Oral Answers to Questions — House of Commons Speeches (Electrical Recording).

– in the House of Commons on 20th January 1942.

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Photo of Captain Leonard Plugge Captain Leonard Plugge , Rochester Chatham

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider making arrangements for the broadcasting of important speeches made in the House of Commons, in view of the fact that such arrangements were made in connection with the recent speeches by the British Prime Minister to Congress in Washington and in the Canadian House of Commons?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

I have considered this matter long and carefully and also with diffidence, as to some extent at the present time it affects myself. It certainly would be a very great convenience, and would, I believe, be welcomed by the public, if an electrical record of major statements about the war could be made. This record could be used for subsequent broadcasting, which might be deemed an advantage. In my own case I have been constantly asked to repeat the speech I have delivered in the House over the broadcast later. This imposes a very heavy strain, and is, moreover, unsatisfactory from the point of view of delivery.

It has been represented to me that in the Dominions and in the United States there are very large numbers of people who would like to listen to a record of the actual speech or parts of it rather than to a news summary, such as are usually compiled—very well compiled—by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Moreover, such a record could be used at the most convenient hours in the various countries concerned, which now encircle the entire globe. I should hope, therefore, that the House might be disposed from time to time to grant me or any successor I may have during the war this indulgence. As an innovation of this kind in our practice should be most carefully watched, I should propose that an experiment should be made in the case of the statement I have been asked to make at an early opportunity upon the present war situation. There must necessarily be in this statement a good deal that is of some interest both in America and Australasia as well as in India and South Africa. A Motion will, therefore, be placed on the Paper for discussion allowing this procedure to be followed on this particular occasion only. As a separate Motion will be required in each individual case, the House would have full control of the practice; and if it were found to be objectionable or invidious or not in the public interest, it could be dropped. Evidently the practice would not be suitable to periods of Party Government.

The record would be the property of this House and its use, in the event of any controversy arising, would be a matter for decision by the House under Mr. Speaker's guidance. As this is a matter which affects the customs of the House, I shall leave the decision to a free Vote.

Photo of Hon. Hugh O'Neill Hon. Hugh O'Neill , Antrim

I take it that my right hon. Friend did not mean that he would actually broadcast to the public while making his speech [HON. MEMBER: "No".] In any case is it not a fact that the main function of this House is debate and criticism, and if the practice of broadcasting is to be adopted, or possibly even taking records of ex-parte statements by the Prime Minister or anybody else, ought not replies to these speeches to be similarly recorded?

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

While I recognise, of course, the great importance of my right hon. Friend's statements and the keen and appreciative desire of the public to hear him, will he bear in mind that Parliament, of its nature, is not a platform but a representative Assembly intended to express the whole will of the nation? Will he, therefore, see that any account that is given of the proceedings of Parliament will be impartial and unbiased and will give expression to all points of view? Before the House is committed to this course and before the Motion is put down, would it not be possible to appoint a Committee under your aegis, Mr. Speaker, to consider this proposal in all its implications?

Photo of Captain Leonard Plugge Captain Leonard Plugge , Rochester Chatham

While I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply does he think it right that the British listening public should be granted, through the B.B.C., facilities for listening to an Allied Prime Minister in an Allied Parliament such as a President of the United States in Congress, yet be denied the same facilities for listening to their own Prime Minister in their own Parliament?

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

Are we not right in thinking, from the statement of the Prime Minister, that this would be a purely exceptional war measure when all parties are united under his leadership and that it is not intended to be a precedent for the broadcasting of ordinary matters of party politics?

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

Will the Prime Minister consider the advisability of having the speech he made in Canada printed for circulation?

Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the two speeches to which the Question refers were not made in the course of Debate, whereas any speech made by my right hon. Friend in this House must be made in the course of Debate and may be criticised by Members of this House, whose criticism may be divorced from his speech?

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

Is it the intention that the whole speech, with any interruption which might occur, would be recorded just as it is made, or would there be editing by Mr. Speaker or anybody else?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

The idea is that a record should be made for subsequent use. This would be convenient because of the great difference in time between this country and the United States, Australasia, India, South Africa and so forth. I also have the feeling that in the circumstances of this war, when matters have to be spoken of which intimately affect so many of our Dominions and Allies, there might be advantages in taking this course. But I am entirely in the hands of the House. If they do not feel they can give me this easement on this occasion as an experiment, I shall not take it amiss in any way, and I will do my best over the broadcast that evening to repeat what I have said.

Photo of Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha Mr Leslie Hore-Belisha , Plymouth, Devonport

Would my right hon. Friend consider the proposal I have made, which is not made in any way to hamper? Would he appoint some small representative committee of experienced Members of this House who might consider all the implications and various difficulties which might arise—for instance, the difficulties of interruptions?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Epping

No, Sir, I am leaving it to the House. I think the House is quite as competent as any particular group of individuals to consider this matter. I dealt myself very carefully with the question of the records. It would be a matter for decision by the House, under Mr. Speaker's guidance, as to whether anything should be left out or should not be reproduced—for instance, if anything was said which revealed a military secret. This is now removed from the published records, and similar latitude would be provided for in this case. I do not propose to adopt the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion.