Televising of Parliament

– in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 30th January 1980.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:09 pm, 30th January 1980

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the televising of the proceedings of the House of Commons and its committees and to establish a Parliamentary Television Unit to control the televising, provide feeds and recordings to outside organisations and maintain an electronic Hansard. The Bill, which proposes to set up a parliamentary television unit and provide an electronic Hansard, is a belated adjustment to two modern developments.

A modern Parliament is no longer a closed debating chamber in which Members seek to sway the opinion of other Members. In a modern mass democracy we have a system of government by party, in which a party is elected to govern—or in this case misgovern—and another party opposes. The House is, essentially, the stage on which that party battle is fought. It is the great forum of this nation in which the issues of the day, such as steel and gas, are debated and the arguments are put before the people.

Those functions make communication with the world outside essential, but we are not communicating. We are a stage which few watch and a forum which few hear. Can we wonder if there is ignorance and alienation and if our constituents have so little knowledge of what goes on and what we are doing and discussing in the House? They do not know, because we exclude them.

We put our constituents in the position of the tennis enthusiast who has to find out about Wimbledon by standing outside and hearing the plop of the ball and seeing the victors interviewed on television afterwards, but who is not allowed to see the centre court action which makes or breaks.

People are not allowed to see, because in a modern society most people rely on television for most of their news and information about current affairs. It is no good our saying that they should queue to sit in the Gallery, pay £8 a volume for Hansard, or read the garbled accounts of our proceedings in the quality papers. They will not do that. We have to go to them on the medium that they rely on for their news.

It is because that medium cannot cover Parliament that it has started its own alternative political forum, which is one in which we operate on television's terms and in which it sets the framework of debate. Television decides the issues and, by a sort of Gresham's law of politics, the tele-politics drive out good politics, and people know nothing of the sort of politics that go on here because that is closed to them.

Hon. Members may argue that people have access to the radio, but that is not an appropriate medium. It is appropriate for continuous coverage, because it is cheap, but, for the rest, the microphones pick up every extraneous noise and give the impression of chaos and disorder of a sort that you, Mr. Speaker, would never allow. The listener is infuriated by radio because he cannot see what is going on. [Interruption.] If hon. Members have that low a view of the dignity of the House, it is appropriate that they should vote against the Bill.

I believe that it is appropriate that people should see what goes on in the Chamber. It would certainly show that we are not as bad as we sound on the radio, it will show the reality of the Chamber, which is impressive in most respects and certainly more than fit to be shown, and it will repair the damage that has been done by radio.

Surveys of public opinion show that the people of this country want television coverage of Parliament. It is not a burning desire, but the majority want to see it on television. We are refusing it basically because we fear the medium.

I propose that we allow television coverage, not on television's terms, but on our terms and under our control, and that we should do so by following the successful precedent of Canada where television, after being feared, is accepted. Even the opponents of television there now wonder, as we shall here, why it took so long to introduce it.

The essence of success is the setting up of a parliamentary television unit, working through half a dozen remote control cameras in various parts of the House—with no crews in the Chamber—and with minimal lighting. It would be slightly brighter than the present lighting, but the House can be unconscionably dim at times.

The cameras would work on a mid-shot of the Member who has Mr. Speaker's eye and they would follow the eye of Mr. Speaker. There would be no cut aways. I appreciate that hon. Members fear cut aways as much as coverage and I recognise that all the elements of human activity and inactivity can take place on our Benches. That will not be shown. The coverage will be of the hon. Member who has Mr. Speaker's eye.

That record will be available on disc, as the technology allows, and on tape—it is surprising to note from the Canadian experience how many people want to see tapes of what goes on. It will be available full time to enable subscribers, and the medium of cable television will expand enormously in the 1980s, and as a feed to the BBC and ITV.

That will guarantee coverage and the minimum of change to the House. It is not proposed to change the Chamber into an overflow studio facility for ITV and BBC, with Mr. Speaker as the floor manager. This is, and will remain, a debating Chamber and hon. Members will be addressing the Chamber. They will succeed or fail by the techniques appropriate to addressing the Chamber and not by the different techniques and histrionics of speaking in a studio.

Television coverage on that basis will give no more encouragement to the exhibitionists in the House than the techniques of the Chamber already do. As for those hon. Members who might spend two hours applying make-up before speaking, it will make no difference to them. They will continue to do it, as they do now.

This is a serious attempt to bring the House to the people and to bring us into line with the European Parliaments that allow coverage by television and with the two-score legislatures around the world who have accepted television in their Chambers.

We cannot afford to put ourselves in the position of saying, as we sometimes appear to say—that either our proceedings are so awful that they must be kept from the people or that the people are too stupid to comprehend what goes on in the Chamber.

This is a Chamber of serious discussion of serious issues that affect our people and their lives, and in which the arguments are put on their behalf. They will be the better for seeing it.

Without television, a gulf opens up between Parliament and the nation outside. With it we would be the stronger because the people would know what we are doing and why we are doing it. We would be speaking directly to them, and that would make the legislature more relevant and stronger against the Executive.

With television coverage of our proceedings we will put the House where it belongs. Hon. Members who are laughing obviously have an odd idea of where it belongs. Perhaps they belong there too. The House belongs at the centre of this nation's attention and affairs. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose the Bill?

Photo of Mr John Stokes Mr John Stokes , Halesowen and Stourbridge 4:17 pm, 30th January 1980

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not believe that my opposition to the Bill will come as much of a surprise to hon. Members.

Television is an extension of broadcasting and in a short time we have seen what a disaster that has proved in the House, particularly in relation to Prime Minister's Question Time, which has now been dropped from the radio coverage.

We must never forget that television is essentially a branch of show business. It must entertain continuously. By its very nature, it exaggerates the sensational, the trivial and the scandalous. It must do the same here.

Imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the background noise, the scenes, the angry exchanges across the House, the rows. Television is bound to emphasise all those, at the expense of the real, solid and serious work that we do in the Chamber, in Committee or outside the Palace altogether.

Hon. Members will try to hog the cameras. We saw that the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) did just that in his recent television performance when the other two hon. Members on the programme did not get a word in.

Television is obsessed with irrelevant details. It will show hon. Members' dress, behaviour, yawns and the occasional nap. The dresses and hats of our Lady Members will be featured, as will be the sartorial eccentricities of our more flamboyant male colleagues. Those hon. Members who are inclined to show off will be even more tempted to do so as a result of the cameras being in the Chamber.

Our constituents will be seen peering into the screen to see if their Member is present, not realising that much good work is done not only in the Chamber, but in the Smoking Room, in Committee and outside. If television comes here, hon. Members will have to rehearse their speeches at home in front of the mirror as a prelude to acting out their parts here. They will be judged more on their public performance as actors than on their real work.

My main objection to television is that the presence of cameras here will fundamentally alter the character of this place. The intimate atmosphere such as we are experiencing now—the cut and thrust of debate—will change into a spectacle of the hustings before an audience of 55 million people.

I notice that the Press Gallery is much fuller than it was a few minutes ago. The press consider this to be a matter of tremendous importance because it concerns them. It is not an important matter at all. In the greatest days of this country, the proceedings of Parliament were not allowed to be published. In those great days, deeds mattered more than words. Today, in our less great days, we suffer from a plethora of news and comment that goes on endlessly.

We pray each week that we may be godly, and quietly governed. I believe that if we televise our proceedings, we will be governed by catcalls, shrieks, hysteria, shouting, gestures and all manner of demonstrations. I sincerely hope that the House will have none of it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and Nomination of Select Committees at Commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided:—Ayes 201, Noes 201.

Division No. 148AYES[4.22 pm
Aitken, JonathanFraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Needham, Richard
Alexander, RichardFraser, Peter (South Angus)Nelson, Anthony
Allaun, FrankGeorge, BruceNewton, Tony
Alton, DavidGolding, JohnO'Neill, Martin
Amery, Rt Hon JulianGorst, JohnPalmer, Arthur
Ancram, MichaelGrant, John (Islington C)Parry, Robert
Archer, Rt Hon PeterGrimond, Rt Hon J.Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)Pattie, Geoffrey
Ashley, Rt Hon JackHannam, JohnPendry, Tom
Aspinwall, JackHaselhurst, AlanPenhaligon, David
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Hesley, Rt Hon DenisPrescott, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Heller, Eric S.Race, Reg
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Henderson, BarryRadice, Giles
Beith, A. J.Hogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Rathbone, Tim
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodHogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Home Robertson, JohnRees-Davies, W. R.
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Homewood, WilliamRhodes James, Robert
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertHooley, FrankRichardson, Jo
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHooson, TomRidsdale, Julian
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Horam, JohnRobertson, George
Bray, Dr JeremyHowell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Brooke, Hon PeterHowells, GeraintRooker, J. W.
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Huckfield, LesRoss, Ernest (Dundee West)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Hunt, David (Wirral)Rost, Peter
Bryan, Sir PaulJohnson Smith, GeoffreyRowlands, Ted
Buchan, NormanJohnston, Russell (Inverness)Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Butcher, JohnKaufman, Rt Hon GeraldSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
Canavan, DennisKinnock, NeilSheerman, Barry
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Knox, DavidSheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
Carmichael, NeilLambie, DavidShepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Lamont, NormanSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Lee, JohnSims, Roger
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Lester, Jim (Beeston)Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Colvin, MichaelLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
Cope, JohnLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Soley, Clive
Cranborne, ViscountLitherland, RobertSpeller, Tony
Critchley, JulianLloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Sproat, Iain
Crouch, DavidLofthouse, GeoffreySquire, Robin
Dalyell, TamMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonSteel, Rt Hon David
Davis, Clinton, (Hackney Central)McCrindle, RobertStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)McDonald, Dr OonaghStrang, Gavin
Dempsey, JamesMcKay, Allen (Penistone)Straw, Jack
Dewar, DonaldMcKelvey, WilliamTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Dickens, GeoffreyMacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorTemple-Morris, Peter
Dixon, DonaldMcNally, ThomasThorne, Stan (Preston South)
Dobson, FrankMcQuarrie, AlbertTinn, James
Dorrell, StephenMcWilliam, JohnTorney, Tom
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMajor, JohnTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Dubs, AlfredMarks, KennethVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Dunwoody, Mrs GwynethMarshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)Viggers, Peter
Dykes, HughMarshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Eadle, AlexMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Watkins, David
Eastham, KenMates, MichaelWatson, John
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Mawhinney, Dr BrianWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Maxton, JohnWhitney, Raymond
English, MichaelMaynard, Miss JoanWigley, Dafydd
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)Meacher, MichaelWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Farr, JohnMellish, Rt Hon RobertWilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Fenner, Mrs PeggyMeyer, Sir AnthonyWilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Field, FrankMikardo, IanWilson, William (Coventry SE)
Flannery, MartinMillan, Rt Hon BruceWoolmer, Kenneth
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Wright, Sheila
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Morris,Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMoyle, Rt Hon RolandMr. Bob Cryer and
Foster, DerekNeale, GerrardMr. Peter Bottomley.
Foulkes, George
NOES
Abse, LeoBerry, Hon AnthonyBrown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)
Adley, RobertBevan, David GilroyBrown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)
Anderson, DonaldBoscawen, Hon RobertBrown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)
Ashton, JoeBowden, AndrewBruce-Gardyne, John
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Boyson, Dr RhodesBudgen, Nick
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Braine, Sir BernardBurden, F. A.
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBright, GrahamCadbury, Jocelyn
Bell, Sir RonaldBrinton, TimCallaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Brotherton, MichaelCampbell, Ian
Cant, R. B.Holland, Philip (Carlton)Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hordern, PeterPage, John (Harrow, West)
Carter-Jones, LewisHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Park, George
Channon, PaulHudson Davies, Gwilym EdnyfedPatten, John (Oxford)
Churchill, W. S.Hughes, Mark (Durham)Pavitt, Laurie
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Pawsey, James
Cockeram, EricHunt, John (Ravensbourne)Pollock, Alexander
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Hurd, Hon DouglasPorter, George
Cohen, StanleyIrving, Charles (Cheltenham)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)
Coleman, DonaldJanner, Hon GrevillePrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.John, BrynmorProctor, K. Harvey
Conlan, BernardJones, Barry (East Flint)Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Cormack, PatrickJones, Dan (Burnley)Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Costain, A. P.Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cowans, HarryKellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
Crowther, J. S.Kerr, RussellShaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Cunliffe, LawrenceKilroy-Silk, RobertShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Lamond, JamesSilverman, Julius
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Lang, IanSilvester, Fred
Dormand, JackLangford-Holt, Sir JohnSkeet, T. H. H.
Douglas-Mann, BruceLatham, MichaelSnape, Peter
Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lawrence, IvanSpriggs, Leslie
Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLeadbitter, TedStallard, A. W.
Elliott, Sir WilliamLe Marchant, SpencerStanley, John
Emery, PeterLennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSteen, Anthony
Evans, John (Newton)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Stevens, Martin
Ewing, HarryLloyd, Peter (Fareham)Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
Fairgrieve, RussellLoveridge, JohnStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Faulds, AndrewMcCartney, HughStoddart, David
Fell, AnthonyMcCusker, H.Stokes, John
Finsberg, GeoffreyMacfarlane, NeilStrading Thomas, J.
Ford, BenMacGregor, JohnSummerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Forman, NigelMacKay, John (Argyll)Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Forrester, JohnMcNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Tebbit, Norman
Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMadel, DavidThompson, Donald
Freud, ClementMarland, PaulThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.Marlow, TonyThornton, Malcolm
Gardiner, George (Reigate)Marten, Neil (Banbury)Townend, John (Bridlington)
Garel-Jones, TristanMartin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Trotter, Neville
Garrett, John (Norwich S)Mason, Rt Hon RoyWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Mather, CarolWakeham, John
Ginsburg, DavidMawby, RayWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Glyn, Dr AlanMaxwell-Hyslop, RobinWaller, Gary
Goodhew, VictorMills, Iain (Meriden)Warren, Kenneth
Gow, IanMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Weetch, Ken
Gower, Sir RaymondMitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Wellbeloved, James
Graham, TedMoate, RogerWells, John (Maidstone)
Grant, George (Morpeth)Molyneaux, JamesWells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Greenway, HarryMonro, HectorWheeler, John
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)Montgomery, FergusWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Whitlock, William
Grist, IanMorris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Wickenden, Keith
Gummer, John SelwynMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Wolfson, Mark
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Mudd, DavidYoung, David (Bolton East)
Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMyles, David
Hastings, StephenNeubert, MichaelTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hawksley, WarrenOakes, Rt Hon GordonMr. Ivor Stanbrook and
Heddle, JohnOnslow, CranleyMr. Christopher Murphy.
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.

The numbers being equal

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

In order to give the House an opportunity to reconsider this matter, I cast my vote with the Ayes.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Austin Mitchell, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Julian Critchley, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Tim Rathbone, Mr. John Tilley, Mr. John Watson and Mr. Phillip Whitehead.