the end of the matter. But the noble Lord should know that it is not the end of the matter until something has in fact been implemented. It is open for debate right until that moment, and it is perfectly in order for all noble Lords to discuss the principles if they so wish. Also, the noble Lord had overlooked the fact that there is an amendment down which relates to the position of the House of Commons in this matter, and the principles which apply to them; and that amendment and this debate enjoy equal status with the original Motion. Therefore, it is perfectly in order (as it has been perfectly in order) for noble Lords to discuss the principles.
I have to say that, for myself, I am opposed in principle to the televising of the proceedings of Parliament, but in the light of the amendment I have the opportunity to vote for it because the amendment eliminates one major objection to allowing the experiment in the House of Lords alone. Not only will there be overt pressure, which has already been mentioned by many noble Lords, on the Commons as a result of an experiment in the televising of the proceedings of this House, but there will be other, covert, subtle pressure as well, particularly from the broadcasters and the media types who roam the Commons in the guise of Members of Parliament.
My noble friend Lord Ardwick said that we had a duty to allow the public into our proceedings. I wonder 831 exactly what the public demand is. We are always hearing a great deal from supporters of the televising of the proceedings of Parliament about this demand from the public to be let into our deliberations. Open the doors and let the public in through the television cameras to see how we work!—that is how the argument goes. But in 13 years of membership of another place I did not have one letter from my constituents or from anyone else demanding that we should televise the proceedings of Parliament. That is the answer to those who say that there is this great public demand. I certainly never found that demand, and I feel quite sure that that goes for other Members of your Lordshsips' House who served in the Commons.
But, in any event, it sounds a plausible argument. It may have had some merit if it were true that we were proposing to allow the general public into our debates: but it is not true. The general public will be allowed to see only so much of our proceedings as the programme editors see fit. And what they allow the public to see is likely to be what is good for television, and not what is good for Parliament.
§ Lord Orr-Ewing
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I never had a single letter asking that billiards or snooker should be shown on television. Yet when a trial took place and it was shown, it was so successful that one now sees it all the time. Perhaps, if a trial of televising our proceedings was allowed to take place, the public would equally like it and welcome it.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, that may well be. Indeed, I have to say that if I were proved wrong in my view on this matter I should not be at all unhappy. If, indeed, the televising of Parliament enhanced its reputation, then I would be the first to be pleased. But, unfortunately, at this particular time I take the view that it would do exactly the reverse.
The public is most unlikely to see the sterling work that Parliament does in legislation and in keeping a check on Government. That would be much too boring for television producers, who, after all, are much more concerned with entertaining their audience than with informing them. Furthermore, Parliament is a place for debate, where people talk to each other, where they argue on the small as well as the large issues of the day. That really is what Parliament is about. It is not really necessary for people to see what we look like, or how we comport ourselves, in order to hear and understand the arguments; and it is the arguments in this place which are important, and not what we look like. Indeed, the very sight of us may very well distract the viewer and divert his mind from the debate and the arguments that are being presented.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
Yes, my Lords, I will gladly speak for myself. I feel quite sure, as I was going to say, that people, when they see my face, may very well be distracted from what I say—and I happen to think that what I say is far more beautiful than my face! I was going on to say that when I was a Member 832 of another place I quite often appeared on regional television media. People used to stop me in the streets and say, "Hello, Mr. Stoddart: I saw you on television last night". I would say, "What was I talking about?", and they would say, "We don't know what you were talking about, but we did see you". Sometimes, some of the kindly ones would add, "You looked very nice", but all too often they would say that I had looked very tired—which, as noble Lords will know, is a euphemism for looking absolutely awful. On the other hand, people who had read the report of a speech I had made would be far more likely to know what I had said—a case of the pen being mightier than the picture!
It really must be understood that what television producers are after is spectacle and excitement, not the everyday routine of parliamentary business. For that reason, certainly in the House of Commons, the politics of the gutter and the street corner will take precedence over ordered debate, and the politics of the kindergarten will be allowed to triumph over rational argument. We saw that only last week in the House of Commons, and that is something which I hope noble Lords will reflect upon.
The extrovert will be favoured above the hardworking and the serious; the ham actor will come into his own, at the expense of those who believe that politics is about the real world and not the sham world of the stage. A further point that must be understood is that situations will be contrived simply to suit the television cameras. Those with any experience of the Commons know perfectly well that "spontaneous spectaculars" are seldom really spontaneous; they are almost always contrived. That is why the press is always at hand when they occur. I see the noble Lord nodding: he knows as well as I do just exactly what goes on. The scope for such spectaculars will be much wider with the advent of the television cameras.
Your Lordships may very well feel that my attack on the general principle of televising Parliament is not relevant since the Motion before us is about an experiment involving only this House. I hope I have explained why I think the attack is relevant, but nevertheless I will say a few words about the proposed experiment itself.
One really has to ask: is it necessary and what purpose will it achieve? We already know that it is technically possible to televise this House. We also know that if the televising of proceedings became a permanent feature the inconvenience to your Lordships would be less than that during the experiment, due to the use of the most up-to-date cameras needing less light. What is more, the cameras would be remote-controlled, thus eliminating the presence of an operator in close proximity to the Chamber. So we know already that it is technically possible. We do not need an experiment to show us that. An experiment is not necessary on technical grounds, and indeed it could prove to be misleading.
Secondly, the experiment will be worthless in terms of coverage. Since the broadcasters will have no access to the Commons, the House of Lords will enjoy a monopoly of coverage, and so there will be no test of coverage as between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Thus, there is no experiment and no real test in that respect of coverage.
833 Thirdly, there will be no real test of the quality of coverage or of the real attitude of the broadcasters, since they will be clearly on their best behaviour during the experiment, and that behaviour cannot be guaranteed once access to both Houses is gained on a permanent basis. We just do not know: the six months' trial period in any walk of life is the period when one is always on one's best behaviour.
Fourthly, there will be no real test of public opinion, since the public will see only one House—the less important in terms of real political power. We really do have to understand that. They will see only one House in operation. Seeing the Commons in action is bound to provoke a quite different reaction from seeing our own House alone at work. Therefore, in fact, the experiment, in my view, for the reasons I have adduced and others which there is no time to go into, will prove worthless.
In conclusion, I can well understand—indeed, several speakers have mentioned this point—that some noble Lords may feel that televising this House may enhance its reputation. That may turn out to be the case, but equally the reverse may prove to be the case—in which circumstances the hands of those who would abolish it tomorrow would be greatly strengthened. For all those reasons, I shall support the amendment put down by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, tonight; and if that is defeated—which I sincerely hope it will not be—then I hope to have the opportunity to vote against the Select Committee's report.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, as we approach the closing stages of this passionate and closely-fought debate, with many able speeches having been delivered on both sides, it is becoming difficult to develop new arguments. I start from the standpoint that I believe it to be wrong and illogical to keep the principal medium of the age, which is television, out of the heart and centre of our democratic life, which is Parliament. I believe it is all the less sensible at a time when we see increasing attempts to stage decisive political events outside, rather than inside, Parliament. Parliament is under assault from without and from within, and I submit that the public needs to be fully enrolled to assist in the process of restoring Parliament's traditional authority.
Of course, those in another place must and will decide for themselves whether to admit television to their proceedings. They may or they may not do so. They have certainly come very close to it, as we have heard, in the past. They might or they might not be encouraged towards such a decision as a result of a decision on our part this evening to go ahead with an experiment here, or by what they saw if such an experiment were to take place.
One thing I am quite sure of is that we have an absolute right to follow an independent course in this matter. We do not sink or swim together. We in this House could be abolished or radically reformed without one iota of the other place's procedures or situation being changed at all; and given the separate and uncertain destiny of this House and given also the value which I believe the majority of noble Lords place on a second Chamber as such, and also on the not 834 inconsiderable merits of this House as it functions today, then surely the safest course is for us to take the earliest possible opportunity to present our case to the general public—that is to say, to open our procedures to television.
If the public likes the sight of us as much as it appears to like the sound of us, then our position is greatly secured. If there are some things which the public dislikes, no doubt either we shall accommodate ourselves to the public's sensitivities or, if that is thought undesirable or impracticable, no doubt the public will learn to accept what it first thought to be blemishes as being perhaps necessary after all. If the public is thoroughly unimpressed by what it finds, then I do not believe that anything more has been lost than would be lost anyway.
However, if having taken the decision to televise our proceedings for an experimental period, as we did in 1983, having instructed the Select Committee to produce a report on how best that decision could be carried out and after they had consulted with the television authorities—if, after travelling this distance, we were now to retreat from that decision at the last moment, all because it appeared at the last moment the reaction of another place might be, and that is what it would look like because of the terms of Lord it would look like because of the terms of Lord Chalfont's amendment, than I think we would be giving a very foolish and pusillanimous impression to the general public. In addition, we shall have shown bad faith to the television authorities who I do not doubt would have already incurred considerable expenditure as a result of having taken us at our word as of 8th December 1983.
On the recommendations themselves, I agree with the Committee's recommendation that coverage should be on a "drive-in" basis; that is to say, that the television companies may come and go as they please. There is no point in this House trying to determine how many viewers should see which parts of our proceedings, at what time and for how long. It must be up to the television programmers to match supply and demand. In this respect, arrangements for television would differ from those that now apply under sound broadcasting, where the BBC has an obligation under its Licence and Agreement of 1981 to present a daily acount of the proceedings of both Houses.
Another difference from present practice that would develop is one which clearly concerns many noble Lords. Under sound broadcasting, a noble Lord knows that he is safe from media exposure as long as he keeps his mouth shut. But with television he knows that he may be on view, even in close-up, in a million homes the moment he enters the Chamber, provided that it is brightly lit; and in this case the lights will—perhaps fortunately—act as a warning.
Here I must say that I think the committee might have gone into matters a little more deeply. It is ambiguous to say, as they do in paragraph 40, that cameras will "concentrate" on the Peer who is speaking. It allows for the possibility that the camera may do nothing else, without requiring that. It would also have been instructive to know from the parliamentary authorities of other European countries what their experience was so far as restrictions on the use of cameras were concerned. The committee was 835 informed how in the United States the Senate's first unhappy experiences with television proceedings from the floor of the Senate, in which senators felt that they and their house were being brought into disrepute, have resulted in the proceedings on the floor of the Senate, though not of course in the committees, still not being televised to this day. I should not like to see that happen here.
On the other hand, the television authorities here will undoubtedly wish the experiment to be a success, because only in this way can they be sure of being able to continue to televise here, and more importantly because success here might persuade another place to the same decision—and certainly failure here could turn the other place against it. So I am sure that television producers will be anxious to avoid any offence to Members of either House by the manner in which they transmit our proceedings.
Therefore it should be quite possible for the Select Committee to set ground rules, as it appears from paragraph 25 that they intend to do, and I am sure that the television authorities can be expected to be responsive to representations made to them by the committee on behalf of the House as a whole during the course of the experiment. "Ah", says the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, "of course they will behave impeccably during the experiment, but what will we be able to do after the experiment to control the way in which they behave?" The answer is, by whatever ground rules we set and by whatever means we establish thereafter to control them.
Surely the point is that we are actually fortunate to be able now to start an experiment in such a favourable climate because this will give the Select Committee time to acquire the experience and the knowledge of how to establish the control which we will require for the longer term, while the television producers will, to some extent, be doing the Select Committee's job for them, because of their anxiety for the experiment to be a success. The danger, surely, would have been of having great harm done before this House had yet learned properly what to establish as a framework of control within which the television companies were expected to operate.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, warned us about political partiality, but I see no reason to fear political partiality in this case. Early in 1983, the Select Committee consulted counsel on the question as to whether the BBC were still upholding the terms of the Licence and Agreement of 1981 with regard to the sound broadcasting of proceedings from this House. One of the obligations under them was political impartiality and counsel reported:I have been unable to detect any lack of impartiality in either the selection of recorded extracts from speeches or the content of the linking material. Nor, as I understand it, has there ever been any suggestion of a failure by the BBC in this respect.".What can be required of the BBC in sound broadcasting can surely be required of both television authorities when it comes to televising.
I should like to mention another danger for us if we postpone the decision to have the experiment now. I have no doubt that if this experiment proceeds there will be very great public interest, and a number of noble Lords have recognised this. I agree with the 836 examples which several noble Lords have given of some of the attractions which unfortunately have just been missed, and of others which will no doubt come during the period of the experiment, if we are to have the experiment. I would add only that one of these will probably be the local government Bill, which will come to this House with a great deal of public interest attaching to it and very largely undebated in another place. For the experimental period we will be, one might say, the only legislative show in town.
But if we were to postpone going ahead until the Commons decided, in say, two or three years' time to do the same, then we shall not only have lost our leverage with the television authorities, we shall not only have missed the opportunity of experimenting when the television authorities were at their most amenable to anything we required, but public interest will then be almost exclusively concentrated on the other place; so much so that I can easily imagine us back in the situation which we were in early in 1983, when the Select Committee found itself, as a result of protests made in this House by several noble Lords, having to demand explanations from the BBC as to why they were cutting down on the amount of time allotted to the House of Lords in "Yesterday in Parliament".
If this House wishes to maximise its influence on the way in which the televising of Parliament is first undertaken, and the impact of this House on its first appearance before the public as a whole—and we all know how decisive first impressions can be—then this House should surely reject the amendment of the noble Lord. Lord Chalfont.
As regards the argument that a tendency to play to the television audience will be encouraged, I do not expect that we shall have to endure anything much worse than what we sometimes have to put up with already. In so far as it is feared that television will encourage rowdyism—and several noble Lords have referred to this—I think that behaviour of that kind will incur public hostility and criticism which will attach to the perpetrators of that sort of behaviour and what they represent; so in the long run it is likely to be discouraged rather than encouraged by television.
As regards the argument that for us to proceed with our experiment would impose intolerable pressure on another place, I would only say that I have seen no sign of any broad awareness of this danger in the other place. There has been no great outcry, no protest that we were about to indulge in lèse majesté of some sort or another. Rather there seems to be a quite calm and proper interest in what might be the consequences of this debate and of any experiment which we undertook.
I should like to sum up by saying that I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and those other noble Lords who have opposed the Motion on other grounds, have made their case or have deployed sufficient objections to warrant this House going back on its decision of 8th December 1983 to allow the televising of the proceedings of this House for an experimental period; I think that the Select Committee's proposals form a perfectly suitable basis for such an experiment; and I welcome the fact that this House has an opportunity to show that it wishes to live not in the past but in the modern age by doing 837 what practically every other legislative chamber has been doing for decades: enabling the public at large to watch, and hence to partake in, proceedings which are, after all, supposed to be performed for its own benefit.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, this has been a debate of very great distinction and interest, with noble Lords from all sides of the House and from all sections of public and professional life taking part and making remarkable contributions. I am sure that all noble Lords will remember this debate and the atmosphere of uncertainty as to what will happen when the vote takes place. Curiously enough, the sense of a great debate and of an occasion which all of us have today will never, so far as I can see, be communicated to the public at large if the sort of "drive-in" television which is envisaged by the Select Committee on Sound Broadcasting is introduced for an experimental period. For example, the initial memorandum submitted by the BBC to the Select Committee on Sound Broadcasting states explicitly:it is the BBC view that only very occasionally would there be a House of Lords debate of such general public interest as to merit live broadcasting time".That is not, noble Lords may think, a very winning way of putting it, but it is a candid reminder that what we must expect from the proposed introduction of television is a series of snippets rather than an attempt to communicate the sense of what this House is like during the discussion of an important issue.
Unlike my noble friend Lord Soames, but like my noble friend Lord Chelwood and the noble Lords, Lord Gladwyn, Lord Stallard and Lord Stoddart of Swindon, I believe that it is possible during the course of our discussion of the report of the Select Committee to consider the desirability of television. Even if those noble Lords are wrong in their interpretation and my noble friend Lord Soames is right, when considering what "drive-in" television would mean it is possible to raise questions about its desirability.
I support—nothing I have heard during the course of the evening causes me not to do so—the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. First, it is desirable to give us more time to consider the many major problems and matters which have been raised with great eloquence, wit and ardour during the course of the debate. Secondly, I support the amendment because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, who said candidly that on a matter of this importance the elected House should lead. The danger of getting out of step with another place was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ferrier. We are all aware of the importance of that point.
It is appropriate to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, since, as my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, quoted the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, the real intention of the broadcasters is to obtain a similar decision in another place. It may be thought by some—representations have been made to me that this is likely to happen—that if your Lordships' House supports the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and rejects in effect or absolutely the report of the Select Committee, we should look foolish. I do not believe that we should worry about looking foolish. Furthermore, I do not 838 believe it to be foolish to reconsider a matter of this importance. There is still time. A debate in this House is not a cavalry charge. If you embark upon an ill-advised charge there comes no doubt a certain moment when it is most inappropriate to hold back, even if suddenly you realise that something is wrong. But this is not, as I say, a cavalry charge.
Many noble Lords will remember the maxim of Emerson that,A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".Emerson added that a sound man should speak what he thinks today in words like cannonballs. It will also be represented by some noble Lords that as this issue has been discussed since 1966 it is very procrastinatory of us to reconsider the matter in the way that we are doing. I do not believe that 18 years is a very long time in the history of your Lordships' House. During the past 18 years much has changed. The membership of both Houses has been transformed.
We know a great deal more about that torrid, global and most disagreeable love affair which has been taking place since the middle 1960s between politicians and the Press and even more between politicians and television. That is particularly true in the United States where we recall that it often looks as though senior statesmen, politicians and presidential candidates are afraid of the media. That might almost suggest to your Lordships that we should do all that we can to prevent television companies from having one more morsel of power than they have at present, since we do not wish the politics of Britain to go down the American road.
Those of us who support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, form a very diverse group. Some of us are particularly oppressed by the threat of the lights. It seemed to most of us that the lights in this Chamber had, as it might be said, all the sensitivity of an articulated lorry glaring at a pedestrian on a motorway. I was impressed by the comment of my noble friend Lord Ferrier about the level of light going up and down at critical moments and affecting the course of the discussion. Other noble Lords can be expected to be concerned about the amount of heat generated by the lights. It has been difficult for us to judge that matter today. However, if we look at paragraph 162 of the Select Committee's report it is evident that when the lights are on most of us can expect the amount of heat to be increased. According to the noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, it will be increased by something like the heat of 20 large electric fires.
Other noble Lords are perturbed by what might seem to be minor questions relating to the threatened alteration, in the long-term, to this Chamber. For example, if television should become a permanent feature Mr. Ward of ITN has his eye on our chandeliers. Most of us are also not quite clear, and probably would like more information, about exactly why the Select Committee found it difficult and expensive to consider the organisation of parliamentary control over the leasing of televised material, which the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, believed to be desirable, should television become a permanent feature.
Obviously, some of those who support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, are 839 hostile to television as such. I have had it represented by one Member of this House that he regards television as some kind of terrible fungus which eats into all institutions and is likely to bring ruin upon them all. I would not go so far as to say that, but it is worth recording that, in the past, television has damaged worthwhile institutions or undertakings. The extinction for example, of the public meeting is one thing that comes immediately to mind. Many of us may think that our political lives would be better if we had more public meetings of the old kind.
All these views can be counted upon to inform those who will support the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in his amendment. I believe that, as Peers, all of us wish to be certain that the introduction of this experiment will enhance and not damage the quality of this House.
I myself would probably have been a little more sympathetic to the Select Committee's report had the committee met head-on or in detail some of the major points raised in the debate last year and other objections. The first of these (which has been mentioned so often before in this debate) is the obvious fact that television companies—understandably, because they wish to have high ratings—find it difficult often to distinguish between entertainment and information. Indeed, my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees almost conceded this point when in paragraph 81 of the report he mentioned the fact that he thought the experiment in this country and in this House would be more entertaining than the television as broadcast by the Canadians.
The second point which surely should have been discussed in a document of this importance is that television would obviously put at risk the tone of our discussions. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, pointed out that television is not real life. He gave a graphic example of how the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, appeared when speaking brilliantly in this House, and how comparatively ordinary he seemed making his speech when viewed on the television in the Moses Room.
My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls recalled Aneurin Bevan. Plainly, Mr. Bevan—like, I would suggest, Sir Winston Churchill—was one of those statesmen unable successfully to make the leap from the age of the public meeting to the age of television. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, spoke of the special ceremonial and conversational qualities which characterise the debates of this House. It is obvious that these, too, would be at risk. These were all points made in the debate last December and which surely should have been faced in one way or another in the report of the Select Committee.
One point which has not been made, and which I would ask the select Committee to consider in future, is the evident fact that there could be an effect on decisions not made; that is to say, if the first day of a debate were to be broadcast on television and that was shown in a way that affected the judgment of noble Lords on the second day, when the voting actually took place.
I should like to make one or two suggestions which I hope will be borne in mind. If, as I think, by 840 mischance, the experiment goes ahead, my noble friend Lord Peyton suggested that the Select Committee might be expanded in a way different from that envisaged by my noble friend the Lord Chairman of Committees. Surely my noble friend Lord Peyton is right in suggesting that some noble Lords who are sceptical about benefits of television might be represented. After all, we represent a substantial body of opinion; quite how large a body of opinion remains to be seen.
Secondly, surely it is desirable to make it explicit that the cameramen and the other members of the team of 12 persons who the BBC or independent television will make available for the servicing of television should be under the direction of Black Rod in every sense.
Next, there is an allusion in paragraph 47 of the report to the television companies' interest in illustrating the act of voting. Surely this must be a mistake. Equally, the question of copyright is not satisfactorily covered. It cannot be right that vidio tapes of noble Lords making speeches can be used or even sold throughout the world for the benefit of the television companies concerned—and perhaps even without consultation with the noble Lord who made the speech.
In conclusion, I hope very much that your Lordships will support the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in his amendment. When your Lordships vote I trust you will recall that this is an institution which has certainly gained in stature over the past 10 years or so, despite everything—despite the fact that its power is relatively modest, and despite the unique characteristic of having a hereditary element and having no elected element at all. I hope that when your Lordships vote you will also ponder the question of whether the authority of this House, or of any other House, can be enhanced by the snippets which look like being the only things the public will see of our affairs. I hope your Lordships will recall, too, that most of us feel that our expertise, prudence, wisdom—call it what you like—does not really need, in our minds, much visual illustration.
Your Lordships will recall that in Congreve's The Way of the World Millamant agrees at a certain point that she might be prepared to "dwindle into a wife". I hope noble Lords will do all they can to prevent this House from dwindling into a chat show.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may ask him one question? I believe I am right in saying that it was he who told me that if noble Lords wanted to know what the lighting looked like and felt like, they had only to ask for it to be switched on. As the lights have not been on after dark, is it possible that they could be switched on now, so that we may see them and feel them?
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, I do not think that that question should be addressed to me, though I may possibly pass on that request to my noble friend.
§ 8.28 p.m.
My Lords, the hour is late and I shall try to be brief; I sense that noble Lords are anxious to take a decision on these important matters as soon as possible. I have always believed in the wisdom of conducting the experiment proposed. If I had any doubts at all, they would have been swept away by this debate. The whole purpose of the experiment is to find the answers to questions, some of which would, in my opinion, be unanswerable without an experiment. Many of those questions have been raised in interesting speeches made by noble Lords throughout the course of this debate.
Questions have been raised about the manner in which the selection of material is to be made and about the extent to which the programmes ultimately to be presented will be unbiased, entirely dispassionate and properly balanced. There have been questions about the popularity of any programmes which ultimately arise from the experiment and about the effect upon us in this House. All those are questions which can be answered only when we have had an experiment. There have been many remarks about the lighting. Perhaps I may come to that point in a moment.
First, let me come rapidly to the amendment which is before us at the moment, and in particular that aspect of the amendment which really implies that we should not act in this very important matter before another place does so. I have been much impressed by the fact that every single noble Lord who has spoken in favour of that amendment—and we have heard some excellent speeches in favour of it—has, on his own admission, said that he was opposed to the principle of televising the proceedings of Parliament. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that he would be very glad to be proved wrong. How is he going to be proved wrong if we do not have an experiment? Noble Lords were opposed to television for a variety of different reasons. My noble friend Lord Gladwyn appeared to have developed a mistrust of television for a very curious reason.
§ Lord Stoddart of Swindon
My Lords, if we had an experiment and if it is going to prove me right or wrong, it will have to be a real experiment by televising both Houses. That is the only real way we can prove it one way or the other.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his clarification of that point. Nevertheless, I still say that if these noble Lords are to be proved wrong we shall need an experiment to do the proving.
My noble friend Lord Gladwyn appeared to have developed an antipathy to television for a very curious reason. He told us that for reasons which he found it difficult to understand he had become extremely popular on television back in 1950. I assure my noble friend that that is no good reason for mistrusting television or for feeling that somehow it conveys a distorted picture of the reality. I ask my noble friend to think again on that particular point.
§ Lord Gladwyn
My Lords, it was not because I was currently popular and succeeded on television that I 842 came to the conclusion that it was, politically speaking, potentially a dangerous medium. It is very likely that one can give the wrong impression on television simply because one's personality is such that the public do not understand what one says.
My Lords, I think that has perhaps clarified the position of my noble friend.
Let me now come to this important point of whether or not we should take any steps in this matter before another place. I think that the point was made very strongly by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that we should not get out of step with the other place. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in moving his amendment in a very creditable way in a speech which admirably expressed his point of view, and that of other noble Lords, said, if I remember correctly, that no such steps were presently contemplated in another place. It seems to me that the Members in the other place have been contemplating these steps almost continuously since, I think, 1960 or even 1950. The trouble is that they have never actually taken any steps. All they have done is contemplate.
I remind the noble Lord that it is not many months since a vote in another place supported the principle of televising their proceedings by a very narrow majority. It was quite recent. When noble Lords say that the other place is not contemplating such a step, I have to say that many Members in another place are very much hoping that we shall have this experiment so that they can learn from it and decide what steps it might or might not be sensible to take themselves. I take the view, and I think others share it, that if there is to be an experiment, surely it is better that the experiment should take place in your Lordships' House. It can be done here in a way in which it could not happen, perhaps immediately, in another place. We can pioneer new ground in a way which the other place cannot do. I think we can perhaps establish information which will be very valuable to Members in another place in ultimately coming to their own decision. So I do not see it as your Lordships' blazing a trail and getting in before the other place. What we are doing is necessary preliminary pioneering work before another place finally takes a decision. They may learn from our experiment. That is what the experiment is for. It is to learn how it will work, whether it will work, and whether we like it.
There seems to be an assumption that if we once have an experiment we shall have automatically decided to continue. I do not for one moment take that view. I think it was the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, who said that we were somehow committed to spending about £3½ million—I think that was the figure he mentioned—as the cost of some future exercise if we continue permanently. I certainly do not accept any £3½ million. I do not accept anything. I honestly feel that if the experiment is a success and if the broadcasting authorities decide that they wish to continue after the experiment (and let us remember that there is not the smallest point in televising this place if no one is going to watch it) they must be prepared to bear a substantial part of the cost of continuing. But the decision will be in the hands of your Lordships as to whether or not we continue. No one should assume that because we decide to go ahead 843 with the experiment it necessarily means we do not need an experiment because we are going to decide to have it permanently in any case. That would surely be a contradiction of terms.
I come now briefly to a specific point which has been made regarding the lighting. I do not regard the lighting as I see it at the moment as wholly satisfactory. For one thing, it came on rather suddenly and it went off rather suddenly. That was a point which we explored on the Select Committee with the broadcasting authorities when we questioned them. It was made utterly clear that any change in the lighting would be gradual, that the increase in the lighting would be over a period of perhaps 10 minutes or more and that when the lighting was reduced it would be equally slow. Clearly, it would be disastrous if when one noble Lord rose to speak the lights suddenly went on and perhaps even more disastrous if another noble Lord rose and the lights suddenly went off. I certainly feel that that is something which should be avoided, and it is something which the Select Committee has already insisted must be avoided.
In addition, it is right to say that, because your Lordships' Select Committee has made it clear to the broadcasting authorities in the course of its meetings with them that we would not want an intrusive degree of lighting, and they must therefore experiment to try to get a degree of lighting which is as low as possible, consistent with a good enough standard of picture, that, in part, has resulted in a gradual reduction in the total amount of lighting which the broadcasters feel they require. If as a result of this debate the broadcasters decide that it would be advisable in the interests of the success of the experiment to reduce the lighting still further or perhaps to have the lighting less obstrusive,! have no doubt that that can be done in the course of the experiment. I repeat, it is an experiment to find the answers to some of these questions. If, at the end of it, noble Lords feel that the lighting necessary for the televising of our proceedings is intolerable then the proper course is to say, "Right, we are not going to have it unless it can be done in another way". That is what the House should do and that, in part, is why we are having the experiment.
Why are we doing this at all? That question has been asked by many noble Lords. What is the point of televising the proceedings of Parliament? I honestly believe that the answer to that was clearly given in what I thought was an excellent speech made in the latter part of the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. He underlined what I think is undoubtedly true—that nowadays television is the general public's principal source of information: information about the world in which they live; information about sport; information about the weather; information about politics. It is no longer the press, it is no longer radio to a substantial extent; it is television. I do not believe that your Lordships' House can afford to turn its back permanently on the principal source of information for the public.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, a very long time ago early in the debate, asked this question: what are we seeking? Are we seeking publicity? Those of us in favour of the experiment hope that the experiment will be a success. That does not mean that we have pre- 844 empted the final decision. But what are those who hope the experiment will be a success seeking? We are seeking an improvement in the information about Parliament which is disseminated to the public which depends upon Parliament. Surely, that is something that should be supported.
The motive, at any rate, is commendable. Whether we are doing it the right way, whether the end result is satisfactory and whether televison, in the manner in which it is done, gives a satisfactory picture of our House, or of Parliament at all, we shall have to wait and see. If it does not, then, of course, we shall have to take the necessary action, but I tend to believe that it will. I tend to believe that most of the objections to television that have been raised—they have been raised on many occasions, not just today but also last December and at many other times—are the same objections as those that were raised when it was first suggested that the press should be allowed into Parliament. I believe that most of those fears will be proved groundless. But we cannot prove them groundless unless we have the experiment.
On the narrow point of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Diamond, my noble friend made an interesting speech with which I have a great deal of sympathy. The point that he particularly raised was that if we persist with the recommendation which says that Statements that are merely repeated in your Lordships' House, and the ensuing discussion, should not be televised without the consent of the Minister making the Statement in another place, then this would perhaps give a junior Minister the right to deny the opportunity of televising a certain subject in this House. I wonder. Would a junior Minister refuse to give permission? I really think that it is unlikely that Ministers would refuse to give permission. I think, however, that they should be allowed that right in case there happened to be a reason. I can imagine, perhaps, that if the Prime Minister was making a very important Statement she might prefer that the Statement should actually be seen to be made by her rather than by the noble Viscount, who might repeat it in your Lordships' House. I am not saying that the noble Viscount would not do it very well; I am sure that he would. But the argument there is that, in the end, if Ministers prefer it the other way Ministers must do what they can to encourage the other place to have television themselves. That is something which the other place can decide after we have had this experiment.
If we go ahead and have this experiment, we shall be doing a service, not just for the nation as a whole in increasing public information about the way in which your Lordships' House functions. We shall also be doing a service for the other place. We shall be showing the extent to which it is possible to televise the proceedings of Parliament in an acceptable manner and the extent to which the televising obtrudes upon the work of noble Lords serving in this House. It will, I think, be a service to the other place as well as to our House to have the experiment.
The prestige of your Lordships' House has been growing steadily over recent years, for very good reasons. Your Lordships are gradually acquiring a reputation for enlightenment, perhaps for independence and perhaps for an ability to look at change 845 occasionally without resentment and without fear. If, having gone thus far, we suddenly turn round and say "No", that could do something to reverse the present upward trend in our prestige. I hope, theefore, that we do not take that decision.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, may I first, as other noble Lords have done, thank the members of the Select Committee for their work and for the very comprehensive report that they have presented to your Lordships. In winding up for the Opposition I am faced with a certain difficulty. Our debate today is on the report of your Lordships' Select Committee on Sound Broadcasting, and not on the principle as to whether or not it is right to televise the proceedings of your Lordships' House. Your Lordships' House, on 8th December last, took the decision in principle in favour of the televising of some of its proceedings for an experimental period. The debate today is on whether or not the proposed arrangements for televising the proceedings of your Lordships' House are satisfactory.
Several noble Lords have questioned this proposition during the course of the debate today. In my view, your Lordships would be quite in order to reject the report of the Select Committee on the basis that the proposed arrangements are unsatisfactory. But it would not be right to reject the report of the Select Committee on the basis that your Lordships do not like the idea of the House being televised for an experimental period. That decision has already been made.
The most contentious aspect of the report is certainly the question of the level of illumination for the experiment. This, I think, inevitably, must be a matter for individual Peers to decide. But it must be said that without an experiment we are not likely ever to be able to move to an acceptable and more permanent situation in which, at the cost of £3 million, light sensitive cameras are installed requiring a lower level of illumination. The question of how the televising might be edited has come in for a considerable amount of criticism, particularly and graphically from the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when he moved his amendment. He was suggesting that this needed to be thought about further. I am sure that he is right: it does need to be thought about further, but that thought will be best given after the experiment.
During the experiment, guidelines can be built and worked up between the Sound Broadcasting Committee and the broadcasting companies. I am certain that during the intervening period the companies will act responsibly. The other proposals of the Select Committee have met with fairly general acceptance except that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, felt that the weight of the committee was stacked against those who are against any form of television. But, of course, as has already been said, the membership of the committee was determined before this matter ever came forward for debate last December.
The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, wants to leave out the paragraph about the non-repetition of ministerial Statements. I agree to a great extent with what the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, said in our debate last 846 December. If a ministerial Statement were made in another place and repeated in this House, it might be felt inappropriate if only the repetition of the Statement could be televised. This particular problem could be overcome simply by prohibiting the televising of ministerial Statements originally made in another place.
As has been said, the question of whether or not we should go forward with the experiment is not a party matter. It is a matter for each individual Peer to decide in the light of the debate that we have had this afternoon. I, for my part, will certainly not record it as a Government defeat if the Motion, in its unamended form, is defeated today, or, indeed, if one or other of the amendments is carried. It is a matter for individual Peers to decide what is in the best interests of the House as a whole, on a free vote. I hope that the noble Viscount the Leader will be able to scotch a rumour that because people in high places in another place are said to disapprove of a potential Lords decision to go ahead, Government supporters are being rallied to support the amendment.
It has been questioned whether we are right to lead the way in this experiment. In my view, as I have said, that decision has already been taken. We are certainly not the primary Chamber in our Legislature. In this respect, there may be some advantages in the experiment taking place in this House as opposed to the experiment taking place in another place. If the experiment is not a success, that will be the end of the matter, probably not only for us but for Parliament as a whole. If the experiment took place down the corridor, I hazard a guess that it would be impossible ever to get the cameras out. That would certainly not be the case with an experiment in our House.
The present sound broadcasting of Parliament succeeds, so far as it goes, because there are regular slots in the evening and on the following morning when the proceedings are broadcast. Televising Parliament could eventually work in the same way, but televising Parliament without such slot being available will inevitably mean that only items of sufficient news value for inclusion in the news programme will be shown. Such items, so far as we are concerned, are likely to be very exceptional, although I must confess that since we have returned for the Summer Recess, as the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, pointed out, there have been certainly at least two occasions on which I am sure the companies would have wished to included a news item in their programmes.
So the experiment will not really show us how the televising of Parliament is likely to be seen on the television screen. That will only come when there is a decision of both Houses of Parliament to televise their proceedings and when time is made available by the television companies for the showing of the proceedings. But the experiment will give the television companies the benefit of the experience of televising Parliament, something which they are anxious to have and indeed something which they are anxious to finance very largely themselves.
As the noble Lord, Lord Broxbourne, has said, the experiment will enable both the television companies and this House to decide if it is something which they want to make permanent. Without the availability of 847 the money from the budgets of the television companies it would not be possible for the experiment to go ahead. In that sense it must be said that the House is reliant upon the resources of the television companies for the experiment.
Another consideration for your Lordships is the nature of the decision on 8th December last. The television companies undoubtedly saw it as a decision to go ahead with an experiment, provided that they could come up with a scheme acceptable to your Lordships. They have entered into negotiations in good faith. For us now to say we do not want an experiment whatever its nature would be an act of bad faith—a point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Reay.
Despite what my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon has said, I believe that we are committed to an experiment of an acceptable kind. If your Lordships believe that these lights are intolerable, I do not think they are up to the fullest level of illumination at the present time—I am now assured by the Chairman of Committees, which reassurance I unreservedly accept, that the lights are at their highest intensity at the present time, whereas earlier in the day they were only up to 80 per cent.
§ Lord Aberdare
My Lords, I am sorry. They are up to the intensity that is required for televising the House. They can be turned up higher but they are at the agreed level which the broadcasters are prepared to accept for their picture and which we think is tolerable for the House.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, is it not on the record that my noble friend the Chairman of Committees said that this is the lowest intensity that can be accepted, so the lighting cannot go lower, and it could, in order to get a clearer picture, go higher? That is all I wanted to confirm.
§ Lord Aberdare
My Lords, discussions went on because the level of the lighting earlier on today was what was called 100 per cent. Members of your Committee who came in here found it very oppressive. We talked to the broadcasters and they have now reduced it to 80 per cent. They have agreed that this is good enough for them, and I hope that your Lordships will feel it is not to bad for you. The only fact of the matter is that these lights will be raised by about four feet should an experiment be conducted.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord—and I am sure the House will thank him—for that clear exposition on the question of the level of the lighting at the present time. However, as I was saying, it is for noble Lords to decide whether or not they find acceptable the level of lighting which we now see exhibited. If they find that these lights are intolerable, then no doubt they will vote against the experiment. But if they find that they are tolerable and a way to the ultimate televising of Parliament as a whole, they will vote for the report.
In conclusion, I should like to say that on balance I personally—and in a sense one can only have a personal view on this, and not an official view—will 848 vote for the experiment to go ahead, despite the many drawbacks about which various noble Lords have spoken and the various drawbacks I feel myself. I think—and this is a point underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley—that every noble Lord should be quite clear that this in no way should lead anybody to suppose that such a decision would inevitably lead to the permanent televising of Parliament. That decision is a decision for this House, to be arrived at afresh, without any commitment of any sort, after the completion of the experiment. On that basis, as I have said, I shall personally vote for the experiment.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I think it would be agreed by all the noble Lords who have attended this debate that we have had a very important debate with many speeches of considerable quality from both points of view. Of course, if I found some of them more acceptable than others that is only because of my own very well-known views on the subject. I have never yet learned to admire a speech which was against my views more than I admired one which was in favour of them, and I do not think that many of your Lordships have, either. So to that extent I would say we have had a very important debate on what is, after all, a very important subject for this House.
Perhaps I should start by paying tribute to the Sound Broadcasting Committee and to the Chairman of Committees, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for the thorough and careful way in which they have carried out the instruction given to them by the House on 8th December last year. We have to remember that they, in what they were doing, were carrying out an instruction given to them by the House. That was their remit, and that they have done. I think it is much to their credit that noble Lords on both sides of the argument have paid considerable tribute to what they did and to the way they have put forward their report. I do not think they could have a better recommendation than that.
I shall divide my speech into three parts. First, I shall make some points purely in my capacity as Leader of your Lordships' House and, indeed, as a member of the Government. Then I shall refer to some of the points made by noble Lords in the debate. Perhaps in my comments I shall be excused if, as I fear, my well-known views shine through from time to time. Thirdly, I shall make a very brief reference indeed to reasons why I have been a very long-standing and unshakeable supporter of the televising of both Houses of Parliament. I cannot help that. I always have, and I have voted for it whenever I have had the chance. For many of the noble Lords who today do not wish to embark on the experiment it is because they are at heart passionately opposed to the whole principle of televising Parliament, which I fully understand from their point of view. I think they must at the same time understand that if I want to see the televising of both Houses of Parliament then I am likely to go forward with any particular plan which might further that end—just like them, but the other way round.
I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that there is no question of my colleagues in another place seeking to put any particular influence on noble Lords on the Government side of this House.
849 I told my Cabinet colleagues about the debate. I told them of the points that I am just going to make to your Lordships which would particularly affect the Government if we were to go ahead with the experiment when another place was not doing it. I thought it very important I should do that. They know my views. I did not bother to rehearse them, and they did not ask me to do so. I can only speak for myself—though I think I can speak for my noble friend the Chief Whip as well—but if anyone has been doing any organising (and I understand a certain amount of lobbying has been going on) it certainly has not been done by either my noble friend or myself. We have been scrupulously careful not to do so in any possible way. All my noble friends on the Front Bench know perfectly well that I told them it was an entirely free vote, and I did not even say, "It is absolutely free but I hope to goodness you will vote for it." I simply said it was an entirely free vote—and you cannot be fairer than that.
The points that I wish to make which concern the Government if we were to go ahead with the experiment are I think important and I hope the House would wish me to stress them. The first one, of course, is the question of costs. As the committee's report says, the costs of the experiment are considerable—in some cases some £20,000 per day—and this is so clearly of any long-term procedure. For the period of these experiments, as the report makes clear, these costs would be met by the broadcasters and the cost to public funds would be less than £10,000 in respect of cabling and electrical installations. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that, in view of some of my other activities inside the Government, I have made it clear that that £10,000 is already being carried on the Estimates of the PSA and therefore of the Department of the Environment. I also informed my cabinet colleagues that that was the position, and they did not demur. I do not say they particularly agreed—they were not asked to—but they did not demur.
I come to the future, which is very important; I must stress this very plainly and very carefully. It comes particularly in answer to my noble friend Lord Ferrers. If the experiment, at the end, is judged to be a success and if there are then to be negotiations about the future costs and how they will be met, there can be no question of any commitment by the Government to the financing of the televising of proceedings in your Lordships' House in the longer term. There can be no commitment, and I must make that abundantly and absolutely clear, as the House would expect me to do. That means that the experiment is genuinely an experiment and there is absolutely no commitment beyond it.
In the same context, my noble friend Lord Home asked what it might cost in the longer term to have a television channel for Parliament alone. That of course would depend very much on what happened about cable television because there are no channels available at the moment, and on the new Cable Authority. I am told that the capital costs would be estimated—this was at very short notice because I only asked for the answer after my noble friend had spoken—at some £3½ millon. If it was to be a single channel the staff costs for whoever ran it would be very 850 heavy indeed. Whether it was the broadcasting authority or whether it was financed in any other way, these costs would be extremely heavy.
The second point that I have to make concerns the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, and in particular his amendment. I must ask him not to press his amendment because, if the experiment goes forward, frankly it would place me in a very difficult position. I shall explain to him why. During the debate last December I asked that this should be done, and I have consistently felt that it must be right. I shall tell the noble Lord and the House why I believe this to be so. It would be extremely difficult for a Secretary of State seeking to put forward his own policy on a very important matter, and putting it forward in another place, not televised, to have one of his other Ministers being televised making the same Statement in your Lordships' House. That would put the department concerned, and certainly the Secretary of State, in a very difficult position.
I have to say beyond that—and I would answer the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, quite plainly and clearly—that I would have absolutly no desire to be televised repeating a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; nor, I must tell you, would I consider going to ask her for permission to do so. And, for the very best of all possible reasons, I do not think that she would be right to concede it to me; and I am quite certain she would not. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that in these circumstances it would be very difficult for the Government.
I think it was the noble Lord himself who talked about a junior Minister stopping it. If there was a case where it was felt reasonable, and the Secretary of State felt it was reasonable, or if this House particularly wanted it, I would be perfectly prepared—and in accordance with the report could certainly do so—to seek the agreement of the Secretary of State concerned that this would be done. If approaches were made to me I should be very pleased, without any commitment, to seek to do that. I might easily receive a very dusty answer from some of them but I could certainly seek to try, if that was felt to be right. But to actually have it possible for it to happen, without this particular point in the report, would be, I must tell the House, very difficult indeed so far as the House is concerned. Those are the two main points that I have to make as Leader of your Lordships' House.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, will the noble Viscount give way for a moment? I am most grateful for his answer and most grateful to him for the consideration that he has given. Will he make it clear that what he has been saying refers exclusively to the experimental period alone?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
Yes, my Lords. Indeed, I could go further and say that everything I am saying refers to the experimental period alone because I would have no authority to do otherwise; and, if I did, this House would be rightly extremely suspicious of what I was up to. I do not wish it to do that in any way because I am not actually up to anything except to advocate the chance of an experiment; that is all that it would be.
I turn to a few of the remarks made by noble Lords 851 during the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, with his great experience of this House, felt that it would damage the informality of the House. He is worried about the bias of producers and editorial control. I have to say, speaking quite personally, that in the longer term I would certainly be worried about that. But in regard to the experiment, it is for us to judge. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said: it is for us to judge in the experiment, if it goes forward, whether we are satisfied and how we should best deal with the editorial control problem.
I think that the noble Lord is perfectly right. After all, I have had some experience of this matter. I was the Opposition Chief Whip in another place for six years and dealt with all broadcasting complaints. I was Leader of the House in another place. I was Home Secretary and dealt with broadcasting as well. I have had a long history with broadcasting—some people think far too long—but the fact is that I know something about it. Having said that, I am as anxious as is the noble Lord, and I very much accept what he said. I think I have answered his questions about finance as well; but, again, he is clearly against the idea in principle, and with his experience and the way he put his case I must accept that it is extremely powerful.
My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel is in favour of the experiment. He does not believe that an experiment and a "dry run", as he described it, is the thin end of a permanent wedge. And as he also said, he is not very impressed with the thin ends of permanent wedges; nor indeed am I. If I were, I should be very quickly converted, as I always am, by my noble friend. My noble friend and other noble Lords also referred to the party conferences. If anything can be said about them, I believe that people sleep on the platform at party conferences rather less than they used to do. I do not know about the conferences of other parties, but I do know about my own party. There are great efforts to make sure that those people who go to sleep after lunch are not allowed to sit in prominent places on the platform; and on the whole it is very wise. So far nobody has actually told me to keep off the platform, but I am beginning to think that at some time they will do so, and so I shall have to look out.
The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, said that six months was not long enough for the experiment. I do not think that the committee and the broadcasting authorities would be prepared to consider an experiment for longer—at least certainly not at this stage—particularly from the cost point of view and the other problems involved.
§ Lord Raglan
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount, as Leader of the House, a question. The committee consider that a six-month period should give the broadcasting authorities adequate opportunity. If before the six months has run, the House feels that the experiment has gone on for long enough, is there some provision by which it could express a view on the matter?
§ Viscount Whitelaw
My Lords, I have no doubt that your Lordships could express an opinion on the matter, but I have to say that, in this debate, as I 852 understand it—and if I am wrong the Chairman of Committees will correct me when he speaks—we are committing ourselves to supporting the report of the sound broadcasting committee. That report recommends a six-months' experiment and therefore I understand that we would be voting for a six-months' experiment, as recommended by the report, and I think that that would be correct. If there were great feeling afterwards then no doubt all these things can always be considered. However, that is what we are voting for tonight. Even if it were passed I think that those who oppose it would be very clear that that was all that they, having expressed their opposition, were committed to if it were to go through.
I know that my noble friend Lord Peyton used to be in favour of televising another place because he was with me at one time on this issue. He is now against it and I quite appreciate some of his feelings. He feels that there is no guarantee, after the experiment, of good behaviour by the broadcasting authorities. Indeed, he is perfectly correct in that, but we have to judge whether we think that during the experiment the behaviour was right and we have to safeguard the fact that there might be a change in mood after the experiment. But if I may say so to my noble friend, we cannot judge any of that until we have had the experiment.
Like the rest of the House, I was very impressed by his reference to, and his repetition of the views of, the noble Viscount. Lord Tonypandy, who I am sure the whole House is so delighted to see back here. He, of course, speaks with such experience and as such a star of sound broadcasting in another place. With all respect to the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, he was so good at it, and he is so good at television, that I am rather surprised that he is against doing it here. I was also very surprised by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, because I remember seeing him in the days when, as he said, he became a television personality. He always looked as if he thoroughly enjoyed it, and I believe that he did so. Therefore, I am rather surprised that he now shrinks from the enjoyment which he once had in the past. However, that is his affair.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, who I am always delighted to find on my side—I fear greatly any Division when he is not, so when he is I feel a little heartened—said he felt that the public at large had a right to hear and see how we conduct ourselves. I am bound to say with all humility that that is very much the feeling that I have permanently had.
We are greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Soames for bringing this whole matter before the House. Whether or not we decide to go forward, I am sure it is very important that the House should have had the opportunity to discuss the matter, and my noble friend Lord Soames has certainly done much to give that to us. My noble friend said that we could decide after the experiment, and I do not doubt that is the answer for all of us.
The noble Lord, Lord Strauss, opposes the principle. He wants to wait and see what the other House will do. One is bound to say—and here my own views do come slightly into the matter—that if we wait for the other House and they wait for us, I think that everybody will wait for ever. That, of course, is what some noble Lords want. If you want it that way, good 853 and well, but if you do not, you get a little hopeful that somebody will eventually jump into the pond. The noble Lord, Lord Dacre, said that it would be costly and inconvenient. He does not like the idea of visual impression. Obviously I respect his views, but I do not agree with them.
My noble friend Lord Broxbourne said that he was in favour, and he believed that it was right to discover the views of the public. Of course, that is exactly what we shall seek to do during the experiment. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing spoke of the example of other countries. He has been a long-standing supporter of the principle and, as someone with great knowledge of television, he gave the reasons very plainly.
My noble friend Lord Chelwood was against it. He fears the lighting and the heat. I am bound to say that I have made one discovery about the lights which is rather fun—I can read my notes without my glasses; I cannot read them without the lights. So they have their uses. I shall put my glasses back on again to ensure certainty.
The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, wants the experiment to succeed and takes the same view as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, that the public are entitled to know. After all, the noble Lord's knowledge of the BBC is very important, and he speaks with great authority. I have referred to my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who is against it and who raised the question of costs. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and also agrees about the point as regards ministerial Statements, to which I have already referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, said that he could not justify the televising of the House of Lords alone, and he returned to the problem of sleeping. Sleeping does create a problem. One does have an option; namely, to sleep and be televised sleeping, or not to sleep. On the whole, if I happened to fall asleep and was televised sleeping, I would not greatly mind, provided it did not happen too often. My noble friend Lord Morris favours the experiment and thinks that the lighting makes many of us look better. Some of us may be past hope and therefore even the lighting will not help, but I am grateful for his views.
My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has been a long-standing opponent. He believes that sound broadcasting has lowered the standing of the Commons. I would argue about sound broadcasting lowering the standing of either the Commons or this House. There have been certain aspects of sound broadcasting which have lowered the standing of the Commons, but if, as I was there until a short time ago, I was entitled to make an observation, it would be that probably the reason Prime Minister's Questions have gone so badly is not the fault of the broadcasters but the fault of another place over the way they have decided to handle themselves during Prime Minister's Questions. The sound broadcasts are a perfectly true reflection of what they are up to and, having answered Prime Minister's Questions in the last Parliament (which is perhaps something that most noble Lords have not done), I know a little of what I am talking about. I am afraid that I felt then, and I feel now, that another place has a good deal to answer for.
854 I have referred to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that we are an ageing House and that there is not much respect for age. Perhaps he is right. Nevertheless, I do not believe that we are always all that ageing. I know that some noble Lords are very far from ageing. Therefore, I think that we can present a fairly reasonable image. I do not quite go along with the noble Lord. My noble friend Lord Pender was against the principle and felt that it would not be right, as indeed was my noble friend Lord Ferrier, though he was more doubtful about it and will probably be very interested to see what happens in the experiment.
My noble friend Lord Gridley is worried about editorial control and I think I have made it clear to him that I am, too. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, told us that much that happens in the Northern Ireland Assembly would be much better if people knew what went on instead of what appeared to go on when described in the press. I hope that he is right; it is a long time since I was there, and so I do not know. However, as a governor of the BBC he supports the principle, which is very important.
The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, said that to refer to them as outside broadcasts was an insult. It is really a technical term which was used in the technical sense that broadcasters use it and was not meant as any form of insult. As the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said, the noble Lord, Lord Reay, made a very considerable speech and I think that the House should be very grateful to him for his remarks. Equally, as one would expect, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, made a very important speech. He felt that the sense of occasion might be lost if the television experiment goes forward. Clearly, it must be accepted that that is a risk. It might heighten the sense of occasion, but I do not know. I can quite understand the argument that he put forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, deplored the effect of the three to one decision taken a year ago being brought up again, and equally felt that radio audiences were small and that television is the only possible way of reaching a wider public. He has great experience of communicating with the public, and therefore when he said something with which I agreed I was all the better pleased.
On that note I think I should conclude with my own comments, which are quite simply that I have believed for a long time in televising both Houses of Parliament on the simple principle, first, that I believe that the public have a right to hear and see what happens in their Parliament. Once subjected to television, on the whole most sports and most other pastimes have gained in popularity and gained in interest from doing it. I therefore take the simple view that Parliament, as the nation's Parliament, should be on view to the public, if they wish it. I believe that is why I have always wanted to see Parliament televised, and I still do today.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Lord Aberdare
My Lords, I do not think your Lordships would wish me to make another long, winding-up speech after the brilliant speech we have just heard from the Leader of the House. I have felt a 855 little remote during this debate because most of it has taken place on the principle of televising the House and not in fact on the nuts and bolts that your committee were responsible for. At any rate, may I, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, thank all of your Lordships who have paid tribute to the report. Those who were most kind in their opening remarks usually turned out to be those most firmly opposed to televising at all.
There were one or two remarks made about the report itself which I should just touch upon. The noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, spoke about the problems of defamation of character. We took the view that what had happened in sound broadcasting was perfectly satisfactory. Your Lordships in fact enjoy absolute privilege and the broadcasters qualified privilege. It depends on the fairness of their reports. There has been no problem with sound broadcasting. So far as the Broadcasting Complaints Commission are concerned, under their terms of reference at the moment they would not be appropriate to deal with matters of that sort. It would require legislation to change their terms of reference. I hope that the enlarged committee, which is one of the recommendations of our report, would be able to deal with problems of that sort.
Many of your Lordships have been critical about the proposals for editorial control. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House spoke on that subject. We thought it would be very expensive and very difficult to set up a special unit for a six-month experiment. We preferred to go along with the precedent set in the case of sound broadcasting to leave it to the broadcasters for the experiment and see how it worked.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, were critical of the constitution of the committee. But as the noble Lord, Lord Soames, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, explained, we were in existence previously, and I do not think that the fact that I dare say most of us were in favour of broadcasting really affected the issue when it came to the report because the report was entirely concerned with the nuts and bolts, or the lights and cameras of this experiment and not with the fundamental principle as to whether we should be televised at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Diamond, said that he agreed with our report except for the one recommendation of the repetition of ministerial Statements in this House. The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, has dealt with that point. The last speaker on the list, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Swynnerton, was the only one to whom I really had to listen a great deal, because he was critical of various apects of our report. May I say to him that we shall certainly look most carefully at the points he made if your Lordships vote for the experiment. I found that he was quoting sometimes from the evidence in the report, rather than the report itself, which gave me some difficulty in following him. I can assure him that there is no recommendation in the report for televising your Lordships while voting. The control over any tapes in the hands of the broadcasters is explained in paragraph 18 of our 856 report. But I should like to go much more carefully into what the noble Lord said about our actual recommendations.
Finally, I understand that some of your Lordships are confused on one matter to do with the lighting. The lighting will be under the control of the committee which will be running this experiment. I assure your Lordships that this is the level of lighting that would obtain. The only difference is that the lights will be raised to the centre of the windows and therefore, hopefully, will be less obtrusive and they will not come on and go off with individual speakers. They will be on while the cameras are in the House and televising. If the cameras cease televising, then they will be faded out gradually as the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, asked. I hope that will reassure your Lordships.
Finally, I do not think it would be appropriate for me as Chairman of Committees to vote on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I am quite prepared to defend my committee's report, but on this matter of his amendment I shall abstain.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Lord Chalfont
My Lords, with the leave of the House I should like to add a few remarks to what has been an absorbing and informative debate. I shall be very brief as I think that this debate has displayed all the qualities of your Lordships' House—indeed all those qualities which some of us fear might be damaged if the Motion tonight is carried.
The motive for my tabling of this amendment has received a certain amount of attention. The amendment has been described as a wrecking amendment, a dilatory amendment, and various other disobliging remarks of this kind. I beg the House to contemplate the possibility that it means precisely what it says. What I am aiming to do, to be perfectly accurate—and I hope that noble Lords will consult the Official Report—is not to question the principle of broadcasting this or any other House of Parliament. If noble Lords will consult the Official Report tomorrow they will see that that is precisely what I said.
What I am addressing myself to is the essence of the matter which was described by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby; whether this is a satisfactory form of experiment. I do not believe that it is. I think doubts have been expressed on all sides of the House about editorial control, about the lights, about the obtrusiveness of the equipment, and the wisdom of going ahead before another place has made a decision. I must confess that it is about this experiment not about the principles that I have the gravest doubts. It appears that this experiment will not have the same lights as a permanent installation might have, will not have the same cameras as a permanent installation, will not have the same coverage on television as a permanent system might have. There is no guarantee of finance for a permanent system, even if this experiment succeeds, and we may, according to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, even have a different form of editorial control. It seems to me, therefore, that this experiment bears little relationship to anything that might come afterwards. And to 857 answer the noble Lord's point exactly. I believe that it is not a satisfactory form of experiment. Doubts have been expressed from all sides.
However, it is late. Now I merely want to express my appreciation once again to the committee for its excellent work—I have no adverse comment to make on that—and to the broadcasting authorities for their co-operation. However, I remain unconvinced. Had a great weight of opinion been voiced in this House today in favour of the Motion and against the amendment I would, of course, have withdrawn it. But of the 32 Members of your Lordships' House who spoke before the Front Bench speakers, if I might be allowed to include the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, 16 spoke for the amendment and 16 spoke against. I believe, therefore, that it would be discourteous to those who spoke in favour of my amendment not to press it to a test of the opinion of the House. I must therefore press my amendment to a Division.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Alport)
My Lords, the original Question was, That the report of the Select Committee on televising the House be agreed to; since when an amendment has been moved by the noble Lord. Lord Chalfont, in the terms set out on the Order Paper.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 113.858
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Jeger, B.|
|Allerton, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Caithness, E.||McFadzean of Kelvinside, L.|
|Chalfont, L. [Teller.]||Margadale, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.|
|Cork and Orerry, E.||Melville, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Molson, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Monson, L.|
|Cross, V.||Moyne, L.|
|Dacre of Glanton, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Pender, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Energlyn, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Renton, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Simon, V.|
|Ferrier, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Stamp, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L. [Teller.]|
|Hatherton, L.||Tonypandy, V.|
|Henley, L.||Tweeddale, M.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Airedale, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Aldington, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Alport, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Ardwick, L. [Teller.]||MacLehose of Beoch, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Banks, L.||MacLeod of Fuinary, L.|
|Barnett, L.||McNair, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Birk, B.||Massereene and Ferrard, V|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Morris, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Mulley, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Munster, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Nicol, B.|
|Chitnis, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Cledwvn of Penrhos, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Orr-Ewing, L. [Teller.]|
|Cranbrook. E.||Phillips, B.|
|David, B.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Denham, L.||Polwarth, L.|
|Denning, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Rea, L.|
|Dunleath, L.||Reay, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Reigate, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Rochdale, V.|
|Ennals, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Evans of Claughton, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Fulton, L.||Saltoun, Ly.|
|Gainford, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Grey, E.||Soames, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Strafford, E.|
|Harvington, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Hill of Luton, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Templeman, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Kagan, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Kennet, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Keyes, L.||Wade, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Walston, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Wilson of Rievaulx, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Winchilsea and Nottingham L.|
|Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.||Windlesham, L.|
|Long, V.||Winstanley, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Lord Diamond had given notice of his intention to move as an amendment to the Motion at end to insert "subject to the exclusion of Recommendation (v) in paragraph 48 at page xix (The repetition in the House of Lords of ministerial statements made in the House of Commons and the subsequent exchanges should not be televised during the experiment, except with the consent of the Minister concerned) (paragraphs 23 and 24)".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for having dealt with my points so candidly and fully, and for 859 having promised to try to meet the points made so far as he reasonably can. Therefore, I would not wish to move my amendment.860
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.