I beg to move,
That this House, taking note of the Report from the Select Committee on Broadcasting, &c., of Proceedings in the House of Commons, approves for an experimental period the broadcasting of its proceedings on closed circuits, subject to any recommendations which the Select Committee on House of Commons (Services) may make thereon.
In opening the debate I should like, first, to express what is much more than a formal sense of thanks to the Select Committee which has prepared this Report. It has given us a sound and substantial basis upon which to decide this very important question. It is very significant that it was only because one or two hon. Members of the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports conceived the ingenious idea that that Committee's terms of reference would allow it to conduct an inquiry that the House is now able to consider the full and comprehensive Report which we are now debating.
In a speech on 28th May, 1965, my predecessor commended the proposed inquiry and asked the Committee to
make the most detailed examination of the problem in its technical aspects, its likely effect on Parliament itself, and the need that there is for televising Parliament from the consumer end, the viewer's point of view …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th May, 1965; Vol. 713, c. 1075.]
An inquiry was put in hand, but it was interrupted by the end of the Session. However, the Government intervened the next Session and moved that a separate Select Committee should begin an inquiry, seven Members of the old "Pub and Deb" Committee being on the new Committee. The new Committee, admittedly with changing membership, took the work through to the end.
The Report shows that the evidence collected by the Committees was exhaustive. I am sure that that is important for us, because I want to emphasise that the decision which we are taking now, and even the decision, which, I hope, we will take, to have an experiment, is of the greatest importance to the House.
I think that the most useful thing I can do to start with is to summarise, as consistently and as objectively as I can, the findings of the Report and to do so under five headings. First, the Committee's findings on the technical side of the problem are quite straightforward. It is a great relief that there is no disagreement among the experts. There is no doubt that, given the order to proceed with the permanent installation of television equipment, it will be possible to instal highly sensitive, remote-controlled cameras which would be built into the panelling of the Chamber and be completely unobtrusive. This is the permanent long-term solution. For these cameras, lighting levels would need to be raised only very slightly above existing levels and there would be no question of increasing the light to the levels needed for making a colour film of the State Opening of Parliament.
Secondly, the Committee tackled the legal and privilege questions which arise from the proposal for television. It was with relief that I read that the Committee did not expect any difficulty, although it recommended that the new Select Committee on Parliamentary Privilege should keep in mind the possibility of Parliamentary broadcasting in any recommendations which it made. It is possible that there would need to be a short Bill before public Parliamentary broadcasts were made, as in Australia.
Thirdly, the Committee's main recommendation is that there should be a special House of Commons Broadcasting Unit which would provide the broadcasting authorities with full television and sound "feed". After the proceedings of the House had been transmitted to the broadcasting authorities, the Committee assumes that it should be left to the broadcasting authorities to make free use of the material in any way they though fit, always provided that it was not used in any way calculated to bring the House into ridicule or contempt.
Fourthly, the Select Committee made a substantial point of emphasising that the proceedings of some Committees should be made available for broadcasting and suggested that some Standing Committee should be covered during the experiment.
Fifthly, the Committee felt that, before the House was asked to decide whether to allow permanent arrangements to be made, there should be closed circuit experiments including not merely the closed circuit itself, but finished programmes. The Committee would have preferred an experiment lasting for three months and the broadcasting authorities favoured an experiment of one month. The Report comes down in favour of a period of eight weeks at a season of the year when pressure would not be most intense. Those seem to be the five essential things which we have to consider.
Having assured itself that televising our proceedings is technically feasible, the Committee went on to consider all the other issues involved in grafting this new medium of mass-communication on to our proceedings. It put forward this solution—the provision by the House of Commons itself to the broadcasting authorities of a complete television record for use in their programmes. I shall express my own doubts in a few minutes about this proposal for a permanent solution. At the moment, I will merely say that it is not the only solution which is technically feasible, but is only one among a number of possibilities.
Hence my suggestion that the House today should be content to take note of the Report as a whole, thereby coming to no decision on the Committee's long-term proposals, while agreeing to conduct an experiment as the Select Committee recommends.
I am sure that the Committee is right in urging that before we make up our minds we should discover how it feels to conduct our proceedings beneath television cameras, and that we should also have prepared for private viewing the kind of final programmes we will be likely to see in a permanent system. What I am urging is that we should suspend judgment on whether the proceedings will be televised until after the experiment has been completed and then consider the situation.
If we are to have an experiment, what kind of experiment? I agree with the Committee that there should be a period of closed circuit coverage of all our proceedings on the Floor and of some in Committee. I agree with the Select Committee that the programme companies shall share in conducting this experiment and should also produce the experimental programmes such as a television "Day at Westminster" by which we can judge the final product. So far, so good. In view of its cost and disturbance I cannot help feeling that the experiment should be as short as possible. I do not think that I can recommend to the House that an eight-week closed circuit simultaneous coverage of all the proceedings on the Floor of the House is essential. I suggest that we should consider something considerably less ambitious in time, but somewhat more ambitious in content than is proposed by the Select Committee.
In my view, any experiment which did not tackle the problem of simultaneously televising the proceedings in the other place would be unrealistic. Their Lordships have already decided in principle that they would welcome the televising of some of their proceedings for an experimental period. They have set up a select Committee to see how best this can be done. Our Select Committee was not competent to make recommendations for another place, but the Report leaves us in no doubt that it, too, felt that a joint experiment was essential. So I hope that the House will agree that it is sensible that the experiment should be an integrated one, involving at some stage at least simultaneous recording of the proceedings in both Houses. I cannot speak for the other place, but I am told that their Lordships are not unsympathetic to the suggestion I am now making.
These factors, taken together, suggest a number of changes in the type of experiment which I feel able to recommend to the House, though they are no more than a development of the valuable proposals contained in the Select Committee Report. I should tell the House that I have had informal discussions with the broadcasting authorities to see whether they would see any difficulties in arranging the kind of experiment which I now envisage. They told me that they are able to conduct a joint experiment, provided that it is of a limited duration, and that, as part of the experiment, it is accepted that it will be necessary to record the proceedings on one day and present an edited version on the following day.
The experiment which they and I have in mind would be as follows. It would last for five weeks, not eight. During the first four weeks it would involve the House of Commons alone on the lines recommended in the Report. The two broadcasting authorities would operate during alternate weeks. For most of the days they would produce not only closed-circuit transmission of our proceedings on the Floor, but also specimen edited programmes. Because of shortage of staff and equipment it would be necessary, on one or two days devoted to Committee coverage, to suspend coverage of the main proceedings on the Floor of the House. During the fifth week, both Houses would be covered and an attempt made to produce integrated programmes which would enable Members to see how proceedings in both Houses would be fitted together.
During this week a more detailed experiment would be conducted in another place, but I need not trouble the House with the arrangements for that. In addition, the B.B.C. are making sound recordings of proceedings of both Houses for the purpose of providing specimen edited programme on radio as well as television, which could be played back at times to suit the convenience of Members of both House.
In this way it would be possible to compare the quality of the present daily sound programme, "Today in Parliament" which is based on the limited extracts from our proceedings, taken from the P.A. tape, and read aloud by an announcer, with the new sound programme based on the full text and including live extracts. In this way we could see what advantage or disadvantage there was and would have some standard of comparison between the live broadcast with excerpts and the present programme.
One of the things which has caused me a great deal of difficulty is that at the moment the sound programme is a précis of the speeches made, and they can be relatively short. Since we are now to see Members actually speaking, that will take much longer. Can the right hon. Gentleman say how long these excerpts from the debate will take and how long each Member will be shown in operation?
I intended to come to this later. This is a serious problem and I have had some talks with the B.B.C. about it. On this point, one can reckon that to get the equivalent of about a quarter of an hour of sound one would need nearly half an hour of television. Of that, half hour, over half, would be editorial. If one took Question Time there would be even more editorial because of the need for reading the Questions aloud as they are not read by the Member.
There might be up to 60 per cent. of Question Time being editorial and only 40 per cent. extracts from speeches, unless the House was prepared to completely reorganise its Question Time in order to be televised. This is a serious problem to which I shall return, because it is an unsolved difficulty in the way of the proposal.
I have reflected on that since I read the Report, but I know that there are Questions which are so long that they would stretch for a very long way across the bottom of the screen. If one had to leave the Question on the screen long enough for it to be read, it would mean that very few Questions would be selected, even for a quarter of an hour's version of Question Time. These are the serious technical problems which the House will have to discuss. Even if we do as I hope, and agree to this experiment, there is a lot to be done in the working out of these details.
The final point is the way in which the experiments should be managed. Here, I entirely agree with the Select Committee that the supervision should be undertaken by a new Sub-Committee answerable to the House of Commons Services Committee and I would hope that the cadre of this would be the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) and the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford), together with other Members. This is the House's own Committee and through it, and the new Sub-Committee, the House can make known its views on the arrangement for the experiment and of the experiment.
I wonder, too, whether we ought not to consider the possibility if, as I will be proposing to the House, a joint experiment with another place should be arranged, of making arrangements for representatives of the other place to be closely associated with that sub-Committee.
Before my right hon. Friend gets on to the question of joint Committees he ought to bear in mind that, by protocol, when we have a joint Committee we must have one of their Lordships in the Chair, and we do not want that.
These are some of the difficulties we are likely to encounter.
I now turn to the question of when the experiment should take place. The Select Committee had no doubt about this. It wanted the experiment to take place in January or February next year, after the House had had time to consider its Report, and before the resumption of flat racing summoned the programme experts back to the O.B. programmes which are, I gather, the main purpose of their lives.
When I first considered this Report, last August, I was captured by this argument and jumped to the conclusion that if the House were to agree on the need for an experiment it should agree on the timing recommended by the Select Committee. Since then I must admit that the case for delaying the experiment for a full year has presented itself to my mind with ever greater cogency. It is grounded on three arguments, economic, technical, and an argument about the basic way in which the televising of the House might be done.
I will deal, first, with the economic argument, because, although it is powerful, it does not need a great deal of discussion. In considering the experiment we cannot disregard its cost, which, by the way, has escalated sharply since the broadcasting authorities first gave their testimony to the Select Committee. At that time it was said that a sum of £90,000 would be sufficient for an eight-week experiment. When I checked with the authorities recently I was told, in a letter dated 25th October, that for a five-week period, as contrasted with an eight-week experiment, I should now reckon on the sum of £150,000 for the Commons and another £18,000 for the Lords.
When we compare this with the estimate of £4½ million which we vote for the expenses of our House, £150,000 is not exorbitant. Nevertheless, the Government are of the opinion that in a period when we are demanding great sacrifices of the country, it would not be right to ask for a House of Commons Supplementary Estimate on this scale, particularly when it will be spent during what we have described as a period of severe restraint. What the Motion which I am putting forward proposes is that we should firmly decide on the experiment, that it should take place in January, 1968, and that the cost, therefore, should be included in next year's Estimates.
To this economic argument for holding the experiment in 1968 there are added technical arguments which the Select Committee felt that it had overcome, but which I find difficult to evade. The one which worries me is the presence of cameras and cameramen on the Floor of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] In the permanent system all the cameras would be of a new miniaturised, unmanned type operated by remote control and almost entirely concealed behind the panelling. By January, 1967, the new Plumbicon cameras would not be ready and two at least of the old style cameras, one with cameramen on the Floor would have to be inside the Chamber manually operated.
One of them would be at the end of the Official Gallery to your right, Mr. Speaker. The technician behind it would be able to enter and leave at the cost merely of gross disturbance to senior members of the Civil Service. But the other camera would have to be placed in the cross bench on your left, Mr. Speaker, where Members now sit, and the technician who manned it would, therefore, have to be inside the Chamber.
On this, I am bound to quote the report of the Serjeant at Arms who wrote to you, Sir, saying that this would involve
…not only having a stranger continuously in a 'part of the House or Gallery appropriated
to the Members of the House'… but will also lead to considerable coming and going as and when the cameraman on duty has to be relieved. Apart from going against present principles this may cause difficulties in Divisions.
The alternative which I have suggested is that the second manned camera should be installed in under the Gallery, that is, behind the Serjeant's Chair. This, however, conflicts with the television companies' desire to have complete parity of treatment between the two sides of the House, and which they say they can only obtain if they have a manned camera in both the Official Gallery and on the cross bench to your left. There is, of course, no technical problem in operating a camera from under the Gallery. The House, therefore, may well have to weigh up the conflicting advantages of having complete parity during the experiments—which will not be seen by the public—and the absence of strangers on the Floor of the House.
I should like to conclude the Serjeant at Arms' letter, because it deals with other proposals:
There is a requirement for a producer's box in under the Gallery at the south end of the Chamber. This will necessitate the taking over of the row in front for the normal occupants of under the Gallery (thereby removing a bench normally used by Members) and although this row is not within the Bar of the House it will, presumably, be necessary to obtain the formal approval of the House for this.
So much for the Serjeant at Arms' letter.
The Select Committee assumed that for the period of the experiment, which it thought would be eight weeks, the House would not resent such interruptions, including the continuous presence of strangers on the Floor, but judging from my own feeling when I studied the letter from the Serjeant at Arms on this matter I am not so sure that it was right. Certainly, one reason which made me, in the end, positively welcome the postponement of the experiment was the letter which I received on 18th November, signed jointly by the broadcasting authorities, which told me:
… By January, 1968, it may almost certainly be guaranteed that six … of the new miniaturised, unmanned Plumbicon cameras can be developed by the manufacturers.
Personally, I do not find it difficult to choose between an experiment conducted in what will certainly be awkward, and might be embarrassing, circumstances next January and an experiment a year later with no temporary cameras taking up space, no strangers on the Floor of
the House and under the technical conditions of what could become a permanent system.
There are, however, more arguments for the later date. The first concerns the other place. I have already explained why I think it necessary to have a joint integrated experiment, but it is clear that we should have to take quite a long time, for reasons which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) gave, before we work out the full details of co-operation with the other place.
There is one other problem which I have to mention and which I hope hon. Members will discuss, and that is the problem of how the Press should be treated throughout such an experiment. As I understand, the Select Committee Report recommends that the whole experiment shall be conducted in private and the Press completely excluded from it. Of course, I understand the reasons for proposing this, but the House should not under-estimate the practical difficulties in making this total exclusion of the Press a reality. After all, some Members will be sitting in a Committee Room each day watching the closed circuit and the next evening viewing the experimental programme based upon it.
Unless it is made a matter of privilege, I find it difficult to see how we can prevent any individual Member from retailing his experiences to the Press; and, anyway, it seems to me that the fact of our conducting an experiment of this kind is a news story which the journalists who specialise in covering the House's proceedings would feel they had some right to cover.
I am not pre-judging the issue. I am merely saying that before we conduct the experiment we should, I think, enter into consultations with the Press Gallery and work out a protocol of procedure which can be observed by both sides. It will not be easy, but I am sure that if we have time we can do it.
So much for the technical difficulties. That leaves me with what I feel to be the basic problem which we should discuss today which I do not think was resolved by the Select Committee. The Select Committee's Report is a very well-knit document which assumes throughout a particular solution to the problem which it was asked to solve. Having dismissed for reasons of cost and practicability the concept of a separate television channel on which our proceedings could be continuously viewed live, the Committee opted for a system which relies on recording every syllable we speak, every gesture we make and then letting others outside make what use of it they like.
The Committee recommends that a complete full-length video-tape should be produced and edited by a special House of Commons broadcasting unit. I think that there were two reasons for making that proposal. First, it would be impracticable to have two sets of cameras in in the Chamber, one for B.B.C. and one for I.T.N. But the Committee was greatly impressed by the sensitive question of what type of reaction shots would be suitable for transmission. As hon. Members who have read the Report realise, reaction shots are taken when the camera switches away from the person speaking and catches one of the audience or covers the whole House. Anybody who has been to a party conference will know what I am talking about.
Since there will be six cameras functioning simultaneously there will have to be television editors to select which of the six pictures, direct or reaction shots, shall go on the single video-tape. That is what makes a television HANSARD a misnomer, for in the case of HANSARD the editorial discretion is limited to points of grammar and punctuation. The videotape, in contrast, is already an edited piece of visual journalism and those in charge can make or mar reputations of Members by the selection which they make in their takes.
It was because it recognised this fact to the full that the Select Committee agreed that no outside broadcasting unit could be entrusted with the production of the initial video-tape recording, so it concluded that only by having the record made by our own staff and by paying the full cost of it would we be able to ensure the control required to satisfy Members that the editing was being done with complete fairness and impartiality.
Now observe the second stage. Having insisted on a House of Commons staff and complete House of Commons control for the production of the original video-tape, it proposes that the use to be made of the tape shall be left to the discretion of the broadcasting authorities and anyone else who cares to buy it. In fact, the House of Commons pays to have a complete and faithful record made of its proceedings and then leaves it to outside bodies to use that record at their discretion, provided they do not bring the House into contempt. They would use it perhaps in news programmes, in a "Westminster Day by Day" on the same evening, in a regional programme, in a women's magazine, or perhaps in the David Frost Show or the B.B.C. Saturday evening "Late Night Show".
This is the proposal—that the outside broadcasting authorities should make use of the tape, not only on such programmes as "Today in Parliament", but in magazine programmes as well.
No. The hon. Gentleman should read the Select Committee's Report. It is an extremely intelligent and well-thought-out document.
This is a second process of selection. Everything will have been genuinely selected in a certain way, but the authorities would be able to select passages for reproduction. They would be selecting from eight or nine hours' proceedings and using sometimes a few minutes or a few seconds. This is a fair account of what they will be doing.
Since my right hon. Friend now comes to what he describes as "genuine" selection, how will he escape the criticism that might be levelled at him during the debate today that all selection involves some kind of censorship? The person who chooses exercises an act of censorship. Goodness knows, we have had enough argument about censorship in this House, and I want to avoid a dilemma of that kind.
I do not want to avoid it. I think that it is necessary for the House to concentrate on this issue, because it is the most difficult issue that we shall have to face together—before plunging into an experiment, to see what we are experimenting in.
One proposal is to experiment in this way, and to say that we will conceive the permanent system as a day-by-day recording of everything on sound and on tape, sending out the tape like a P.A. tape goes out, to be used by the B.B.C. in its programmes, and the view of the Select Committee is that the B.B.C. and I.T.V. shall be entitled, when they have bought it, to use it as they like, provided that they do not bring the House into contempt. There is to be no limitation and no censorship. In the view of the Select Committee they should be free in that sense to edit the programmes
Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that some degree of selection is inevitable if regional programmes are to be permitted to select the bits of the total signal which are relevant to their areas?
That is the whole point. They would get hours and hours of tape, from which they would select a small fraction.
If the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) will permit me to continue, I was going on to say that I have had some calculations made about the kinds of quantities likely to be used. The amount of the original video-tape which the B.B.C. is likely to use, if it has a half-hour televised "Today in Westminster" every evening in addition to using brief extracts in their normal news programmes, is roughly 2 per cent. The B.B.C. agrees with me that 2 per cent. of the tape is the maximum that it is likely to use on any day. The other 98 per cent. would either go to waste or be used in other B.B.C. programmes.
If hon. Members are surprised at this small amount, I would remind them that, of a half-hour "Today in Westminster" programme, at most, 14 minutes would be live reproduction, and the rest would be editorial explanation. In other words, out of a half-hour programme, 14 minutes would be hon. Members speaking, and the rest would have to be explanation by an editor, because of the complexity of our proceedings. The same would be even more true if an attempt were made to televise Question Time. Unless Question Time were completely reorganised so that each hon. Member had to read aloud the full text of his Question, the television version would be likely to consist of up to 60 per cent. of editorial explanation.
These figures become even more remarkable when we consider televising another place. At present, in the sound and radio programme, "Today in Westminster", on an average, two minutes is devoted to the House of Lords and the rest to the Commons. In a half-hour television programme, their Lordships could expect that, after the whole of their proceedings had been recorded, about four minutes at most might appear on the television screens.
I have quoted those figures because the cost of a permanent television service, employing a permanent staff, is something which we have to bear in mind if we accept the Select Committee's proposed system. It cannot be denied that the cost of producing the total tape will be enormous compared with the amount actually used. But what worries me even more than the cost is the possible use to which the tape can be put by the companies which have acquired it. If I am told, "You give the newspapers complete freedom to report Parliament. Why not give the same freedom to television reporting?", my answer is that there is not a parallel between the two cases. The House of Commons does not provide the Press with a special edited version of its proceedings and leave it to treat that record as it likes. Anyway, surely we know enough about this new medium already to realise the danger of suggesting that we can treat it exactly like the Press.
If I were asked to judge today, I would say that the permanent system of television which the Select Committee proposes might not only prove very expensive in money and staff, but might also bring us into constant collision with the television companies about the selection which they were making of the material and the use to which they were putting it in their magazine programmes.
Having stated my doubts about the method which the Committee has selected, let me remind the House again of the information which the Committee collected from other countries. It indicates that there are other methods of using television inside Parliament. In the United States, where legislators are not averse to publicity, neither House has ever permitted television on the floor. In the Committees, on the other hand, it plays a very important rôle. It is used in Sweden and in West Germany, but only selectively and for big debates. When it is used, I gather that it is broadcast live, much like our party conferences are broadcast today, and extracts are given at the end of the day.
I believe that the experience of other countries has something to teach us. We should at least consider the possibility of dispensing with the complex apparatus of a House of Commons Broadcasting Unit with its permanent coverage and its 90 per cent. wastage, and content ourselves with permitting the broadcasting authorities to install apparatus which could be used from time to time on stated occasions, when it could be seen live in the first instance and in extracts later in the evening.
During the months before the experiment, I should like to see the Select Committee's proposals compared carefully with other possibilities, including the one which I have just outlined. Frankly, we have not thought through all the alternatives, and I should like us to do that before we make the experiment so that we are quite clear what we are experimenting about. If we use the months in that way, I think that we shall be able to make an experiment far more useful and practical when January, 1968, comes.
What we are being asked to decide this evening is not on a permanent system of television. The House is being asked, first, to take note of the Select Committee's Report, and I would hope that our vote would be unanimous on that. Secondly, the House is asked to approve an experiment in January, 1968. By voting for the second part of the Motion, as I hope the majority of hon. Members will, we shall not be committing ourselves to the view that our proceedings should be televised, even less to the particular system which the Select Committee recommends in its Report, about which I have outlined my own reservations.
What we shall be doing is to indicate our conviction that, in this era of mass-communications, the House of Commons is ready to submit its proceedings to a brief but thorough experiment, in the course of which the merits of live coverage in sound radio can be tested, as well as in television programmes.
I am sure that to look in at ourselves on the closed-circuit will be good for our souls, but it will not be the important part of the experiment which I am recommending. The important part will be the finished product which is shown. The experimental programme, both sound and television, which the companies will be showing to us, probably in the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall 24 hours after the debate takes place, are the things which we ought to look at and consider. I am convinced that only after seeing and hearing such experimental programmes shall we be able to decide whether we want ourselves presented to the British people in programmes which include sound and television extracts from our live proceedings, and, if so, whether those programmes should be done regularly every day, as the Committee recommends, selecting from a total coverage, or only on certain limited occasions, as I myself believe would be preferable.
I have reflected on that. I should have thought that, without question, we must have a second vote. This experiment does not commit the House to permanent television. It commits the House to an experiment. On the basis of that experiment, we can decide between permanent television and no television, permanent television plus sound, or sound without television, and between various types.
All those things need to be discussed much more than they have been already, and we ought to get our minds clear on them before the experiment. But, even after the experiment, we must reflect on the experiment and, on the basis of it, come to our permanent conclusions and, clearly, have another vote on the matter.
As the Leader of the House is aware, the Opposition are treating the broadcasting of the proceedings of the House as a non-party matter, and right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House will be voting without the advice of the Whips. The speech which I shall make, therefore, is entirely my own personal view. The Leader of the House, in his position, was undoubtedy right to warn, and over-warn, the House of the dangers of the adventure on which we are embarking. I shall take a slightly more adventurous line.
I should like to start by quoting three lines of the memorandum submitted by Lord Hill, the Chairman of I.T.A., to the Select Committee. He said:
The televising of Parliament makes no more hard news available than is available today. It adds, in terms of record, the two dimensions of sight and sound to the printed word. It is an amplification of the present methods of reporting …
Today's debate is not a repetition of the debate of a hundred years ago, as is often rather suggested, on whether Parliament should or should not be reported. It is to discuss whether we wish our proceedings to be picked out by the arclight of television, or whether we wish the public to continue to see us in the more comfortable glow of candlelight. For many years the majority of hon. Members have concluded, or wishfully thought, that we look better, and work better, in a subdued and preferably mysterious light, but according to the evidence to the Select Committee of the two Chief Whips, a majority, or a possible majority, of hon. Members now may like to see television and radio in the House in one form or another.
I think that we have all sensed, over the last 10 years—those who have been here that long—a certain change in opinion in this House, possibly because of the change in the composition of the House, possibly because we think that the technical problems have been overcome, possibly also because, consciously or unconsciously, knowledge of television has made us rather less frightened of it. But even if the Chief Whips are right, and there is a majority in favour of broadcasting, there is nevertheless a substantial minority against it, including many highly respected and experienced Members, and their arguments must be seriously answered.
May I first try to answer some of the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman put forward and end with some comments on the experiment itself.
To me the most significant opponent of broadcasting in the House is my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), not only because of his experience as a distinguished journalist, and as a Cabinet Minister with special responsibilities in communications, but also because until recently he was a strong backer of television in the House.
What is it that has made my right hon. Friend hesitate to dive in after leading us all to the water's edge? He said in a recent article in the Parliamentarian:
There are many lesser but still weighty doubts on television in Parliament which have been treated too lightly, certainly by the Select Committee which has just reported. How will the editing be done? Will the public really want 30 minutes or so every day from Parliament occupying a main channel? Will Members speak to the invisible audience instead of to the House? … Just how far will the camera go with reaction shots? But these are not the big questions. The big one is the impact of this powerful, determined, ambitious, and still-expanding medium on the place where the main decisions have still to be made.
That is a fair summary of the main objections.
I think that my right hon. Friend is right to put editing high on the list of problems. The longer one listened to the witnesses before the Select Committee, the more did this emerge as the heart of the matter. Conversely one, or I at any rate, became less concerned about the production of the full television record which will have to be edited, and which appeared to fill the right hon. Gentleman with fear.
The Select Committee recommends that this full record should be produced by a House of Commons broadcasting unit under the control of the House. I have come to the conclusion that whether this recommendation is adopted, or whether the task is entrusted to a joint unit of the B.B.C. and I.T.V., it will be responsibly done. This is a purely professional job, and every conceivable pressure on the personality in charge will be in the direction of his doing the job with skill and responsibility. I can imagine no director whose work will be more exposed to the criticism of the public and of his own profession, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman over-painted the dangers of this part. I am not talking about editing in general, but about the making of the picture, because the normal making of a picture is not really editing at all. The director has six images before him, and he picks one or other of them. It is not possible to do the job with one camera. There must be half a dozen to cover the place. So there is, inevitably, this situation, but I regard that not as his job, but as a professional television job.
I did not say that there was a danger there. I am convinced that whether it is done by the companies separately or jointly it can be done relatively without disturbing the House. My doubts were about the second part.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The editing of a full television and sound transmission which would be piped from the House presents an altogether more difficult and serious problem.
Let us assume for the moment, for the sake of argument, that a feed of all the proceedings of the House, a broadcast HANSARD, would go out as recommended to the broadcasting organisations, to other interested parties at home or overseas, such as universities, newspapers, agencies, and so on. One may say that this is a rash assumption, but could all these varying bodies be trusted to use the record to the credit of Parliament?
But if one did not make it available to all, if Parliament were to take the responsibility of selecting what the
public should see, then, to quote Lord Hill again,
I believe that would not redound to the credit of Parliament.
The moment the public realised that there was a conspiracy between the politicians and the broadcasters to show only the snippets of Parliamentary life which we thought showed us at our best, the televising of Parliament would have all the dire effects on the prestige of this institution which its opponents fear.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made the point about showing what might give us a perfect image in the public mind, but surely what is more important is that what is shown may be affected by pressure on the people who do the editing? Even the usual channels may be used by the Executive, or by the Opposition, or by others who have vested interests to ensure that only those shots which suited the line current at the time went out to the country. This is a fair point, and one which ought to be answered.
That is the part which I do not fear. This is a professional job. I see a danger in the second part. But, having said that, the question is whether or not we should take the risk, and I think that we have to. How big would the risk be? It would, of course, be big, but not as big as some people fear.
Perhaps I might deal first with editing by both the B.B.C. and I.T.V. We understand that it is technically possible to produce an edited half-hour programme at 10.45 p.m. after the day's Parliamentary programme. Both the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. would use excerpts of the Parliamentary record in current affairs programmes, and so on. The regional programmes present a more difficult problem. One thinks that the regional companies, being less well equipped with personnel, might not be able to do it, but from what we heard on the Select Committee, I understand that in the case of I.T.V., I.T.N. would prepare it from the centre and send out edited portions suitable for the various regions, and no doubt the B.B.C. would do much the same.
We then come to the question of balance. What about the avoidance of bias, for instance? In this connection, the experiment would take place at a good time in the history of television, in that, by now, the broadcasting organisations have acquired a good deal of experience in this direction. They have now functioned under two complexions of Government for a long time, and whatever we may think of the rest of their programmes, most of us would agree now, I believe, that, taken over a period, current affairs programmes are reasonably well balanced.
I see no reason why their Parliamentary programmes should not be equally so. At the end of considering the question of editing, my feeling is that the B.B.C. and I.T.V. will be so keen to make a really responsible job of editing that the danger, at any rate to start with, will not be sensationalism or over-entertainment but of a programme so carefully balanced that the public will doubt that they are seeing a true picture.
The second question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford was, will the public really want 30 minutes or so every day from Parliament, occupying a main channel—
We have heard from the professionals about the tremendous flexibility of journalism. If the Parliamentary news of the day is interesting not only can it be featured in the half hour "Today in Parliament" but it could appear on any current affairs programme such as "Panorama", "Twenty-four Hours", "This Week" or "Scene" and, of course, in the news as well, and this from 14 different stations.
If the news is not interesting, the coverage will be divided by many. The flexibility would include the time as well. There is a great opening for a current affairs programme in the morning. We may not favour it, but there would be a big audience for it.
But even with this flexibility, will the broadcasting of Parliament be interesting to the public or will it be a deadly anticlimax? Of course, no Gallup Poll can give us the answer, because no one knows what he wants until he knows what he is being offered, but the most reassuring answer to the question lies in the fact that, in the evidence which we received, such highly professional witnesses as Donald Edwards of the B.B.C., Sir Geoffrey Cox, Barry Heads, Jeremy Isaacs and John Grist, all leading and responsible practitioners in the production of current affairs programmes on television, were unanimous in thinking not only that it would be of intense interest to the public, but that public interest would be further stimulated. Television producers themselves are thus stimulated by the challenge and the responsibility of presenting Parliament on television.
So far, one forgets the extent to which they have been bogged down in a synthetic debate, deprived of actuality, with an almost impossible task of casting, for which we regularly curse them. But when one reflects on the extent to which we restrict broadcasting, it is a wonder that it has assumed such an influential place in politics. In the words of Norman Collins in an article 18 months ago:
The B.B.C., which has led the world in the matter of outside broadcasting, is still not allowed to record a syllable, let alone a live word, of what goes on within either Chamber. It is compelled to behave precisely as if it were a newspaper to be read aloud to the family, not a radio service at all. And television, the raw material of which is the picture, is forced to behave like the lame cousin of sound broadcasting. Denied access to the essential picture, it has still inherited all the early restrictions on the use of sound.
Now, for the first time, producers will present the real thing. They believe that what they produce will be creditable and interesting as well.
Those who think that it would be a bore for the public undervalue the televisual qualities of this House—[Laughter.]—I am not talking about our photogenic qualities or personally, but about the smallness of the Chamber, the fact that we have no set places or desks, that we do not read our speeches—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—except from here, the conversational nature of our debates—all these are unlike any legislature that any of us have seen in any other part of the world. This less formal sitting makes the whole thing far more digestible to the family in front of a television set than the more formal sitting of, for example, the United Nations or a Parliament in which every speaker goes to a rostrum.
It is important also in the case of young people, among whom there is a good deal of political apathy and who get almost all their political information from the television. But nowadays, of course, they find Government too big and too remote to be of any personal interest to them. Televising of the House could get almost a small town intimacy to politics and give them a relevance which has so far been missing.
One must realise the possible advantages of this in the effect or power already of television in imparting this information. Even now, 2 million people listen to the two programmes "Yesterday in Parliament" and "Today in Parliament", and 20 million people listen to the two main news bulletins from the I.T.N. and the B.B.C. "Today in Parliament" is the equivalent of two columns in the Daily Telegraph, yet a recent survey of readers of the Daily Telegraph shows that only 15 per cent. read the Parliamentary columns.
Some critics fear that the broadcasters would not use the material which was provided and that therefore some compulsory minimum should be laid down. This would be a grave error. Anything in the nature of obligatory politics would frustrate its own purpose, rather as it has done, we would all agree, in the party political broadcast, which is poor politics and worse television. Possibly, this will even get rid of the Ministerial broadcast, which would be quite a blessing.
I will now speculate—that is all we can do—on the impact of broadcasting on our procedings. Will it enhance our reputation? Will it present a caricature? Will the forum be turned into a stage? Will it take us over? The Lord President produced a few examples of the efforts of other nations on this. In fact, there is very little to go on. The Australians broadcast all their proceedings on radio and none on television—[An HON. MEMBER: "Not all."]—This is what I hear. It seems that they have deserved the worst of both worlds.
The whole of every Parliamentary sitting is broadcast. So, at least, one is told; the evidence which we had was in that direction. The Whips appear to be in a position to put the "stars" on to speak at peak periods. If there were a possibility of anything like that happening here, of not only Parliamentary behaviour but Parliamentary business being affected by television, there is little doubt about how the vote would go tonight.
In Germany according to The Times:
Party managers arrange speakers' lists so that only the most photogenic and effective M.P.s speak during televised periods.
Here, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you and Mr. Speaker choose the order of speeches. As the practice of editing would mean that no one would know exactly what was to be broadcast, we could presumably avoid that pitfall.
Some people say that one side or the other would get the advantage. Would it be the Government or the Opposition? Some say the Government, because they make the news. Others say the Opposition, because to attack is more entertaining.
My opinion is that television will do what it always has done in politics. It does not convert, it illuminates, it magnifies, and so it increases in political tendency what is already there. Debates in this Chamber would have more effect on public opinion, purely because people would be more informed about them. Television would not turn a bad speaker or a bad case into good ones. It would merely expose, for many more eyes and ears to see and hear.
But all this is secondary, beside the main contention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, in his article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, that television would dominate and change the whole nature of the House—
His supporting evidence had some substance but, in my view, nothing like the weight he gave it. He instanced the Prime Minister's speech at the Labour Party conference in Brighton and alleged that it was addressed to the television audience rather than to the audience in the hall. I suggest that one might get away with that sort of thing at a party conference, but one would not get away with it for long in this House.
Do we not frequently make constituency speeches in Parliament? I do not doubt that if and when television comes, we will blame television for that. Nevertheless, we must see ourselves as we really are now and in my view T.V. has vastly improved the party conferences, the extent of interest in them and the proceedings at those conferences because the platform cannot get away with quite as much as it used to.
When considering the question of whether T.V. would dominate Parliamentary proceedings, would my hon. Friend say, from his experience on the Committee and from listening to evidence received from other countries, whether it would be desirable to let out the whole volume, the 98 per cent. not used, of televised proceedings in an unedited version?
I referred to that earlier when I wondered whether we should put it out as a sort of T.V. Hansard. That was recommended and I support that view, risk or no risk.
I was speaking of the effect of T.V. on party conferences and I wanted to relate that to what might happen here. We must not spurn the idea that broadcasting may provoke improvements, even here. Take, for example, Question Time. The public are under the illusion that Question Time is the great opportunity for the back bench hon. Member to tackle and, may be, bring down the great Minister. When constituents realise that hon. Members are normally allowed only one supplementary question, which the Minister can side-step with the ease of one who knows he cannot be chased, the electorate may begin to think that Question Time is largely a charade. We may begin to think that, too.
Those who fear the domination of the House are really restating the old dilemma of all politicians in a democracy; that we like to be reported but frequently we do not like the way in which we are reported. We already take a lot of trouble organising ourselves and making arrangements to get an optimum Press. I agree with the Lord President that, when considering this point from the T.V. angle, the two are not the same because the Press does not dominate us. I have no doubt that we shall alter our arrangements to a slight extent, but I do not believe that that will have the large effect that some people fear.
With regard to the individual hon. Member and his constituency, while I would certainly, if Parliament is to be televised, be in favour of televising it all, is the hon. Gentleman concerned about the possibility of there being an empty House? The hon. Gentleman must understand—as an hon. Member who may have an important job in his party and who, timewise, is up to his neck in politics doing the various jobs that he must undertake—that the electors of Howden may conclude that their hon. Member is not doing his job because he is rarely in the House.
I have not the slightest doubt that that will be so. Lots of awkward questions will be asked in the early days of televising our proceedings. My hope and belief is that, on balance—and we can only refer to this on balance because everything will not be in our favour—it will be to our advantage in the end. That is all I can say in reply to the hon. Gentleman, although I agree that this is a real problem, one of many which we will be up against.
Would not the hon. Gentleman add that the proposal includes the televising of Committees and that this would demonstrate that many other things are going on elsewhere in this building?
That is an important consideration, although we will have to consider how far we can go. We cannot do the lot.
Most hon. Members agree that the status of Parliament has declined over the years. We have relied too much and for too long on the mysteries of the altar to fascinate people, while in this T.V. age people are fascinated only by what they can see and by what they think they can, in the end, understand. We must consider, like it or not, whether the public has a moral right to know, as far as is practicably possible, what goes on in both Houses.
There would certainly be loud protests if any newspaper were restrained from publishing Parliamentary debates or if the B.B.C. were not allowed to broadcast "Today in Parliament". Yet all we are discussing now is a more modern and effective way of communicating this same news to the public. There would be an uproar if the Government denied the use of the Strangers Gallery to the public. Yet what we are discussing is merely a method by which in one week the voters will see their Members actually perform more than has been seen in 50 years by those who have watched from the Strangers Gallery.
So far on television we have chosen to show our electors only the pageantry and symbolism of the Opening of Parliament, but we have excluded them from its working life. It is hard to claim that this is modern democracy. In the early days of universal suffrage the vote was the acknowledged brand mark of democracy. Today the vote means little, for it is taken for granted. Democracy in a modern, educated society must mean more than that. It must mean the intelligent participation—or at least the opportunity for intelligent participation—by all citizens in their Government.
We should try to introduce the broadcasting of our proceedings. The Lord President said enough to show that the difficulties and the variety of possibilities are sufficient to make a preliminary experiment absolutely essential. The more one sat in the Committee, the more one came to this conclusion. In the early days of the Committee the phrases "no technical difficulty "and" no appreciable extra cost" occurred with comforting frequency. As time went on and as the technicians began to realise the complication of our requirements, and we of theirs, these phrases became rarer. Now, as we are considering the simultaneous recording and editing of the proceedings of this House, in another place, and an upstairs Committee, we have progressed to the point when things are still technically possible, but clearly very difficult indeed.
I regard this experiment as extremely important—no mere formal prelude to permanent broadcasting. It is a great pity that the experiment will have to be postponed. The cost is not a great problem, particularly when one considers that it will be about the sum that British Railways lose in an afternoon. This, in relation to such a large reform of Parliament, is laughable.
I have not been calculating that sum. The cost is really beside the point. The technical difficulties are considerable, but I believe that by now, having put the experiment off for as long as we have, there might be considerable difficulty involved in conducting the experiment by February.
While accepting what my hon Friend is saying about the possible delay of conducting the T.V. experiment, may I ask whether he believes that it is necessary to delay at least a radio experiment, which could be made at much less expense, with considerably less trouble and with no problems caused on the Floor of the House?
I do not believe that we would get a lot from that. I recall that in the early days of the Committee the B.B.C. recommended that that should be the first step. However, such an experiment would not teach us a great amount.
I was a rather late-comer to the Select Committee and I therefore did not bear the full burden and heat of the day. Therefore, I should like to pay tribute to its work, to its members—especially its long-service members—to the many distinguished witnesses who put a tremendous amount of work and preparation into their evidence, and, most of all, to the chairman, the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) who led us with great competence and tact. This is obviously an extremely important venture. It has been well launched, and I wish it bon voyage.
The hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) betrayed himself when he referred to hon. Members "performing". I do not look upon hon. Members in this place as performing. [Interruption.] I do not know. Do other hon. Members consider that hon. Members perform? The more that the Leader of the House spoke about this, the more apprehensive I became. I thought that with just a little slant he could have made a case against the Motion. My father always said never struggle after a liability, and we are doing just that here. What we are proposing to do will commit us. I understand the enthusiasm of the Chairman of the Committee. The one thing that in politics we must never do, is to deceive ourselves, and we must not deceive ourselves about what will happen if we take this thing on. After all, we will have conditioned the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. that other things will follow. The pressures will build up to an extent which they have not built up before. Those people who have as many doubts as I have had better go into the "No" Lobby.
We must ask ourselves what is the purpose of this exercise—what do we want to get at the end of it? If it is merely to provide television entertainment, then that is better done by others. It is not the purpose of Parliament to have performers or to have television. Ninety per cent. of the life of a Member of Parliament in this House is often boredom. Much of the hard stint of the work of hon. Members will be away from the limelight and it would seem that only a microcosm of the work of this House will occasionally come into the limelight.
The hon. Gentleman is not televised 24 hours a day. We are speaking about the proceedings of the House being televised. If it is entertainment or drama that we want, then why stop here? Why not televise the courts of justice—a murder trial, or something like that?
The United States has maintained its dignity by saying that when in full session neither House will be televised. I would not myself bother so much about the Committees upstairs. I merely speak about the proceedings of the House. Let us look at the state of the House now and count the number of hon. Members here. We should ask ourselves whether this is a true reflection of what our colleagues are doing in this building. The fact that there are few hon. Members present is no reflection on other hon. Members. We will not get a true reflection of the House of Commons from this exercise about which we are talking.
The object of the exercise, as a colleague said over lunch, is that Parliament should be better understood. I am sorry to say that at the end of the day we shall not be so well understood and there will be all sorts of people, of the kind who make snap judgments, who will judge us in the way that we should not be judged.
Directly we start this exercise, we hand over to the technicians. The enthusiasm of the Select Committee has already got us to the stage that we could have had strangers on the Floor of the House, coming in and out of the Chamber, and the intrusion of cameras. Is there any hon. Member here today who would suggest that there are no extroverts here who would not be conscious of that? After all, Parliament has 630 Members, 620 of whom are extroverts. Ten of us may be introverts, and some of the majority of the 620 may be megalomaniacs; but fundamentally a Member of Parliament believes that he can do for others better than others can do for themselves. We should be handing over to the technicians. We should have a camera man saying, "Can we have a little more light on Mr. Speaker's wig?" and before we were finished Mr. Speaker would have a halo. We might be asked, "Can we shift the Serjeant at Arms' chair 18 inches that way?" We will have a gradual adjustment not to suit ourselves but to suit the television camera men.
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman said, about technicians, in the context of conducting an experiment, is he arguing that either we should not have television in this House or, if at some later date we decide that we should do it, that that would not be as an experiment, but that we should plunge in at the deep end?
I can only use my imagination. We had some experience of this at the State Opening. I was Minister of Works at the time. The lighting was less than was necessary. I certainly was not consulted. The previous Leader of the House pleaded not guilty. The Serjeant at Arms never owned up to it. Mr. Speaker was not guilty. I wondered whether the shadow of the Great Lord Chamberlain had fallen over us.
The sort of picture we will get will depend on where we sit. Also, in spite of what the Select Committee has said, I believe we will get a dual standard in speeches. There will be the tabloid speech—to use the hon. Gentleman's elegant phrase—and then the badly read essay in a turgid monotone, for the rest of us. I believe this will become the rule rather than the exception.
There is, after all, no end to the impertinence of this medium. We had an example this week, at a time of great Commonwealth difficulty—the idea in the Frost programme of introducing Mr. Smith. I merely say that, whatever hon. Members on both sides of the House may think about the programme—and it has nothing to do with this Government—the impertinence shown can go no further. If any hon. Member thinks that impertinence can go further than that, then his standards are different from mine. If we wish to see the effect of television I could mention as an example, the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). The Guardian said that he surfaced at Blackpool after two years. He went on the Frost programme to complain that there were only 15 Members in the House and he was going to bring in an idea for reform. I have only to mention the right hon. Gentleman's name and his attendance in this place to show what can be done with one spotlight on television. Nothing is said about the long hours of service on the part of Members in the Committees of the House, where Members slog it out on several important matters. The people advantaged will be the extroverts and the photogenics.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has read page 56 of the Report which deals with whether or not certain people, extroverts and exhibitionists, will get more television than other hon. Members? It deals very thoroughly with this point.
The hon. Gentleman should consider one important thing, even if he disagrees with me—I always do my homework. The hon. Member need not point out what appears on page 56. Everything that has been written in the Report was written in good faith, but whether I like to believe it is another thing altogether. We had a fair saturation of television during the last election.
The Committee has not faced the question of the law of privilege, which is almost esoteric—
My right hon. Friend has spoken of television spots occupied, I believe, by the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples). Would he not agree that this illustrates that not televising the House gives undue prominence to people outside it, and puts the wrong type of emphasis on those who are active inside it?
I will only say that if we have this experiment a lot of worthy Members will be disappointed. I will leave it there.
The law of privilege has not been properly looked at. One can think of the occasion when something has to be replied to several speeches later. I know what the Law Officers have said, and what the Clerk of the House has said, but anyone who has looked at the law of privilege must feel some degree of disquiet.
The nails were driven into the coffin this afternoon when we heard of a sum of £150,000. And what rubbish it is in this context to try to compare that amount with the great expenditure of the railways, and services like that. That is not a fair comparison. It is probably far better to consider all the other things that might be done with £150,000.
The hon. Gentleman considers £150,000 to be a very derisory sum, but I can recall that some of the greatest debates we have had in this House have been on the principles enshrined in comparatively small sums. We know full well that had it been a question of £1,000 extra on the Prime Minister's salary, hon. Members opposite would have pulled the place down—[Interruption.] As for hon. Members' salaries, although the whole House was agreed, enough mischief was made of it. There is a figure of £18,000 for the Lords—where is the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton)?
Another thing that has come out of the debate which has shaken me is this question of the editing of the tapes—passing out a tape and letting outside agencies do what they like with it. Did any hon. Member see John Bird's treatment of Anthony Eden the other week, and the way that tape was edited? The imagination boggles at what someone might do here if that could be done with Anthony Eden. It would seem to be almost an obscene exercise to take words out, and string them out, and be selective in this way.
These doubts arise when one reads the Report, and though I attempt to rationalise my feelings in the face of that Report, I yet feel deep down, with all the conviction of which I am capable, that this project is not a good thing for the House of Commons, and it is not a good thing for the democratic process. In the end, what we do tonight will condition the Government, and give them encouragement in what they propose to do next year. I think that we had better stop it.
Those who have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) will agree that we have had a good speech from him in favour of this suggestion, and we have had a very good speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) against it. I shall seek to tread a little more of the tightrope as walked by the Leader of the House.
It will probably be agreed by all that this is a very important Parliamentary occasion, and it is to be hoped that before the final decision is taken rather more hon. Members will be present to listen to the arguments. It is a decision that could change the character of the House and affect its efficiency. I believe that our procedures can be improved, but although the Select Committee on Procedure works away at that painstakingly, item by item, I believe that the decision to be taken today is more important than anything we do there.
I repeat what I said on 28th May to the House, that this is a House of Commons matter; that those who think in terms of advantage for the Opposition, for the Government or for individual Members will probably be wrong in any event. It is accepted that it must be a matter for a free vote.
Further than that—and I am not now talking about the decision to experiment—I do not think that the final decision should be taken by a simple majority. In this matter there should be a broad consensus in the House. I will not be happy if a decision is taken unless it commands the support of the large majority of hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor accepted that proposition on behalf of the Government in May of last year, and I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman himself will do the same when he replies tonight.
I congratulate the Select Committee on its very careful Report, and it is no criticism to say that many questions still remain to be answered. I shall confine myself to the three main items on the first page. First of all, there is the decision against continuous broadcasting or televising—I agree wholeheartedly with that decision. The continuous service would not only be incredibly boring and a misuse of a channel, but it would completely alter the atmosphere of the House. Therefore, as I say, I wecome that decision.
I accept the second decision, that it is technically possible to televise the House unobtrusively and without the discomfort of glaring lights and extra heat, and the presence of the sort of monsters one meets in the ordinary studios—I refer to to the cameras, not to the interviewers. If those two points are accepted, one asks: is it desirable to have an edited summary on the lines of "Today in Parliament"? What are the pros and cons? Would the taking of the complete tape alter the atmosphere of the Chamber?
It might improve our manners and attendances—not necessarily bad things in themselves—but I suspect that the effect would soon wear off. In the United Nations one speaks from a podium in the General Assembly and one is conscious of the television, but in the Security Council, and in Committees, speaking from one's seat, one soon forgets that the proceedings are being televised at all. Here, if the cameras were unobtrusive and there were not extra heat and light, Members would soon cease to be conscious that the proceedings were being televised.
Would the photography be fairly done? I think that it would be. I do not think that it would be technically difficult, with six cameras, to get a picture that would be fair, and I rather like the idea of the work being handled by a unit responsible to the House of Commons.
Would it be possible to edit it. That, for me, is the crux of the matter. On radio, "Today in Parliament" is very well edited indeed. Is the same thing possible with television? I do not think that the precedents of party conference or General Election campaigns are precedents at all. I do not know the answer, although I am inclined to say, "Let us try it and judge". To say, "Try it and judge" sounds very simple, but a whole lot of very difficult matters come in at this stage. I agree that it should be on a closed circuit, and that it would be wise to televise both Houses. I strongly support the right hon. Gentleman in wishing to postpone the experiment until 1968. There are a lot of things we have to think out during the intervening period.
There is the question of the length of the experiment. If one could get round the question of cost, four weeks would be too short. I would rather have an experiment for a longer period. Whether that could be done by staggering the experiment, I do not know. Four weeks is only 16 full working days, with Fridays in addition. It is much better to have modern up to date cameras for the experiment, but that follows from the delay.
How would we see the results of the experiment? I should not be satisfied with only one run-through next day. Every hon. Member should have a chance, at a time convenient to himself or herself, to see the televising of the proceedings the day before. Who would have access to the tapes of the experiment? Would the experiment include a weekly summary? If it were decided not to have a daily summary, there might be a longer weekly summary. Will the arrangements be approved by the Services Committee and put to the House before the experiment takes place?
I am grateful for that. I hope that it would be possible for the Services Committee to produce its ideas in the first half of next year so that there would be time for every hon. Member to think about them. Some of my doubts about the experiment have been met by the fact that it is to be postponed until 1968.
We come to the question of what is to happen if the experiment is deemed successful. There is the question of the control of the editing if it is decided to go on. I think it would not be right to have a Select Committee of this House which censored in any way. But there would have to be a body to advise Mr. Speaker on possible complaints.
We come to the main point in the final decision, which we must think about now: what use will be made of the tape? I gather that there is not to be compulsory showing on all channels. I think that I am right in saying that "Today in Parliament" is compulsory—this is written into the Charter—and it appears on every sound programme. I do not think that it is suggested that one programme should go out everywhere.
What about regional uses? I do not like the idea of people having the tape and being able to do what they like, to pick out bits and give them a slant. That would be very difficult to control, but if it were only one half hour programme devoted to the affairs of the House it would be simpler. It would be difficult if we taped the proceedings and then allowed people to do what they liked with the tapes. What the right hon. Member for Leeds, West said on this was very apposite.
We should try to consider those things but not decide them before taking a decision on the experiment. On balance, I am prepared to vote for the experiment on the clear understanding that it is far from being a formality and a prelude to an inevitable decision. If the result is unfair as between Government and Opposition, or as between Front and back benchers, or to the House as a whole, or if it is thoroughly boring—as it may well be—I should certainly have no hesitation in voting against the general principle when the time comes.
I entirely agree with the basis which the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) has stated as the one upon which he would vote on this Motion. I entirely agree because that is the basis on which I will vote. I think that I may lay some claim to having been one of the causes of the Motion which we are discussing.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House referred to the history whereby some of us discovered the then existing order of reference of the old Publications and Debates Committee. I think that I should put right one thing which we then thought. Its wording was:
to advise Mr. Speaker upon the publication and reporting of debates
—there were no limiting words "in writing".
We thought that this was because the order of reference was very old. I find—and here I should pay tribute to one who was for a long time an hon. Member of this House—that the order of reference of the old Committee at one time did have much more restrictive wording than the one we found. It was as a result of pressure by Commander Stephen King-Hall, who used to be an hon. Member of this House, that the terms were widened with the deliberate intention that the Committee should be able to consider other means of communication. Perhaps, were he still here, he would be as interested in this debate as are hon. Members here now.
What is the object of this experiment? It seems that hon. Members who have spoken, even my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), have clearly given the object. We as a Committee found it quite impossible to say in advance what the answer to all the problems ought to be. We did not find it possible to advise the House to agree or to disagree with the idea of television unless hon. Members had seen it in operation for themselves.
We tend as a society in these days virtually to allow experiment to rule the world. Certainly, in many scientific fields we govern the whole of our domestic policy, and the policy of every country, by the man in his laboratory experimenting. We do not always apply the same principle to society. In many respects we cannot apply it to society because we cannot divide society into two and say, "We shall experiment with this half and leave the other half as a control upon it".
Inasmuch as we can, we should see how we can solve the problems, it seems to the Committee, by means that do not commit the House to the ultimate solution. That is the precise object of this Report. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West said that one should not spend £150,000—or whatever the figure might be—upon such an experiment. The hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) said that it was one-tenth of the cost of an American bomber. It is approximately one-tenth of the cost of a General Election. I rather think it is worth one-tenth of the cost of an election that people should be able to see what they are voting about.
I do not know how much my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West is prepared to spend on democracy, but this seems to be a very small sum to spend on finding whether televising our proceedings would be a great advantage to the democracy we have already or a danger to it. Rather than adopting the attitude of preconception of my right hon. Friend, I sincerely hope that hon. Members will take the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral that we ought to look at this matter for ourselves and see what we individually think can be done with the medium.
Turning to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in view of things which have happened since the Committee reported I am a convert to deferring the experiment, but not for the reasons he stated. I can see that this may weigh with the Government in view of the economic circumstances of the day, but I am a convert to it because I and several hon. Members—in fact, I think the whole Committee—were somewhat perturbed to find that the cost of the experiment had somewhat increased.
This arose from two circumstances. The first was because more was included than the Committee suggested, which is a reasonable cause of increase. The second —this can be said without being unfair to the broadcasting organisations—is that they have found the complexities greater than they realised at the time they gave evidence to the Committee. If that is so, it is only reasonable to say that there should be as much time as possible to consider the details of the experiment. This is what has converted me to deferment.
It having been said that we want to defer the experiment, there were certain reasons for choosing the period of the year we did. For example, if it was merely desired to defer the experiment on the ground that we did not want a Supplementary Estimate this year, it could be done in November. I think that I can say that the majority of the Committee would be against that, because in November there are many Second Readings but very few Bills in Standing Committee, and it would not necessarily be an average period in the House. We thought that January/February was about the right period, bearing this and other factors in mind, including the convenience of the broadcasting organisations. So, in the circumstances, I would agree that the experiment should be conducted in January, 1968.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House mentioned other advantages, which I will not repeat. However, the House should note that, if this experiment is proceeded with, we shall be sparking off a piece of purely technical development, since the miniature Plumbicon cameras which might be ready if we deferred the experiment to January, 1968, would be manufactured in the first place for that purpose. I am not suggesting that they have not been designed now. I say that this would spark off the turning of that design into a useful piece of equipment.
The question of what should happen next is very important, but not as important as the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House have said. The question of what should happen after the experiment is not of the greatest importance at this stage. The Committee reported upon it in some detail, partly because evidence was being given and it is desirable that one should get an idea of where one is going, and partly so that the House could be as fully informed as possible. The whole object of the experiment is to enable us to have a period after the results of the experiment are known, even if the House decides to go in for television permanently, in which we should determine how we should do it. So, at this stage, the question of how to do it permanently is not as important as has been asserted.
However, there are factors which we will need to determine if we decide to broadcast permanently, and here I join issue very strongly with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I am strongly in favour of the basic idea contained in the Report. My right hon. Friend implied that it was possibly a waste of time and money to telerecord the whole of the proceedings of the House and then to use perhaps only half an hour at the end of the day, with a few minutes in news broadcasts and a few minutes in regional programmes elsewhere. My right hon. Friend said that, according to the B.B.C.'s estimate, we should use only 2 per cent. of the tape on the national programme which eventually went out.
What my right hon. Friend did not say was that the annual running cost, as estimated to us, of permanently telerecording the House and some of its Committees for a whole year would be just about the same as the total cost of the experiment which we now propose to make; because, once something is undertaken on a permanent basis, the cost falls sharply. My right hon. Friend did not mention that even the cost of the experiment is one-quarter of the cost of the average outside broadcast now. My right hon. Friend did not mention that only the most minute proportion of all that is filmed in almost any outside broadcast now is broadcast. The House would show extreme ignorance if it took the view that any very high percentage of the time spent on outside broadcasts at present goes out, and broadcasting of the House of Commons, even on a permanent basis would, in effect, be outside broadcasting.
That aspect is only relatively minor compared to the deeper danger which I foresee in my right hon. Friend's proposal. Everyone who has spoken so far has expressed dislike of the practice of continuous broadcasting, partly because it would require a new television channel, and partly because it might have other dangers. However, the practice of continuous broadcasting does not necessarily mean continuous broadcasting at every hour of every day from Monday to Friday. The dangers in continuous broadcasting exist if one does only every hour on a single day once in three months.
I believe that the hon. Member for Howden slightly distorted—I think accidentally—the Australian picture. He correctly stated that in Australia there has been continuous broadcasting. What he did not say was that the way that they do it—or did it—there is to broadcast each House on alternate days. As a regular practice, a given House falls to be broadcast on the same day. Therefore, one House knows full well that it will be broadcast on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Without my elaborating on this, the House will see the likely effects on the business of our House if this were done. I do not think that it is necessary for me to say any more on this subject, except that my right hon. Friend said that we should select what is to be broadcast. Who is to do the selection? Back bench Members would have some degree of suspicion that the selection would fall into the usual places—the usual channels, in fact—where selection of most things in the House takes place.
However that might be, once the selection was made, people would know what portions of the business of the House would be broadcast. There is a great difference between knowing that there is to be a broadcast at a particular time and knowing that the whole of the proceedings are being telerecorded and an edited programme will be produced at the end of the day containing the reasonable highlights of the day's discussion. For that reason, I should be very concerned to think that we were, on a permanent basis, to televise the House in the way my right hon. Friend mentioned.
The United States' practice has been quoted, but hon. Members should be careful when quoting the practice of other Parliaments in relation to television. There is no doubt in the minds of most of those who have seen both that the Floor procedure of this House is far more interesting than the Floor procedure of the United States Congress, where the Members sit in a semi-circle at their desks and those wishing to speak stand, read a speech which they have already given to the Press in the Gallery upstairs, and then disappear.
But the Committee procedure of Congress is probably more interesting than ours. Anyone who saw their Vietnam debates on television, for example, would realise that it is because of the nature of the American Congress that the Senate allows its Committees to be televised, but has not hitherto allowed the Floor to be televised. I do not think that one can say that the practice of Congress as regards television is exactly applicable to this House, where the procedure and practice, particularly on the Floor of the House, are very different. There is a vast difference between the dramatic but conversational atmosphere of this House and the much more formal atmosphere of an American Congressional House.
There is only one small further point on which I should correct my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. He said, and I think that it was a slip of the tongue, that the lighting level of the Chamber would be very slightly above what it is now. He is correct as regards the night time. It would not be above what it is at daylight level and would not, strangely enough be above the level of lighting recommended for offices, including Government offices. In this respect, Government offices have better lighting than we have now at night.
I plead with the House to consider carefully the principal issue. The issue is not whether we should televise the House to the public at large, or whether we should not. It is not whether we should do it in a particular way; I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral upon that. The issue is not even whether we should have an experiment exactly in the terms of the Report, because I think that we all agree that many details will still have to be worked out, which is why the House of Commons Services Committee is being asked to do that.
The issue is simply and solely, "Do we, as Members of this House, wish to see on closed circuit television, without the public at large looking in, what can be done with a modern medium of communication to communicate what goes on in the House to members of the public?" It seems to me that in an age of science we would be wrong if we did not say that we should allow that experiment to take place and then consider what it has shown us.
I am very glad to have the chance to take part in the debate, as I am very strongly against any form of experiment, or of televising the House at all. The trial period will prove nothing of importance. I understand that we shall have only 16 working days, and, therefore, Parliament will change to conform with the technician. I am not against change, but I do not want to change to conform with our so-called technical masters in the future, because the 16 days will be a very special period, and we shall all tend to behave in an artificial way.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) will not sit with his feet up on the bench as he has been doing. He will conform to polite custom. When I have guests in the Gallery they very often complain, if they bring small children, of the inelegant way in which Members of the Front Bench sit, but I do not see why we should have to behave in an artificial manner just because we are to go on television.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) mentioned the United Nations. That is completely different, because there one goes up to a rostrum and one is, therefore, not debating, but making a speech. This happens in a great many other Parliaments, particularly the Belgian Parliament. Members do not really debate as we do. When they are at their desks they are reading their papers or concentrating on speech and are not thinking of the television. We cannot really act in the same way in this House.
Quite a lot has been said about editing, and naturally, the editors will have their favourites, hon. Members who, they think, will be able to put over points better than others. We know this from the point of view of "Any Questions", some hon. Members are never asked to go on that programme. After 11 years in the House I have, for the first time, been asked to broadcast "The Week in Westminster". Editing will create a difficult problem, for editors will obviously want to put over hon. Members who they think will do most justice to the House itself, and that will be very limiting. Constituencies will want to adopt dominant M.P.s with particular personalities. We all know who they are in the House at present, and they may not necessarily be the best Parliamentarians.
There will also be a great difficulty in regard to the tape. We have been told that proceedings will all be taped. Will the edited tape be kept forever, and will it be produced later?
It is said in the Report that it would cost too much to keep the whole tape, because it must be converted to film. It is suggested that the House might wish to keep a proportion of it in the archives.
We have no idea as far as I understand from the Report, what the contract will be, how long it will last, and what will be its use in the future. If we are to have this, one would not like to appear in the middle of advertisements. For instance, I hope there will not be an hon. Member talking and then a few minutes' break and an advert for the treatment of B.O., or something, coming on. That would be absolutely frightful.
I know about that and I am delighted. But it is no safeguard. The Select Committee only comes out against it and there is no legislation to say that it cannot be done. That is exactly what I was worried about.
I may be considered a complete "square" on this, but I think that televising will ruin the whole atmosphere of the House. Paragraph 72 of the Report says:
Having considered the evidence available, Your Committee believe that the introduction of broadcasting in the form they have suggested would lead to few changes in the procedure and atmosphere of the House.
Why should we have our changes in procedure dictated by television? I am sure that it will lead to a completely different atmosphere in the House.
If we are to show how the House works, why should there not be a television camera in the Smoking Room or the Ladies' Room because not all hon. Members are sitting in the House? Many sit in the Smoking Room for a considerable time discussing problems, and I presume that that is some of their work.
It will be very difficult for hon. Members who are possibly very good constituency Members of Parliament, but who are not forceful debaters. They do excellent work for their constituencies, taking a great deal of trouble with the problems of constituents, and a lot of work for Committees which will not be shown on television.
Paragraph 73 of the Report states:
Your Committee believe that it is also important to try to assess whether the general public would be interested in the prospect of seeing and hearing a record of the House actually at work.
I do not think that its opinion in paragraph 74 is at all conclusive. It says:
Your Committee agree with the Research Unit that this indicates a 'moderately impressive' public demand for some form of Parliamentary broadcasting. Except perhaps at times of acute political crisis,…
I should have thought that there was little demand for this.
At the end of paragraph 74, the Select Committee tells us:
Your Committee also believe—and some replies to the second part of the question confirm this—that many members of the public would rather see and hear Members of Parliament actually at work in the House instead of (as at present) mainly in interview and discussion programmes or party political broadcasts".
I think that most people—I can certainly say this for most women—prefer
just listening to the radio because they can listen and do something else at the same time. Looking at television means that one has to sit down, one has the family circle there, and it does waste a good deal of time. At least, that is my view, and I do not believe that there will be any real demand for this sort of viewing of Parliament.
Paragraph 75 is interesting:
Your Committee were impressed by the evidence given by the present editor of 'Panorama', who stated that the public appetite for politics properly presented 'grows with feeding' "—
what kind of feeding will it have?—
and that a daily summary programme of proceedings in the House 'might acquire … a regular, interested audience which made a point of watching'.
I cannot see that there is any particular demand. The people mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) as being in favour are all people who have some technical interest, who are interested in their job and in putting forward ideas for televising proceedings of one kind and another, so they are prejudiced people.
Yes, but my hon. Friend spoke of them as though they were people whose opinions we should accept and whose advice we should follow. I do not regard them as people whose opinions we should take up in that way. Their views can be quoted, but it does not help us to say that they are the people whom we should regard as having the right approach.
In paragraph 79, the Select Committee gives the reasons for having a closed-circuit experiment, as I have already said, I am not in favour of any kind of experiment. It will be very expensive in any case, and if put off till 1968 it will be even more expensive as prices rise. A closed-circuit experiment will be of little value unless we are really determined to go ahead and have the House fully televised in the future, so I was glad to hear what the Leader of the House had to say about this experiment today and having another vote on the matter before our final decision.
The Committee speaks in paragraph 80 of what the programmes should include. On editing, the first point made is that there should be
balance between liveliness and informative-ness".
This will be extremely difficult. We have some very lively Members of Parliament. Will they be put on purely because they are lively and amusing? I have always thought of the House as the place where we came to consider seriously our country's legislation and well-being, not just to take part in some form of comic opera.
Difficult problems are raised also by item (iii):
Balance between proceedings on the Floor of the House and proceedings in Standing Committees".
A great many Members who sit on Standing Committees do not speak. This is particularly so on the Government side; in fact, they are pressed by their Whips not to speak, so they do their personal work at their benches. If we televised our proceedings in Standing Committee, we should prolong Committee stages interminably, because every Member, naturally, would have to make some points during the sittings. Not only would this add to the difficulty of work in Standing Committees, but it would give the Government a lot of trouble in getting their business through.
It is my experience that people generally vote against something and not for something. I give the example of my experience in Devonport. I have told the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that I should mention him today in this connection. I did not win Devonport on my own merits. I did not beat the hon. Gentleman the present Member for Ebbw Vale on my own merits. I won because of television. I know this because I have canvassed 10,200 houses. Before the election, the present hon. Member for Ebbw Vale was on a very controversial television programme, and it was astonishing to find the number of people who said to me, "We will vote for you. We want to get that chap off television". Later, it was really rather sad for me. I got tremendous applause when it was said that I had beaten the hon. Gentleman, but, again, it was not on my own merits, people did it because they said that I had got him off television. We must realise that this can happen and so ruin a career.
Not at all. My hon. Friend must know that many hon. Members, including himself, are invited time and time again to put their views on the police and other matters on television. We have seen my hon. Friend on television many times, probably more times than he will be televised from the Chamber. The number of opportunities one has to speak in the House in a year is very limited, and my hon. Friend has far more chances in his present position than he would have in Parliament.
What about the Opening of Parliament? Again, I can only speak from my own experience, and I do not know whether others have had the same experience. On the last occasion, I had a ticket to be in the House of Lords, and afterwards I had innumerable letters from constituents telling me that they had not seen me in the House of Commons. It cost me quite a lot to answer everyone and explain that I was in attendance, but I happened to be in the House of Lords, having for the first time won a ticket in the ballot.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale now in his place. I did tell him that I intended to refer to him, and he graciously agreed, though he said that he might not be back in time. I have already said what I told him I would say.
What about our experience at party conferences? Quite by chance, I happened to be the first person ever to speak when television was first introduced at the Conservative Party conference. I have noticed that, since that time, our conferences are run quite differently. People behave themselves far too well nowadays, they speak mostly to an outside audience. There are extraordinary ovations for speakers, whether they deserve them or not, because people want to show party unity. I am talking about Conservative Party conferences now, but the same thing happens at Socialist Party conferences. I remember, for example, that the present Prime Minister made at least one speech not for people in the conference hall, but for the wider audience outside. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands the use of television probably better than anyone else in the House, and that this is very likely the reason why he may be keen on having the House televised.
There have been references to what is done in other countries. Austria has not so far been mentioned, and, although the experience there may be a good example for us on these benches, I should like to tell the House that, although it is said that only about 4 per cent. of people in Austria are interested, television tends to help the Opposition there because people like fighting speeches and not complacent speeches from back benchers on the Government side.
It would be very difficult to apportion the time properly. I am glad that we have one hon. Member here from the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley). I come from the West Country, where there are quite a number of Liberals. I have noticed that in practically every debate, although the number of Liberal Members is small, a Liberal Member is asked to speak. The Liberal Party, therefore, would be likely to get far more than its share of time on television. No doubt, this would be very nice for the hon. Members concerned, but it would create difficult questions of balance and publicity.
I shall not take up the technical points which have already been discussed. I have read the Report of the Select Committee very thoroughly. Although, in answer to my question during his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that our debate today would not commit us to a final decision, I must repeat that I am averse to any experiment because I do not consider that it would prove anything at all and, what is more, I do not want further consideration to be given at present to any suggestion that our proceedings here should be televised.
The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) spoke very severely about people who, she said, were "prejudiced" in favour of this project. I cannot say that I thought her speech entirely judicial in tone or content, but there is no reason why we should not be prejudiced one way or another—although I venture to suggest that it is better that one should be able to base one's prejudice on some regard for the facts.
In addition, it is also, if I may say so, perhaps desirable, when one is contributing to this debate, at least to have glanced at the Report of the three Select Committees, which held a great many meetings and went into the matter thoroughly. I know that the hon. Lady said that she had read the Report, but she was forgetting one point, of which she was reminded: I do not complain about that.
The hon. Lady gave her experience of party conferences and perhaps I may therefore refer to this subject now. I was going to deal with it later. The hon. Lady said the result of televising party conferences is that the delegates "behave far too well". This may be the case with the Conservative Party conference, but I assure her that it is not the case with the Labour Party conference. It need not be the case at all. Indeed, I do not believe that it has anything whatever to do with television.
I have myself in the past attended the Conservative Party conference, as a journalist and broadcasting commentator, and have always noted the dramatic contrast between the extremely smooth, well-groomed and well-drilled atmosphere of the Conservative Party conference and the turbulence of ours. So I do not think that that is really relevant.
The serious point about the experience we derive from the party conferences is this—
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that our ladies' hats are somewhat plainer and less flowery than those of his own ladies, although in my experience very few of our women delegates wear hats at all. However, that is perhaps not a very material point.
The serious point about party conference experience, in so far as it is relevant—and I agree that there is no exact analogy—is precisely the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) about the United Nations. That is to say, it is my experience, certainly of party conferences, that the delegates very soon forget that the cameras are there. The cameras are nowadays unobtrusive, as they would be in this House if the experiment were approved. The delegates are much more interested in the live audience around them and in persuading their colleagues, some of whom may be highly and audibly critical of the speech they are making.
This is much more interesting than a remote, glassy lens, which they simply forget about. So that is the only point at which the experience of party conferences seems to me to be relevant to what might happen in this House, and, therefore, it surely answers, to some extent, the fears of those hon. Members who have spoken of television coming to dominate our proceedings and so on.
That may or may not still go on, but I think that one of the good effects of televising Parliament might be that the main focus of political controversy would come back to Westminster, where it belongs, from the television studios. I do not believe that the television studios ought to be the main centre or forum of political debate. This House ought to be, and those who say that they do not want this House broadcast in any way mean that they do not want their constituents to see or hear Parliament at work. This is a complete contradiction of the spirit of democracy as we know it.
After all, as has been said, hundreds of thousands of our constituents have been to this House and have watched its proceedings from the Gallery. One hon. Member has expressed a commonly held apprehension about the effect of the empty benches on the viewers. This does, indeed, seem to disturb some hon. Members. But it's true, isn't it? There often are empty benches. If Members are afraid of that being seen, it means that they are afraid of the public knowing what is going on in this House.
The experience of broadcasting Parliament in Sweden has been that precisely the same criticism was made in the early days of the experiment, but that the public soon learned—it was explained to them—what was happening, that Members had many other duties, in committees, and so on. They soon learned to accept this, just as the people who come to our public Gallery learn in time.
When we have brought our constituents and friends here—and surely this is the experience of many hon. Members—the first time they come they are slightly shocked by the empty benches, by the casual behaviour of some right hon. Members on the Front Benches, and so on. But they soon learn what it all means. The test of the success of this experiment would be if we felt that it might somehow convey to the viewers something of the unique and intimate atmosphere of this House without spoiling or destroying that atmosphere for us in any way.
Has my hon. Friend any idea of what proportion of the public has ever been to the public Gallery? I suspect that it is very small. If they are shocked, have we any evidence that they are not shocked after the explanations my hon. Friend says are given for them?
We have no evidence, In the legal sense. I am relying on my own experience with many constituents and friends whom I have brought here, and I should have thought that the experience of most hon. Members confirms that. But I do not know. This is not a matter on which scientific evidence can be taken. I do not know what percentage of the British public over the years and centuries have been to the Gallery. How can anyone tell?
Nor do I know what percentage of the viewers would watch the programmes. Perhaps only a small percentage, since, in the nature of things, the programme most likely to take place, if authorised by this House, would be the nightly programme, which would inevitably come on fairly late at night, probably at 10.45 or so. But this does not seem to me to be the main point.
The main point is that we constantly hear expressions of cynicisms and mistrust about political parties and about Parliament as an institution. The people who oppose this experiment are saying, "This may lead to cynicism about Parliament if the viewers see empty benches and see us actually at work". But then they are already cynical and indifferent, without its being televised, so on that argument it might, at least, do no harm. [An HON. MEMBER: "They might become more so."] I do not think that they would become more so. Indeed, I do not think that they could become more so, especially many of the young people.
The real point is that this is a vital new medium of communication and if hon. Members honestly feel that there should be communication between Parliament and the people whom we represent here, and that we should try to let them understand and see even a little of our work, I think that we should support this experiment.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that only about 2 per cent. of the total output of Parliament could be included in the average programmes, and that is probably so. I have not worked it out, but what percentage of Parliamentary proceedings is included in the average Press reports of Parliament? A very small percentage—inevitably, because of the limitations of space. I do not blame the Press for that. Even the more serious and massive newspapers do not carry more than a tiny percentage of what appears in HANSARD next morning. I do not think that that in itself is any argument against the experiment.
It was said that it might bore the public. That is as may be. I think that party political broadcasts bore the public, but the chief irritation about that is their compulsory nature. If one's television is switched on at all, party political broadcasts are on simultaneously on both channels: that is the real mischief of party politicals from the viewer's point of view.
When the Select Committee referred to this aspect of the subject, as we did with some candour, it was not quite like that that we meant it. We were afraid that when the thing first started, if it did, the various broadcasting organisations would be so enamoured of access to this place for the first time that they might tend to overload their programmes with Parliamentary material. That would be a mistake on their part and, of course, the public would no doubt soon let them know in the usual way if it was bored with it. I do not see that that is a serious criticism of the experiment, if we think that it can be used as a means of educative communication between the House and the public.
There have been some speeches about extroverts and exhibitionists, and the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport spoke about "only dominant candidates" being selected by constituency associations and parties in future—only people with striking and vital personalities—and how bad that would be for Parliament. I do not think that, in that case, she need have any fear of not being re-selected. She is one of the most striking personalities in the House, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), as most of us would agree, and the anecdote which the hon. Lady told about my hon. Friend was in complete contradiction to what she said on the same subject earlier. However, I let that pass.
I do not think that there is much risk of that danger. Incidentally, I do not see why it should be necessarily considered more desirable or virtuous for Members of Parliament to be practically dumb, dull, illiterate, or what-not. Parliament is a talking shop and we are sent here partly to make speeches. I do not see any harm in being able to stand up and speak. However, this danger is completely mythical, if our proposals are accepted. It would have been a real danger, for the reasons which have been given, if we had come down in favour of the totally impracticable alternative of a continuous live broadcast to the public of all our proceedings, because undoubtedly there would then be a certain amount of camera-hogging at peak hours by people who thought that they could catch Mr. Speaker's eye. But as that is not what we propose and as we propose simply a continuous "feed" to the broadcasting organisations, from which the edited extracts would be taken, no hon. Member who happened to be a bit extrovert would know that, if he were called to speak, his speech would be chosen for that particular evening's programme.
I must not detain the House much longer. I am extremely grateful for the few kind things which have been said about the Select Committee and its Report by some hon. Members, especially by those who have made it clear that they have actually read the Report. I suppose that there are three attitudes to this experiment. I emphasise that it is an experiment and that no permanent structures will be erected, or anything of that kind, and that no arrangements will be made for permanent broadcasts until the House has had time to consider the experiment—which, incidentally, will last for slightly longer than the hon. Lady suggested.
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that we are deceiving ourselves if we believe that if we agree tonight to this experiment we shall not have agreed to the televising of our proceedings as a permanent part of our proceedings?
I do not agree at all. Otherwise, I would not have been party to the Report of the Select Committee which recommended this experiment explicitly, in terms, so that the House could decide after seeing the experiment.
Would my hon. Friend agree that the experiment will not prove one important thing? Many of us here fear that if our proceedings were televised the character of the speeches in the House on all occasions would be materially changed and, therefore, the character of debates and the whole atmosphere of the House changed. During the experimental period, nothing will go outside to the public and so that will not happen. It will only be when hon. Members know that debates are being broadcast outside that this danger might develop. Therefore, in this respect the experiment will be of no interest whatever.
No, I disagree with my right hon. Friend. Here I can only fall back on the deliberations of the Select Committee. It consisted of hon. Members who at first had various views on this subject. As individuals, we were not particularly prejudiced in favour of it, but, after hearing dozens of witnesses and having dozens of sittings, we came to the conclusion that it was possible to avoid those dangers.
However, ultimately, of course, power resides in Parliament itself, even supposing that after the experiment Parliament decided to make television a permanent feature. It might be decided to have it for one Session and then to consider it again. Parliament could always squash the whole thing at any moment, if my right hon. Friend's apprehensions were justified. But I think that the experiment can show us roughly what the Chamber looks like when the cameras are on it. It can show us the types of programme—and this is a very important part of the experiment—which the B.B.C. and I.T.N. would be putting out, nightly, or weekly, or as documentaries about Parliament: the various kinds of programme, including the very important regional programmes. This could be quite important to Scotland and the North-East and Wales: viewers there may very well like to have quite long programmes about debates on Scottish or regional affairs.
I am sorry that I have been diverted by several interruptions. That always lengthens speeches, as the Chair is always reminding us. There are, as I was saying, three possible attitudes to the experiment. Those who are in favour of the whole idea of broadcasting Parliament, with suitable safeguards, will no doubt vote for the experiment. Those who are uncertain, I should have thought, would vote for the experiment, as the right hon. and learned Member for Wirral said that he would, with the very strict conditions which he quite properly laid down at the end of his speech.
But those who are against the whole idea of broadcasting Parliament are, I suggest, those who, most of all, ought to vote for the experiment [Laughter.]
I am not being funny and I am not being naïve. I am being paradoxical, which is not at all the same thing. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) is a master of paradox himself, so I hope that he will appreciate that. I mean this quite seriously, because if the idea is as bad as some have said and would ruin the atmosphere of Parliament, and if everyone were to try to hog the cameras and behave quite unnaturally, all that would be exposed during the experiment. We shall see it.
The right hon. Gentleman has not understood the nature of the experiment. It will give specimens of every sort of television programme on Parliament which the B.B.C. and I.T.N. are proposing to do, if the experiment is approved. I am perfectly serious in suggesting that if these apprehensions are well-founded, most of these supposed evils, mischiefs or distortions of Parliament will inevitably be visible in the experimental programmes.
That is why I say that hon. Members, even if they are doubtful about the idea, or oppose it, should at least give the experiment a chance—on the absolute understanding that after the experiment all of us, including myself if I do not like it, have the right to vote against its going any further.
I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who intervene in the debate will remember that we want to hear as many opinions as we can tonight and that they will keep their speeches reasonably short.
I will try to obey your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I admit that it is an ungracious thing to say that one does not want to experiment, but this is what I feel bound to say, very shortly. I accept, of course, that the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) was entirely sincere when he said that he did not believe that the experiment would commit us to an irrevocable step. I happen to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who said that it probably will.
The reason why I am disposed to vote against the experiment is precisely that which was put forward by the right hon. Gentleman a moment ago. Of course, the experiment would have a certain limited value: 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.
That the experiment, by its very nature, cannot do, and it is for that reason that I would be slow to make an experiment which has on the essential point, no scientific value at all, and which I believe, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West, would only too lightly commit us to a step from which it would be difficult to withdraw.
That brings me to the ultimate point as to whether it would affect the nature of our Assembly. I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barking will believe me when I say that I am not afraid of people seeing our Assembly. If all that was to be done was to open a window upon Parliament so that the whole nation could see what we were really like, as someone said, with warts, and all, I would not be afraid. I love Parliament, I love this House, and I think that we all do. I am not afraid of the public seeing what it is really like; I am not afraid of the feet on the table, the empty benches, or the noisy interludes.
Parliament is a wonderful and unique institution and I want to keep it as it is. If all that was being proposed was to show it to the world, then I would welcome this, but if it is to be altered in its intimate and fundamental character, then I would oppose this experiment, and it is precisely because I am afraid of that that I am not disposed to vote for the Report. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think for a moment that because I disagree with the Report I do not admire it. It sets out the argument very well. It just happens that some of us do not accept its conclusions. Will it affect the ultimate character of our Assembly?
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West made an admirable point when he said that no one as yet has suggested that we should televise the courts of law. The courts are not a bit like Parliament and never will be. The idea of a reaction shot of an accused person being sentenced has only to be mentioned for it to be seen to be out of focus in relation to the debates of this House.
The point is only used to establish that it by no means follows that what one wishes to be reported in the Press ought necessarily to be shown on television. Everyone wants the sentence in a court of criminal jurisdiction to be reported in the Press as widely as possible. So far as I know, no one wants it to be televised. Would this affect our debates?
With great respect to both right hon. Members, those who are present in a court of law, judge, jury, counsel, and so on, are not democratically elected by the public. There is not the same relation between them and the public generally as there is or should be between us and our constituents.
No one pretends that this is so. The point I am making is that it does not follow that because public policy requires publicity for a court, as most certainly it does, it necessarily requires the use of television. Therefore, it does not follow that because we want this House to be reported, we want it televised.
We have experience of televising both party conferences and public meetings at elections. Again, the results are very largely unpredictable and they are certainly not analogous. There is one thing of which I am absolutely certain, having seen both and taken part in both, and it is that the character of the public election meeting which is televised and known in advance to be televised is quite different from that of the meeting which is not televised, or which is not known to be televised.
The difference does not reside in the speeches. It resides in the number of interventions and the degree of disorder. When things work through the system the extroversion does not take place in the speaker on the public platform; it takes place as a result of the number of people who go there because they know that if they make a noise and a scene the reaction camera comes round on to them and they are photographed being carried out by the police. That is what happens at a public meeting.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) as to what happens at the party conferences. I have not seen a Labour Party conference in the hall since television was common, but I went to one in 1955, as the hon. Member for Barking has been to ours.
My impression of television in this connection is precisely that of my hon. Friend and not that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barking. Of course, there is a certain amount of noise. But other features are more important. The standing ovation is a post-television institution in both party conferences. Even in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) I must say that I detest the standing ovation, even when I receive it. It is a lamentably undemocratic and sycophantic thing and if one does not take part in it people always ask, "Why didn't you get up and wave your paper?"
I am not saying that there will not be standing ovations in this House. I can remember the appalling beginnings of the 1945 Parliament, like the hon. Member for Barking, with one party singing the "Red Flag" and the other "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow". That did no one any good. The only point that I am making is that the thing is different in its character after the television camera is brought in. That is what I am afraid of.
I wonder whether the Chair would find it so easy to maintain its authority when the reaction camera was on the interrupter. Nobody has mentioned the Chair hitherto.
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon; I must have missed it.
One thing of which I am quite certain is that the presence of a camera will alter the relationship between the Chair and the House; it will not be the same ever again. There will be a reaction camera on Mr. Speaker's face. There will be a reaction camera if he calls an hon. Member to order for disobeying the rules. Nobody can say that if we are to give a fair summary of what goes on in the House these things will not be recorded both on viedo-tape and, one hopes—because the thing will have to be done properly if it is done at all—in the edited versions which ultimately appear. If anybody thinks that this will not alter the behaviour of Front Bench spokesmen and back benchers, or the behaviour of the Chair, or the relationship between us, he is being very naïve indeed.
It might be that we would be vastly improved by this whole process. I do not in the least discount that possibility. But I happen to believe that we are very good as we are, both sides of the House. I think that this is one of the great institutions on this planet, of the human race, and I would not risk its being fundamentally altered for the world.
We are all deeply obliged to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) for his characteristically vigorous criticism of the atmosphere of the Chamber if the television cameras were introduced. During the last hour or so speakers have drawn attention to the empty benches, to the naïvete of the Select Committee, and to other factors which I need not repeat.
My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council opened the debate in his usual characteristically bland fashion, walking the tightrope, tipping the pole this way, then tipping it the other way. He was a really good turn this afternoon, and I am sorry that the cameras were not on him, because at the end of his speech he nearly fell off the tightrope. He will forgive my bluntness.
The Report, which I have taken the trouble to read, is a competent piece of work, as a Report. The Select Committee was a diligent Committee, although not very experienced. Seven members of the Committee which has reported to us on this most important change in the procedure of the House have been Members for less than two years. I do not hold that against them. I know that many reforms are needed in the House. I am not one to stand in the way of necessary reform of the procedures of this House when I am convinced that there is a case for it.
We have come almost accidentally on the question of televising our proceedings. It was an afterthought to the original purposes and terms of reference of the first Committee. I am not convinced that there is a case for such a reform as this. Speaking as an individual Member and only for myself and no group or cabal or interest, vested or otherwise, I believe that the test is, if we submitted to this novelty being introduced into our debates, which would, in my opinion, change the whole atmosphere of the House, would it in the long run improve the status and respect of the House in the country and among the electors?
I am very deeply concerned about the respect in which the House is held. During recent years, it has not been held in as high respect as it used to be. There are very special reasons for that, and I do not want to increase the chances of our being brought into greater public disrespect. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) said, there is among politicians a very high proportion of what the psychologists call extroverted types—people who, by nature, tend to be exhibitionists. I hope that I do not fall within that category, but I do not know.
We are all working politicians, trying to serve our people as faithfully as we can by our contributions to the House. But our contributions to the House are not primarily concerned with making speeches in this Chamber. They are concerned with rendering service to our constituents in a hundred and one different ways outside this Chamber, in the Committee Rooms upstairs, in the places where Parliamentary and political opinion is formed, and in the private conversations which we have sometimes across the Floor of the House with those who hold opposite views.
That is where politics is made, not in this Chamber, which may be a very important sounding board but, nevertheless, a place in which the extrovert who may consider himself to be photogenic will go to great pains to make himself very prominent if the television cameras are working in the House. I do not wish to say anything unfair or to exaggerate, but I am not so naïve as to suppose that televising the House would not have a profound effect on the behaviour of hon. Members.
If a constituent of mine visits me here, and, out of sheer goodness of heart and gracious spirit, wants to take a photograph of me on the Terrace as a souvenir of the visit, I have to get permission from the Serjeant at Arms or the Lord Great Chamberlain. You, Sir, suggest in your Report that we should have a period of experiment.
I apologise to you, Mr. Speaker. I address my remarks to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who was Chairman of the Committee.
We must recognise that if the television cameras are introduced there will be a profound change in the behaviour of hon. Members, who will not only be concerned to take advantage of every opportunity to get extra publicity. To politicians, publicity is the breath of life. Conscientious Members, of whom there are many on both sides, would be at a great disadvantage in relation to their constituents and the public at large if they did not compete on equal terms with those who, perhaps, have grown false beards, long moustaches and other things which are designed to attract the cameras. The hon. Member is not here at the moment. I do not wish to give him undue publicity, but hon. Members will know who I mean.
Let me say a word about another Freudian aspect of this Report. The question of exhibitionism was very much in the minds of those who served on the Committee. They have not answered the questions which have been put to them. They say, on page xx of their Report:
It is possible, for instance, that some Members would tend to address listeners and viewers direct, in prepared statements of a demagogic nature, instead of debating in the traditional Parliamentary manner. If coverage were continuous, there might be undue pressure from Members to be called to speak at peak viewing hours; and this might lead, as has happened in Australia, to changes in the timetable for debates, in order to ensure that leading Ministers and Members of the Opposition could speak before the largest possible radio and television audiences.
If this is not a revelation of the state of mind of the Committee, a sort of guilt
complex, at a late period in its deliberations, I am a Dutchman for drawing attention to that aspect of the Report.
I do not want my hon. Friend to do that, but he has accused the Committee of Freudian naïvete in including things like this. We had to deal with this question because it is one of the arguments most often advanced against the whole idea. But my hon. Friend has omitted to notice that the passage which he has read is in the context of a passage in which, for that reason, we totally reject the idea of continuous live broadcasting of Parliament.
I am obliged for that intervention. If I tried to deal with every aspect of the Report, I should be speaking until ten o'clock, and no one else would get a chance. I do not want to do that, so I had better leave that point.
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West for drawing attention to those passages in the Report which deal with Parliamentary privilege. The Attorney-General submitted a memorandum to the Committee, but he did not commit himself all that far. With his great legal knowledge and ability, having been asked if questions of Parliamentary privilege would be involved, he said that in respect of defamatory statements made in the House, he hesitated to make any prediction, though he expected that Members of Parliament would continue to enjoy absolute privilege.
My right hon. Friend was doubtful about the position of the broadcasting companies which represented matter which was collected in the House. He added that this was a point of some obscurity about which he would not express an opinion. However, those are important and technical matters which we shall have to debate on another occasion.
In the Select Committee's Report, which I have read conscientiously, I fail to see any reference to the great British public outside, except in two trifling instances. Public opinion is very important, and I should have thought that such a matter as this would be undesirable from the point of view of the good name and traditional worth of the House in the public esteem, and might even be disastrous if the television cameras were badly handled.
I have been a Member of the House for approximately 16 years, which is as long as most hon. Members whom I see around me at the moment. I have never received a request from a constituent of mine pressing me to plead for the introduction of television cameras into the House. There is no public demand.
During the course of the last General Election, after the campaign had been going for some days, I was approached one morning in my Committee rooms by a number of genial Pressmen, including representatives of the national papers. They asked, "Can we have a word with you, Tom?" I invited them in, and they said, "We have noticed in reports of speeches which you have been delivering in your constituency that nowhere have you made any personal reference to the Prime Minister. Have you any grudge against him? After all, he is on the television every night and is the chief performer in this show."
I said, "No. I have not made any reference to him, and I do not intend to refer to him or to any others of my colleagues, however eminent they may be and however much I like and respect them, until the election is over. I strongly object to the intense personalisation of politics. Under representative government, I believe that I am the only person who is responsible to my constituents in Lancashire."
Perhaps I put that across a little forcefully, but the whole basis of representative government as evolved by some of our intellectual forefathers like John Stuart Mills seems to have been lost in the miasma of those who want to put everything on the basis of personal publicity.
I object to anything which attempts to turn this House from a legislative assembly into a place of entertainment, though our responsibility to our constituents does not prevent us doing our work in a lighthearted fashion sometimes. But if the day ever comes when the forces of modern publicity, whether they be Fleet Street, the television companies or the B.B.C., become a dominant feature in an attempt to turn this House into a place of entertainment and amusement, the House of Commons will be on the way out as a place of serious business.
The present situation reminds me of the words of the great German philosopher Spengler, who wrote "The Decline of the West", which has been translated into almost every modern language. In one of his more mordant passages he speaks about the mystique of churches. I know that I am on dangerous ground here, because the tradition of the House is bound up seriously with an element of mystique which we forget at our peril. He uses the aphorism that when a church starts to be a debating society it ceases to be a church. Following that trend of thought, I believe that when this ancient House, with all its noble traditions, begins to be regarded first and foremost as a place of entertainment and public amusement, it will lose caste and cease to be what it deserves to continue to be.
I oppose this Motion, and I hope that many other hon. Members will do the same.
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), if only to have the opportunity of following an hon. Member who has argued strongly against this case, since I am strongly in favour of it.
The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for a very long time. I say straight away that I have not been here very long, but I have been involved for a very long time in the controversy about televising the House.
I realise that many hon. Members frequently take part in television programmes. My own television appearances have no special relevance, but I have spent 10 years or so working fairly closely with various companies presenting programmes, and much of this time has been spent, not merely appearing in programmes, but in assisting on the production side.
I want to bring forward some of my experiences which have been obtained from an exercise which has certain similarities to the matter which we are discussing. I have been involved in solving the production and technical difficulties of presenting television from hospitals, including live transmissions on television from operating theatres during the course of surgical operations. I realise that it is a very different type of exercise from the proceedings of this House, but it has given me an insight at first hand into what can be done by the television people from a technical point of view without upsetting the amenities of the people being televised. I am sure that most hon. Members will accept that, whilst our activities here are extremely important, it would be less desperate if they were disturbed than if those involved in a surgical operation were disturbed.
The arguments which have been advanced in the course of today's discussion against the introduction of television, against an experiment with television, or against wherever television may lead us fall into three main groups. First, many hon. Members have discussed the whole question of interfering with the amenities of Members, and the House ought to say straight away that it cannot and will not tolerate its amenities being disorganised. It is for that reason that I agree with the Lord President that we must postpone the experiment so that it can be conducted in the way that he suggests.
We cannot have a situation in which Members might trip over cables, and television personnel might wander about the House and possibly get in the way. We cannot have a situation in which hon. Members perhaps get overheated by the lamps which may be necessary. But none of these inconveniences is necessary for a moment. Provided that the House insists that whichever operators come in—and presumably a consortium will be formed between the B.B.C. and the independent companies—its amenities must not be disturbed, or its procedures disorganised, or its Members inconvenienced, there is not a shadow of doubt that the people responsible for carrying out the operation will be able to comply with those requirements.
Many advances have been made in techniques. There was a time when we would have had to use lighting with large, manually operated cameras which would have been visible. Members would have known where they were, and would have had their attention attracted by them. But that type of camera will not be used when the experiment is carried out. The people responsible for it will be able to conduct the exercise without inconveniencing Members for a moment.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) made much of the fact that Members would be inconvenienced because those responsible for operating the cameras would wish to rearrange us in various ways. He said that it might be suggested that it would be better to have certain Members in one place, and others in another, that there might almost be stage management of the scenery of the place to suit television. In my opinion, probably the best television is the televising of Test Matches at cricket. It is good because the companies have to televise what is there, without interfering with it in any way. They cannot say, "We do not want that batsman to get out just yet; we want him to stay in a bit longer". Nor can they say, "We do not want a declaration just yet", or "Can certain players field in one spot and not in another, because we can get a better shot there". They have to accept what is there, without in any way influencing it, altering it, or attempting to alter it. This is precisely what they will be required to do here, and, in my opinion, they will make a good job of it.
Having said that, I come to the second main objection which has been advanced by various hon. Members, and this is the question of selection and representation and the maintenance of a fair political balance. This means maintaining a balance not only between the parties, but within the parties as well. I believe that over the years both the B.B.C. and the independent companies have discharged this duty extremely efficiently and fairly. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that the fact that we all complain about them from time to time is in itself evidence that they have discharged this duty. If we never complained, the chances are that they would not be doing their job properly.
I think that some of the fears about the kind of selection which will be carried out have arisen from a misunderstanding of the procedure which will have to be adopted. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House explained what might have to be done. He said that there would have to be a selection from the pictures taken by the various cameras in order to compile the single videoscope. The very nature of all television is deciding which shot to take at any time. It is not the case, as many hon. Members seem to suggest, that the producers will have several pictures to look at, examine, and interchange. It is an instantaneous operation at the time when the videotape is recorded.
The videotape will be put out to various places, and a number of hon. Members have raised doubts about how selections will be made from the tape. I have gone on record on a number of occasions, and in a number of places, in connection with the editing of film for television purposes. In fact, I have published articles on the subject, and at one time I called for a code of practice with regard to film editing in an endeavour to preserve balance and to ensure that views were not distorted. Technically, the editing of film is very different from the editing of videotape. The operation which will take place in this House will not involve chopping the videotape, resorting it, and rejoining it so that what Members say at one time will be reported as having been said at some other time. This is not the kind of editing which will take place. This is the sort of thing that one gets with films, but it is not possible to do it with videotape.
With videotape there will be one complete master tape of the whole of the proceedings. People will be able to take parts of it, but they will not be able to mess about with it or rearrange it. It will not, as the right hon. Member for Leeds, West more or less suggested, be possible after a month or two to alter the tape to such an extent that the speech will be unrecognisable. This is not technically possible.
I accept that one can select a part of the tape and show it, but one cannot, as is often done with films—and I think that this is what has led to most of the objections—take out a piece and join it in somewhere else and thus alter the original script.
The Leader of the House said that about 2 per cent. of the total tape would be transmitted. I believe that this is incorrect, or perhaps I should say incomplete. It may be that about 2 per cent. will be transmitted in any one area, but, as from area to area, it will be a different 2 per cent., and therefore the total amount of the recorded material which may be transmitted in various parts of the country may be much more than that figure.
The B.B.C. said that if one were to try to calculate the regular needs of a daily programme, plus, say, a weekly programme, that would be 2 per cent. If it were then used for other programmes, the figure would be increased. The argument was that it would have to use more than 2 per cent. to make it worth while, and this is why it would have to allow it to go to many other magazines if possible.
My point is that one has less anxiety about standard programmes such as "Today in Parliament", but one gets alarmed when one hears that one should try to push it on to other programmes or magazines. These are beyond the 2 per cent. estimate given by the B.B.C.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but I, too, have discussed this with the B.B.C. and estimates vary widely. For instance, the Welsh Region may wish to transmit certain matters dealing with Welsh affairs which Scotland might not wish to transmit, and vice versa. It has also been suggested that large portions of the tape might be used in school programmes, and different schools might take different portions. This is not a very important point, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of 2 per cent. is on the low side.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I hope I made it clear that the B.B.C. was taking 2 per cent. as the regular requirement for a regular day in Westminster, plus, perhaps, one weekly programme, and over that it could be used for regional or other magazine programmes.
The right hon. Gentleman and I are really saying the same thing, though in a slightly different way.
The hon. Member for Westhoughton made much of the fact that he was not aware of any public demand for the televising of the proceedings of the House. Whether or not he is aware of the public demand, he must be aware that, at the moment, about three and a quarter hours per week of television time—on each programme—emanate originally from this House. What is being offered is a possible opportunity of improving the quality of such material. In other words, the public have shown that there is a substantial demand for people talking about what goes on in the House of Commons and reporting speeches. This proposal, in a sense, would merely add additional methods and a further dimension. There is no doubt about the demand.
Selection and representation, about which many hon. Members are concerned, I still believe, is a matter for the people themselves. I have always found them trustworthy and responsible and think that they have done an excellent job over the years. The simple answer is, either we trust people, in which case we let them get on with the job, or we do not trust them, in which case we do not let them in at all.
I would say to hon. Gentlemen who feel that they cannot rely either on the B.B.C. or the independent television companies to present a fair and balanced extract of proceedings in the House that they should not let them in at all. It would be utterly impossible for the House to set up some small body of its own to try to do for the television companies what is a highly technical and professional job, which they have shown themselves able to do.
Many hon. Members have talked about the possible effect on the public attitude towards the House. Many have said how concerned they are that public respect for the House should be in no way reduced or impaired. But, surely, many people at the moment do misunderstand the House and perhaps lack a degree of respect and thought for it, which it would be better if they had.
I do not believe that we can improve the prestige of the House in the minds of the public by concealing it from them. If we want to improve the image of the House in public eyes, it is our duty to inform the public on how it works. We should show them how it works and help them to understand it.
It has been asked, how many people see our proceedings? The latest figures show that last year 108,000 people watched our proceedings in this Chamber from the public Gallery. They talk to other people and sometimes to hon Members, who explain to them what is going on. I and many other hon. Members think that it would be better for the House if the public as a whole were clearly informed on what is going on in these premises, came to understand it better and to feel more involved in it. Television is precisely a way of doing this. Certainly, the way in which it works will have to be looked at.
This is, of course, the purpose of the experiment, but I feel that some hon. Members have perhaps misunderstood the purpose of the experiment. There has been a good deal of discussion of it. Many hon. Members seem to think that the whole purpose of the experiment is for them to decide whether they, personally, like it. The real purpose is to decide whether it is technically possible—whether it can be done efficiently without causing inconvenience—and for the professional people involved in this exercise to decide which is the best way of doing it.
They will try various methods of presentation—edited versions of reports later in the day, continuous extracts, special types of programmes for schools. All this needs looking at. But the experiment is not really for hon. Members themselves to decide how they go on personally in watching the television. What it is to decide is how will this be for the public.
The future of this operation is not for us but for the people outside and its main job, surely, is to make them more interested in what goes on here, and to help them to understand it. I do not accept that to let them see empty benches is disastrous. It is important to explain to them that when hon. Members are not here, they are not necessarily walking in Green Park, but doing important and interesting things. The best way of teaching them is to allow this sort of programme, which would educate them to know what is going on on these premises.
There has been a good deal of discussion in the House since I came here about the powers of the House and I accept that the powers of the House may have become reduced in recent years. I would not know—I have not been here very long—but I have come to the view that much of the power which the House still holds rests almost entirely in the fact that the Press are allowed in. If the Press were not allowed in to report our proceedings, we might as well close down and all go home. I believe that television, in the same way, would be an additional arm at the command of the ordinary backbencher and might do something to restore the previous power of the House.
I oppose this Motion, because I believe that the desire to install television cameras permanently in the Chamber is based on a number of false assumptions. The first is the implied one that this is a step on the road to modernisation. This is quite wrong. To embrace the "magic box" is not to step right out of the nineteenth century into the middle of the twentieth. In the short time that they have been in the House, many hon. Members may have thought that they could improve the procedure. I am sure that this is so, but, if things need improving, I am certain that this is one of the last things which we should think of doing—if it ever comes to pass.
If we install a television set in some humble cottage, this does not automatically turn it into a palace. To bring television cameras into this House will not change it overnight into a space-age automatised legislature. This is not a step on the road to modernisation, but, perhaps, a surrender to the small group of masochists who cannot satisfy themselves with the three and a quarter hours of Parliamentary proceedings which can be seen on television every week.
One might think that the capacity of the human frame for self-inflicted pain is truly astonishing, but there is a breaking point in the human body and the human mind. We must bear this in mind. The proceedings of the House are adequately reported on television, on the radio and in the Press, and we must be careful that we do not overstep the mark of what the public wants.
I cannot see the argument that televising our proceedings will not affect the attitudes of hon. Members. One must be conscious all the time that the cameras are turning. Whether we can see them or not does not matter: one must moderate one's comments and one must perfect one's performance, perhaps in the knowledge that one may be seen—or hopes to be seen—on television and that some pearl of wisdom or some great "clanger" which we drop may go over to the great British public.
Who could blame an hon. Member with a marginal seat if he wanted to project an image on the screen which he would not necessarily attempt to do as conditions are at the moment. The things which we remember most, I suggest, about the televising of the American Senate Committees is the "argy-bargy", the brawl of words from one to another, rather than the reasoned arguments which must have gone on at other times.
If one asks the mass of the general public what they remember most about the United Nations, the reply one generally gets is the memory of a gentleman banging on a table with a shoe. That incident is recalled, while the deep thought and discussion that goes on at the U.N. is forgotten. There is a real danger that edited television proceedings of this House could do great damage to the impression the general public has about Parliament.
It has been said that the cost involved would be small. Nevertheless, we must be concerned about the public purse, even when modest sums are involved. If we are convinced that this would not be a good thing for the country or if we have serious doubts about it, we should not go ahead with this experiment and spend even a small sum of money. That should particularly apply if we are 90 per cent. certain that our proceedings should not be televised, even if there is an experiment.
I could do some vote catching tonight by thinking in terms of the public. There is an illusion among politicians that the words we utter necessarily make good T.V.—that the general public cannot tear themselves away from their television sets when the politicians are haranguing them by their firesides. Because our friends and acquaintances eat, drink and sleep politics, we should not blind ourselves to the fact that what is meat for some is poison for others.
One of the greatest criticisms of the T.V. coverage of the last election was that there was too much for too long, and herein lies the danger. One cynic suggested that at the last election the public had made up its mind about which party was going to win and that the waverers cashed in so that they would not have to suffer that T.V. performance for another four and a half years.
The phrase "Familiarity breeds contempt" should be remembered when we discuss the televising of Parliament. Television has a great, perhaps unique, power to project and popularise, but it has an equal power to kill stone dead. One hon. Member mentioned cricket. Perhaps the fact that we have watched so much cricket on T.V. has gone a long way towards killing the image of cricket in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Whatever the views of some hon. Members, I am reminded that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. I am sure that this proposal is put forward with the best of misguided intentions, although the destination may be the same. The trouble is that instead of finding a warm, friendly atmosphere at the end of the road, we may find a chilly, unfriendly abode.
The road to "Ally Pally" is strewn with the bodies of over-exposed comedians, and over-exposure is one of the great dangers to which this House might subject itself. One might say that the way to Westminster is also paved with the bodies of over-exposed comedians, and many people concerned with T.V. have found out too late, to their cost, that they can appear too much and for too long. That is a danger we should bear in mind and we must not let it happen to us. If it did, this House would fall into disrepute.
I fear that televising the proceedings of the House of Commons would be a nine-day wonder and that our standing in the TAM ratings would gradually go down and down until, at the end of the day, only a very few people forming a small, select body would be watching us. There is genuine interest in special occasions like the State Opening of Parliament, Budget Day, and when special statements are made. Perhaps we could televise those occasions. However, I am convinced that there is no great clamour outside for the day-to-day televising of our affairs and that we are already covered by the various propaganda agencies.
If and when we televise our proceedings, many of us in five years' time will be astonished to look back at some of the objections that have been voiced today. I support the Morion because I do not believe that in 1966 anyone can reasonably object to conducting an experiment of the type suggested by the Leader of the House. We are talking about an experiment, although we are also considering the broader implications if, later, the House considers the experiment to have been a success.
Having said that, I hope that, if the experiment is a success, our proceedings will be televised in such a way that it is in keeping with the dignity of the House. I say that we will be astonished in five years' time because, if we were now speaking with the Plumbicon automatic cameras in operation, we would not be aware of their existence and I do not believe that their presence would change the atmosphere of our proceedings. Nor do I believe that the comments about party conferences are relevant to this discussion. Anyone who has spoken at a party conference will agree that one is not aware that the television cameras are rolling.
I believe that T.V. would have little, if any, effect on the speeches made in Parliament. However, it is important to remember that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), who was Chairman of the Committee which submitted such a well-thought-out Report, pointed to the need for better communications between the public and Parliament. That is the real issue of this debate.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) considers that the televising of Parliament will end up as a surrender to a small group of masochists who are mad keen to hear political discussion. I believe that the public is growing much more interested in Parliament and is extremely worried about its future. The hon. Gentleman also believes that our proceedings are already adequately reported. He cannot really mean that. I understand that only a few thousand copies of the OFFICIAL REPORT are published—and issued to institutions, libraries and private individuals—and the truth is that Parliamentary reports are not widely read. Only some of the quality newspapers publish them in full, while the mass of the population—millions of the voters who elect us—do not read Parliamentary reports in any serious sense, unless something spectacular or comic occurs.
People have got used to the mass medium of television. They are used to watching television debates of another character on political matters and T.V. is the best way of informing people about our proceedings here. It is important that they should know what is happening here. They do not know that the prestige of this House has been deflated by outside organs of publicity, and in some cases damaged. It is of the highest importance that the procedure, life and conditions of the House of Commons are more widely understood and, since T.V. is the biggest medium by which it can be understood, I support the Motion.
Like other hon. Members, I frequently take parties of people on tours of the Palace of Westminster. I am sometimes amazed, when accompanying parties of quite scholarly and scientific people, to learn their ignorance of the procedure and working of this House. That goes also for their knowledge of the history of this place. It is abysmal and they admit it. It is only by listening and watching our proceedings from the public Gallery, which is relatively small, that people can learn about us and the work we do, remembering that the House of Commons should be the main focus of political and public discussion.
If this place is to be more than an ancient monument, it must be a forum for public discussion, and that can happen only if a far wider section of the population understands what is happening here. It is for this reason that I feel bound to draw the attention of the House to an aspect which has not been mentioned. I refer to the question of educational programmes. This is a question of education as well as a question of information.
On page xxiii of its Report the Committee draws attention, under the heading of "Educational Programmes", to the fact that it is not possible at the moment to produce an educational programme of this House while it is actually in session. It is enormously important that young people, as well as older people who vote us here, should be able to see some sort of programme of instruction. When we are considering the question of having an experiment, could we not also consider whether, before the actual proceedings are broadcast, as they may eventually be, there should be a short series of informative programmes on the work of the House?
It is suggested that this should be on a national network. I do not think that this point has been mentioned before. It is a very good recommendation. This series would not necessarily be televised when the House is sitting. Presumably it would be a television programme on the House itself and the various parts that are open to the public, together with photographs taken in the Chamber to describe our procedure. Many people, both young and old, know very little about that, and it could be a good prelude to subsequent television of our actual proceedings.
I cannot see why we should be so coy about the proposition of an experiment. I cannot see why we should be so shy about the idea of having an edited programme. For a long time now we have been used to the B.B.C. and I.T.V. conducting political debates. Surely it would be better if they were conducted here and not in the studios? The professional interviewer no doubt does a fair-minded job, but he is also sometimes accused of bias. The fact remains that it would be better if hon. Members of the House were to be seen conducting their own debates than that the broadcasting institutions should select—instead of Mr. Speaker—hon. Members to take part in a political debate.
There is a very great danger of certain angles being adopted and certain slants given to debates on matters of fact. I mention Ministerial statements, in particular. Ministerial statements on matters of national importance should be seen and heard as they are actually said, and not as a political commentator thinks they ought to have been said, or described in the Press in terms of his personal reaction.
The public should see and hear a Minister of the Crown making a statement on important matters of policy. They should see and hear—and this is where television could do the job very much better than the Press—a Minister being cross-examined by the Opposition. The selection of these programmes will, I am sure, be fairly done. It is rather farfetched to say that it can be fairly done on sound, but that it cannot be fairly done on television.
I believe that the time will come—and I hope that it will not be too long in coming—when we shall find that these objections have been largely illusory. I do not want to see Parliament bypassed by other methods of publicity. I want to see the public fully instructed on what we are doing. I believe that the existence of Parliament as a forum of the nation, understood and respected, depends in the future on the fullest information being given about it. For that reason, I do not think that one can possibly object, in the year 1966, to holding an experiment on the most modern of mass media, and I therefore support the Motion.
When I first came to the House two years ago I had no doubt that I was in favour of Parliament being televised. By the time we debated the Motion introduced by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) in May, 1965, I had begun to have some doubts. I then reached the position where I was in favour of an experiment. I now remain to be convinced about the value of such an experiment, but I hope, that by the time the debate has finished, I will find myself voting for the experiment as recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg).
I should like to congratulate the Committee on its work. I do not think that sufficient congratulations have been conveyed to the Committee for its remarkably solid and detailed compilation on this subject. I should also like to congratulate the Leader of the House on the very cautious terms in which he approached the subject this afternoon.
I should particularly like to welcome two points to which he referred. First, he reminded us of the potential importance of radio in this matter. Radio presents fewer problems. Secondly, towards the end of his speech, he spoke about the possibility of occasionally televising some of the more important events which occur in the House, rather than committing ourselves to a continuous recording for daily, edited reports.
I should like to put to him a couple of considerations: first, is five weeks really sufficient for an experiment—not merely for us to judge it, but fair to the broadcasting authorities? I do not know if they think that five weeks is enough. If I were a television producer, having something like 25 days in which to learn to do a job, I should feel that I could do the job more adequately if I had more than 25 days in which to cut my teeth on it.
Secondly, I was rather alarmed by the Leader of the House underlining the Select Committee's suggestion that recordings should be made available to all programme producers. I thought it was not the most fortunate of examples, in this week of all weeks, to refer to Mr. David Frost's programme. I would find it a cause of some concern to have recordings going to the producers of a programme like the one suggested which has this week engaged in the most grossly irresponsible action of television journalism that I can recall for many years. The thought of this gives me cause for concern.
In order to make the situation clear, the proposal was that they should go to all programmes, provided that no insult to the House was done. I thought that meant, on reflection, that one would be unlikely from here to discriminate once it had gone out. I said that this was a difficulty that we ought to measure, and I quoted that programme not on its attractiveness but on its difficulty.
I would prefer that this material went solely to the B.B.C. news and current affairs departments to Independent Television News, and to the current affairs departments of the programme contracting companies. We should steer away from the "showbiz" departments of either channel.
There are some non-problems, and I am glad that most hon. Members have taken this line. We are not very worried, subject to the point I have made, about the problem of impartiality or editing, because both channels have a very good record in this matter. I do not think we need worry too much about the effect of hon. Members' speeches. They may well gain from the concentration of our thoughts which television will impose upon us. We do not need to worry about the general behaviour of the House. On the whole, it is not bad, and, if it is bad, it will improve.
There is one major problem to which many hon. Members have alluded—and there is an insufficient sense of its importance. I refer to the question of the apparent absenteeism of hon. Members, and also the related subsidiary question of the reaction of individual hon. Members in the Chamber. Party conferences cannot be used as a parallel. They are attended by thousands of people. The reaction shots which are taken there are of what one may term anonymous delegates. They are not of people who are constantly in the public eye as are Members of Parliament to varying degrees. And even the most eminent of those who attend party conferences take that risk for only four days a year, but that risk would now become a risk for the bulk of one's time spent in the Chamber.
The problem has been foreseen by the Chairman of the Select Committee, who asked the Director-General of the B.B.C.:
Would you agree, Sir Hugh, that you are likely to get a very unfavourable reaction from viewers in the first instance until they get used to seeing the benches in the Chamber largely empty for considerable portions of the debates…?
It comes up in other parts of the evidence, but I think that the problem has been under-estimated.
I should like to cite two examples of what I think are under-estimates of the problem. Sir Geoffrey Cox, the head of Independent Television News said of this problem:
I think that at first this would open the ground to serious misunderstanding so far as the public are concerned. The number of occasions when the benches are empty are not many but one must reckon that the adjournment debates would very often provide good controversial material, and they are very often debates in a very small House. I have a feeling
that the public would in due course come to understand this and in any case the cameras to a large extent would be on the speakers and the emptiness of the House would not be noticeable but it is a difficulty which Parliament would have to face.
He, too, underplays the problem.
The other example is that of another eminent television journalist, Mr. Robin Day, who said:
… I think television would accustom people to understanding how their Parliament worked. They would learn to understand that the House was not full all the time. They would learn to understand why there are good reasons that it should not be full.
With great respect to those people and to hon. Members who have underplayed the problem, everyone has been a little too euphoric about it. The only person who came down on the other side was the Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives, Sir Ronald Algie, who said that that was why their proceedings were on the radio but not on television.
We must not fall into the error of drawing an analogy with the Press here. The Press does one thing for us—it reports us, but it also protects us from the group statistic. The Press rarely, if ever, reports the number present in the Chamber. It may say that it was a thin Chamber, but it goes no further. I took a count during the front bench speeches this evening. During the speech of the Leader of the House, we had 40 hon. Members on the Government benches and 32 on the benches opposite—72 hon. Members out of 630. Present during the speech of the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) were 26 hon. Members on this side and 20 on the benches opposite—only 46 hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman's rating went down a little by comparison with that of my right hon. Friend. This statistic is never reported in the Press, and there are very good reasons for it, but when we are televised the statistic will be manifest, unless certain things can be done which I want to suggest.
There is no clear reference in the Committee's Report to this problem. There is reference in the evidence, but not in the Report. Why do I think that this is a problem? Basically, it is because the public believe that we sit here most of the time. Most hon. Members will agree that the average person thinks this, and that during an all-night sitting we sit in the Chamber all night. We know that this is not true—and that it cannot be true if we are to do our other duties in this building.
But in many ways it is, if I may use a phrase which I hope will appeal to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, himself a philosopher—a necessary myth that people should believe this, because they do not realise how much else goes on in other parts of the building. What is more, I doubt very much whether it can be realised, except by hon. Members themselves, and the members of the Press, who follow us very closely, and the small number of people closely associated with politics.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many people who come to the House and sit in the public Gallery go away, as I did when I first visited the House, bitterly disappointed, and believing that hon. Members were not present at all? That impression is taken away by people who come just to the Gallery. If the proceedings were televised, it would be thoroughly explained exactly why the benches were empty and, if necessary, the cameras could be taken round to Committees in session, with the Committee Rooms full of hon. Members.
If I may say so, my hon. Friend has in many ways made my point for me. We agree that people are puzzled about this, but where we differ is in his belief that it can be explained. I should be glad to be proved wrong, but I doubt whether it can be explained, day in and day out, why the Chamber does not appear to have many people in it. I do not think that this problem can be solved by taking cameras round the building, nor by the televising of Committees in session.
I did not myself realise, before I came here, how much went on outside the Chamber; the myriad activities in which we are variously involved officially—or unofficially, if we are allowed that these days. This is not realised by the public, and I doubt whether it can be realised. One reason why I say that is that, though a political animal myself, and interested in politicals all my life so far, I had not realised the position until I go here. If I did not realise it, how can I expect the average person, less interested in politics, to realise it?
What the hon. Gentleman says is all very well, but he and I know perfectly well that with only 2 per cent. of Parliamentary time likely to be shown on the television screen, in any case the speeches that he makes and I make, which cause the benches to be so empty, will not get much of that time, and it will be the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House, when he is astounding the House with his wisdom, and when the House is absolutely full, who will be shown. Then everyone will say, "How assiduous all these M.P.s are—they are always sitting there. We saw them."
I take the point that it is a self protecting phenomenon, and the hon. Member will rarely be carried by the camera, despite his telegenic qualities.
An instructive experience of public rection was referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers), who attended the State Opening. She was not present in the Chamber but went to the actual State Opening, and got criticised because she was absent from here. I had the wit to stay where I am now standing, and many of my constituents said, "We saw your picture in the newspaper"—and I was profoundly glad they did!
I do not think that the comparison can be with the public Gallery at all. By definition—and I tried to indicate this when I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Barking—those who go to the public Gallery comprise only a minute proportion of the British people. They also have another characteristic—they tend to be more interested in this place and, once here, they actually listen to and concentrate on the debates. By contrast, a television audience is vast and capricious, and picks up just a general impression. That is where arguments that people can be persuaded into our ways fall down.
There are two possible solutions. The first is that I should be proved wrong—that my idea that a wrong impression of Parliament would be conveyed by our apparent absenteeism should be proved baseless, and that people do appreciate why we are not present. I should like to be able to find out what the public reaction is likely to be to our public performance before we commit ourselves to it. The Swedish experience has been cited, although it is a much more limited example than that to which we seem about to commit ourselves. I would take up a half-suggestion—a hint—of the Lord President of the Council, that the Press should be allowed to see the experiment as well as ourselves. The members of the Press are in a sense members of the public and, for myself, in default of having an average sample of the public in this experiment, which I do not think is possible, I should like to be able to have at least the Press to look at it, and say frankly, "You are about to commit a most grave mistake in allowing yourselves to be televised if that is what you are going to look like". I understand that the Lord President of the Council is to speak again. He may refer to this when he replies to the debate. That is one possible solution. I may be proved wrong and if we got Press reaction that may be a way of proving me wrong.
The second possibility would be a veto on any shots panning across the Chamber and showing the empty benches or to allow the cameras to pan across only when there is a full House and main debates are being televised. When I am being televised I want the cameras to take my head and shoulders and nothing else. There may be big difficulties about this; I should like to know more about whether this can be done.
Coming back to the point about the period of experimentation, another reason why five weeks is too short is that I should like there to be different styles of coverage during that period. It would be very useful for producers to be told that we want part of the experiment to do a "warts and all job", or even a Parliamentary verité job, and for us to see what Chat looks like. Let us also have part of the experiment which would observe the "Rowland rules" and not show the empty benches and see if it produces a stultifying end product. It would be useful if we could have a rather elastic quality of experiment with different television styles being used, but this would mean more than five weeks for the experiment.
My concern is not that I or anyone wishes to deceive the public but that from sheer innocence we might find the public are deceived just because they get the wrong idea about this Chamber. One of the ways around this problem would be to have an experiment with a daily radio report and televising of major events. They would not fall into the pitfalls which I have tried to indicate and have spoken about at some length. Because I believe that this experiment should be done and I am uncertain, I shall probably end by voting for it, but I must warn my hon. Friends that I am still listening.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate. I approach this subject from the general standpoint that publicity is an essential feature of democracy. I do not think it possible to have too much of it. I think that the example, for instance, of the Americans' space programme, when they deliberately took the decision to put their experiences on television and give them as wide coverage as possible, whatever the results and chances of success or failure might be, had a very good impact on the rest of the world. People then had a chance to see everything that was going on and not just the good parts. So my general approach to televising Parliament is that it is a good idea and I support this experiment.
One of my right hon. Friends said he thought that Parliament was one of the greatest human institutions in the world and that he would not support anything that threatened it. I gathered from his speech that he therefore would not support the Motion tonight. I entirely agree with his view of the House of Commons. I have a tremendous respect for the institution which we have evolved through the centuries. It is a tremendous development, but it seems to be an absolute misconception to think that the televising of and television in Parliament would threaten the House of Commons. The House of Commons has survived for centuries. It has survived kings and queens and Oliver Cromwell. It has survived the introduction of newspapers and the attention of the Germans in two world wars. It will even survive our present Prime Minister.
I think it nonsense to suggest that a small camera is going to succeed where these colossi have failed. The House of Commons is a far greater institution than that, a far greater institution than us, its Members, who work in it at the present time. I suspect that those who fear for the sanctity of the House of Commons through the introduction of television are not so much concerned about the House of Commons as about themselves as Members of the House of Commons.
They are concerned—we had a hint of this in the speech of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland)—about the vista of empty benches. They are worried about the image. Possibly, I do not know, but I may be almost unique in politics in this country at present, because I am not in the slightest interested in the image of anything. I am interested in the reality. If the reality is questionable and needs to be put right, that is the point that needs to be tackled.
What is the aim of televising Parliament anyway? If it is to give all our people an impression of something that is very good indeed and that the men who make it up are really phenomenal people who work all day and all night selflessly, tirelessly in their interests, we have to approach the question of televising Parliament very carefully indeed. But I do not think the British people are so stupid as to think that that is what Members of Parliament are like. I think that British people are very fair-minded, realistic people who observe and understand what they observe very well.
I should have thought the aim—I think the right aim—of televising Parliament is to give all our people who do not have the chance to come here and see for themselves, the opportunity of seeing something of what goes on and something of the work that is done here. That seems to be an entirely right and valuable aim. We, as the elected representatives and legislators of the people, when we get a chance like television should take it to keep them as much informed as possible about what we are doing. If some of it is not very good, if some of the speeches are like mine and not very good, that does not matter: for these are the elected representatives doing as much as they can to govern the country as fairly as possible.
If ever there may be anyone in this House whose motive is not that, it can do nothing but good that there should be as much publicity as possible giving the people themselves the chance to see that that is so.
The most important question, which has to be considered very carefully and about which I am not wholly satisfied yet from the Select Committee's Report and experience in the country is, who is to edit and control the actual broadcast of the proceedings of the House? That obviously is a point which will not be within the control of the House. It obviously will be a control which will have a very great influence on the presentation of the House, of individuals within the House, and of the political parties within the House. That will be a position of control which can be open to abuse.
If it is abused, it will defeat the whole object of televising Parliament. Naturally it will be an issue which is kept under close scrutiny by the House. The person concerned will have to be answerable to the House. If the House decides to televise Parliament and to carry forward this bold and dramatic new step, it will have to take care to ensure that the control of the programme which is put out to the country is scrupulous in its presentation and its content every day; and that, if the highest standards of professional journalism, accuracy and honesty are not applied, other arrangements will be made and others appointed to do the work.
According to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), I must be very unreasonable, because in the year 1966 I do object to the experiment. Things are very serious when the two Front Benches agree and both of them are wrong. We expected the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) to adopt the attitude he did, because he is a member of the Committee and we therefore expected him to have a vested interest, as have the other members of the Committee. We knew beforehand exactly what their views would be.
I was interested in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. Although he asked us to support the experiment, most of his speech seemed to be devoted to showing the great difficulties involved in carrying out the experiment. I thought my right hon. Friend was hoping that we would vote against it. That is my hope, too. He also said that the experiment would not now take place until 1968. If that is so, why are we debating the matter now? Why could not things have gone on for some time and the debate have taken place later?
One of the questions I had intended to ask in any case was whether we as a Parliament had any right to spend money during this period of economic stringency. When we are asking everyone else to economise, why should we be insulated against unnecessary expenditure? I had intended to say that I should have been very surprised if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not stepped in. Perhaps in the event the Chancellor has stepped in and said that it would be better to postpone the experiment until 1968.
I hope that hon. Members will not be misled into thinking that what we are debating is merely the question of an experiment. We are really debating whether the House shall be televised, because every Member who is in favour of the experiment knows that he is also in favour of televising the House. The hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) was wrong when he said that the purpose of the experiment was to find whether it was technically possible. We know that it is technically possible. The purpose of the experiment is the thin end of the wedge. Festina lente—soften them up a little so that, when they get accustomed to it, it will not be a big step forward.
This reminds me of going to the dentist. After he has probed a little, he says, "That was not too bad, was it?" Then he gets down to the real business. That is the idea here. There will be an experiment and then it will be said, "It was not too bad." Then we shall be landed with the real thing.
I think that the experiment would prove very little. It would perhaps prove that some hon. Members derive greater enjoyment than others from seeing their colleagues on a television screen. It would prove that some hon. Members had less objection to cameras in the Chamber than others. Apart from that, I do not think that it would prove very much.
Apart from having cameras in the Chamber—during the experiment there would not be as many cameras as during the real televising of our proceedings—I cannot see that it will make a great deal of difference. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) rightly suggested that, if the proceedings of the House were televised, it would undoubtedly have an effect upon Members and their speeches. If we are having the exercise only internally, there is no danger of Members trying to talk to the public outside to obtain publicity. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) is too concerned about publicity. Publicity is not the most important thing in politics. We come here to do a job.
There is always a danger of playing to the gallery. This was made clear by one of the witnesses, the Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament, Sir Ronald Algie. The proceedings are broadcast not televised in New Zealand. I want to quote some of Sir Ronald's evidence:
We regard broadcasting as being so fundamentally different from televising that, where we could support strongly the one, we could not support the other.
Sir Ronald's evidence, in the main, was very valuable to the Committee. He referred to the danger that it would affect Members' speeches. He said this:
You might say, what is the effect on Members? Mr. Chairman, we are human, and I suppose that there are times when we talk to our constituents over the air.
Of course that will happen. Of course hon. Members will try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
I am sorry that I omitted that. I have a note of that sentence, and I should have said that Sir Ronald does not think that it is detrimental to Parliament.
I want to use another quotation from the evidence of the Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament. What he refers to would not arise here, because the conditions are quite different, but it indicates that when our proceedings are televised it will have an effect upon Members. Sir Ronald said that in New Zealand they consider that 7.30 in the evening was the ideal time for broadcasting. He said this:
Ministers love to grab the evening. They love to get the chance to make their ministrial
statements and people like to make friends with the Whips and get a call for the evening hour, but that is the worst side of it.
It would seem that Whips have a little more power in New Zealand than they have here. They seem to have taken over your job, Mr. Deputy Speaker. By that, I merely meant to show that it does have an effect upon the Members of Parliament, and it is bound to have an effect.
I am told that we must have television in Parliament in order to be modern. If being modern means that I must submit to the televising of Parliament, then I am a "square". I have always suspected it, but I think that it is quite obvious. I am told that I am not with it. I have never known what it is I am supposed to be with, but I am still not with the televising of Parliament.
What is the purpose of the House? Is it to do a job or to court publicity? I remember that some years ago an hon. Member asked Mr. Macmillan, who was then the Prime Minister, to look into the question of televising the House. I asked in a supplementary question if the Prime Minister would remember that this was a place of work and not a place of entertainment. I think that that is one of the difficulties. If it is to be a popular programme outside, it will have to be a programme of entertainment.
Anyway, where does the demand for televising Parliament come from? It comes from the Members of the House, or some of them. It certainly does not come from the public. I cannot think of any constituent of mine who has approached me and pressed me that he wants to be able to see Parliament televised day after day, and other hon. Members tell me exactly the same thing.
The Committee refers in its Report to an inquiry that took place in Leeds and in Pudsey among 813 television owners. Thirty-four per cent. said that they would like the televising of Parliament very much; 18 per cent. said that they would like it somewhat. I do not think that those are overwhelming figures from an inquiry carried out by a university department. I wonder whether those figures would be the same when the people who were interviewed found that for half an hour per day they had no alternative, but to watch the proceedings of Parliament. Even of those who considered themselves to be very highly political, only 50 per cent. said that they would like it very much.
What conclusion does the Select Committee come to? It states, in paragraph 75 on page xxx of its Report:
Your Committee believe that broadcasts of proceedings in the House might well meet with a favourable response from the public.
That is not a very strong argument to spend the very large sum of money which is estimated in the Report.
I am strongly of the opinion that until there is a strong public demand for the televising of Parliament we have no right to spend one penny of public money on this scheme. I hope that tonight hon. Members will go into the "No" Lobby and reject the Motion.
I am glad to say that there are two points on which I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn). I absolutely agree with him in that the Lord President of the Council moved the Motion in a way that made me, as well as the hon. Member, feel that he really hoped that the House would vote against it. I also quite agree with the hon. Member when he says that we shall really vote tonight not about whether we should have an experiment, but whether we shall televise Parliament.
The hon. Member was absolutely right on both those points, but although I agree with him on them I am absolutely, diametrically opposed to him. I am, therefore, glad to follow him, because the line of battle in this debate does not run down the Floor of the Chamber. He was the most robust speaker we have had so far opposing the Motion, and I follow him equally robustly in its favour.
I shall vote for the Motion not just because I want to see how the experiment works. I am sure that there is a number of ways of televising Parliament. I have no doubt that some are better than others, and that the worst would be bad. For example, I think that it would be a disastrous error to think of trying to televise Standing Committees. But I am sure of two further things: first, that any televising of Parliament would be better than not doing it at all; and, secondly, that whatever method we eventually adopt, if we decide to do it at all, will be a method which is best adapted to the neds of the people and the true interests of the House, which are the same as the needs of our people.
I think that this thing will work itself out reasonably well. After all, the House is sovereign in this matter, as in other matters, and if we decide to do it, to do it in a certain way, and then do not like it, the remedy lies in our own hands. We shall be able to remedy the matter as we were able to set it in train.
I shall, therefore, vote for the Motion, because I want to vote for the televising of Parliament. I regard the experiment as only a step on the way. I dare say that it is a wise step, but I am not particularly interested in the intervening processes. If I were against televising Parliament I should not be against it because of any of the ways that it could be done, or might be done, or ought not to be done. I should be against it on fundamental grounds—and I think that there are fundamental arguments against televising Parliament—and I am primarily concerned with that fundamental question whether we should do it or not, whether it would be the best for the nation, for the House and the people that we should do this or best that we should not. It is with the pros and cons of the proposition that we should televise Parliament that I am concerned, and it is to them that I want to direct the House's attention.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) who has been in and out of the Chamber during the debate, but is not present at the moment, said something which was very helpful in one of his profound and interesting speeches on the question whether we should enter the Common Market. He said that the House should decide that great issue by considering the real great questions at stake, and should not decide whether or not Britain should enter the European Community on an argument about the British tomato. That was good advice to the House then in that matter. My right hon. Friend recognised that there were people whose livelihood depended on horticulture and who might be very interested in it, but he said that the issue of Europe was greater than the issue of the English tomato.
I have heard all the "tomato" arguments which have been deployed so far in this debate. Hon. Members say that they will not want the cameras on them when they are scratching themselves, that it will not be a good thing if the cameras show all the empty benches. We have had trifling little arguments about how, for a few weeks, we might have to have a stranger on the Floor of the House, all the old arguments about how the exhibitionists will exhibit themselves—as though professional politicians were violets or primroses or daisies—arguments about the cost of the experiment, and all the rest. Someone even said that, if we televised Parliament we should have to televise the Smoking Room.
All these little excuses, moans and twitters of apprehension are not what the debate is about, and they are not worthy of the main argument. It would be more honest if the tea room lobby came our frankly and said, "We spend more time in the tea room than we spend in the Chamber, and we do not want our constituents to know". That would be much more honest, but it would still be an irrelevant and trifling argument in the context of what we, a sovereign body, are considering—an issue, I believe, of our survival, let alone our health.
The real issue was put in his article in the Daily Telegraph by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who is not in the Chamber at the moment and has not spoken in the debate, and it was put also by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). They said—and this is what the House must address its mind to—that we have to recognise that, if we violate the privacy of this debating chamber by something much more than the Gallery, by a totally new method of projection, and a selective and demanding one at that, we run the risk of fundamentally changing the nature and character of the House and the atmosphere in which we conduct our debates, and we may well turn this House of Commons into a different kind of institution. That is what they said, and that is the argument. It is to that that we must address our minds, and I do not shirk it.
When, about 18 months ago, I moved a Motion that we should televise the House, I said that it might well be not a fair analogy to compare the argument which was conducted when the House had to decide whether its debates should be reported with the argument being conducted now, because the printed word is not of a different degree but is of a different kind from television, which is a vastly more potent medium and vastly more subject to the danger of monopoly. I said that we might well find ourselves in the position of the sorcerer's apprentice, having turned on the tap and trying to sweep the water away, not knowing the secret of how to turn it off. I recognise that, and I ask the House to recognise it.
Let us recognise that there may well be a fundamental change in the nature and the atmosphere of the House and in the way we conduct our debates. I ask the House to question whether that is necessarily bad, whether, perhaps, the result might be better when it had worked through the institution.
The hon. Gentleman will remember also the argument used against him on that point, that, if there is to be change, then let it come about by decision of Members in order to serve the public better, in order to have better Parliamentary government, and not by the introduction of a machine from outside.
The hon. Gentleman will find that my argument will meet that point. I am not concerned to get out of it. I am concerned to face all these questions and to consider our choice in what I regard as the real question.
I have said that I am not sure that such a change would necessarily be bad for the true interests of Parliament and the true interests of the people we serve. I accept that there is a risk. Of course there is a risk. But democratic institutions are very risky things. Democracy is a very risky business. Liberty is a very risky thing. When people's destiny is put into their own hands, no one can guarantee that they will use their privileges and their rights responsibly. There will always be a risk in these affairs. I think that there is a far worse risk in the alternative, but I shall come to that later.
When it is said that there is danger and risk in changing our institution, is it not fair to say in reply that the only guarantee one ever has for the health and validity of any human institution consists in the quality of the men and women who man that institution, in the quality of the men and women whom that institution exists to serve, in the quality of the men and women who make the demands upon the institution as to what it shall do, in the quality of the people who judge the institution, and in the quality of the people who appoint it—the electorate in this case?
I am afraid that we must put ourselves at risk. The risk that we put ourselves to is the risk of what sort of people we are, what sort of people those who elect us are, what sort of relationship we have with them, and what sort of answer we give to them in the demands which they make upon us.
It may well demand changes, of course. Change was demanded in human nature and behaviour when man evolved the gift of speech. Change was demanded in human institutions when writing and printing were invented. Change will be demanded in our institutions if we let television in here. Change is demanded in the id when the ego and the superego supervene. But I am not at all sure that we need be frightened of this change.
I am not greatly impressed by those who say that we must preserve the House of Commons as it is, with its unique character, atmosphere and the rest. This is not an esoteric club. It is not a sort of Trappist order. It is not some kind of mandarin-privileged body with its little rituals which we all love and understand, thinking that if anyone comes in from outside and sees them their sacred character and atmosphere will be spoiled.
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman thinks that they are Aunt Sallies, but I have detected, I think, in the arguments of those who have been saying, "Let us be careful lest we change the atmosphere of this place", just a hint of the idea that Parliament is something rather precious of our own. I do not think that it is that at all. If we have any virtue in this place, we have it because our atmosphere and character are adapted to the needs of the people we serve. I would not seek to preserve any of our atmosphere or procedures if they did not keep us in contact with people. The House is not a museum which is too precious for the vulgar eye to be allowed to penetrate.
I agree that it is not a museum, but neither is it a performing flea circus, which we are afraid it might degenerate into if the television boys and those who agree with them have their way. That is what worries me.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for putting the issue so frankly and for having intervened now. He says that I have already covered the answer to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price).
There is a risk, of course. If those we serve want a flea circus, it will prove to be a mistake to televise. But I believe that those we serve have a more serious approach. I am not so worried about the risks which worry others. I am much more worried about the risk that this House may wither away in its reality if we cut off its relationship with the electorate, or it is reduced in relevance by not exploiting the means of communication with the people which television makes possible. I am worried about the sort of change that may come upon Parliament if we do not allow the people to see us as we are, to see us carrying out the duties they have put upon us. I reiterate one other point which I submitted on the last occasion. Television has enabled us to give to a great and unwieldy nation some of the cohesion and unity which only a small nation or tribe can have. Suppose this nation were a small tribe and that we subscribed to democratic ideas of government. Who would say, if it was possible to have the whole tribe to witness the deliberations of the sovereign body it had elected, that the rest of the tribe should be excluded from witnessing what went on? It would be difficult to justify cutting them out.
If, therefore, by a miracle we are transformed into a small tribe from the point of view of being able to communicate with the electorate, we should take advantage of it. I believe that it cannot be in the interests of this House to cut itself off from direct contact with the electorate through the medium of the greatest means of communication since the invention of the printing press.
Of course we are not absolutely cut off, but I submit that it is in our interest to have as close and direct contact as we can with our electorate.
I do not often go to the cinema, but occasionally do so when I am in my constituency and have appointments separated by two or three hours. The other day I saw a film called "The Battle of the Bulge". It was supposed to be about the battle of the Ardennes, but was nothing of the sort. It was an exercise in hypocritical indulgence of the appetite of people for cruelty and horror.
However, it had one extremely good part in it. This was when the American commander was about to issue an order to one of his officers to hold the line in a retreat. One of his staff asked, "Shall I take the message?". The commander replied, "No. This is the kind of order I prefer to give myself." I think that such an attitude is a very important lesson for those who exercise any kind of leadership. It really is better to have direct contact with the people one is speaking to, and when the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition have important things to say about the government of the country in this House I see no virtue in denying the people the firsthand experience of seeing them do it.
Apart from that, I cannot help feeling that it is in the interest of history. I am sure that if any of us were to have the chance of seeing Pitt moving the abolition of the slave trade, or Gladstone moving the Third Reading of the third Reform Bill, we would not say, "We do not want it; this thing has no value."
Therefore, I think that the House would be very ill-advised to turn down this opportunity to enhance its reputation and increase its contact with the people. Its great virtue is its representative nature and I am convinced that that virtue would be strengthened if the communion between hon. Members and those whom they represented were enhanced by allowing people to have a closer insight into what actually happens in the House and into the way in which hon. Members actually address themselves to the duty of representing the people.
Before I was elected to the House, I was for eight years a television producer, so I have listened to the debate with a certain personal and professional interest. I do not think that I have ever realised before to what extent television was misunderstood by hon. Members. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have said that they want to defend the integrity of the House, and those who oppose the experiment have assured us that they do so because they value the historic traditions of the House. Those hon. Members who have served the House for many years are afraid that those traditions will be destroyed by television.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said that he loved the House. Let me assure the Opposition that hon. Members who support the experiment love the House equally and are equally concerned with the valued and valuable historical traditions of the House. But that does not mean that we must inevitably retain the status quo. The strength of this Mother of Parliaments lies not in its rigid, brittle insistence on living in its great past, but on constantly adapting itself to the conditions and problems of this modern age.
The function of the House is to legislate, and any democratic legislature must communicate with public opinion and must carry public opinion with it. Few will deny that the communication between the House and the country is imperfect and inadequate. Whether we like it or not, today the main medium of communication in this country is television.
The House may reject the experiment tonight, but, if it does, it must recognise that the vacuum then created will be filled on television by other people, will be filled by the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. from elsewhere. That fundamental fact must be faced. The corollary to that is that public opinion has begun to look not to hon. Members, but to the very familiar and influential faces which it regularly sees on its television screens, faces backed by the other contributors whom these television personalities and television producers care to select.
For example, the House is shortly to debate the new criteria for prices and incomes, a vital issue to the Government, to the Opposition and to the nation. But the prime forum of debate on this issue for the general public has been a B.B.C. series which involved a distinguished chairman, Robin Day, and three distinguished speakers, my right hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Cousins), Lord Robens and Mr. Aubrey Jones. I have nothing against those three men of distinction—and they are men of great distinction in their own fields—speaking on television. I have no objection to them debating this matter on television. It was an excellent programme. The point is that it was viewed by many millions of men and women and next week or the week after, when we get down to this issue, we all know what will happen.
Because of the composition of the House, the result is entirely predictable. A few speaking reputations may be made, a few may be marred. We all know that the impact of the debate upon the nation will not be as great as the debate by the three men selected by the B.B.C. to speak to millions of people. Any programme put on by the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. is no sustitute for the real thing in this House.
There is only one House of Commons. No one can simulate the words, the atmosphere and the subtle nuances of a debate on the Floor of the House. Our great debate will go unseen, and, instead, the British public will rely upon the debate concocted by the producers to supplement the second-hand versions of our debates which they receive in the Press. Despite this, we have heard the familiar arguments against the entry of television. I say familiar advisedly, because there are arguments which have been heard throughout the centuries.
The arguments which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone and my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) have brought forward this afternoon are the selfsame arguments which were used in the 18th century and the 19th century against the entry of the Press and HANSARD.
What my hon. Friend has said is fundamentally incorrect. If one takes the period from 1830 onwards there has been a widening franchise. Only 4 per cent. of the population was enfranchised in 1872, 75 per cent. in 1918 and only in 1950 did one have one vote, one value and full adult franchise. At the time there has been a rising level of education and there is now a far more mature electorate. It is quite ridiculous for my hon. Friend to say that in 1966 any modem Parliamentarian is relying upon the appeals made when the country was scarcely literate. These historical analogies are completely false.
Irrespective of the fact that we did not have universal suffrage in that period, my right hon. Friend has failed to refute my argument that the arguments he has advanced against television were those advanced against the Press at that time. Therefore, they are old arguments, familiar and false.
The main fear expressed by my right hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was that they would be misrepresented. This was the same argument which was used against the Press and HANSARD in those early days. I do not believe that it is a crushing argument to say that we may be satirised. I am not afraid of this, and the House should not be afraid of it. It is no answer to say that the B.B.C. and I.T.A. have satirical programmes. In any case, even if this experiment is rejected the satirical programmes will still go on, and so they should.
Two hundred years ago this House forbade journalists to report its proceedings. During the last 200 years we have made massive progress, because today the quill is respectable. Today, the same attack has been transferred to the cathode tube. I want to offer a twofold answer to the fears of misrepresentation which have been put forward. The first is that the affairs of this House are sometimes misrepresented today in the Press, in some of less responsible newspapers. Sometimes high journalistic standards are undermined by powerful pressures. They are undermined by a loosely-knit group of politically motivated editors and proprietors. But, secondly, both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. are bound to impartiality by their charter and by the law. The history of the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. shows that they can and will present programmes fairly and objectively. They not only respect the letter of the regulations; they also respect the spirit.
It is a fact that television is less diffuse than the Press. I know that this argument is often advanced. But it is also less prejudiced, and I believe that the fears of misrepresentation which have been voiced tonight are totally groundless because television not only will not misrepresent the House, but it will help to counter the misrepresentation of the House seen in the Press, in the imperfect media which we have today.
I wish to say something about the fear that television may lead to greater exhibitionism by hon. Members than we have already. Again, I believe that the reverse is the case. The very few hon. Members who like to clown occasionally will have second thoughts if they know that their antics will be seen not by a few hon. Members, but by millions of men and women throughout the country. It is a fact that one rarely sees politicians clowning on the television screen. The one hon. Member of the House who acted the fool and made an ass of himself on televison last week will realise by now that he cuts no ice with the public by fooling around in that manner. Television will have a very salutary effect on hon. Members when it comes here.
I believe that the intimate character of television is ideally suited to the intimate character of this House. We will not see a transformation of the traditions of the House. The support which we expect for this experiment is vital, because it is a tremendous step forward for the House. We have to make a choice between drifting, however slowly, and gently, into a backwater where our deliberations become quite remote from the public eye, and re-establishing the vital communication between this legislature and the electorate which in the present, as in the past, is the lifeblood of any truly democratic society.
I am in favour of televising the proceedings of this House because it will encourage reform of this House. It will shed a bright light on us, but it will also shed a bright light on our procedures; and we are too close to our procedures to judge how far they need modernising. But the public can judge, and the public will judge. Reform may be unnecessary, and Parliament may be bad or good, but Parliament must be seen to be believed. For that reason among others, I am against much editing. The Report speaks of making the programmes "interesting, informative and shapely" and of avoiding dullness, but we ought to be televised as we are. Of course, it is impossible, for the excellent reasons given in the Select Committee's Report, but what would do most good would be continuous television from a single fixed camera, in the best place in the Gallery, in the position of a privileged spectator, with no reaction shots and no zoom lenses. The best programme of all would be a continuous one on the principles of pay television, which could be turned off by means of a coin put in a slot.
Of course, television will have its disadvantages. It will either force hon. Members into the Chamber at times when they could be more usefully serving their constituents elsewhere. Or, if they are absent, it will give an even more false impression of what we do than that which many people have already. The Chamber is an important, but not the only part of Parliament, as many hon. Members have said. To be fair, our Standing Committees, our party committees and even our "surgeries" ought to be televised. We ought to be televised answering our constituents' letters, sitting in sofas with our secretaries in the basement, as we have to do. That might hasten some reform of our working conditions, at least.
Indeed, to televise only this Chamber may distort Parliament by overemphasising the Chamber still further. But if we cannot have total coverage, let us at least have no false glamour. Let us have the plainest of television, and let us accept it for what it will be—an instrument of Parliamentary reform.
The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith), like many other hon. Members, assumes that, if this experiment is accepted, Parliament will be seen, and he said that Parliament has to be seen to be believed. It is precisely because I believe that the country would not see Parliament in its true sense that I am opposed to the experiment, and I shall demonstrate the strength of my opposition to it by going into the Division Lobby against this proposal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) talked as though there is no substitute for the House of Commons, and that a form of television which will show half an hour's discussion in Parliament will present the House of Commons as it is. However, my principal objection to the proposal is that we have no control over the selection. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House admitted in his speech that, if this experiment were accepted, there would be half an hour's television of which 16 minutes would be editorial and only 14 minutes would be live. In other words, we are to have television cameras here for the whole day, at the end of which there will be half an hour shown to the public, perhaps at 11 o'clock when many will have gone to bed, only 14 minutes of which will be live. I suspect that when that selection is made, the 14 minutes will not present Parliament in its real sense and will not be truthful. We shall not have the control.
It is all very well for my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South. He must be "well in" with the television authorities. The hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) told us that she had been a Member of this House for 11 years, and only last week was asked to do the programme, "The Week in Westminster". Perhaps I might remind the House that Mr. Ellis Smith, the former Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, was a Member of this House for 30 years and was never asked to do it. We have no control over what these broadcasting authorities do and whom they select, and we have been told that we shall not have control over them if our proceedings are televised.
Paragraph 65 of the Select Committee's Report says:
As Your Committee have already noted, the broadcasting organisations are under an obligation to present political matters with accuracy and with due balance and impartiality.
I wonder whether, if we were to examine the present broadcasting arrangements, we would prove that to be correct. I have every sympathy for those who prepare "Today in Parliament". I listened to this programme last Thursday. During the week we had spent two days discussing the Common Market, and I wondered how the authorities would present this to the public. Eighteen hon. Members spoke on the first day and 15 on the second. I am not saying this because I want to criticise those responsible. I appreciate that they have a difficult job to do. As I said on Thursday last, 15 hon. Members took part in the debate. Of those, eight were mentioned in the programme, which meant that seven speeches were unreported. Of the eight speeches, seven were made by either Privy Councillors or Ministers, and one by a back bencher. Is that what is meant by fair and impartial presentation? I suppose it could be argued that all the other speeches were mere repetition, but I doubt whether that kind of reporting can be regarded as a fair presentation of the Parliamentary scene. The difficulty would be even greater if speeches in the House were to be televised.
I do not seek to say that that example proves my point, but the problem last Thursday was that of trying to present a fair picture of the House discussing the Common Market.
In addition, there were 15 questions and answers on the tapping of Members' telephones, and it is probable that a further 50 Questions were asked on other matters. All that material had to be
Condensed into a 15-minute programme. I have every sympathy with those who have to edit the material for the programme, but I maintain that if our proceedings are televised the problem will be increased considerably. Perhaps somebody can tell me how we can control this. Paragraph 65, under the heading of "Control of the Use of the Record of Proceedings", reads:
Your Committee do not consider that the House should seek to impose editorial or other controls or conditions on the use made of broadcast material of its proceedings by those who receive the transmissions (except as suggested in paragraph 54).
In spite of these views that we should not seek to impose any control whatsoever over these—
My time is limited and I have just selected that paragraph.
I may mention that Lord Hill is quoted, as Chairman of I.T.A., as saying:
it would be a mistake for Parliament to do other than to make the full record available, leaving the selection to those broadcasting bodies who seek to use the material.
He is quoted as saying, also, that for the House
to adopt the responsibility of selecting what the public should see … would not redound to the credit of Parliament.
In other words, then, we are to have this televised and leave it to Lord Hill and others to decide how and in what circumstances they are to be presented on television. I think that—
I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has already spoken and I do not want to take up more time than is necessary. The hon. Gentleman talked about the technical aspects of this, which I accepted, but he was under a complete misapprehension in assuming that people will, without control, be able to see Parliament in a fair and impartial way—
I admit that Parliament has the final sanction, but I am not prepared to agree that the Government should spend £168,000 of the taxpayers' money—however it may be minimised by some hon. Members—on an experiment which will not be undertaken until January, 1968. My right hon. Friend should have said to the House, "We think that this is a matter which ought to be examined further." I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg), the Chairman of the Committee, who has gone into this matter very fully, that I appreciate the work which has been put in, having served on a Select Committee myself, but that this proposition is premature.
In view of what the Lord President said, it would be much better to take note of the Committee's Report and ask for this other matter to be considered further in the light of the information which he gave, stating of course that it would be much more costly. That would have been a much better way of handling the matter.
I oppose this proposal because I am not prepared to accept an experiment when I am not told that I will be able to see at the end of that experiment the control which we are to exercise over the selection of the material to be presented to the public. Secondly, I do not take so lightly the view which some people dismiss, that televising Parliament will not encourage stunts and exhibitions. I believe that it will. I never thought that I would find myself in agreement with the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg).
I draw attention to a comment by Mr. Alan Segal in an appendix to Dr. Bernard Crick's book on the Reform of Parliament. It was, no doubt, taken into account by the Committee. It stated:
No one would argue that the House would be reduced to a comic farce, but the temptation of a few to boost their public image by perhaps a little foolery now and again is not too hard to imagine.
It went on:
Mr. Quintin Hogg's famous interview on the Profumo affair was talked about precisely because it caused a sensation. Notice is taken of George Brown on television because he has a tendency to become a little larger than life on occasion. The passive interview and the meek question in the House arouse no public
comment. How much greater will be the urge for an M.P. to rise above the everyday 'humdrum' of questioners and burst into prominence with a well-timed tantrum?
Meanwhile, the hon. Member for How-den (Mr. Bryan) talks about Parliament being better reported. That quotation shows what we will encourage.
His view does not seem to have been noted by the hon. Gentleman. I speak with 21 years' experience of this place and I am sure that the televising of our proceedings will precipitate a larger number of constituency Questions and speeches. Normally an hon. Member who is doing his job properly deals with constituency matters at the appropriate time. When he realises that he must appeal to his constituents on the T.V. screen, he will know that, unless he appears regularly, his constituents will ask, "Why are you not on television? Why are you not asking more Questions?" The average back bencher will enter the: House determined to get on T.V., and I will not blame him. To run away with the Mace—it has been done before—will be one way of doing it, but it will not enhance the prestige of Parliament.
This is televising Parliament by the back door. It is the thin end of the wedge. Once the experiment has been conducted all sorts of manoeuvres will take place to get our proceedings televised as a regular feature. For that reason the central issue we must consider is whether we are prepared to allow this experiment to be conducted or whether we intend to continue to pursue our function of representing our constituents in the proper manner. Why must we make a decision now to have an experiment in January, 1968?
The decision which hon. Members will be taking, to have an experiment in a year's time, will enable us to work it out carefully and get it right. That is the answer to my hon. Friend's question. Some of us feel that we would like to find out whether or not it will work.
I should have thought it would be better, in view of the questions which the right hon. Gentleman himself raised—about his own doubts, the fact that he said that he would recommend only a five-week experiment instead of an eight-week experiment, and particularly on the ground of increasing cost—if this were left for another six months to allow the Select Committee to examine the position still further and to report to us again before we pass a direct resolution in the House.
I am opposed to it—not because I am opposed to change, because I should like to see the procedure of the House modernised. However, I do not believe this is the way to do it. I believe that this proposal will enable the cameras to switch from either side of the House, to get shots from all angles, and then produce a certain number of specially-favoured hon. Members. I am opposed to it, and I shall go into the Lobby to vote against the Motion.
This has been one of the most interesting debates that we have had in this Chamber for a very long time. I was going to say that this has been one of the coolest debates we have had, but the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. V. Yates), the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), and the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price) brought a warmth of feeling and compassion to the debates. All hon. Members have brought to the Floor of the House an interest and an informed concern which we have not had for a very long time.
Occasionally, there have been a few disconsolate figures in the shape of Whips who have drifted in and out because they have nothing to do, and I think that this has had some bearing on it. When this House quite freely sets about debating an issue which is of concern to all hon. Members, we have a very fine debate. Whether in fact, this debate could have been made televisually fascinating, or whther its peculiar ethos could have come over on the television screen, I very much doubt. This, I think, would have been one of the test cases.
If the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House comes before us again and says that he has a large sum of money to spend, I can think of many ways of spending it before we introduce television into the House. We could use that money, if we had it to spend, on improving the facilities of the House, to make them better for hon. Members, better for their unfortunate secretaries who have to work in this place, and better for the Press Gallery—because this is essentially a place of work.
I think that it was the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) who commented that he had never had any spontaneous representations from his constituency that television should be introduced to the House. I, too, have never had any representations. I have not had one. In fact, when this project was first mooted, some time ago, I was, on any balance, in favour of it.
Let us face the fact that we have had rather more general elections during the last two years than is customary. The public have seen far too much of politicians on their television screens, more than they can properly digest, and most of my constituents, when they have commented about it, have said, "We don't want to have Parliament on television. We don't want to have our favourite programme disrupted." This, I think, may have something to do with it.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde suggested that the real demand had come from a few hon. Members. That may be so; I do not know. In my opinion, it has come not from the public, but from the T.V. networks themselves, who have stimulated the demand fairly assiduously and subtly, and from the Press. It is of some importance to ask why this should be so. I believe that it was because the historical attitude of those engaged in swaying public opinion has always been to get into this place, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) spoke of the active participation of every citizen in Parliamentary affairs, but the fact is that no citizen has been able actively to participate in the legislature of his country since the ancient Greek city-state. It is quite impracticable for the citizen in the modern age to participate actively, and one of the weaknesses of television has been its failure to recognise that.
When I first came to this House a television network organised a contest, for that is what it was, between the three candidates. This passed off, and shortly after I received a letter from a constituent. She had been in hospital for an operation, and wrote: "Dear Miss Quennell, I do hope that I shall see you on the television again soon. I had just recoverd from my operation. I woke up. You were on the television. I vomited and you disappeared." Why I was on the television screen, what I said, meant nothing to her.
It is a curious feature of television that if one were to ask anyone in the street on one's way home tonight whether he had seen the Chancellor of the Exchequer on television last night, and what he had said, one would find that a great deal of the detail and all that he said had disappeared like mist.
If T.V. came into this Chamber, John Citizen would still not be an active participant in the legislature. That is a complete myth. He has not a hope of becoming a participant; he is simply a remotely-con trolled bystander. What he watched would not be the proceedings of this House at all, but someone else's version. That someone else would be one of those professionally engaged in the media of mass communication. What John Citizen would see would be someone who had a personal, professional and vested interest in televising this House; that is to say, a person whose professional personal interest was to produce "good" television. That includes the Press in Fleet Street, the networks, and everyone who has a vested interest in television. What we will be doing is to allow those with personal and professional and vested kinds of interest in the media to come into this place.
Despite all the cost, and the changes that would be inevitable, the actual working efficiency of the House as such will not be affected by one iota. It will not be improved by one iota. We shall not despatch our business one minute more quickly, or more efficiently or more effectively. It is possible, indeed, that our efficiency may be reduced—various hon. Members have expressed these fears.
The argument about public cynicism, that the public are getting cynical about Parliament, that the Parliamentary reputation is at the moment low and might be cured if television came in, appals me. I do not believe it. The reputation of Parliament has always been low throughout the history of the country and throughout Parliamentary history. I shall be very worried when John Citizen stops being cynical about this place. He ought to be cynical about it; it is quite right that he should be. The average citizen should take a jaundiced view of this place because it is a place of faction and friction, a place where there is argument and counter argument fought out across the Floor of this Chamber. This is the vitality of our democracy.
This is a passionate place. Men and women who come here ought to feel passionately about the issues which are debated on the Floor of the House. Of course it is a noisy place, it is a robust place, and, of course, it is rumbustious. This Chamber can make more noise than any public meeting I have ever heard, and I have been to some. I admit freely that I have contributed to that noise from time to time. This is right. We must not try to turn this place into a sort of drawing-room debating society which looks nice on television screens, with all its Members sitting with their ankles neatly crossed.
If this place ever becomes a venerated relic, like so many others which the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) had in his care for a long time, it will no longer be the heart and pulse of democracy. That should not lead us to diminish or underestimate in any way the value of the Report which the Committe presided over by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) has produced, because, if nothing else, that Report has produced one of the most interesting and thoughtful debates that the House has heard for a long time.
I have to make a very unusual confession at this late hour. I am still a floating voter and it may be that the future history of this House will depend on the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, because my vote may be the decisive one. One lives for these occasions in one's Parliamentary career and I face such an occasion tonight.
I also have to make a confession which perhaps is the most awful I shall ever have to make until I end in a court of law. I find myself in substantial agreement with the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg). This caused me such great spiritual turmoil that I had to leave the Chamber to recover myself. As you know, Mr. Speaker, truth often emanates from strange quarters. I have occasionally delivered myself of sound advice to the Government of the day, but what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said must not be dismissed with hilarity simply because it was the right hon. and learned Gentleman who said it.
The central strand of his argument was perfectly valid. It was that with all the ingenuity in the world, with all the cameras it is possible to deploy in this House, it is totally impossible to televise this House as we all know it and as we all love it. I recall that a couple of nights ago there was a television production of the novel, "Corridors of Power". Many of the details were accurate. Patrick Allen, who played the leading Minister, did it so exceptionally well that I am confident his name will be in the next reshuffle.
The technical details were absolutely correct, but there were two things missing. One was the fact that what brings most of us to the House are political motives, that we are inspired by political motives and that the drama in the House derives from the clash of political ideals and political interests. The other thing which was missing from the programme was a sense of the House as a whole and the limited, but nevertheless very important, rôle that the Chamber plays in the political process as a whole. Without in any way wishing to upset my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester), when we ask any television authority to present the House as it is we ask of that authority a total impossibility.
Here I must challenge some of my hon. Friends. It is not true that those of us who have reservations about the proposal are scared of television cameras. Nobody like myself who spent several fruitful months in active association with Miss Joan Littlewood can possibly have any fear of cameras, footlights, audiences or anything else. When it comes to comedy, it may well be that those of us who are lukewarm about the proposal might occasionally hog the cameras if the proposal is accepted and the cameras actually move in. There are certain simple, tricks of the theatrical trade that I myself, in association with certain friends outside the House, am quite prepared to teach in Room 5 to any Member. There are certain tricks of the trade which require no verbal contribution. They require only a small manipulation of facial expressions and certain manipulations of the hands.
Having straddled both sides of the argument and having that capacity, rather rare in the House, to learn from one's own speeches, I am rather inclined at this moment to drift in the direction of my hon. Friend the Leader of the House, for one simple reason. I never deliver prepared speeches. I have never used a note in my life, except a banknote. I am conscious of the fact that, in so far as rational arguments have been presented here today, they have been presented by the proponents of this experiment. I have voiced what I hope are healthy prejudices, but I would never seek to disguise either from you, Sir, or from the rest of the House that they are anything more than prejudices, and I hope that they will be voted down in the Lobby tonight.
I hope that the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) may be convinced by his own argument and go into the "No" Lobby. If he is not, he may find himself on the National Steel Corporation at any moment. I have always been against the televising of Parliament. Some years ago when the question whether the State Opening of Parliament should be televised arose, I and a number of other Privy Councillors were consulted as to whether this televising should take place. We unanimously advised that it should not take place, on the ground that it would inevitably lead to the televising of proceedings in the Chamber. The next day the decision was announced that the State Opening of Parliament should be televised.
Those who endeavour to put forward the argument that this is only an experiment are being either disingenuous or rather simple. Quite clearly, if it is desired to get this thing through against a good deal of opposition it will not be got through at one go. Those who want to get it through have to go for the experiment; they have to say, "After all, this is only an experiment". It is the housemaid's baby argument in a way. One has to say that it is only an experiment.
Why do I say that those who take the experiment argument seriouslyaresimple?—because it is not really a relevant experiment. Clearly, one would want experiments with new cameras, but one can do that with anybody or nobody in the House. One could do that, but one would not have a real experiment, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) pointed out. What one will not get is the effect on Parliament of being televised, and one cannot get that without its being done live. It is something which would work only over a prolonged period.
Of course, the reporting of Parliament at present is not anything like as good as we should wish it. There is a nightly report on the B.B.C., there are the sketch writers and the reports, particularly in the more serious newspapers. The B.B.C. report is, in effect, the work of a sketch writer—an impartial one, and very good at it. The newspaper sketch writers vary in their honesty and competence, but they give some idea of what is going on. However, the important thing is that in the more serious papers, certainly on big debates and at any rate as far as the first Front Bench speakers go, the whole argument is set out.
Speaking in Parliament or anywhere else is really an exercise in the art of persuasion. As Aristotle pointed out in his "Rhetoric", which is, incidentally, the only good work on public speaking yet written, that a speech should proceed from exordium through the narrative and proofs to a peroration. One gradually builds up one's argument by adding piece after piece.
How can that conceivably be reproduced in a few snippets on television? One cannot possibly reproduce a big and convincing speech by taking two or three sentences, one from the exordium, one from the narrative and proofs and one from the peroration. One cannot give any idea of what has really been going on in that way.
I find distinctly odd that the idea expounded by one of my hon. Friends that televising Parliament would enable the public to assist us in revising our procedure. After all, we suffer pretty heavily in the House from a number of professors of politics who supposedly have studied our procedure for many years, but I do not think that they have been very helpful. I do not think that one can revise the procedure of Parliament unless one is a Member and knows something about it.
The plea for experiment is bogus because it is disingenuous or over-simplified. I think that this will do harm to Parliament and not add anything to it, and I very much hope that the House will throw it out.
I find it rather extraordinary that so many right hon. and hon. Members who annually vote millions of pounds for the development of scientific and technological advance show so much pathetic and almost neurotic apprehension about the introduction of an advanced technological form of communication. Television and broadcasting are subtle and well-developed means of mass communication, and I do not see why we should fear them or be apprehensive about them when we are quite willing to accept other means of communication—printing, journalism, the Press—as a normal and natural means of communicating the work of the House to the general public.
The Select Committee's Report says that no issue of fundamental principle is involved, and it is quite right. The opponents of the proposition are in a difficulty, because they cannot deny that all our proceedings are made public and that what we do is public business in the strictest and most literal sense. Every word, every comment, every interjection is recorded in HANSARD, and any person in the world who can cope with the English language can at any time read what we do, and all our proceedings.
It is objected that this form of television will not be a complete record, that it will be edited. The reports of our proceedings in newspapers, journals and periodicals are, of course, edited. A great many citizens receive their views, opinions and ideas about what goes on in the House from an edited form of reporting, and we accept that as normal and natural.
It is said that the written word is in some way not as vivid or as immediate as seeing what is going on in the Chamber. But we admit this, too. We accept that the public has an absolute right to come into the Gallery to watch and hear directly what is done and said in the Chamber. So there can be no issue of principle, that we should, somehow, be allowing the public to see or hear our proceedings in a way which has not been possible hitherto.
The only difference will be that, through this advanced means of communication which has been given to us in the second half of the twentieth century, it will be possible not for the thousand or so who pass through the Galleries each year but for millions, for almost every ordinary citizen, to see and hear something of what goes on in the Chamber.
It has been suggested that the very presence of television will alter the behaviour of the House and the manner of our debates. This may be true. For my part, I would not seriously argue that we have achieved an immaculate, immutable peak of perfection on the conduct of business in the Chamber so that change must be change for the worse. It is my hope that the impact of television in the House would promote change.
Much play has been made of the possible effect of empty benches on viewers watching the broadcast. If this provoked public comment and debate on why the benches were empty, on whether the mode of our proceedings might, perhaps, be rearranged so that there was no necessity for the benches to be empty and whether our procedure and arrangement of business in the House and in Committee were not as well ordered as they might be, this could be a positive and valuable contribution as a result of the introduction of television, and I for one would not be afraid of it.
It has been suggested that the introduction of television would lead to exhibitionism and to the production of "personalities". If we are honest, we must admit that this has happened already. There is a magic circle, a closed circle, I fancy, of those who appear on television. They are not selected by the House, and I do not know who selects them, but there are the accepted television personalities who, although they do not speak from these benches, speak as Members of the House.
They appear as Members of Parliament, and they seem in a subtle way to have some sort of public prerogative in appearing on television. I believe that it would be valuable if the cameras were brought into the Chamber and focused, perhaps, on some who do not belong to the magic circle and who are not likely to break into it.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) said that he wanted to keep the House as it is. I believe that to be neither desirable nor possible. I have a respect for the House, but it is a long way short of reverence. I regard this place as a growing and living organism. It must develop and must respond to social changes and social needs, and I view the proposed experiment as one way by which it could and should respond.
In winding up the debate, I would reiterate what the hon. Lady the Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell) said. It has been one of the most interesting debates to listen to but I am tempted to add that, as is usual when one is listening to a good debate, one reflects that the decision is taken by those who are not present. As has been pointed out, never more than 70 or 80 hon. Members have been present during most of the debate and those who are absent may well stay absent and determine the issue.
I would have been a little pessimistic had it not been for the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Fletcher), who assured me that there was one person at least still to be persuaded—although he made me nervous by adding that he was inclined to go my way. I wonder whether anything I say might deflect him from that purpose.
I think that it will be useful to answer a number of specific questions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) asked me about the statement made by my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs in the previous debate concerning my right hon. Friend's view of the size of the majority required. I did not know about that statement but I have now read the passage and I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is the kind of issue on which a majority merely of one or two would be unwise. If we are to do this thing, it should be agreed to by a consensus of the House. It is because of this that some of us believe in the importance of having an experiment and doing it in such a way that we can secure genuine conviction about whether we are doing right or wrong.
Earlier, the right hon. Gentleman said that the experiment would not take place until 1968, so there might be another debate before then. That might affect the voting tonight, because it may mean that a lot of hon. Members have not yet made up their minds.
I was about to come to that aspect. Several hon. Members have asked what the situation will be if the House votes for this project. It is a matter for the House to decide, but if we vote for the experiment I remind the House that it is still in vague terms. A whole series of matters remain to be decided about how we should conduct it. If we vote for it, it would only be proper that the Services Committee should present to the House a detailed report on how it should be conducted and on which, in due course, the House would want to decide.
This is a proper course, for many reasons. There has been an interesting discussion about the duration of the experiment. When I read the Report, I was persuaded—and I have talked to others about this—that shortening the period was right. But I have listened carefully to the debate and I am beginning to wonder whether those who think there should be an eight-week period were not right in saying that five weeks was too short. I should like more consideration given to this by the Services Committee. I wonder whether we should not go back to the idea of an eight-week period, because the arguments for it are a good deal stronger than I realised.
There are two other issues on which I believe we should have more thought and a further Report from the Services Committee. The first is whether we should cover the Standing Committees upstairs. My conviction is that it would be the gravest mistake merely to televise the Floor of the House and neglect the Standing Committees. It might be found, as they have found in the United States, that it is in the Committees where television, because the area is smaller and more intimate, can play a rôle. I would therefore say to the hon. Member for Howden (Mr. Bryan) that I entirely agree that, if we do a closed-circuit experiment, it should not be limited to the Floor of the House, where, as has been pointed out by many Hon. Members, there are special problems, and that we should also cover the Committees upstairs.
It might even be the case that a Select Committee, if it chooses to sit in public, will agree to have closed-circuit television. Since these things are to be done privately, I would like them to be done with our Committees. But all these things need further thought in order to work out the precise plan the House should consider before finally deciding.
The other point, which was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) and others and to which I attach great importance, concerns sound. It should be remembered that there are two quite different issues involved—sound and television—but most of the debate has concentrated on television. I should have thought, for instance, that a sound radio version of what we do is worth keeping and recording. Videotape costs a fortune and cannot be kept, but sound recording can be kept as a permanent record of the House and its Committees.
I hope that we can look at this on its merits. We have to take the two together and study them both, but I hope that we can experiment with sound recording both in Committees upstairs and on the Floor of the House, and consider the merits of sound live and extract and television live and extract.
The hon. Gentleman is anticipating the debate on procedure when I shall hope to show that I by no means equate the two. What I said was that in the United States, where proceedings on the Floor had not been televised, it had been found on occasions that television cameras had been of value in Committees. The Committees there are not the same as ours, but they are not much bigger or smaller, and the atmospheres of the two are not unlike.
The second thing with which I should like to deal in the time at my disposal is the argument of many of the opponents that the test could teach us nothing. It is true that it would teach the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone nothing, in the sense that he has made up his mind before the test. A good many hon. Members who have spoken today have said that they have made up their minds and therefore do not want a test, and I agree that in that sense one does not want a test. Those of us on the whole who are in favour of it, who have a general inclination towards the proposal, but who still have a respect for the arguments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and who love the House as much as he does, still want to make sure that we take certain precautions before committing ourselves too much.
All the same there has been in the debate a considerable advance towards a consensus and I was relieved to find that although I appreciated that Members of the Select Committee would be very angry at the proposals for a postponement, there are now very few who have advocated a test who do not now see the wisdom of having time so that we can arrange the experiments in January, 1968, with the cameras totally out of the Chamber and in proper conditions and then have time, time for the House and time for the Committee, to work out the problems which I have mentioned and then to present a detailed and careful plan to the House about how we intend an experiment to be conducted.
Equally, there seems to be very little disagreement about a suggestion which I put rather experimentally in my first speech when I showed my anxiety to keep our proceedings out of show business. That is to say, there should not be any question of these things going to the outside world and being used in entertainment programmes by either the B.B.C. or the I.T.A. There seems to be no disagreement whatever that the freedom which we are giving to the broadcasting authorities would not be freedom to spatchcook pieces of the House of Commons into show business, that we are thinking of these as news programmes, as news bulletins or as educational programmes, and that these matters would have to be defined between us and the broadcasting authorities. About that I have found virtually no disagreement in the House of Commons.
Nevertheless, in addition there are at least three ways in which a test could teach us much, provided that our minds are open to being taught anything about this subject, and that excludes many hon. Members who have made speeches this evening and who do not want to be taught anything. They already know what is right and what is wrong about this place.
First, it would be useful to confirm the impression that the production of the original videotape by a joint or professional team is practical. I think we are pretty certain that it would be, but it would be useful to have it confirmed. But the second point is the real test, and this sums up a number of speeches from both sides. We do not yet know how extracts of debates broadcast in programmes would stand up to the debates which we ourselves already hold in B.B.C. studios. It is perfectly true that Members of Parliament can now go along to a B.B.C. studio after a debate in the House of Commons and have a debate in the studio. That is what happens now.
What we do not know is how far from the point of view of public education, if, instead of Members going to studios and debating there, people could see extracts of our debate in the record, those extracts would stand up in competition with the studio speech.
Some hon. Members shake their heads. They know. I do not pretend to know, but I should like to know. This is something which we could test because we would see the programme here and then turn on B.B.C. and be able to see the sort of studio programmes with which we are competing and we could see how the two techniques compare. My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Rowland) also mentioned the problem of the Press, which again is an unresolved problem. He made the very wise suggestion—he agreed with me—that it would be impossible to keep the Parliamentary Press outside this experiment, and not allow them to see it at all. As he rightly said, they would be very useful because they are good judges of these things and would be able to give their views upon it.
The third point which we can test is that raised in the very powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) who spoke against the experiment. He spoke of over-exposure and said that we were all over-exposed. It is not my impression, speaking as one who was a back bencher for 17 years that I was over-exposed by the activities of the Press in reporting my speeches.
Indeed, I have made very many good speeches which were not reported at all, and I was a bit surprised by this description of back benchers basking in masses of publicity. It was not my impression that I was over-exposed, and I do not know where he got the idea from. Maybe there are special things in the Stoke Sentinel which they do for him, but which were not done for me in the Coventry Evening Telegraph.
The point that I make is one of the greatest issues here, namely, how far the undoubted balance in favour of the Front Bench, which is inevitable in the Press can be rectified if we have television. This is one of the issues. [Laughter.] It is a great thing to have the laughter of the unconverted, but let us take the facts.
They are that when the B.B.C. has its report on Parliament each night, the report is substantially fairer to back benchers than most of the Press. So is the weekly report on Parliament run by back benchers. Reports there give slightly less stardom to the Front Bench. It is worth looking at this to see whether this under-exposure of the House as a whole would or would not be affected by this experiment. This is something that we can actually test.
I turn to the remarkable speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for St. Marylebone which summed up the views, to their intense embarrassment, not only of himself and some of his hon. and right hon. Friends, but even of some of mine, who were deeply embarrassed at finding themselves in agreement with his innate conservatism about our Chamber. He said perfectly openly that he loved the Chamber and that it could not be a better place. He feared that any change might be for the worse. This was a passionate speech as were most of the speeches against this proposal, because they were full of conviction that nothing could be done and that this proposal could only bring harm.
If I felt that, I would be against the experiment, too. But there are a number of us who have not got this passionate dogmatism of conviction that the new leaders of mass communication can do nothing but harm. We feel that we should try an experiment. This is the real and basic issue. During the last two minutes before we vote I would only say that if we turn it down we shall turn it down in a defensive feeling, saying that any change is for the worse. I believe that it is fair what my hon. Friend said, that any change in this direction—[Interruption.] Yes, the argument was that we should not try this. I do not think that some hon. Gentlemen were here. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he feared this and he could see no possibility, no remote possibility of any improvement and that he would rather not take the risk. This was the argument.
The issue is whether that is a correct assessment. If there is a reasonable chance of finding a way of improving our
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|Archer, Peter||Buchan, Norman||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)|
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|Atkinson, Norman, (Tottenham)||Carlisle, Mark||Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)|
|Barnes, Michael||Carmichael, Neil||Eyre, Reginald|
|Batsford, Brian||Coe, Denis||Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Crossman, Rt, Hn. Richard||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Blaker, Peter||Dalyell, Tarn||Floud, Bernard|
|Booth, Albert||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Foster, Sir John|
|Boston, Terence||Dickens, James||Fowler, Gerry|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Driberg, Tom||Fraser, John (Norwood)|
|Brooks, Edwin||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan|
|Brown, R W. (Shoreditch & F'bury)||Eadie, Alex||Goodhart, Philip|
|Bryan, Paul||Eden, Sir John||Grant, Anthony|
relationship with and getting closer to the world outside by means of this great new medium, it will be worth trying it out. It is as well to remember that if we refuse to accept it tonight the other place will go on with its experiment. It will try it out. We shall have turned it down and their Lordships will have accepted the principle of trying it out.
Let us remind ourselves of the fact that the other place has favoured the experiment. I advise the House, therefore, to take its courage in its hands and to test it out.
I thought that the Committee summed up the issue extremely well in these two sentences:
It may be"—
notice how cool it is compared with the passionate dogmatism of the opposition—
that the House suffers by comparison with other public bodies simply because its proceedings are never directly included in news bulletins, which are heard and watched, at one time and another, by most people in Britain. The nation's most representative assembly is thus also the most remote from the public: this remoteness could be diminished without loss of dignity.
I am not saying that I know that that is right, but I know that it is a thought worth testing, and it is because it is worth testing that we should not be afraid of this experiment.
|Gresham Cooke, R.||MacPherson, Malcolm||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)|
|Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Maddan, Martin||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Mallalieu, J.P.W. (Huddersfield', E.)||Ryan, John|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest||Scott, Nicholas|
|Haseldine, Norman||Mathew, Robert||Sharples, Richard|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Maydon, Lt. Cmdr. S. L. C.||Sheldon, Robert|
|Hooley, Frank||Mayhew, Christopher||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Mikardo, Ian||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Hornby, Richard||Millan, Bruce||Smith, John|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Molloy, William||Swingler, Stephen|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Taverne, Dick|
|Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P'cras, S.)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Thorpe, Jeremy|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Murray, Albert||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Neave, Airey||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Nott, John||Whitaker, Ben|
|Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Whitelaw, William|
|Kirk, Peter||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Lawson, George||Pardoe, John||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Park, Trevor||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Pavitt, Laurence||Winnick, David|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfietd)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Prior, J. M. L.||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Luard, Evan||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James||Worsley, Marcus|
|Lubbock, Eric||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)||Rhodes, Geoffrey||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|MacDermot, Niall||Richard, Ivor||Mr. Eldon Griffiths and|
|Macmilian, Maurice (Farnham)||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Mr. Michael English.|
|McNamara, J. Kevin||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Abse, Leo||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Hannan, William||Oswald, Thomas|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Astor, John||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Hawkins, Paul||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Awdry, Daniel||Hazell, Bert||Peel, John|
|Balniel, Lord||Henig, Stanley||Percival, Ian|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Higgins, Terence L.||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Barnett, Joel||Hill, J. E, B.||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Bell, Ronald||Hirst, Geoffrey||Peyton, John|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch|
|Biffen, John||Holland, Philip||Pym, Francis|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Blackburn, F.||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Brewis, John||Hunt, John||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Hunter, Adam||Roebuck, Roy|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Conlan, Bernard||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Costain, A. P.||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Snow, Julian|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Crouch, David||Judd, Frank||Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Kershaw, Anthony||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Kitson, Timothy||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford)||Lipton, Marcus||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Lomas, Kenneth||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Longden, Gilbert||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||McAdden, Sir Stephen||vickers, Dame Joan|
|Edelman, Maurice||McCann, John||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Ensor, David||McGuire, Michael||Wall, Patrick|
|Errington, Sir Eric||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Wallace, George|
|Forrester, John||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)||Weitzman, David|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Manuel, Archie||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Ginsburg, David||Mason, Roy||Whitlock, William|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mellish, Robert||Wigg, Rt. Hn. George|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mendelson, J. J.||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Grant-Ferris, R.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||Nabarro, Sir Cerald||Yates, Victor|
|Gregory, Arnold||Ogden, Eric|
|Gurden, Harold||O'Malley, Brian||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Onslow, Cranley||Mr. J. T. Price and Miss Quennell.|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Oram, Albert E.|