Before we start the debate on the televising of proceedings of the House, I should say that I have had to balance the requests of more than 40 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who wish to take part. This is very much a House of Commons debate, so I hope that Privy Councillors will understand if they do not receive special precedence.
I noted that, in a recent simulated debate on this subject on television, hon. Members were able to make their speeches briefly. I hope that that will be the case today.
I have not selected any of the amendments on the Order Paper, but the arguments that they contain may be advanced during the course of the debate.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just undertaken to the House not to give Privy Councillors precedence —[Interruption.] You have just undertaken to give Privy Councillors qualified preference. Will you assure the House that, if the House were to be televised, Privy Councillors would have no preference at all?
I beg to move,
That this House approves in principle the holding of an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by television; and believes that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider the implementation of such an experiment and to make recommendations.
In inviting right hon. and hon. Members to support the motion, I am conscious that the House zealously and jealously looks after and preserves its character, sovereignty and privileges. I shall seek to argue that those qualities will be enhanced rather than undermined by the adoption of the motion.
As I think you implied, Mr. Speaker, this is essentially a House of Commons matter. There may or may not be an audience of some 55 million people waiting outside to see as well as listen to our proceedings, but whether we consent to that is essentially a matter for us. I welcome the fact, and the assurances that I have received, that there will be a genuinely free vote, and every right hon. and hon. Member will wish to consider where the interests of his constituents and of Parliament lie.
As somebody whose credentials in the debate were originally agnostic, and who has only recently come round to the view that the arguments in favour of the motion by far outweigh those against it, I invite the House to approach the matter with an open mind. I suspect that one or two hon. Members may have firmly made up their minds about the matter, but it is some time since we last debated it, and there are compelling reasons, both technological and with regard to changes in behaviour and public attitudes, that give ample justification for the arguments to be rehearsed again.
Before I seek to present the principal arguments that I would adduce in favour of the motion, let me say specifically what the motion does not do. It is genuinely a modest motion. It will not do anything of itself. Its passage will not bring about the televising of the House or the formation of a Select Committee. Further votes, debates and deliberation of the House will be necessary.
All that we are proposing here is, in principle, an experiment into televising the proceedings of the House and the establishment of a Select Committee to decide how best to implement that — and, I hope, to monitor it thereafter. Therefore, it would be up to the authorities of the House — I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will go into this in detail—to bring forward a motion for the establishment of a Select Committee which would consider how best to implement it, taking into account all the technical and other factors involved.
I hope that the Committee will bring a recommendation back to the House, if the motion is passed, well before the end of the Session. During the ensuing recess, the technical input could be placed here so that the experiment could be conducted from the beginning of the next Session. Even in that instance, we would still have to deliberate on the recommendations of the Select Committee and, if we so decided, positively vote for such an experiment. At the end of that experimental period, there would be a further vote to decide whether it became permanent or whether we wanted the experiment extended for any period.
Many of us may change our minds about televising the House in the light of experience gained during the experiment. Therefore, I urge those who are and remain agnostic to give it a chance. Although seeing is not always believing, the public and those who elected us would have a more certain understanding of our deliberations and the issues involved, and would have more respect for the House.
Three broad themes of argument support an experiment in the broadcasting by television of our proceedings. The first is the well-rehearsed constitutional argument—that the power and influence of Parliament will be enhanced in comparison with that of the Executive. The respect, awareness and support of the public who elected us to this place are essential ingredients of the activities of the House. Their understanding, respect and awareness of what goes on here cannot be complete without seeing as well as hearing and reading what we do.
Is it not at least absurd and anachronistic—at worst, patronising — that one can read reports of this place, listen to proceedings on the radio and come to the Public Gallery and see them, and that they are reported vicariously, but that one is not allowed to view them on television? The time has come to take this modest but historic step.
Does my hon. Friend agree that television is the most powerful medium of our time? Is it not demeaning that the public—whom my hon. Friend rightly described as having a right to view our proceedings at first hand — will see only censored and very shortened proceedings, which is what the BBC and the IBA propose, if the House accepts the motion?
The question of editing is crucial and I shall come to that later. The extent to which televised proceedings of the House will reflect a microcosm of what happens here is a legitimate subject for debate. The power and influence of Parliament can only be enhanced rather than undermined by this measure.
To some extent, this debate seems to have taken place already this afternoon. I hope that no firm conclusions will have been reached from earlier exchanges, even though they took place at a rarefied level. Although my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the most eminent Member of the House, in this matter she is, inter pares, a simple Member, with us, of the House—[Interruption.] You will recall, Mr. Speaker, my right hon. Friend's concern not about her own position—she would be subject to great coverage if this experiment were to happen—but about respect for the House. However, we are the House, and to some extent the answer to how we are portrayed lies in our own hands.
Will my hon. Friend concede that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has two unique contributions to make to the debate? One is her considerable length of service in the House, and the comparison that she can make on that basis; but more important is her experience at the Dispatch Box during Prime Minister's Questions, about which she can express a concern that probably cannot be felt by any other hon. Member?
I do not concede: I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has everything to gain and little to lose from the televising of Parliament. I am constantly impressed by the selfless way in which the Leader of the Opposition supports this motion, knowing that if anyone is to get a prize for being the best supporting actor it will be the Leader of the Opposition and that the Prime Minister has a great deal more to gain.
A Government of any political persuasion will have a natural tendency to prevent Parliament from exerting greater influence and power. In 1979, the House made the important decision to establish the Select Committee procedure to mirror the responsibilities of Government Departments and thereby enhance the power and influence of Parliament and hold the Government of the day more accountable. That balance of power seems to have slipped. The televising of Parliament and the greater coverage that that will certainly bring for Front Benchers and Back Benchers will constitutionally improve our ability to do what we are here to do, to represent the interests of our constituents and to hold accountable the Government of the day.
Mr. Eric S. Hefter:
As another simple Member of Parliament, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that such an experiment should be on the basis of a continuous channel, so that the House could be seen all the time when it is sitting? If the hon. Gentleman cannot give us an assurance that that is what he believes, unless that is the view of the House, I shall not vote for his motion.
The terms of the motion that I have tabled do not rule out that possibility. In all honesty, it will probably be rather difficult, for technical reasons, for that to be done during the experimental period. There have been strong arguments that continuous coverage should be provided thereafter. The Select Committee will have seriously to consider that matter. There will be strong arguments to adduce for exactly what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) has proposed.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has raised an important point, and my hon. Friend should deal with it properly. He should give us his opinion, if it were possible, whether he would want to prohibit the broadcasting authorities from taking extracts into news programmes. It would be nonsense if we had a continuous channel, which almost nobody would watch, and then prohibited the broadcasting authorities from using extracts from it on the news. Editorial control will apply to the House whether my hon. Friend likes it or not.
I do not deny that editorial control will have to be exercised. In answer to the straight question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), I would not wish to prevent extracts being used in news and current affairs programmes. All such extracts and portrayals, even during the experimental period, would have to be subject to the ground rules that have been established. That is partly why it would be an experiment and why the Select Committee would be established. The ground rules, by and large, were faithfully observed during the experimental period in the televising of the other place.
Is not the argument advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) rather phoney? Do not the public get all their information about Parliament from edited accounts in newspapers and on the radio? How many of our constituents take and read Hansard?
My hon. Friend is quite right. It is extraordinary and paradoxical that we seek to portray our views, and we have every interest in our deliberations in the House being promulgated, yet we deny ourselves the principal means of doing so through the most modern communications media. We leave it to others to report. There is editing now.
What reporting is there of Back-Bench proceedings and debates after the Front-Bench speeches have been made? After all, the Government of the day can easily call a press conference, and are seemingly willing to do so frequently. Political commentators are happy to take up suggestions to present programmes. The only body that operates a self-denying ordinance is, for some reason, this House.
I suggest that that is partly patronising, but also stems from the view which has grown up that in some way politics is best left to this place, that we know best, and that perhaps the people will not fully understand. I am not saying that that is the view adopted by all the opponents of this motion. However, we sometimes underestimate the political interest and understanding of people outside who wish to have a more whole appreciation of our activities, which can only be provided—
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and am sorry to add to the number of interruptions that he has had. He talked about an experiment and about televising the Chamber: will he make it clear that he envisages the experiment including the televising not only of the Chamber but of Select Committees and Standing Committees? That is an important matter to several hon. Members.
I do so with pleasure. I confirm that the terms used in the motion, referring to the proceedings of the House, include proceedings of Select Committees and could also include those of Standing Committees. I for one am very much in favour of the proceedings of some of our Select Committees being subject to televising. An increasing amount of the important work of this House and of right hon. and hon. Members is done in Select Committees. Although it might be slightly more technically difficult to televise Standing Committees, I see every reason why, when major Bills are going through the House, such as the Education Reform Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill, which are issues of great national importance to many people, those proceedings should be subject to televising, and extracts from them should be included in the programmes.
I apologise to my hon. Friend for this further interruption but I should like to bring him to what I think is the heart of the matter. Will he explain to the House how he thinks its proceedings will be enhanced by televising them, when it is presently possible to broadcast them through the radio channels, but the broadcasting authorities are not using that existing power fully?
There are two principal reasons for that. The first is that sound broadcasting provides an incomplete and possibly even a misrepresentative picture of what happens in this place. Many of our constituents have said to us from time to time that the hubbub of Question Time and other proceedings appears shocking. That is accentuated through the sound broadcasting system. It would be much better if people could see what was going on, as well as listen to it.
Secondly—this is a difficult argument, but I hope that the House will understand what I am trying to say —there are occasions when the emotion of the House must be seen, as well as listened to and read. There are great debates in this place — for example, the great debate that took place on the Saturday following the invasion of the Falkland Islands—when the mood of the House reflected the mood of the nation and had a demonstrable impact on the Government. That was an important occasion on which the public should have been able to see what was going on.
I adduce a couple of other instances. There are great debates on moral issues on which, of course, the public are often split. People find it difficult to understand why majorities are for or against issues such as abortion or capital punishment. Our ability to explain to the public and to enable them to understand why we reach decisions will be enhanced by their being able to see as well as to hear and read our proceedings.
In November I wrote to Mr. Bernard Tate, the head of BBC parliamentary broadcasting, asking him what representations the public had made to the BBC about the broadcasting of Parliament. He said that the BBC had not received any requests from viewers, and that as far as he knew ITN had received only two requests. I have not received any letters from my constituents asking for the televising of our proceedings. I suggest that my hon. Friend considers those facts.
I recognise that people tend to write not in favour of things, but more often against them. However, putting that to one side, we must consider the extent to which there has been interest in the televised proceedings of the House of Lords. The fact is that, despite being broadcast late at night, the programmes frequently attract audiences of 500,000 and upwards. Many of the extracts that a re used on other programmes have enhanced the ratings of those programmes. Therefore, there is an interest. I believe that there will be demand if the facility is available.
In seeking to argue that televising our proceedings will enhance the influence and reputation of Back Benchers and Parliament, it is important that I emphasise that there will be more coverage of Back Benchers, rather than the monopoly of Front Benchers and of Question Time.
Of course, one may say that the broadcasting stations would say that. However, we have assurances from the BBC that in its judgment, televising would result in
greatly increased coverage of the Commons, at both national and regional levels.
The ITN editor has stated:
I would like to stress the increased coverage of Parliament that would result from televising".
Channel 4 has stated:
By any standard it has to be an improvement on the numbers
of Back Bench Members
who presently get a mention on television.
My hon. Friend has been generous in the number of interventions that he has allowed in his speech; perhaps that would be an example to Parliament if we were to televise our proceedings. If a Back Bencher sought to take advantage of the offer made by the regional television stations to carry locally any contributions that they make, they would have to intervene early in the speech of a Minister, Opposition spokesman or Privy Councillor, because, as my hon. Friend will know, most Back Benchers are rarely called before the 5 o'clock deadline for regional news programmes.
There would undoubtedly be an improvement over the present situation because of the establishment of new programmes by the network to cover our proceedings on a daily basis and a weekly round-up basis. What is more— this is an important part of the argument — regional coverage of our debates and interventions will be greater. I understand that there are fears among certain Members of Parliament from the north of England that television might provide an opportunity for monopoly by some of the London or southern Members.
Members of all parties have legitimate concerns, but the regional possibilities of televising will be considerable. They will enable people in different parts of the country to see directly and to listen in to a particular aspect of a debate on the Floor of the House and in Committees which affects them. After all, few issues which we debate and on which we take decisions in the House do not directly touch the lives of individuals outside. They should have an opportunity to see as well as to listen to our proceedings.
The second broad theme of argument that I would adduce in favour of televising our proceedings, at least on an experimental basis, is that it would promote a greater understanding of our parliamentary proceedings and the issues involved. We should ask why we, and the public who are affected by everything that happens here, have, to rely on reports at third hand. Government and political commentators have numerous and easy opportunities to publicise their views. I believe that hon. Members should be able to communicate their views directly, rather than vicariously.
When it comes to the third major issue — whether televising our proceedings would enhance or detract from the respect and character of this place—some cynics and pessimists might say, "Could the behaviour possibly get worse?" I do not adopt that view. I believe that the character of this place would be faithfully reflected and that it would not be damaged by what would happen.
The incidents that have occurred and which have been cited as reasons why hon. Members should vote against the Motion, are largely unaffected by the existence, or otherwise, of television. The abseiling of lesbians in the House of Lords a week or so ago was not covered or televised on any of the major stations that covered the proceedings of the House that day. I suggest that that and similar incidents are not determined by the existence of television in the House but by the existence and status of the House itself. After all, the suffragettes chained themselves to the railings long before television was invented, and there have been other incidents in the past. There are incidents now and, sadly, there will probably be more in the future.
The ground rules that must be observed by the broadcasters are an essential part of ensuring that we have fair representation of what happens in the House and that there is not undue or avoidable publicity for outside interventions of strangers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a fourth main element to his argument, which is a matter of principle? The right to know what happens here was conceded many centuries ago, and my hon. Friend has mentioned the right to read and hear our proceedings. Surely we now have a right to see, and the only issue to which we are addressing ourselves is that of cosmetics. Surely we should be seen without our make-up as well as with it?
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for making that point of principle, and he is right. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) said when this matter was last debated, we have come a long way in the past 400 years since the time when our proceedings were secret. The evolution of our democratic system has been one of gradual and increasing openness, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) suggests.
I believe and hope that we shall enhance the character and standing of this place in the world outside If the public live in ignorance because they are unable to see what happens here, that will ferment and breed suspicion and misunderstanding of our proceedings.
There are genuine and understandable fears about editing. There is concern that our proceedings will be trivialised or misrepresented, but there have been few complaints about the coverage of the Lords. I am the first to recognise that covering the House of Lords by television is different from covering the House of Commons—but not entirely different. We can learn from that experience, if only from what it shows about the integrity of the broadcasting networks, which have kept to the ground rules set.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), who chaired the Select Committee on Sound Broadcasting, and to the other hon. Members who served on that Committee, which played a significant role in monitoring these affairs. By and large, it found that the worst fears were not realised in that experiment, and so it will be in this House.
Many of the fears legitimately expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House are not so much misconceived as actively alarmist, and some of them verge on paranoia. This is a time for the House to make a more sober, careful judgment and to move slowly forward to set up a Select Committee and establish an experimental period. Let us then decide whether televising is right or wrong.
There has been some suggestion that once we have an experiment we shall follow the secular trend and inevitably end up with permanent broadcasting. Not at all; the matter is in our hands. In fact, those who present that argument are implicitly recognising that there will be demand to see the proceedings of the House.
The editorial control that has been exercised has faithfully reflected the ground rules that were agreed between the House of Lords Select Committee and the broadcasters. Those rules are, for example, that no material can be used for light entertainment or satirical programmes. The Committee has qualified privilege, and copyright rests with it. Material should never be used for party political broadcasts. The supply of material to others in the BBC and to those under the authority of the IBA can be done only with the consent of the Broadcasting Committee.
I want to conclude now; I have spoken for long enough. I have given the main argument in support of the motion, and I want to give the maximum number of right hon. and hon. Members the chance to contribute to the debate.
Although we have debated this subject many times in the past 20 years, the changes in technology that would make such an experiment less intrusive, the changes in public attitudes, as reflected in people's greater interest in and awareness of what goes on here, and, to some extent, the change in the behaviour of the House, which wants to communicate more to counter the power of the executive by making it more accountable, are all strong reasons for giving the experiment the go-ahead. This is a modest motion; it will require more motions if we proceed, but that is a matter for the House. This is a modest but historic step, and I invite the House to take it.
I listened with great attention to the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), but to say, as he did, that television would ignore incidents that might take place is rather like saying that if television has been there when Abraham Lincoln got shot it would have concentrated on the play. The essence of television is this: it is about entertainment, not government. It is about ratings and about competition between channels to pull in the most viewers to watch "EastEnders", "Coronation Street" or whatever. Ultimately, television will do the same for politics as it has done for football — the crowds have decreased. Religion on Sunday is now Harry Secombe singing 1950s songs at 6.30 pm on "Songs of Praise". That is what television is about—it is a branch of show business.
If television were allowed to choose anying it would like to show, it would go into a courtroom to watch the trial of a woman who had been raped. There stands the rapist and all the gory evidence, with the cameras watching the victim weeping—television would love nothing better. It loves an IRA funeral, and disasters. It has to go for the juicy bits. Any producer who did not show an incident in the Chamber, once the trial period was over, would get the sack. The abseiling that took place last week would happen every day.
I hope my hon. Friend will correct that. I was here when the bomb rolled under a seat on the Government side, and Tom Swain went to get it out after the smoke had disappeared.
I still say that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is wrong. Anyway, the bomb was thrown. The press sat laughing in the Press Gallery, and we were all in tears. Five minutes later they were all in tears, too, and ran out as fast as we did.
Since then, I have seen a bag of horse manure thrown — it just missed my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover.
I am being serious now.
There is a plaque on the wall of the Chamber to commemorate Airey Neave, who was blown up. We live in a violent world, a world of government different from what it was 20 or 30 years ago. When they first started putting Ministers on television, broadcasters were very deferential to them. In 1951 or so, they used to go on their knees to get Ministers on television. It was a case of "Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir." That soon changed, and so it should have done. The deferential attitude to this House would change quickly too, once people became used to it. Then, when it went out at 12.15 am on Channel 4 with 100,000 viewers, like the House of Lords, they would soon be pushing for the ratings. Soon there would be stunts and gimmicks to get the proceedings on to television—
The whole thrust of the hon. Gentleman's speech is to compare unfavourably the standards of news and current affairs reporting on television with those that obtain elsewhere. How can he possibly take the view that the standards of probity, accuracy and honesty, as exhibited day by day in the television news on both channels, compare unfavourably with the nonsense that goes into the newspapers, which do not care about the facts?
The hon. Member has admitted that newspapers do not report Parliament. They report the merry quip, the heckles, somebody being sent off; they report the characters in parliamentary sketches, and they have cartoons. In fact, they do anything but report the actual policies debated in the House and in the Committees.
If we consider the hours in the year in which Parliament sits and subtract the Privy Councillors' time and Front Bench time, we must accept that the poor Back Bencher gets less than one hour per year to put forward his point of view. He certainly will get a lot of time on television! Today, 117 questions were put down on social services and there were 134 questions to the Prime Minister. We put our names in a raffle and hope to be drawn in the top 12 questions to Ministers or the top four or five questions to the Prime Minister. It is a matter of luck rather than the authenticity of the question—it has nothing to do with policy. Indeed, asking the Prime Minister to list her engagements is a damned stupid question. However, that practice has grown up over the years.
My hon. Friend will find out, if he listens.
Twenty years ago there used to be only six questions put down to the Prime Minister. Those questions related to matters of great importance, such as an economic summit. There were only about 15 questions put down to other Ministers. Indeed, hon. Members could even put down two questions to a Minister. To put down such a question was a serious matter. However, hon. Members are now put under pressure from their constituents, who demand what they are going to do about the closure of a hospital or a factory. They demand that their Member of Parliament is one of 600 who gets into the limelight. They have put pressure on their Member and he is being pushed and forced into putting something down.
Often hon. Members do not know what the question should be about, but simply put something down because they are under pressure from their constituents to get publicity. Those hon. Members are not putting down questions to do with the running of the country or analysing what happens in the Select and Standing Committees, but solely to satisfy some pressure group within their constituency.
I will just make this point.
Ultimately, if an hon. Member is not lucky in the ballot to get to the Prime Minister and he goes three or four months without getting the chance, he is put under great pressure. Constituents ask. "When are you going to raise this matter? When are you going to get up and shout?" The hon. Member is then faced with a choice of either making a row during Prayers and getting sent off or standing up to be sent off for some other reason. They stage a demonstration to show off and when they go back home they are heroes. Make no mistake, the idea that people will not show off in front of cameras is nonsense.
When those people who have shown off go back to their pubs and clubs, they are heroes. The hon. Member in the neighbouring constituency is then attacked and asked, "Why don't you stand up? Why can't you kick up a row? Why don't you get your name in the headlines and on television?"
My hon. Friend has chosen the example of today's Prime Minister's Question Time. If the cameras had been present, the Prime Minister might not have got away quite so easily as she did when answering the question on Westland put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), because people would see the extent to which the Prime Minister evades crunch questions on such issues.
I admire my hon. Friend's integrity and his worthiness — indeed, he is the most able Back-Bench performer in the House—but I must tell him that the public are bored stiff with Westland, the Belgrano and everything else. Television is about ratings and, in common with newspapers, about what the mass of the people are interested in. Therefore, no matter how worthy such a question may be, it would not be selected for coverage.
I doubt whether that would come across on television, because the sophisticated nature of the cut and thrust of Question Time is totally baffling. I have had people who have been in the Gallery and who have come down saying that they could not understand nine tenths of what was happening.
Indeed, one Friday afternoon a newspaper editor from Sheffield was in the Gallery at 2.30 pm for an Adjournment debate. I believe that an hon. Member from Bradford was raising the problem of the economic situation in Yorkshire or something like that. When that editor came down from the Gallery, he was absolutely livid. He demanded, "Where were the other Yorkshire Members? Why were they not supporting the hon. Member? Why was the House not packed for this important Adjournment debate?" If an editor of a newspaper cannot understand the situation, who can?
Last night my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) had intended to speak about the Merseyside health authority on the Adjournment. The debate started at about 2 o'clock in the morning and I can imagine that on television. People watching would ask, "Where were the other Members?" Yet we already come here at 10.30 am for Committees. If we are supposed to stay here until perhaps 4 am the following morning for Adjournment debates, when are we supposed to do our jobs?
My hon. Friend is right to say that luck plays a large part in all of this, and of course he is extremely lucky to have been called so early in this debate. Given everything that my hon. Friend has said, I do not understand how television would affect the matter. After all, my hon. Friend, with great respect, is the last person who should get up and complain about not having a platform, because his newspaper column reaches more people than the questions that he asks here.
My newspaper column is read by 9 million people. The people who decide whether I write a newspaper column are the readers. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but if the readers stopped reading my column, it would not last two weeks. Plenty of hon. Members have tried to write such columns and they have not lasted two weeks. Such columns are about entertainment as well as politics. One cannot force people to watch or read something that bores them stiff. That is why newspaper editors lighten politics; otherwise, people would turn over the page. They would behave exactly the same if the House was televised.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is on about television, and he is a strong CND supporter. What happens every time there is a march at which 20,000 people turn out to support CND? Are those arguments reported on television? No, the cameras go straight in for the punk rocker with the yellow hair and green painted head or someone with a symbol painted on their face or the banners proclaiming some gay-lesbian front. That is the prominence that television gives to CND.
That experiment has been conducted in the knowledge that the vote must be taken here. While the House of Lords has been filmed, the television producers have been walking on eggshells. Once television cameras are brought into this House, it will be turned into a party conference. I have seen what happened at our party conference. I remember when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was making a speech about Militants in Liverpool—a magnificent speech I might add—and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool Walton (Mr. Heffer)—I do not know whether he did it deliberately—stood up and walked round the screen.
I wish the press would attend in the Press Gallery. When we had the demonstration on clause 28 of the Local Government Finance Bill at 10.45 pm on the Wednesday before Christmas, the Press Gallery was deserted. I ask my hon. Friend why every newspaper editor in Fleet Street—everybody is on our side; they malign the Tory press — wants to televise the House. The answer is that they all want to sit at home or in the bar and watch it and write features about it, without having to sit for four boring hours upstairs listening to all this. If we want to catch a poacher, we should set a poacher to do the job.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) is an actor, and he is totally against televising Parliament. I am a journalist, and I am against it. The hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) is a television producer, and he is totally against it. We know and understand what will happen. If we televise the House, the Back Benchers will be Lobby fodder. It will be a Cecil B. de Mille cast, with the Lobby fodder to provide the entertainment for the Galleries.
Surely the logic of the hon. Gentleman's position is that, if there is hooligan behaviour from the Gallery or unseemly conduct here, we should not exclude the cameras but exclude the public who commit the unseemly behaviour, or give Mr. Speaker more power to deal with it.
I said earlier that, if cameras appear, hooliganism gets worse. It has happened at football matches and on picket lines. I went to a lot of picket lines in the miners' strike where there was no problem at all. The miners would be giving cigarettes to the police, having a chat about football, friendly as anything. There was no problem at all until the cameras rolled up, when you could guarantee that one idiot would pick up a stone, or one copper would move the horses back and shift the men out of the way, and off it went. It happens every time. It happened at the boxing match on Sunday. If no television cameras had been there, there would have been no gas canister; I can assure hon. Members of that.
I have had my time, which is why I strenuously recommend the House to vote against cameras coming in.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) has, I think, done the whole House a service by the way in which he moved the motion. Although he has been among the foremost proponents of introducing television cameras into the Chamber, his speech showed an awareness that by no means all hon. Members are as enthusiastic on this matter as he is. Whatever view of the issue one takes, I think we would all agree that this is a most important debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the start that he gave it. I congratulate also the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) on his speech. If it maintains the standard of the first two speeches, we will have a good debate today.
Traditionally, the role of the Leader of the House in these debates is to provide the House with certain information which may be helpful to hon. Members in reaching a view on the decision in principle. I propose to follow this course today, dealing first with issues directly related to the motion, and then turning to wider matters relevant to the debate. Finally, although not because I am so unrealistic as to expect that my words alone are likely to sway hon. Members' judgment, I shall briefly give the House my personal views.
So far as the motion is concerned, I know that a number of hon. Members, among them my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Sir D. Price), whose amendment is on the Order Paper, believe that the experiment should include the televising of Select Committees. I can confirm that my understanding is that the work of Select Committees falls within the term "proceedings" of the House to which the motion refers, and thus could be included in the experiment, but of course the Select Committee considering how an experiment might be implemented would have its remit set by this motion and the approval in principle that it would give, if passed, to an experiment in televising our proceedings generally. It could not limit itself to consideration just of televising Select Committees, as I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) would wish it to do.
I note that the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Bar (Mr. Rooker) would also have restricted the scope of the experiment to proceedings in Standing Committees and Select Committees, but under the terms of the motion before us that is not an option for which the House can vote.
I can also confirm that if the House voted today in favour of televising our proceedings, I would bring forward at the earliest convenient opportunity a motion to establish the Select Committee mentioned in the motion and to provide it with the customary powers to send for persons and papers.
I cannot discuss the exact composition of the Select Committee, but I envisage that it would have as wide a representation as possible of all shades of opinion in all parties in the House, but I cannot give the absolute undertaking for which the hon. Lady asks.
I envisage that the House would wish to consider and debate the Committee's report before proceeding to the experiment itself. In view of the time that would be needed for the installation of equipment if the House decided to proceed along this path, I would hope to arrange this debate before the summer recess, but this would depend on when the Select Committee reported and on the other business before us.
As many hon. Members will know, the all-party group on televising organised an exhibition last November to demonstrate the level of lighting and type of remote-controlled camera which the BBC and the IBA might use. Like others who went to see it, I noted the technical advances that seem to have been made since our debate in November 1985. The broadcasters envisage that seven remote-controlled cameras would be mounted permanently under the Galleries for the duration of the experiment. This is, of course, in contrast to the arrangements in the House of Lords, where manned cameras are operated on a "drive in" basis. I am more confident than in the past that the technical difficulties of lighting and cameras can be overcome satisfactorily, but I recognise that not all hon. Members accept this.
As for the experiment, I know from my discussions with the BBC and the IBA that the broadcasters would recommend that it last six months. It might run from state opening of Parliament at the beginning of the next Session through to, perhaps, the Whit recess next year.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Select Committee could recommend 24-hour, round-the-clock televising of Parliament from funds voted by Parliament? I have tabled two amendments to the motion.
I shall deal directly with the hon. Gentleman's amendments later in my speech. I think that that is probably the best way to do it.
As their letters to Members explain in detail, both the BBC and the independent broadcasters would plan on the basis of using selected extracts for a daily programme on parliamentary proceedings, a weekly programme, which might well include edited coverage of Committees, and the use of some material in the regular news and current affairs programmes. The broadcasters would also envisage live coverage from time to time of what they would see as the most important parliamentary occasions, such as the Budget. In addition, they would propose a service to the regional television stations so that these could concentrate on the activities of their own local Members and on local issues raised in the House. This would inevitably raise its own questions of balance.
I have also discussed editorial control with the broadcasters. They took the view that they should retain editorial control over the use in their own programmes of television pictures of the House. How those pictures might be provided seems to me a matter on which the Select Committee might well wish to consider a number of options if the motion is passed this evening. For their part, the BBC and IBA have expressed a willingness to mount the experiment jointly and share the 'feed' coming from the Chamber. "Feed" is the technical phrase for "signal". If this course were adopted, they have said that they would pay for the staff and equipment for the experiment. Other possibilities could include a parliamentary broadcasting unit, or indeed an independent company under contract, producing the 'feed' and making it available to the main network channels and to anyone else the House wished.
I hope that it will also be helpful to the House if I say a few words about the prospect of a television channel dedicated to the live coverage of proceedings. This is the course that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has been urging on the House — he has tabled an amendment to his effect—and I can see its attraction. The advice that I have received from the Home Office is, however, that in the immediate future this is not a practical option.
Certainly in the longer term there seems to be the possibility of producing a fifth terrestrial channel from the UHF spectrum currently allocated to the broadcasters, but, even if this were pursued, it would take some time to accomplish, both technically and administratively. It would also be a question for decision whether the best use of a fifth channel would be the continuous live coverage of our proceedings.
The other ways by which a dedicated channel might be made available involve the use of satellites in one form or another. At present only a very small number—just a few thousand — are equipped to receive satellite transmissions direct. Although the possibilities in this area will increase over the next few years with the development of medium and high-powered satellite services, at this stage it is too early to predict how many people will actually have the equipment to receive them. Of course, these services would be available only to those who had the money and the inclination to acquire the necessary receivers.
I will now offer the House a number of considerations which, from a personal perspective, I believe are important and which hon. Members might wish to bear in mind. The first is that, if the motion is carried, in my view we will have taken a decision in principle which would be very hard to reverse. Although the motion itself refers only to an experiment, I do not believe that this is a practical option. The effective decision that the House is taking tonight is whether the House as a whole should be televised.
The second point is that, although televising proceedings arouses a great deal of interest in the House and in the media, judging by my own postbag, there is no overwhelming evidence that the electorate more generally regard this as a priority. I suspect that even the broadcasters themselves realise that some of our best debates might not attract large audiences. In recent weeks, there have been important debates on, for example, the Criminal Justice Bill and on the recommendations of the Warnock committee on human fertilisation, but I am not aware of the sound broadcasters taking steps to transmit them live.
The main considerations on which I believe a judgment should be made are based on more fundamental issues. Given the scope of parliamentary privilege, some hon. Members, myself among them, are very concerned about the way in which allegations can be made in this place about people outside this place who are not here to defend themselves. I am very doubtful whether we should give such allegations the impact and currency that they would acquire from the immediacy of television.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that qualified privilege would apply to such statements and that, even at present, when it is possible for a television company to broadcast the words being spoken in the House making similar allegations, these are covered by qualified privilege? In other words, the public interest must be taken into account, as well as the malevolent motive of the individual concerned. Therefore, what is being proposed here would not be markedly different from existing practice.
There should not be any confusion about this. I am not arguing that there is a difference in principle between the privileges accorded to sound and to television. My argument is that the immediacy of the television medium makes different considerations apply.
There is also the fear that televising our proceedings would inevitably mean a drift away from serious argument towards the sensational. Even now, the suspension of a Member for disobeying the rules of the House gets the headlines at the expense of the real issues before us.
These points show that it is the issue of editorial control that lies at the heart of this debate. I have already mentioned why a dedicated channel is not a realistic prospect at present, but, even if it were, most people would still get their impression of parliamentary proceedings from the main network channels' news programmes. Within that limited context, and despite their experience in televising another place, I remain sceptical that the broadcasters would be able to provide coverage in which there would be general confidence on both sides of the House. There are many more complexities and subtleties in editing a piece of film to produce a balanced item of just a few minutes than there are in editing a column of print or even a sound recording. Indeed, in some of the moments of high drama, which is when the controversy would arise, I suspect that there might well be no one right and generally accepted answer, however skilful the editing.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, for I know that a great many Members wish to speak in this debate, I would just say this. My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) in 1985 urged the House to take this "leap in the dark". His advice now is, "Ready, steady, jump." Being more cautious than my right hon. Friend, I think that we should look before we leap. I have looked and I do not like the prospect. I shall vote against the motion.
Most hon. Members are usually all too keen to appear on television. We are so keen that we are prepared to be interviewed in pouring rain on St. Stephen's green, or to get up at some ungodly hour to appear on breakfast television, only to be upstaged by Roland Rat. Why, then, are there doubts about us allowing ourselves to be shown, live or recorded, going about our work in our own chosen habitat, the familiar, warm, well-lit, rain-proof and relatively rodent-free Chamber of the House of Commons and its Committee Rooms? Are Members objecting to the principle, or is it just a matter of practical snags?
In an elected democracy, based on the concept of accountability to those who elect us, the principle is clear and has been conceded. Newspapers can report us. Radio broadcasts are made of our proceedings, live or recorded, so there can be no objection in principle to showing us on television, live or recorded.
Clearly, then, the objections are practical. In my view, the main reason for reluctance to let cameras in is that it suits the Government in general and the Prime Minister in particular to keep them out. I shall deal with that in a moment.
No, I shall not.
Some hon. Members have doubts about televising this place that are both rational and legitimate. The principal reasons for these doubts seem to hinge on the following propositions. First, to portray the House of Commons as it is at present would damage the reputation of us all. Secondly, television is, by its nature, a trivialising medium whose impact is based on the image rather than the substance of debate. Thirdly, television coverage would concentrate on bizarre incidents or on a limited number of self-serving self-publicists and the hard-working Members on Committees would be ignored and their absence from the Chamber misunderstood. Fourthly, the coverage would he greatly to the advantage of the Front Benches and, in particular, the Government Front Bench.
If we are truthful, we must acknowledge that there is an element of truth in most, if not all, of these propositions, but I do not believe that, even taken together, they justify keeping the cameras out. If, for example, it is felt that the way we go about our business at present is too awful to be shown on television, then surely it is time that we mended our ways, rather than shelter behind the thought that, because the Galleries are small, only a few hundred people will be appalled when they see what we get up to. Surely anything would be better than the present disembodied "Goon Show" noises on the radio which bring us into such disrepute.
In respect of our behaviour, I doubt whether we have a reputation to damage. The present arrangement for sound broadcasting gives the worst of all worlds. Logically, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) says, we should either get the cameras in or get the microphones out.
The charge that television can often be a trivialising medium scarcely needs to be argued. Most television news bulletins show that it tends to concentrate on incidents and personality rather than on hard work or policy. But it has to be said that that objection does not apply only to television. Some newspapers with representatives in the Press Gallery make television news bulletins look like the height of intellectual argument.
Clearly, we need to make rules to preclude the coverage of incidents in the Galleries and so on. Perhaps we should prohibit changes being made in the order of contributions to a debate that would make them more dramatic or funny. The problem of editing and bias is difficult, but it needs to be tackled head on. If the justification for having the cameras in is to let people see and hear for themselves what is going on—and that surely is the justification—the public could well do that for themselves, without the need for much interpretation or critique by television political correspondents. The viewers will not need the pundits' comments on what they have just seen.
I am sure that we should require of the television authorities straight coverage, on the lines of BBC radio's "Today in Parliament", rather than the clever-dick approach of "Yesterday in Parliament", which daily gives more prominence to the views of Noel or Rodney than to the views of all of us MPs put together. I would go so far as to say that the smart-Alec approach of "Yesterday in Parliament" probably turns more hon. Members off the idea of televising Parliament than any other aspect of the present sound broadcasting arrangements.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst aspects of television reporting of Parliament at the moment is that one sees one television journalist interviewing another journalist rather than a politician, on the assumption that that other journalist is giving an independent and unbiased view. Of course that is not the case, and the way to get around that might be to televise Parliament.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
Some of my hon. Friends fear the extent to which television will give advantage to self-publicists, but self-publicists get on television anyway — at the whim of television producers. At least if the House is televised the short list of those who appear will be decided initially by Mr. Speaker, which can only be a step forward.
Finally, there is the objection that televising Parliament will give advantage to the Front Benches and in particular to the Government.
At the turn of the century, Hansard reported Front-Bench speeches in full but gave only about a third of the content of other speeches. I understand that the decision which third to include was made not but by editors by by the printers. Some unfortunate people were simply listed as "Also Spoke". I am convinced that any hon. Member — Back-Bench or Front-Bench—fired by the desire to right a wrong or call attention to a public scandal will get the television attention that he deserves, possibly to the disadvantage of a Front-Bench speaker obliged that day to deal with rather less gripping generalities.
As an experienced parliamentarian, will the hon. Gentleman answer this one question? If there was a 10-second slot on the television news tonight, would it deal with the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) covering smoke detectors in houses, which affects millions of people, or would it show the "Maggie and Neil Show" which took place this afternoon?
It might show either, but there would he a good chance that the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt) would get himself on to the regional television programme for the north-west.
Does my hon. Friend agree that editors — whether press, sound broadcasting or television editors—are more concerned with publishing what the public finds interesting than with the public interest, which could be a million miles away from that?
That is certainly true, but it applies to every other news medium. Personally, I am rather happier with news people who say that they are interested in what the public is interested in than with those who go on about what is in the public interest. No one is more dubious than a journalist talking about the public interest, because journalists have never subscribed to that idea, except by way of argument.
We are in a position to lay down the ground rules for the coverage to be given by the television authorities, and I therefore hope that most hon. Members welcome the undertaking given by both ITN and the BBC to step up the coverage of individual Members' activities, particularly by way of providing a feed to regional programmes.
It is also important to hold the television authorities to their commitment to cover Select Committee proceedings as well as the Chamber, and we should require them also to cover Standing Committees. If, at some later stage, the television authorities ask to be excused on the ground that Committee proceedings are boring and, as is true, tend to go unreported by the other news media, we can always remind them that when the last dispute closed down ITV, many viewers were satisfied with watching the test card, and we ought to be more interesting than that.
I agree with my hon. Friend, although to be fair, there are certain characteristics of American select committees which make them rather more attractive than ours—including their powers and their willingness to set about those in authority.
While on the subject of undertakings from the television authorities, I hope that, if television coverage is introduced, ITN will undertake not to withdraw the financial support that it gives to Independent Radio News, which makes viable that excellent sound broadcasting service.
I return to the position of the principal opponent of the idea of the British people being allowed to see their elected representatives at work. I refer, of course, to the Prime Minister. Why is she so opposed to the cameras? It is not as if she is shy of appearing on television. Indeed, nothing delights her more. The telephoto opportunity has been her political stock in trade. Commendably devoid of personal vanity, the Prime Minister has changed her voice, her hair style and her clothes to appear more attractive on television. If last Sunday's Murdoch-owned Sunday Times is to be believed, she was even taught when sitting to shift her weight from one buttock to another in order to appear more interesting on television.
In foreign affairs, the televised visit abroad has been perfected to a turn, as witness the recent visit to Kenya and Nigeria, which featured the Prime Minister in the starring role in what seemed at times to be a remake of "The African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart's part played by Bernard Ingham, her principal press officer. At home, her television appearances are carefully planned, with terms and conditions laid down by Downing street, and usually with interviewers made pliable by a knighthood given or a knighthood hoped for.
I have cast no aspersions whatever on the Prime Minister's appearance. I said that she had adjusted herself in response to advice from her advisers to make herself more attractive, and I did not doubt that she had done so.
The hon. Gentleman is making a good point against the televising of Parliament, although he may not realise it. He has illustrated the power of television to change things. Many Conservative Members — and, I am sure, Opposition Members, too — are concerned that whatever television touches it changes to its own image. One has only to look at the general election campaign to see what has happened to elections in this country.
I am sure that, when accurate reports were first available in newspapers of what went on in the House people naturally adjusted their behaviour. That was an improvement at the time. Any adjustments in our behaviour as a result of televising Parliament would probably be beneficial.
Whatever else can be said about the appearances that the Prime Minister makes on television, there is no doubt that she calls the shots, with most of the editorial discretion being exercised not by the television people but by the Prime Minister's own news managers—for news management is the name of the game, and it already applies in the House, without television. The news coverage of speeches, statements and answers by the Prime Minister and other Ministers in the House usually springs not from what is said in the Chamber but from press conferences and briefings conducted before or after—for the alleged benefit of journalists, but really for the benefit of Ministers.
The total number of journalists with passes for the Press Gallery is about 400. The total number of Government press officers with passes for that self-same Gallery exceeds 150. That means one Government handout officer for every two and a half journalists. No wonder these sophisticated investigative journalists usually find themselves peddling the Government line. Indeed, some Press Gallery journalists devote so much time to transcribing Government handouts that it is a puzzle how they find time to file their criticisms of the Opposition.
The task of the press officers is to manage the news for the benefit of the Government, not on the basis of what actually happens in the House but on the basis of what they can say off the record. The Government spend over £30 million on press relations. It has to be said that they get good value for money on the coverage they receive. All this is masterminded from 10 Downing street by Mr. Bernard Ingham, using taxpayers' money. When the Prime Minister increasingly uses the word "we" instead of "I" she is sometimes accused of using the royal "we" but I think that she is referring to herself and Mr. Ingham.
This is a House of Commons occasion and the hon. Gentleman is trivialising it. He is in danger of losing support. I wish to vote for the motion and I came here determined to do so, but if the hon. Gentleman continues in such a partisan way on what should be a House of Commons occasion, he will do his cause enormous damage.
I have always found it difficult to accept that anything in the House is non-political. That is a bizarre suggestion, because the House is full of people who have got here only because they are political. If people hold views, they should stick to them. I do not think that anything I say today will shift votes, the Tory Benches having got their instructions clearly from the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's Question Time. If we say that coverage of the House of Commons is a House of Commons matter, is not the spending of £30 million on Government press officers to rearrange the coverage of what happens in this place a House of Commons matter? When did any Tory Member raise that?
How do the Government's news managers and the Prime Minister look on the Commons? They see it as a place where mishaps may occur, and where the Prime Minister may be questioned not by complacent television interviewers but by people on both sides of the House, with knowledge, commitment and passion. The Government news managers think that hon. Members are literally unmanageable.
They will indeed; I have no doubt about that. I shall attempt to deal with that valid point.
The Prime Minister's friends know from the Tory party's private polls that the present compromise —sound but no vision—suits the Prime Minister very well. An hon. Member asks a question and the unseen audience hears her reply at length and in detail. The polls show that most listeners believe that she does this from memory. Television would show the truth—that she recites these replies not from memory but from her briefing folder.
I am finding it difficult to understand whether the hon. Gentleman is for the motion or against it. We are being asked to support an experiment. Why has the hon. Gentleman not mentioned that the House of Lords has had its proceedings televised for some time in a way which has, if anything, enhanced the reputation of the Upper House, with none of the disadvantages that are being talked about? Why will the hon. Gentleman not address himself to that if he is supposed to be supporting the motion?
I am sorry if I have not made the position clear to the right hon. Gentleman and possibly even to others. The objections that I am reciting are not objections that I hold but the objections that I understand the Prime Minister holds to the televising of Parliament.
The Prime Minister has said that she is against television in the House she said it again today —because she thinks it might damage our reputation. I do not think that she has broken the habit of a lifetime. I think that she wants television kept out of the House because she fears that her public image will suffer. That is not a good reason to keep the cameras out.
Those who struggled for two centuries for newspaper reporting of the proceedings of the House made a greater contribution to the development of democracy than did most of the people on whom they wanted to report. They got leave to report what was said long before the House of Commons was democratically elected.
Technological change now makes it possible for the people to see and hear their elected representatives at work. The televising of the House was suggested a long time ago. It was suggested in the year I left school by that great democratic Socialist, Aneurin Bevan, on the grounds that it could bring about a direct relationship between the electors and the people they elected and that it would partly dispense with the need for fallible intermediaries. The principles which he enunciated were sound and visionary. In our democracy, the people who elect us are entitled to see and hear what we are doing and saying in their name. Television makes it possible for all the people, not just a privileged few, to see and hear what we are doing.
If Members of Parliament do not trust the television authorities or will not trust one another if the cameras are allowed in, they should remember that democracy is based on a deeper and wider trust. They should trust the people. If any Tory wants an incentive to vote for the cameras coming in, he or she should remember that "Trust the people" was the motto of the Churchill family.
It was only in the last few moments of the speech by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) that it became clear what his theme was. I am grateful to him for his closing words.
I can understand the anxieties of right hon. and hon. Members who feel that the televising of our proceedings might tend to trivialise Parliament and that it might encourage a small minority of hon. Members who enjoy disrupting the business and howling down others to continue to behave in such a way, but I still do not agree with them. I have some sympathy also with those who argue that the intrusion of the cameras will somehow change the atmosphere of this sentient place and the way that we do things. Lighting will be obtrusive. It may be that modern technology can soften the effect, but most of us fear that lighting will be intrusive.
Background noise will be amplified. Unless there is continuous broadcasting, there will be problems regarding selectivity and balance. Frankly, I must say that it might be difficult unless a glass screen is interposed between the Strangers' Gallery and the Chamber below, to prevent an upsurge in the number and variety of demonstrations from the visiting public.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) mentioned incidents which I remember well. We witnessed them with great sadness and, at the time, anger. With television or not, it might be necessary to do something about this anyway, after the events of a week ago in the other place, although that may be difficult to accept. The fact is that in this day and age we can no longer keep television out, any more than our predecessors in the 18th century were able to prevent publication of their debates.
For a long time we have been fortunate in having an official report of what takes place here, which is faithfully recorded and edited by our superb Hansard staff. The Press Gallery is usually full on important occasions. I make no criticism at all of the experienced journalists of the Press Gallery, who are present on important occasions. However, I am talking about the House, rather than the press, who can look after themselves.
A great newspaper, as Arthur Miller once said, is a mirror for society. If there is something wrong with newspapers, there is something wrong with society. In that, the politicians themselves have something to answer for. It is no part of any of my remarks this afternoon to criticise the press.
I think it is worth reminding ourselves that once upon a time it was felt in the House that if the mob outside know what was going on inside, all hell would break out. In the early 18th century, Edward Cave, the publisher of the Gentleman's Magazine, was hauled before the Bar of the House, reprimanded, heavily fined and sent to prison for faithfully reporting our debates. The result of that, if I recall the account, was that attempts were then made to invent the debates of the House.
Samuel Johnson, for example, published the debates of the "Senate of Magna Lilliputia". He wrote all the speeches himself. Voltaire was so impressed by them that he remarked:
the eloquence of Greece and Rome is revived in the British Senate.
When Johnson was told about this, he was horrified, and he desisted. He said later to Boswell that when he was writing the speeches he took good care that the 'Whig dogs did not get the best of it." That is an example of what happened when the House was timorous and unable to allow the people outside to hear what was being said.
It was inevitable, as we moved into the 19th century and effected reform, that debates should be edited responsibly, and they were. We are now living in an age when television has brought the whole world into the living room of almost every household in the land.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the presentation of the proceedings of the House on radio? Is he happy that the public out there, the electorate, when listening to what they are allowed to hear on the radio, get a balanced view of the proceedings of the House? What conclusions does he draw from that as to what might happen if we approved the televising of proceedings tonight?
My hon. Friend has not been in the House one tenth of the time that I have. I have listened to the BBC radio reports year in, year out, and I have never felt that they were unfair or unbalanced. I have felt that they were sometimes incomplete, that is true, but that is in the nature of the programmes. There is no point in criticising what has been done by the BBC on sound radio, or in considering that in relation to what we should do in connection with television.
I repeat: television has brought the world into the living room of almost every household in this land. People can hear some part of our proceedings on the radio now, and I pay tribute to the BBC journalists who have reported our debates live over the years. But the public are denied seeing their elected representatives take part in debate, which, after all, is the essence of parliamentary democracy. I do not see how that can be defended.
As I was saying, televising the other place has certainly done no harm there. I would judge that their Lordships, the quality of whose debates has always been high, have gained in public esteem. That is the impression that I get from those of my constituents who have raised the matter with me. They enjoy listening to debates in the House of Lords. [AN HON. MEMBER: "They are boring."] I hear somebody say that the debates in the other place are boring. That is a matter of personal judgment. I do not think they are. Only somebody who does not follow the proceedings in the other place or listen to what is said would make such a foolish remark.
Why should our elected Chamber be afraid of this innovation? We are all experienced in this place in facing audience criticism, and the overwhelming majority of us believe passionately in parliamentary government. We are the heirs to a great tradition. This place is one of the most precious possessions that our democracy has, with all its faults and all its warts. This is where the buck stops. The courts can do so much, where justice is concerned, and the press can give information; but it is here that people's rights can be guaranteed.
We therefore have a duty to preserve the House for the future, and I want to see the reputation of this place enhanced for the general public. By shutting out the public, I do not think that we enhance our reputation. Allowing the public to see how we tackle problems, and the entertaining cut and thrust of debate, reveals the democratic process to them.
There are difficulties, of course, but I do not think that they are difficulties of principle. It must surely be right to heighten the awareness of our people as to the work and worth of Parliament. The difficulties, surely, are technical ones — including the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who, with running commentaries, interrupts the speeches of all hon. Members; but that, too, is a technical difficulty that can be overcome.
My right hon. Friend, as the Father of the House, said that he felt that allowing television cameras in would enhance the proceedings of the House. I want to ask him the question that I put to my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), who moved the motion: how does he feel that television will enhance the proceedings of the House whereas radio, presumably, has not, and the radio authorities have full power to broadcast all the proceedings of the House? Where does he think the difference lies?
I do not think that there is a difference. "Today in Parliament" has done a great service to Parliament. My constituents comment on what they have heard. They sometimes comment adversely, but, generally speaking, they feel better informed. I feel that television would add to that dimension. I quite agree that bringing in cameras is obtrusive. I am only in favour of an experiment, with the most careful control, to see how it works.
I am on the right hon. Gentleman's side, Mr. Speaker, in that I am going to vote for the televising of Parliament after the experiment. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the things that brings the House into disrepute is the fact that the other House is televised? When there is a television broadcast of events that take place in this House, it shows a picture of the Member of Parliament speaking—whether it is the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister or a Back Bencher—and then superimposes the radio transcript on the picture? That makes us seem ridiculous. We let radio in, but we have to see a still picture with a radio speech in the background on television. Surely that is absolutely farcical and should be put right.
We are not talking about that particular practice; we are talking about something quite different—showing live exactly what happens here, how we conduct ourselves and the views we express.
I allow that there will be one considerable difficulty, and I want to mention it because nobody else has so far. It is the need to help the public to understand the intricacies of our procedures, the odd terms that we use and the conventions that we observe. All these will have to be explained if much of what we do and say is to be intelligible. But I do not think that that is an insuperable obstacle to presenting Parliament visually to the nation.
It is not a matter that can be left to the media, and I want to make it quite plain that they must be guided and controlled in this connection. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, certainly; this place is far too precious to run the risk of things going wildly wrong. They must be guided and controlled, and I favour the proposal for a Select Committee, which I would expect to seek the views of you, Mr. Speaker, the Clerk of the House and the Editor of the Official Report, as well as senior Members of the House. I hope that collectively we would see that there was no nonsense about the way all this was done. From the start there would have to be very strict ground rules.
My conclusion is that there is a case for televising our proceedings, but it should be done by way of an experiment, watched over by the sort of supervising body that I know my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) has in mind. I thought that my hon. Friend made an admirable and very clear speech, and an unanswerable case.
After many years in the House, in 12 successive Parliaments, I am confident that if this matter is properly prepared and supervised, the experiment will become the common practice and at long last the nation will be able to see the House, where the Queen's Ministers give an account of what they do in our name, where grievances are aired and redress is sought, where the national interest in any matter can be debated and defended and where genuine dissent can be decently expressed.
The press and the rest of the media can report what is going on in the outside world, the courts of the land may dispense justice, but it is essential to demonstrate that in our democracy Parliament is central to our life and liberty. Surely the public, used to being shown other matters of importance on television, have a right to see how we discharge our duty here.
I shall vote for the motion.
I think that it is important that the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), put this debate in its historical context, looking back at the difficulties of those who wanted to introduce reporting of the procedures of the House, and that, while voicing some of the concerns that inevitably bother all hon. Members, he nevertheless came down in favour of the conclusion that we should proceed with this experiment and set up a Select Committee to investigate the ground rules for it.
It is perhaps an appalling cliché of our time that television is the medium of our age. However often the House has rejected television cameras coming in to record and televise our proceedings, few people would deny that television has considerable influence on what goes on in the House. Few would say that the tragic and horrific scenes of famine and starvation in Eritrea and Ethiopia that were brought into our living rooms and those of our constituents did not have an effect on what subsequently took place in the House in terms of parliamentary questions, the statements that were called for and the debate that took place shortly after.
The Prime Minister recently made her announcement on the review of the National Health Service on a television programme—she did not come to the House to do it—and one surely cannot believe that political parties would spend so much money on television election broadcasts, with the leaders trying to find suitable picture opportunities, unless they thought that these televised events would have some effect on the electorate, and subsequently even on the composition of the House.
I believe that television has an influence on what we do, but, because we exclude it, that influence inevitably forces us to be reactive and not to take the initiative. If we are to be relevant, if we are to have more opportunities for taking the initiative in the TV age, the admission of cameras to televise our proceedings is a logical and natural step.
That case is underpinned by other arguments based more on principle. If we believe, as many of us do, in the case for open government, I cannot readily see any argument in principle why the affairs of this Chamber should be excluded from the eye of the camera. I believe that by having television we are allowing more people, more of our electors, to see what we do here as their representatives. The Public Gallery holds relatively few people and, if many of the concerns about our being rather exclusive are carried through to their logical conclusion, perhaps we should not have anyone in the Public Gallery.
Why should those who are fortunate enough to be able to queue for tickets or get them from their Members be allowed to see what we do, while those many millions of people who for one reason or other cannot do so are not allowed to see what we do? I represent the constituency that is furthest from the Chamber, so my constituents in particular have great difficulty in getting here. Why should they not be able to see, with those in the Public Gallery, what goes on in the House?
It is interesting that a survey by Pye, the electronics and television company, in 1985 showed that in Scotland there was the greatest support, 82 per cent., for the principle of televising the proceedings of the House.
One further point, which has perhaps been ignored, is that radio broadcasting, which we have at present, does not do anything to help deaf people follow what goes on in the Chamber. I hope that if a Select Committee is set up it will give some consideration to the need for broadcasters to provide a sign commentary when the proceedings of the House are televised.
Not only will the public see the House, but they will see the real thing. Because of the absence of cameras, we have had the 20th century equivalent of Voltaire and Samuel Johnson. We have had the diet of debates and confrontations in the studio, but not in the Chamber. They have been there as a substitute, and I do not decry them. In the absence of televised proceedings, televised studio debates have been an important part of our democratic procedure, but let me pose the questions posed by Sir Robin Day in his article in The Times last Thursday:
Were not television interviews and discussions beginning to usurp the function of Parliament? Was it not absurd that our political leaders should be judged by how they answered questions put to them in a television studio by a non-elected interviewer? Why should they not be seen being questioned and challenged in Parliament by those elected for that purpose?
It is not unknown for some statesmen who may think themselves greater than they are to be rather choosy about whom they will join in a televised studio debate. In this House, you, Mr. Speaker, will call hon. Members as they catch your eye, to ask questions of Ministers. They will rightly not be able to avoid the questions put by the Opposition Front and Back Benches, and those of the minority parties — and often, most pertinently, from their own Back Benches. When Ministers know that they will be under that kind of public scrutiny, and that the way in which they defend their statements and policies will be seen by the public, that will to some extent redress the
balance between the Executive and the Chamber, which for too long has been going in the direction of the Executive.
I have spoken of "the real thing". There has already been discussion about the effect of sound broadcasting and the many criticisms by the public of the noise that they hear when the listen to such broadcasts. However, in my experience — and, I suspect, that of many other hon. Members—visitors to the Public Gallery have said that the noise is not as bad as it sounds on the radio. Some constituents have sat and watched Prime Minister's Question Time and later have heard the recorded version on the radio, and have not been able to believe that they were one and the same. When the noise is considered in context, it is not as bad as it sometimes sounds on the radio.
Is not one of the reasons for that the fact that, when broadcasting of the House first started, the BBC broadcast everything that could be heard on one of these small microphones? There were some very ribald, vulgar, witty comments about hon. Members' love lives and "love children", and all the usual banter that never appears in Hansard. Within a few days the BBC panicked, because of complaints and the prospect of libel suits. That is when the BBC began to garble and jam the broadcasts, because it was afraid of those interjections which do not appear in Hansard being heard on the radio. That is one instance of how the distortion arises.
I do not know whether what the hon. Gentleman says is correct, but I do not think that it detracts from my point, that those who see our proceedings in context have not found the noise as bad as they believe it to be when they hear it on the radio.
Obviously, when there are 400 people in a crowded Chamber—most of whom, we assume, are here because they hold strong political views — it is not surprising that, when views are expressed with which they strongly agree or passionately disagree, there will be some noise. Mr. Speaker is on record as saying that if there are to be explosions he would prefer verbal explosions in the Chamber to real explosions in the street.
When Granada produced a mock-up of the debate on the televising of Parliament, most of the people there were constituents of the Members of Parliament who had come along as visitors. Within minutes, because of the atmosphere of the place—which was like the atmosphere here—they were all yelling at each other. It would not matter if all the Members of Parliament were sent away and replaced with 650 people who had been picked afresh. The same action would be taken. It is part of the atmosphere of this place.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Perhaps if the Prime Minister, for example, says something with which the Opposition passionately disagree, our constituents at home will experience a similar reaction and will understand ours.
Where I believe that the public will make a distinction, and will be discriminating, is when there is synthetic anger or organised barracking. Yesterday's exchanges on Parliament in the days of Sir Robert Peel showed that what happens today is not necessarily anything new. When the public see what happens, they will make their own judgments. I suspect that when they observe synthetic emotion, or organised barracking intended for no other purpose than to put a speaker off his stride, they will judge it somewhat harshly.
Will the hon. Gentleman give us a bit more detail on the point that he has just made? He talks of the public being able to analyse the rage that may erupt in the Chamber. Does that mean that he envisages cameras being able to pan across the Benches to show it? That is not the impression that most hon. Members have of the way in which Parliament should be televised.
Obviously, how it is done will be up to the Select Committee. I do not envisage anything like the Canadian model, in which the person who is speaking is shown narrowly in the camera. In the other place, although the camera shows the person who is speaking, there is a more general panorama. If, for example, a statement were made on the National Health Service from the Dispatch Box with the Opposition did not agree, and there was a surge of opinion, in such a general panorama that would readily be seen as genuine rather than synthetic emotion.
I consider it important to televise Select Committees — and, indeed, when important Bills are under consideration, Standing Committees. When Select Committees are doing their job properly, they are probably working in a non-partisan manner. The public might find it a refreshing eye-opener if they saw hon. Members from different parties co-operating in a Select Committee.
In answer to the exchanges between the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) about the Westland debate being boring, I doubt that the public would have found it so boring if they had been able to see the televised proceedings of the Select Committee when the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Sir Robert Armstrong appeared before it. Such genuine parliamentary occasions can never be properly communicated to the public in print, or in a radio or television commentary.
Having said that, I should like to enter some caveats. We all have our caveats, and I make no apology if some of mine appear to be based on party political self-interest. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members that the interests of the minority parties, and of those of us who fought the last election under the alliance banner, are of concern to me, and how we would be portrayed if any editing took place. We hope that the Select Committee will take that into account.
That is a matter for speculation. Either he would have had to answer, or failure to answer would perhaps have attracted more public comment and judgment than occurred without its being televised.
I have given way a number of times. I should like now to move on to some of our reservations on this matter.
We feel that there could be a danger of exclusion or unfair coverage—not only of alliance Members, but of the Nationalist parties, the parties from Northern Ireland and Back Benchers from all parties. After all, nearly a quarter of those who voted at the last general election voted for the third force in British politics, but the procedures of the House are very much geared to a two-party system. When we last debated this matter, in November 1985, Mr. Hugo Young, writing in The Guardian, said that he thought the Government would favour televising Parliament because it would
exclude the Alliance from public view, in line with the Parliamentary procedures which similarly exclude it.
At Prime Minister's Question Time the Leader of the Opposition has the opportunity to ask one, two or sometimes three supplementary questions. The leader of the Liberal party is allowed to ask only one question, and is allowed no comeback. Obviously, that would have to be explained.
I do not expect the Opposition Front Bench necessarily to go along with me. I am not arguing against what happens, although I should like to do so. I am saying that that is the fact of the matter, and no doubt that is how it would come over on television, much to our disadvantage.
Last week the Secretary of State for Education and Science made a statement on the decision to abolish the Inner London education authority which took up one and a half columns in Hansard. The response of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), on behalf of the official Opposition, also took up one and a half columns. Two questions later, my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) asked a question which took up nine lines.
One quarter of those who voted at the last election voted for a third force in British politics, yet the procedures of the House do not allow us adequate time to reflect that. Undoubtedly that would be reflected, to a greater or lesser extent, in any broadcasting of the proceedings in the Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. As he knows, at election time the broadcasting authorities allocate party political broadcasts—I am not sure whether to do parties harm or to help them—equally between the three principal parties. What they will do next time with seven or eight alliance Members scattered around, I do not know. Would the hon. Gentleman expect broadcasting authorities to have the responsibility to adjust what happens here in order to give fair coverage? Indeed, has the hon. Gentleman's party made any representations recently to the broadcasting authorities that they should do so in some way?
Representations have been made in the past, although I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman when. I am setting down one of the markers on which we would wish to address the Select Committee. Given the nature of the proceedings here and the fact that it is a two-party Chamber, however much we might desire it, it would be impossible to be allocated the same proportions of time as we are given for party political broadcasts. We would wish to see something better than what comes out of a Chamber with proceedings that are very much geared to a two-party system. It is not unfair to alert the House to our reservations on a serious consideration.
The more outlets that there are for the televised proceedings of the House, the fewer difficulties there will be in achieving some form of editorial balance. It would be essential to have a televised programme in the same way as we have "Today in Parliament". Indeed, if funds would allow it, I would go along with the proposal of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and have continuous broadcasting, but even then some editorial decisions would have to be made for other programmes.
I accept that the procedures in the House are as they are. We would wish to campaign to reform them. It may be said that all is fair in love, war and politics, but we are not in the business of giving yet another weapon to our political opponents. Therefore, we approach the matter with some caution. We do not say that because of our concerns and reservations we should say no to the experiment, but I have mentioned some of the points that we shall be making to the Select Committee. If the intention is to take the political debate in the House into Britain's homes, it is important that all aspects of that debate are properly taken into Britain's homes, and that is our concern.
The speech trade by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) has been one of the most important contributions to the debate so far. The case of many of us who oppose television coming into the House is that we will be manipulated, and Parliament will be manipulated, by the producers and the editors. The hon. Gentleman has made it plain that his support for the proposition is based on exactly that. He is not content that Mr. Speaker should allocate time between the various interests in the House; he wants a fairer allocation.
Yes, indeed. The only case for television that I could make is that the viewer might have seen me indicate that commas should be around the word "fairer".
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is saying that, through the introduction of television, he expects the way in which the House works and its procedures will be changed, or that what is depicted on the screen is essentially different from what is happening in the House.
So that there can be no misunderstanding, I said that that would be the tenor of what we wished to say to the Select Committee. I did not say that at the end of the day we would give producers carte blanche. It is up to the Select Committee to lay down guidelines and ground rules for the producers.
It does not matter how the hon. Gentleman wriggles. He is saying that he wants television to be introduced into the House so that he can use the cameras as a lever to change what is going on here to the advantage of his party.
He is kind enough to nod. There could be no clearer indication why many of us, on both sides of the House, regardless of the way in which we feel about each other's party politics, mistrust and resent the idea of those cameras coming here. It is precisely because, as the hon. Gentleman has made plain, they would be coming here in the expectation that they would do something for particular interests and would be an outside influence coming in here, designed to change what we are doing.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that it might be worse than that? Is he aware that it is possible that some of the minority parties may have sought to bargain in advance of the event by suggesting that they would only vote for televising the House if the television channels would guarantee them a certain amount of coverage in advance? If that were true, does it advance the case for televising the House?
I have some hesitation about introducing this matter, Madam Deputy Speaker, but several hon. Members have been circulated with a copy of what purports to be a letter dated 4 February over the signatures of the leaders of the Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party group in the House. My copy does not have their signature, but no doubt I shall be told at once whether itis true or false.
The letter is addressed to David Nicholas, the editor of ITN News. I shall not go through it all but one paragraph says:
As you will be aware, Tuesday's vote is expected to be a close one, and a handful of votes either way could decide the issue for the next four or five years. It is our feeling that the six votes of the Plaid Cymru SNP members, together with those of the SDLP members, could prove to be of crucial importance in the division lobbies on Tuesday night.
Our natural instinct, as evidenced by our voting record in the past, is to support the introduction of television cameras into the House. However, on this occasion we have decided that we are prepared to vote against Tuesday's motion unless we can be given assurances from both ITN and the BBC that the rights of minority parties, such as our own, will be upheld.
We would, therefore, he grateful if you could bring with you on Tuesday your proposals indicating how these rights will be upheld. In particular, it would be of some assistance to us if you were able to inform us how ITN intends to maintain a fair balance of representative views among the parties, and whether or not judgments of what is newsworthy will follow what we would describe as 'pre-conceived' notions. In other words, we are seeking guarantees that important Scottish, Welsh and Irish issues will not be covered solely by regional television stations but also by the various UK programmes outlined in your letter.
I am sure that at this juncture, that is not the case. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) should be allowed to make his speech.
We had a full and frank discussion this morning with the broadcasting authorities and representatives of the ITN and BBC; those discussions are normal. We do not conduct vendettas against the broadcasting authorities—unlike the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). That letter is part of an on-going discussion —[Interruption.] I believe that such discussion between political parties and broadcasting authorities is an inherent part of our democratic process, and if I am called to speak later in the debate I shall refer to the substance of those discussions.
That is a most useful explanation. The hon. Gentleman is right—such letters are exchanged between the parties, the usual channels and the broadcasting authorities. What is unusual—I suggest, unprecedented —is the suggestion that parties should engage in what one might call "vote bargaining." In other words, "We will not vote for letting the cameras in unless you give certain undertakings." They say that they believe that the cameras should come in, but they are saying, "Unless we get guarantees, we shall not vote in the way that we believe."
Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the discussions arose specifically out of a letter sent to us by the broadcasting authorities? —[Interruption.] I certainly received a letter; Conservative Members may not read their correspondence. It arose particularly out of the various emphases on the kinds of programming being offered to us, and we wanted to establish the facts as between regional and national programmes.
Not guarantees. We wanted to establish the facts as between regional and national programming and the United Kingdom coverage.
For the benefit of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), we did not receive any such guarantees. The broadcasting authorities are not in a position to give such guarantees. As part of the review, if the experiment takes place, the broadcasting authorities were keen for politicians to be actively involved in reviewing the process after the experiment had started. I think that that is quite acceptable as part of our democratic work.
Which does the right hon. Gentleman think is a greater threat to democracy and the freedom of the media —an exchange of letters between a minority party and the broadcasting authorities, or thinly veiled threats from a senior member of a Government with a large majority, with hints of licence fee threats in the background, in correspondence with the BBC?
People reading the right hon. Gentleman's speech should not be under any misapprehension. He will know— I know to my certain knowledge that this has been the case for the 38 years that I have been here— that there have been annual meetings between the parties and the broadcasting authorities, in which agreement has been sought on the allocation of party political and election broadcasts. In these negotiations there has always been a triple veto. If the BBC withdrew, these broadcasts would not take place; if a party would not take part, they would not take place either.
Going back to earlier days, there was the 14-day rule, under which broadcasters could not discuss what was to be debated in Parliament. As a result of discussions in which I was involved — I was a member of the Select Committee—the 14-day rule was lifted. Whatever merit there may be in the right hon. Gentleman's argument, please do not let him give the impression that it was our hon. Friends in the nationalist parties who introduced some new principle of negotiation.
The right hon. Gentleman has missed the point, and we must not escape it. What is new is not that the discussions take place but that we have vote bargaining—
on this occasion, we have decided that we are prepared to vote against Tuesday's motion".
Having explained that they believe in televising the House, they are prepared to vote against their principles, unless they get the bargain they want.
I do not want to take up too much time. In the limited time still available to me, I should like to dispose of three misconceptions, red herrings or fallacies that have been put forward by some of those who favour televising the House.
First— I am glad that this is becoming accepted —there is no inevitability or historical movement that says that sooner or later cameras must come into the House. We are masters of our own affairs and we can, without any sense of guilt, decline to allow the television producers to use Parliament for so long as we wish—and for ever, if we wish. We have no need to be pushed around to please television interests. Our responsibility is to Parliament and to our electors, not to the BBC or ITV.
Secondly, if we allowed the so-called experiment, the television producers would behave most properly during their time on probation. They would willingly keep their noses clean for six months to dirty ours for ever afterwards.
The experiment will show that modern cameras will work without excessive lighting. We know that from watching outdoor sporting events and the sporting events in the other place. The experiment will show that remote camera control will work. But it will show us nothing about the intention of the producers. We can be sure that while, according to the motion on the Order Paper, a yes vote would be for a six-month experiment and the establishment of a Select Committee, the experiment would prove nothing more than the one in the Upper House. The television interests know that softly softly, catchee monkey, and this House would be the monkey.
Thirdly, those who oppose the televising of the House do not do so because we do not wish the public to know what goes on. On the contrary, the more that the public know of what goes on here the better—I say that in the national interest and, having watched Opposition Members, also in my party's interest.
My objection is that I do not want television to manipulate what goes on here. I should be happy, not only because of my commercial interests but also in the public interest, if the public could dial in through the telephone system to listen to our parliamentary proceedings every day; not only those in the Chamber but those in the Standing and Select Committees. I do not think that would be a great money maker for British Telecom, but it would be agreeable to have the facility.
I shall develop my argument concerning manipulation, because it lies at the heart of my objection to this proposal, which at best would amount to putting the House in the hands of the entertainment industry — which, in the main, is what television is. Who could believe that, with television cameras present at Prime Minister's Question Time, the Leader of the Opposition would not feel impelled to wear a red nose to show that his interest in famine relief was greater than that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister? At worst, it would allow unelected politicians behind the cameras to use us, the elected politicians in front of the cameras, to make the points or create the issues that they want to make, not those that we want to make.
I need not claim that producers, editors or journalists favour the Labour or Conservative parties, or, indeed, the alliance — Steelites, Owenites, Maclennanites, Ashdownites or any of the sub-species thereof. No self-respecting parliamentarian would want the House to become television producers' putty.
The television lobby says that that would not happen. Would it not? Let us look at the evidence. The television authorities say that they would not show anything other than the proceedings of the House. So far, they have stood by their word. Yet on the first day of televising "Their Lordships' House", there was trouble in the Public Gallery. The Times of 24 January 1985 said:
The Labour Party was again in turmoil over the miners' strike last night after the party's Chief Whip"—
I hasten to say that the Chief Whip was the noble Lord Cocks—
condemned the action of Labour MPs in taking a group of miners into the House of Lords, where they later staged a demonstration during the first televised debate.
The demonstrators, it emerged last night, had been taken into the lobby of the Lords by left-wing Labour MI's who included Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, and Ms. Clare Short.
I suspect that those miners did not realise that their protest would not be shown. That is why they went there on the first day of television.
More recently, we have had the lesbian invasion of the Upper House—I hasten to add, from the Gallery—after those ladies had been admitted to the Gallery by a Labour peer. I put it to the House that in both those cases the demonstrators might have believed that they would appear on television.
As the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) put it, television cameras attract demonstrators, just as iron filings go to a magnet. Indeed, many of us— I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is one—believe that television cameras actually create demonstrations. I believe that that is the case.
Of course, there is no need to assume that such demonstrations would always be hostile to the Government. I understand that it would be the intention of the television interest to broadcast live the whole of the Budget proceedings in the House. I am not quite sure how television producers would cope if members of a union of taxpayers positioned themselves in the Strangers Gallery to fling bouquets of flowers, even red roses, at the Chancellor when he cut taxes. How would they deal with that? Would they black out the Chancellor or would they show the demonstration? Such problems would be bound to arise sooner or later.
The right hon. Gentleman's speech is a disgraceful attempt to drag red herrings into the proceedings. He knows full well that the coverage of demonstrations and events in the Gallery is precluded by the rules. None of the demonstrations that he mentioned was covered. It is about as logical as asserting that the throwing of horse manure was in anticipation of television coming to Parliament eight years later.
With respect, the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I postulated a situation where one could not show the Chancellor speaking without showing the roses descending upon him. What would the cameras do then?
In any case, if we had a few demonstrations, I am quite sure that it would not be long before the television lobbyists began to say, "How absurd. Everyone knows that these demonstrations are going on. The public can read about them in the newspapers, they are reported by the pressmen in the Gallery, they can hear the noise over the radio. How ridiculous that it is not shown on television." There is not a single argument left against that, if we accept the argument of the television lobbyists tonight.
I would go even further. The events of 21 November 1984 are well within the recollection of Mr. Speaker, because he was in the Chair that night. At 10.16 pm, because of the grave disorder by certain Opposition Members, Mr. Speaker suspended the Sitting for 10 minutes, and subsequently, when the disorders continued on the Floor of the House—not up in the Gallery—and hon. Members refused to obey Mr. Speaker, the House was adjourned at 10.27 pm. Columns 385–86 of Hansard refer to those incidents taking place.
Would television show that? I do not think it could avoid showing it. Would not television showing that encourage it to happen more often? If such an incident arose during live coverage, would the television editors decide to black it out or to broadcast it? Would they not be considered to be wrong either way?
Is it not equally conceivable that constituents of the hon. Members who behaved in such a disreputable manner would subject them to such criticism that they would desist from that behaviour?
I shall return to my hon. Friend's point in a moment. First, I ask him to consider why hon. Members behaved in that way in the first place, if it was not to let their constituents know that they were doing it. They would be delighted if their constituents not only read about it and heard it on the radio, but also saw them on television. Would not the constituents and some of the political parties backing Opposition Members who were not taking part ask them why they were not there?
We all know that the political parties who select us and who help us to get into the House, the activists for the Labour party or the Conservative party, are always somewhat more extreme in their views than the generality of our constituents. Those people hold the nominations in their gift. We all know the fears that have been expressed by hon. Members opposite about reselection procedures.
Of course, Opposition Members may say that it is not just them. I am sure that before long someone will mention the incident when Opposition Members were singing "The Red Flag" and my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) happened to find his hand upon the Mace. He said, "Mr. Speaker, I never knew I had it in my hand. Somebody must have planted it on me." I will let my right hon. Friend answer for himself. That only goes to show that anybody can become involved in such incidents.
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends may say that cameras will improve behaviour. In many cases that may be true, but of course it will not happen in all cases. The former Labour Chief Whip, Lord Cocks, could see the dangers, because he is a dedicated parliamentarian, but things seem to have changed. The Guardian of 16 November 1987 said:
Mr. Derek Foster, the Labour Chief Whip, yesterday promised more rowdy scenes in the Commons, similar to those seen last week … He added: 'If you think that last week was bad, stick around.'
I am sure that the television cameras would.
Not all hon. Members regard the House as the ultimate place in which to make political decisions. Some people on the extreme Left advocate extra-parliamentary activity — it is called taking the battle on to the streets. They see television as the way to bring the battle off the streets and into the House.
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends say—quite rightly—so much the worse for the Labour party, what a bonus for us, the Conservatives. The public would see the unacceptable face of the Labour party even more clearly. The Leader of the Opposition would have even more to say, in public and in private, about the activities of some sections of his party, in the way that he has criticised the London Labour party, which gave us a particular bonus in terms of votes at the last general election.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he is likely to lose a number of supporters for the case against television, by the speech he is now making? Surely, we should discuss the merits of television. It is obvious that the right hon. Gentleman thinks only in terms of narrow political arguments in the interests of his own political party.
I can make a comment about the Mace. It nearly hit me. I can also comment about the pennies that were thrown by Opposition Members at that time. However, those issues are irrelevant to whether we should have television in the House. The right hon. Gentleman is not helping his case or mine.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks about it, I am. He knows that I have mentioned incidents of disorder which have occurred from both sides of the House. There is no exclusive on that. My point is that the presence of the cameras would engender more such incidents.
None of us in the House have not been tempted to breach the rules of order. Indeed, most of us have succumbed to that temptation at some time or another. However, the key question is whether the Chair is obeyed and whether the House is brought into disrepute. It would be regrettable if we brought the cameras in here and encouraged more of that sort of thing.
I have no doubt that such incidents would appear more often if we had the cameras in. Do not tell me that the television editors will not broadcast those incidents, because if they occur during a live broadcast, they would have no choice. Anyway, they will take the view that the printed press is already recording it. No one should talk about the responsibility of the producers.
I agree with one thing that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, said— what he said about the degradation of the programme "Yesterday in Parliament". It contains more and more subjective comment. Even matters that did not take place are coming into the programme. This morning's report failed to quote the initial answer given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to the private notice question tabled by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). That distorted the remainder of the report. which then included remarks about what the broadcaster thought was in the mind of my right hon. Friend, and which misreported what he said.
Finally, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House mentioned the abuse of privilege. I regard that as a serious issue. Too often, innocent people have been pilloried in this House and accused of criminal offences without a scrap of evidence. If that abuse grows and is magnified by the publicity of television, sooner or later there will be pressure for Parliament to lose that privilege. Without it, hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), would probably not be able to expose wrongdoing in the way in which he exposed the child abuse scandal in his constituency by a very proper use of privilege.
As I have said, I have no doubt that cameras in this place would be used by those in this House who have no respect for Parliament and its procedures— those who defy the Chair and even vote against acceptance of the authority of the Chair. It would be used by some broadcasters as "entertainment" and by others, not least in concert with those who have no respect for Parliament, to create events and to dictate the agenda of this House for their purpose.
Tonight, either television or Parliament will win the vote. They cannot both win. I will cast my vote for Parliament.
The most striking thing about the speeches that we have heard throughout the debate has been the timidity, fear and, at times, even the paranoia of those who are opposed to the introduction of television into this Chamber. The speech of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was no exception. I find it extraordinary that some of the more robust Members of the House, who are not afraid of dealing with hostility in defending their point of view or their position either in the country or in the House, should he associated with such a timid approach towards the televising of Parliament. It is a strange paradox.
I do not believe that the examples that we have been given and the various attempts to explain why we should be so afraid of the introduction of television are convincing. First, I certainly do not accept the idea that the BBC or ITV will set the agenda of the House by being allowed to bring in their television cameras. The plain truth is that it is outside this House, in the television studios, that the other politicians—the unacknowledged politicians of television and radio — set the agenda of politics and seek to make Members of Parliament respond to their agenda and their order of priorities.
In this House it is the Government and the Opposition who determine the major business of the House which is, after all, chaired by Mr. Speaker or his Deputies That is very different from being in a television studio and being subjected to interrogation by one or another of their interrogators, within a limited time span and within a setup that is entirely controlled by the television producers.
Therefore, I do not think for a moment that we would be manipulated by television, whether it be the BBC or ITV. After all, the proposal is not merely that we should now set up a Select Committee to go into the detail of having an experiment, but when the experiment takes place, as has happened in the Lords—we already have sound broadcasting in this House—there is then to be set up a Select Committee to monitor, supervise and lay down the rules and, if need be, to change the modus operandi of the television and the sound radio producers who follow the House.
That is not being in a position where we can be manipulated and controlled. We are in a position in which we have far more control over the media here in the House, if we bother to use our powers properly, than we have over the Government's conduct of business here. Certainly, that is an entirely different regime from that which exists between this House and its Members and, of course, the press.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not think that I am being unduly simple about these things, but his views could have been heard to be expressed in the Marylebone Cricket Club a few years ago about the game of cricket. However, I must advise him that it was not the MCC which decided to go for one-day cricket instead of three-day cricket. Television caused that to happen. That is an example of the way in which television will change things, even if others have the authority.
I do not think for a moment that anyone who has followed in detail the conduct of this now 10-yearold sound radio experiment in the House could possibly agree with the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that it is the broadcasters who manipulate and shape what we do, rather than the other way round. It is not so.
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
I now come to the one illustration that is always cited by hon. Members who are opposed to the televising of the House. I am referring to the noise that upsets many people who listen to the exchanges— in many ways the most untypical exchanges of the House—when the House is at its most excited and the protagonists and leaders of the two political parties are engaged in head-on collision. As we well know, that occurs twice a week for 15 minutes.
The steady dissemination of news and reports about Parliament through "Today in Parliament", which we listen to every evening, and through other programmes, and which sometimes appear on independent radio in a much fuller form than on the BBC, no doubt adds to the understanding and knowledge and the sense of participation that people have about what goes on in the House.
I have said that there is timidity and fear that we cannot ourselves, in this House, with all its resources, control the BBC and ITV producers, who are dependent on our continuing good will for access here with their cameras; but, my God, if we cannot control them, how on earth can this House ever control Ministers with their powerful civil servants sitting behind them? If we cannot make television and radio accountable to us, we will never be able to make Ministers accountable either. That is a counsel of despair whih reflects an extraordinary paranoia about the introduction of the cameras.
I shall give way later to the hon. Gentleman. There is not only a fear that we shall be manipulated by the media. The other fear is that fallen political human nature will show itself in a new, novel and appallingly perverse way if the cameras are introduced. There is plenty of fallen political human nature to be observed in the House; there has been ever since I have been a Member. I have probably been a good part of it, but 20 years ago there was no radio here.
I can remember the two most extraordinary incidents that impressed themselves on my memory. The first was when Bernadette Devlin crossed the Floor of the House and attacked the then Home Secretary, Reginald Maudling, by pulling his hair and slapping his face in a fit of passion. On another occasion the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) seized the Mace and waved it above his head in an extraordinary and disgraceful way. Both those incidents occurred before radio was introduced. I do not think the right hon. Member for Henley would have behaved any better or worse if cameras had been here. And I am willing to bet that a Miss Bernadette Devlin of the future will behave in exactly the same fashion as her counterpart of the past.
Hon. Members are far more honest in their emotions, and far less constrained by factors that other people believe they are aiming at than is generally understood. There is spontaneity in politics. Miss Devlin did not plan to do what she did in a manner deliberately aimed at catching the eye of the press. However, if she did, the Press Gallery was there to report it—it cannot be turned off. No one seriously suggests that we should switch off sound radio now. The electorate would think that an extraordinary, self-damaging act, motivated by fear and paranoia.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, although it would have been more helpful if he had allowed me to intervene earlier when my point was more appropriate. The right hon. Gentleman was suggesting state control of television. Is he aware that, when launching the proposals to televise the House, the editor of ITN, David Nicholas, when asked if he would surrender his editorial control, said — quite properly, as a journalist—that he would not?
There is a difference between editorial control and general supervision by the House by laying down rules and procedures that are already accepted and operated in the House of Lords, where the television experiment is now in its third year. It is all very well to say that the cameras would be on their best behaviour to con us for six months, but three years later they are still on their best behaviour. Sound radio has been well behaved for 10 years, so I do not see why we should take these arguments against television seriously. The arguments for introducing television are much more positive.
Some people say that television is only about entertainment, but it is not. It is written into the charter of the BBC that the purpose of broadcasting is to inform, educate and entertain. Similar obligations are written into the Act that set up ITV. Television and radio have concerns other than merely entertaining and trivialising.
I do not know about that.
It is a major obligation of broadcasting authorities that they should maintain balance. It is about that that the minority parties are concerned, and about what sort of protection they might receive. That is a legitimate concern that should be taken up with the proposed Select Committee rather than with the television authorities. We want more balanced reporting of Parliament's proceedings. The lack of that is one of the principal defects in the way in which the press treats us today.
There are serious accounts in the five large newspapers, and they are helpful to Parliament. They help to disseminate information about ideas and arguments. However, most of the press ignores the House completely. It has no obligation to report its affairs. The Gallery comments only on the trivia of the House—some of it is entertaining and I do not object to that, but it does not tell people what has happened.
If we televise the House, that will not happen. Of course, there will have to be selection. It is implicit and inevitable in any sort of programme other than a full version of everything we say. We have already laid down rules. I quote from the ground rules for television, which is asked
to limit our coverage to 'the strict confines of the Chamber'. This means in particular no shots of the Stranger's Gallery or the other Galleries, even if there are interruptions from these.
That is dated 1984, more than three years ago—before the events of the week before last when people swarmed down the ropes in the House of Lords. That went unreported. It would have been outside the terms of reference to report what went on in the Galleries. So the arguments for having stronger coverage of what goes on in Parliament through the introduction of television are incomparably better than those advanced against it.
Ever since democracy was born in Athens and the city state, the problem has always been that it cannot be direct. It has had to be representative democracy. As such, there has been a problem of communication—of the gap that arises between those who represent and those who are represented. Our technology and ingenuity have presented us in the second half of the 20th century with a most marvellous and remarkable way of closing that gap. I am strongly in favour of the experiment and, more than that, I am in favour of introducing television into the House.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) on the skilled way in which he introduced the debate. I also congratulate him on his wisdom in reproducing exactly the same motion as the one that I introduced in a similar debate more than two years ago.
It is wise to televise the proceedings of Parliament in the form of an experiment. I do not understand the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who seemed to suggest that a vote tonight in favour of television would close the door on time for changes of mind. The terms of the motion clearly state that that is not the case. It commits us only to the principle of an experiment, and there would be further opportunities to judge whether to go ahead with it and have it on a permanent basis.
That is one possible interpretation, but I shall not try to read the mind of my right hon. Friend. I do not think that the terms of the motion will bear the construction that he put upon them.
I turn now to the heart of the matter. We pride ourselves on being a parliamentary democracy, in which we hope that the electors will take an ever closer interest in what we do. If they have aspirations to join us in the House, they will he free to do so. Therefore, I believe that it is logical to make use of the most direct and up-to-date means of communication now available to us, and that means televising the House.
Historically, the House has been extraordinarily reluctant to share its deliberations with the outside world. In the 18th century, we know, the House hated being reported, and there was a great struggle before newspapers gained the right to report the proceedings. Indeed, even those who sought to report for Hansard—as it then was — ran into difficulties. We had the same problems when radio was introduced, and now the same sort of problems are being advanced against television.
Although I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) on many things, I cannot agree with his analysis of the evils that will flow from televising the House. Just as people have a right to sit in the Strangers' Gallery, so they have a right to see something of our deliberations on televison. I believe that that is the essential principle.
My hon. Friend and I have been in the House for 18 years, and in all that time not one of my 80,000 constituents has written to me about this matter. Therefore, I very much doubt whether there is a public demand to televise the House. I believe that that demand comes mainly from the communications industry.
Contrary to my hon. Friend's experience, I have received letters from constituents and, indeed, on many more occasions, people have talked to me about it at various functions and expressed their wish that the House should be televised.
I believe that the important arguments against televising the House should be closely analysed. The technical arguments against televising the House that were strongly advanced two years ago and well before have been largely disposed of. It seems clear that remote-controlled cameras of a modest nature, with no personnel on the Floor of the House and with modest additional lighting —I would not mind a modest addition to the lighting, whether or not we are televised would not present insuperable barriers to the deliberations of the House. There might have been a problem when the apparatus was far less sophisticated, but that is not the case now. An experiment would enable us to test whether we could operate comfortably under the modern conditions of televising for a period of six months. That is a good reason for having such an experiment.
We must also consider the knotty problem of editorial control. Of course there will be some difficulties. I cannot imagine any course of action involving such control in any sphere where there are not problems and difficulties, but I believe that they are there to be overcome. They should not be used as an argument against televising the House. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) was right to point out that it is possible for the House to lay down the ground rules. Within those ground rules the broadcasters would have editorial control, but they would be unable to move outside the general arrangements that we should lay down as to how the televising of Parliament should be conducted. That is more than we can say about what happens when we are reported by newspapers.
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney also touched upon the important fact that television "manipulates" us, to use such a phrase, by having parallel debates and parallel programmes outside the House. The producers choose whom they will have on their programmes. They choose the format and the length of time. In fact, all the controls are in their hands. Of course, they would be unable to do that if hon. Members did not agree to take part, but there seems to be no shortage of those who are willing to offer their services outside the House, reluctant though they are to be seen here.
With respect to the hon. Lady, such comments have been made before. We do not all rush to accept television invitations. I make a point of turning them down. I have better things to do with my Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.
I do not believe that I said that all hon. Members did. I said that a sufficient number did, to make it possible to go ahead with such programmes, and that is the important point, but the Official Report will prove me right or wrong.
We must also consider the argument that the character of the House will be changed, especially as a result of individuals who behave, or would be encouraged to behave, in a rowdy way and flout the conventions of the House. There has always been a problem with Members of that type. Indeed, as an aside, I believe that it is time that the House took a firmer grip on them.
However, that is not an argument for saying no to television. I believe that greater powers given to you, Mr. Speaker, would be salutary, and I should be extremely happy to see those who offend grievously against order and you, Mr. Speaker, paying a penalty and forfeiting part of their salary. That might clip their wings a little. We can take such action irrespective of whether the House is televised. I believe that that action needs to be taken in any case.
The House has existed for hundreds of years, and I do not believe that it is such a delicate institution that it could not take the fairly modest changes that might come about as the result of the influence of television. Frankly, the House bears no resemblance to the House that existed hundreds of years ago. Over the centuries, in response to all kinds of influences and changes, both inside and outside the House, it has altered to meet modern needs. To assume that the House would somehow disintegrate as the result of television is to treat it as though it were some kind of precious medieval manuscript — delicate, fragile, having to be kept under strictly controlled light and temperature conditions and not breathed upon. This House is a living, robust institution, and I believe that it can take the impact of the cameras and, indeed, make good use of them to bring the proceedings of the House closer to the people.
I shall vote firmly in favour of the motion tonight.
Had this debate taken place some three weeks ago, I doubt whether I would have attempted to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. However, since that time I have observed the results of an exercise in which I took part along with some of my colleagues. That exercise was the "World in Action" programme that was recorded in November which related to the matter under discussion.
Together with 15 of my parliamentary colleagues, I was asked—no doubt because of my opposition to televising of proceedings of the Chamber — to take part in the programme. The pros and cons of the debate were well and truly aired within the time allocated. I was asked by Granada, the company that made the programme, if I would wind up for the opposition. I know that many hon. and right hon. Members watched that programme and anyone could be forgiven for believing—certainly after watching my 40-second participation — that the opposition was extremely negative. Indeed, such comments have been made.
My remarks, instead of being an attempt to wind up the opposition's case, were reduced to the light-hearted piece with which I concluded.
I believe that I spoke for about 10 minutes, but I actually got about 40 seconds on television.
One of the points that I raised in my 10 minutes concerned the dangers of editorial decisions and how essential it was to have balance in programmes. Precisely because balance did not take place, the House should be aware of what is in store for it if the motion is carried tonight.
I have every admiration for the programme makers at Granada and the "World in Action" programme in particular, and perhaps even they now regret asking 16 Members of Parliament to debate an issue as important as that in less than half an hour. In my view, it was a very foolhardy decision on their part. Almost all of those I have spoken to who care about the institution and who saw the debate have said that it was not fair to the debater. To be fair to Granada, I have spoken to many more people who said that they thought it was compelling television.
There lies the key. What is to a television company good, sexy television does not necessarily equate with an accurate portrayal of events. When it comes to the portrayal of Parliament, I hope that every hon. Member would want the television companies to get it right.
I was also on that programme, and I believe that I also suffered very badly from the editing. It looked as though I was either on drugs or totally demented, but on that occasion I was neither. While I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, would all his doubts be answered if Parliament were televised around the clock? Would he support that?
I am glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend, because he made a telling contribution in that programme but it did not come out in the editing, as he rightly points out. I agree with him and say that, had his amendment (f) on the Order paper been called today, I would have supported it.
The programme was edited from some two hours debate to some 24 minutes. The proposers in the debate had 7 per cent. more time than the opposition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who believes that there will not be manipulation, was my counterpart in the debate. He had 80 per cent. more time to wind up the debate for the proposition than I had to do my piece.
I will list the speakers: one had three minutes 10 seconds, two had over two minutes, eight had over one minute, four had 50 seconds, and there are no prizes for guessing who got 40 seconds. That clearly demonstrates that fairness and balance were not introduced, or even attempted. If that were a showcase demonstration by a television programme in an attempt to convince Members of Parliament that there is justice in televising the House, then woe betide us when it happens daily.
Hon. Members on these Benches were not given the opportunity to appear on that programme, which might form the grounds for some of the concerns discussed earlier.
I was one of those in that debate who was anti-televising and I was one of the hon. Members who was given 50 seconds at the end, which was the longest speech then. More significant and important is that, unless one analyses the film, one will not see that after my contribution there is an instant insert from another camera of another hon. Member who disagreed with me. That was the commentary by the producer on my contribution, being reflected through another Member of Parliament in the way they showed that face.
The hon. Member's intervention is telling, and it will be noted.
It is possible that the producer of the programme thought that son-le of us did not present our case very well. That is fair enough, but I would rather that that judgment were made by the viewer, the constituent, than by someone who has not offered himself or herself to the electorate and gained their support. If a programme of this type is to be edited, let it be done by the elector turning the on-off switch. If the elected representative is curtailed in this way, let it be at the wish of the elector.
I do not apologise for dwelling on the Granada programme, because it illustrates the point I make: that unless we have a separate channel—I come to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West— with all-day or all-night viewing, coupled with coverage of Standing and Select Committees, people will see the televising of Parliament only through the blinkered eyes of the television producers, who are often interested only in the level of ratings or keeping their franchise when it comes up for renewal, as is the case currently.
I have spent many years in the Opposition Whips and Government Whips Offices and I know that many hon. Members refuse to serve on Standing or Select Committees, whether they be the legal brigade who spend the lucrative mornings in the courts and the odd hour or two in the Chamber, or those who wish to shine in this forum because it suits their. Unfortunately, they are the ones whom our constituents would wish the rest of us to emulate, even though we may be working positively—although away from the glare of the cameras — in another parliamentary forum, in Committee on the Floor above this one or in the other 101 ways that we try to represent our constituents.
I am attracted to the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, as I think that that is the way forward. Unfortunately, some hon. Members, particularly many new Members, may be attracted by the experiment, which they may consider is a rather modest motion asking for the principles to be accepted. The Leader of the House was right when he said that experiments tend to become a permanent fixture, for good or and often by default. I feel that the same would happen if the motion were carried.
In conclusion, there are times when the House, across the party divide, speaks and votes with an almost uncanny sense of perspicacity. It did so on this question in 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1985. My earnest hope is that it will continue to do so tonight and that the motion will be resisted.
This is not the first time, nor I hope the last, that I find myself in broad agreement with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). There has been considerable discussion of the possibility of having tight ground rules to govern the television cameras if they come into the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), who made such a splendid speech in introducing the debate, concentrated strongly on the point.
In the last Parliament I was Chairman of the Select Committee on Sound Broadcasting and had some responsibility for that, so I know how difficult it is to draw up adequate ground rules and to ensure that they are enforced. I have no doubt that if we allow cameras into the House there will be increased disorder and that the programme makers will tend to concentrate upon that disorder. Most of the scenes that I have witnessed on news programmes taken from other Parliaments have tended to concentrate on the rows rather than on constructive debate. It would not be entirely surprising if that were to happen, because most speeches in Parliament are exceptionally dull and make exceptionally had television.
The first televised speech from the other place to which I listened was on Second Reading of a Bill to abolish the Greater London council. Lord Elton was delivering a powerful speech, and it was plain that it was going to be a long speech, as it was an important Bill. The cameras spent 90 seconds on Lord Elton's left profile and 90 seconds on his full profile. Then they came in from the right and concentrated on the back of his head. That was going to continue for at least another 40 minutes. Fortunately, however, a strap on Lady Seear's shoulder slipped and she started to try and retrieve it. Cameras on each side of the House zoomed in on poor Lady Seear's left shoulder, not because Lord Elton was making a bad speech, but because the producers needed some relief.
If we are to have the cameras in the House, I fear that, on many occasions, they will need some relief, so they will concentrate on disturbances. Producers will think that had Parliament is good television. If we have the cameras, we shall have to give you, Mr. Speaker, greater powers to send out of the Chamber Members who misbehave and to deal with those who raise bogus points of order.
Before we decide on this matter, we should consider what happens in other Parliaments. I should like to consider, in particular, what has happened in that other most important parliamentary body, the Senate of the United States. Thirty years ago it decided to admit cameras into Senate Committees, but to keep them off the floor of the Senate. Speeches in the Senate are infinitely more boring than ours.
During the past 30 years, television from the Senate Committees has at times changed the tide of politics. Thirty years ago, Senator McCarthy, who had a tremendous reputation in the United States for his anti-Communist witch-hunt, appeared before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. He was cross-examined hour after hour in front of the cameras, and his reputation slowly deflated. Twenty years later came the televised hearings of the Watergate Committee in the Senate. Again, it would have been an important parliamentary occasion, but the presence of the television cameras made the impact of that Committee overwhelming and led directly to the resignation of President Nixon. In recent months, the destiny of Colonel Oliver North in front of a Senate Committee has been televised and that has had a major impact on political life in the United States.
We should start by televising the Select Committees of the House. The question and answer cross-examination techniques in those Committees lend themselves readily to good television. Television would bring fresh life and influence to those Committees. Too often in recent years the recommendations of those Committees have been ignored by the Government and the public.
I hope that the motion will be defeated this evening, but that that will not be the end of the matter. I hope that the next question that we seriously consider is whether to allow cameras into Select Committees. The presence of cameras in Select Committees would be good for those Committees, but the presence of cameras in the House would be bad for the House.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) has declared himself in favour of televising Select Committees, because that is a step forward. When he rose, I feared that he may be about to repeat some of the myths perpetrated on both sides of the House about the dangers of television. I strongly favour the televising of our proceedings. I favour the motion as a whole, not just in respect of Select Committees.
In my brief speech, I want to explain my reasons for supporting the motion. However, I fear that this may be becoming a party political occasion after Prime Minister's Question Time and some of the comments which have been made since. It is not a party political occasion. I am glad that the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), spoke as he did. It is important to recognise that this is a House of Commons occasion, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides will feel free to go ahead and vote for the motion, regardless of what the Prime Minister or Labour Members have said against televising our proceedings. We must avoid the trap of a party political issue.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) is not present, because he gave us a great knockabout time. It was the kind of circus act that we have seen time and again, and he is good value. He is also a good friend of mine. He said today what he said in his newspaper column last Sunday. I read it with great interest, but he was 10 times better on the Floor of the House than he was in print. That is a good argument for televising the House.
I see that my hon. Friend has returned to the Chamber. I was saying that his Sunday column was reasonable, but he was 10 times times better on the Floor of the House. If our proceedings were televised, the impact of my hon. Friend's remarks would have been 20 times greater. That is a good reason for televising our proceedings. I am glad that he made my case for me by that admirable act on the Floor. We should have seen it on television. I greatly regret that we shall not.
My hon. Friend visited the sins of the press on the broadcasters, which is a grave error of judgment. The broadcasters are the very people who have shown balance in programmes such as "Yesterday in Parliament". They are the pearls, the proud possessions, of broadcasters. "Yesterday in Parliament" and other similar programmes are not the tabloid press. We can be proud of them. We should stress what the broadcasters have done through their radio coverage here and their television coverage of the House of Lords.
I hope that the House will not be frightened by the scare stories that we have heard from some right hon. and hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). He would readily concede, I hope, that he is engaged in a vendetta against some broadcasters. On that account, I hope that hon. Members will discount the scare stories that he told with such great relish. They had nothing whatever to do with televising the House of Commons, and I hope to goodness that no children were listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
The case for televising the House is essentially the case for democracy. It means trusting the people to have an interest in the issues, to make a judgment on those issues and to reach sensible conclusions. That is what democracy is all about and that is what televising the House is all about. The people who will view our proceedings if the motion is carried are the same people who elected us. They were no doubt wise to elect us as 640-odd individuals, and they will be wise to support a proposal such as this.
Those who voted for us in the election have a right not only to listen to but to see our debates. They have a right to evaluate all that goes on in the House of Commons. Those who elect us are losing interest in our proceedings. We are beginning to drift into a backwater. No matter how passionately we argue with and shout at each other or how emotional we are in the House, people do not want to know if they cannot follow our proceedings. It is through television that they will follow our proceedings.
It is ironic that the proceedings of the House are glossily packaged in the television studios. They ought to be seen as they are in the House of Commons. That is why our proceedings should be televised. It is absurd when the television news broadcasts disembodied voices of hon. Members with still photographs and tries to give some idea of our proceedings. It is absurd, ridiculous and misleading. We should have full coverage of hon. Members speaking as they are, with all the power, eloquence and absurdity with which they speak. We should see the reality.
I hope that we shall not allow ourselves to go on drifting into this cosy backwater, but will recognise the basic issue. The House of Commons is the prime forum of debate in the land and it needs to be linked with the prime method of news dissemination. That is why we should televise the House. The broadcasters would welcome it, but that is not the reason for accepting it. We would do it not for the broadcasters, but because we need it. Any democracy needs its legislative assembly and any modern Parliament needs modern methods of communication; otherwise it is misunderstood and disregarded. I believe that the televising of the proceedings of the House will deepen public understanding of our affairs.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say a word or two about one very important group that will be affected by the decision that the House makes tonight —the 50,000 profoundly deaf people who rely on British sign language and for whom television would be a new entree into the understanding of our proceedings?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not want to take the time of the House, but, now that I have been invited, may I say that deaf people would warmly appreciate the televising of the House, which should be accompanied by both subtitles and sign language. I must not go on because I have already spoken for too long, but I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's intervention.
Those who think that the public will not understand the empty Benches and the fact that hon. Members are busy with Committees or constituency work insult the people who sent them here. Of course those outside will understand. It is very important to recognise that. I do not think that the public are as daft as some people would have us believe.
The House may well change a little when it is televised but, like all other great living institutions, it is capable of adapting to change and it is far better to change with changing times than to ossify in the outmoded structures of the past. The greatest effect of any change would be that the House would be regarded not only as the main forum of public debate but as a vital element in the political life of our people, which it is not at present. The drift to irrelevance would be effectively stopped and reversed if the House were televised. The House would move into the late 1980s and the next century in close touch with the people, exercising the influence that belongs to the mother of Parliaments. Tonight we have a great opportunity to put the House in touch with the people. I hope that we shall not miss it. Let us try for and go forward with this experiment.
There has been much ado in this debate — my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) has contributed to it about the danger of encouraging rowdy behaviour by allowing the television cameras in. We have spasms of misbehaviour, and the situation at the moment is not good, but I suspect that we have not reached anything resembling what the Irish Members produced in the last century. My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) did not get very far with the Mace, but if I am not mistaken an ILP Member got it well into the Members' Lobby before he was stopped. My own father knocked out Geordie Buchanan on the steps of the Chamber below the Gangway because of a disagreement. My father was short of stature but he had quite a punch. The two made good friends afterwards, and when I celebrated my father's 80th birthday Geordie came to the party.
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) talked about manipulation. There has always been some manipulation. When I first came to the House, there were press lords who had some Members of Parliament at their beck and call. We must not exaggerate these problems.
I hope that I shall not be thought a bore if I bring the debate back to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). Surely the essence of the matter is connection between Parliament — nowadays, since the reform of the House of Lords, the House of Commons—with the people who sent us here. That is the central issue. It is instructive to look back a little. For almost 200 years before the second world war this — the Chamber — was the arena in which all the political battles were settled. Speeches were made in the provinces—by Peel at Tamworth and by Gladstone in Midlothian — but this was where the decisions were made.
If any hon. Member cares to look back at The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, the Morning Post, or any of the heavy newspapers, he will find that quite junior Back Benchers scored a column for any serious speech, up to the first world war and even after it. Why was that? It has been said in the debate that editors will publish only what they think is useful and what sells newspapers. There were three or four pages of parliamentary news right up to the second world war. Then we had the rationing of newsprint and the radio became the main source of information.
But I think that older Members will agree that, when we got back to something like normal political life, public opinion was riveted by the House of Commons. There were many reasons. There were the great personalities who had been built up in the war—Churchill, Attlee and others. There were the great issues, such as the controversy over Suez. Big decisions hung on the House of Commons such as when Mr. Wyatt and Mr. Donnelly paralysed the attempt to renationalise steel. What happened in the House mattered.
At that point, the television revolution began. Then we lost a great opportunity. Had we brought the cameras in then and told the television people how to behave and what to do, I think that we would have built a new link with a public who could not read about us in the press, at first because the press was too small and later because the press was not interested. We could have established a link which would have kept Parliament in a much stronger position.
We have to ask ourselves, what are we doing here, and who are we? A right hon. Member or an hon. Member has a certain status; I am not sure that it is quite what it used to be. He has a salary, rather better than it was. He can have some influence on the policy of his party, lobbying what he wants it to do. He can push a particular cause. He could even get a slot on television occasionally or write an article. But what he says and what is said to him in debate here might as well be said in Cabinet. Indeed, Cabinet discussions are leaked much more than our debates are reported.
What are we doing here? We have become a sort of Augustan senate. We are paid, we have status and all that, but what part do we really play in what I always assumed was the role of a Member of Parliament in helping to lead opinion. I am not talking about reflecting opinion. I am not sure about that; I think our job is to lead opinion. How do we lead opinion except through a process of debate which allows potential followers to judge which lead to follow?
The present position is convenient for the establishment on both sides. They are interviewed by Day or Dimbleby. The interviewers have become the third party, I am sorry to say. They are the people who appear to take a moderate stance and ask the questions. Does that matter? It is very convenient. The rest of us are left out. Do we mind? I do, for a rather basic reason. Things are going along all right, and I am not too worried—indeed, I am happy about the present Executive—but the real safety valve between excessive authority on the part of the Executive and excessive populist investigation by the critics is open debate in this House.
Would televising the proceedings bring us into disrepute? If it does, like the Long Parliament, we had better go. As Leo Amery's son, I will not quote Cromwell's words again: if we have become disreputable, there is no place for us. But my judgment is different. It is that the British people are very attached to the parliamentary system. I think it was Disraeli —I am not speaking in code—who said:
A country subject to fogs and possessing a large middle class wants grave statesmen.
The Labour party has discovered, because it is now listening, that the majority have become middle class. I think that the country as a whole wants grave statesmen. I do not think that the sight of eccentric rowdy Members will please the mass of the people. It is not Parliament that will suffer: it is some Members as they may be reformed by the people.
The decision is not easy. It is more difficult than it was when we had the great opportunity to introduce television 25 or 30 years ago. But having thought about it carefully, I shall vote for the motion, as I did the first time it came before the House.
It is a great privilege for me to follow the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery); I agree with all he said. I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). I regret that this has become a partisan political debate in the worst sense of that word. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] For those of us who have sat through the debate, there have been tones within it that I regret. It is important that we should debate the issue of what a modern parliamentary democracy should be about.
I make the simple point that, in terms of the theory of what we are debating, representation in a democracy is certainly a two-way street. We are here to represent the people who elected us, but as we are presenting arguments on their behalf, so too our proceedings have to be represented to them. In the memorable phrase of the now, sadly, late Raymond Williams, we have to have an educated and participating democracy. It was in the context of this book "The Long Revolution" that he first used the phrase. The development of the process of parliamentary democracy in the British state has indeed been a long revolution.
One reason for the long revolution is the failure of the institutions of democracy to catch up with what is going on in the broader civil society. I agree that we should have taken advantage of the communications revolution much earlier. All the arguments that have been rehearsed about a threat of change to our institutions represent the worst traditionalism. I believe in tradition, but I also understand that traditions have to develop and be adapted. Bringing the mass media into the work of politics has changed politics outside the Chamber. The politics which is conducted through the party system and through current affairs programmes is radically different from the politics of 10 or 20 years ago.
The Chamber has not played a central role in such politics. What goes on here is heard but it is not seen to be central to our politics. It is absurd that, on Budget day, television should show general views of Big Ben and red buses, with just the voice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that major events in the Chamber are not seen fully on television. Similarly, it is absurd that we see the 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock news with voice-overs of Members of Parliament and slides being shown. It demeans the image of Parliament. We are not seen communicating directly on the media.
Not only that, but it is equally important that the argument about editorial control of presentation of our proceedings should be taken seriously. That was the whole point of the meeting, now well publicised — thanks to the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) —that we had with the broadcasting authorities. It is all about ensuring that minority parties are heard outside the House and broadcast, as I am being heard in the House now.
One matter that I feel strongly about is that the House has adapted itself to the position of minority parties. We are able to present our position on the Floor of the House, and we are concerned that that position should be represented, although not over-represented, in any experiment to broadcast Parliament. That brings me to the other point that I want to make about the nature of the experiment.
In the terms of the motion, and as I understand discussions with the broadcasting authorities, it is likely that the broadcasting authorities will service this experiment. I make a plea for the Select Committee to take the most radical approach. We are living in a society that has pluralist television, where the institutions of the BBC and ITV have to adapt to Channel 4 and independent production. Let the Select Committee consider why the House should not become the independent producer of its own television station.
Why should the House not set itself up as an independent producer and sell its message to Channel 4, the BBC and Independent Television News? Let us have our own audio-visual Hansard to control the dissemination of information from the House. That is precisely the outcome that the establishment of Hansard created in printed form. Let us have the imagination to do the same thing in the audio-visual medium at the end of the 20th century.
I was one of the 16 Members of Parliament who were recently asked by Granada Television to go to Manchester to take part in a mock Parliament, in a set-up that cost £250,000 to build. The programme lasted nearly two hours. The quality of debate was very good and I came away feeling that the long journey on a Sunday was well worth it, although the fee was very small indeed.
A little later on, however, I saw the programme in the House, and I was most disappointed. The broadcast, which was originally some one and a half to two hours long, was reduced to 25 minutes. My stirring speech, and all of the others of six minutes duration, was reduced to one minute, so the final programme was quite appalling.
Will my hon. Friend forgive me? There are many hon. Members waiting to speak. I do not intend to be long.
So, if that was television, it was a disaster.
With regard to what we are debating tonight, I want to speak particularly to some of those hon. Members who have come to the House more recently than I have. This is one of the most serious subjects that we have to consider, although many hon. Members have been over this course many times before.
I love this place, but I believe that our future and the way in which we conduct our business will be once more at stake if the motion is passed. Of course this will not be an experiment, for, once television comes in, we shall never get the cameras out.
This morning, I attended the General Synod, which is televised. Not only were the lights very bright, but the heat was appalling. I hate it. I would not want to have that here. Quite apart from that physical presence, the fact of cameras being here at all will change utterly the character of this Chamber and the behaviour of everybody here, as well as those in the Gallery and elsewhere. We have seen that with regard to the recent antics in the House of Lords. Why did those horrible women go into the House of Lords rather than the House of Commons? Because the cameras were there.
As I have said so often in the House, television is primarily a branch of show business, which takes over from serious reality. It is preposterous to suggest, as some hon. Members have suggested in the debate, that television is a mirror of life; of course it is not. Television almost always distorts, and often trivialises matters. That is clearly shown in the difference between television news, which picks up anything that happens to come along—usually the Birmingham hospital — and news on the sound radio, which is much more sober and balanced. Television must have attractive pictures with which to hold viewers. Unfortunately, the mass of our proceedings in the House are not very attractive.
Television changes personal behaviour, too, as one sees frequently in relation to demonstrations. I have seen that happen here and in Europe. The moment the cameras come along, people start shaking their fists and shouting slogans. We see that happening with strikers as well.
In my experience, there has not been a great demand for cameras in the House. What worries me is that those who say that there is a demand are connected with or have something to do with television, the communications industry or newspapers. Those who make and produce the news think that they are as important as the news, but they are only scribblers. I am amazed that they think that they are so important. They are television personalities, but what does that mean? I want to see a real flesh and blood man on television, not a cardboard man.
We have heard about television recording "Their Lordships' House". My goodness, I back the Upper House and wish that there were more hereditary peers there. But we have to remember that the peers have neither constituents nor a gallery to play to. Much as I admire them, many of their debates are boring to the point of tedium.
What does television do? Why do tired workers and their wives switch on their sets at the end of the day? Because they want to see excitement, scenes, rows and crises, whereas here, hour after hour of debates are conducted, often in almost total silence, and certainly without excitement. Prime Minister's Question Time has been broadcast on sound radio. It has been utterly ruined. How much worse would it be if it was televised? The conduct of our debates and the timing of our business and procedures, and even the numbers of hon. Members attending on the Government and Opposition Benches would all be altered, primarily by television. The parliamentary programme would disappear, and be put in prime viewing time. Prime Minister's Question Time would take place not at 3.15 pm, but at 7.15 pm, when viewers have their high tea. [Interruption.]
The vital and difficult question of who would edit the programmes and choose the passages to be screened would follow a decision to allow our proceedings to be televised. There is also a danger that minorities such as Militant would make a mockery of our proceedings. There would also be — and how some would love this — grand inquisitions, especially about security matters, which might damage the safety of our nation and inflate the egos of the questioners, who would imagine that they lived in America and were members of a Senate committee.
As we have heard, too, hon. Members could damage the reputations of innocent people, who could not reply, by the abuse of parliamentary privilege on the screen, in programmes shown in the front room of every family in the land. These are serious disadvantages, which cannot be glossed over. There are difficulties and dangers, which I want to point out.
Anyway, in my view, there is far too much television today. It enters into every walk of life. We have become a nation of television watchers, rather than sportsmen and doers. If the cameras came into the House, the next step would be to demand that cameras went elsewhere. Where is the next place but the law courts? Television is bound to go there. Television is a monster that would devour us all in the end.
1 believe that television has corrupted our English civilisation, our taste and our morals. England was certainly a happier and healthier place before television came in. I am certain, as we all admit, that there was much less violence and sexual crime before that time.
Who are these mysterious television producers who manipulate events behind the scenes? They are usually, in my experience, "ideas men." They have never had to pay the wages on Friday. They know nothing about the realities of life, but they tend to turn ordinary and decent things upside down. They tend to question every accepted practice and to dissect it minutely, even though these are good things that we have had in our country for ages.
Television, in my view therefore, is harmful and it would be a crime to have it in the Chamber. The House would be dragged to even lower levels than it has reached lately, and they have been pretty low.
I know good men and women not only on the Government Benches but on the Opposition Benches too, hut, speaking for my own party now, what is this great party of ours? Are we not supposed to be the gentlemen of England, and are the gentlemen of England going to allow this act of vulgarity?
I have listened to most of the debate. I believe that we have had the better of the argument. I still believe, even today, in 1988, that the House possesses innate wisdom and common sense, and that it will surely throw this motion out.
I want to raise an issue that was raised briefly by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) — privilege. I am one of those who have been accused of abusing privilege, and I want to see this argument debated in the context of the use or abuse of privilege.
I shall oppose the televising of Parliament on the basis that this debate is not about a dedicated channel, but about edited highlights being transmitted on British television and, in effect, the censoring of our comments. When I have used privilege in the Chamber in a way that hon. Members may have found objectionable, I have done so on the basis that I believed I was right. I have never done it in the belief that a majority of the House of Commons would necessarily accept my view. Indeed, in the very limited, contentious areas in which I have raised issues under privilege, I knew that I could expect only hostility. I see this debate not in a political context, but in the context of issues that I have raised, expecting the majority of hon. Members, being Conservatives, to oppose what I was doing.
In the event that we extend my right to abuse privilege in such a way that the media, in the form of television, are able to transmit what I am doing when I believe that I am right but others believe that I might be wrong, we shall provoke in the Select Committee on Privileges a very important argument which was begun — I hope that I am not breaching privilege by referring to debates within that Committee — in our proceedings prior to the publication of our last report.
One member of that Committee, who is no longer a Member of the House, clearly wanted to interfere with the rights of privilege of Members in the House of Commons. He was not alone. Other hon. Members were privately talking in terms of modifying the right of privilege to defend those whom they believed to be innocent, if I may use that term, but whom I thought were guilty.
The context of the argument was the debate, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), on the financial scandals that pervaded the City of London some 12 or 18 months ago.
My view is that if hon. Members like me, believing they are right, have what they say transmitted, not in the way that a newspaper can print or even a radio can transmit, because that is a far more limited access by the public to what is happening here, but in a real way across the television screens in millions of homes in this country, that argument will develop in the Committee on Privileges. I would go so far as to predict that when that happens—[AN HON. MEMBER: "My hon. Friend is destroying his own casel My hon. Friend says that I am destroying my own case. He may wish to intervene and say how, because I do not understand how I am doing so.
In the event that that is raised in the Committee of Privileges, it may well be that there will be that modification.
The right hon. Member for Chingford, referring to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), said that in his view he, on that occasion, used privilege correctly to draw attention to an abuse that he felt— perhaps others did not on that occasion, as they did not in my case—had legitimately to be raised, yet could be raised only behind this shield or under this umbrella of privilege.
The hon. Gentleman is dealing fairly with a matter of very great contention and importance. He knows that I felt very deeply about a particular case of a man to whom I believe the hon. Gentleman did a very grave injustice, a case in which he used privilege wrongly.
My concern—and I believe that it is his concern—is that the advent of television cameras into the House might cause a modification — a loss of privilege. The hon. Gentleman is nodding agreement. That is a view that the two of us share. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that it is absolutely vital that we keep that privilege. Therefore, we must be exceptionally careful about the television cameras, how we use privilege and how we make sure that we say things not just that we believe but for which there is a great deal of evidence.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman fully understands the case that I make. I know the point that he wishes to make, because he made it himself when he referred to the whole question of what can be transmitted under qualified privilege arrangements.
We would provoke this argument in our Committee on Privileges and my view is that at the end of that argument that right would be qualified against the interests of many of my hon. Friends.
I find the argument that has just been put forward by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) most extraordinary. He has said that he is willing to wound but afraid to strike. He does not mind, with limited evidence, casting slurs on people, as long as what he says is reported and perhaps recorded on radio, but he is afraid that if it were on television he might be called to order by the House, which would be ashamed of the enormity of what was given wider coverage. I do not find that a persuasive argument. Fortunately, it is not the main point of contention in this debate.
The main focus of the opposition to the televising of these proceedings — which I hasten to make clear I support — is that television would do harm to the reputation of the House and would have a deleterious effect on the way in which we conduct our affairs. I want to come to those arguments, but it seems to me that, important as they are, that is a false basis on which to take this decision.
My starting point is quite different; it is the same as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). We are here only because we have been elected by our constituents. We are accountable to them and to the country as a whole for what we do when we get here. They therefore have the right to know what we do here. If modern technology makes it possible for them to see us as well as hear us or read the words that we have spoken, we have no right to deny them that opportunity.
The arguments against televising the House are no different from those put forward 150 years ago and more against the verbatim reports of our proceedings. Yet today we honour the name of Hansard, who fought for the right to report, and we have named a respected parliamentary society after him. This is not a private club where we are entitled to let our hair down without the outside world knowing what we are up to. If letting the cameras in makes the people think less of us, we have no right to an inflated reputation based on ignorance of what really happens here.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the arguments that he is adducing are arguments in favour of the continuous broadcasting of the proceedings of the House by television, and not arguments in favour of the selection of snippets by television editors?
Not necessarily. I shall come to that point immediately. I was going to say that I would oppose televising the House — which I support, for the fundamental, basic, constitutional reasons that I have just given — only if I thought that it would give an inaccurate picture of our proceedings. Reading very carefully what the BBC and ITV have in mind, I do not think that it would. In any event, for the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), the House must, and would, have complete control of the ground rules on which televising would take place.
I do not take the view expressed by some hon. Members that, once the film starts to roll, there is no way in which it can he stopped or reversed. This is a sovereign assembly. If what was done presented over a period of time a distorted view of our proceedings, we would have the absolute right and duty to change or to stop it.
We have considerable experience of radio, and, although all of us can pick on examples—indeed, whole programmes—with which we have not been happy, I do not think that the use of radio as a whole gives a false view of the House, or that it is used irresponsibly. What it does is give an incomplete picture of the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) pointed out. I think that a fairer view of Parliament would be given if what is heard on the radio were supplemented by television pictures.
The example of Prime Minister's Question Time has been cited again and again, and rightly so. On the radio it sounds like the tower of Babel. However, I recall on one occasion trying to get here in time for Prime Minister's Questions, being late and listening to it on the radio. It did sound like the tower of Babel. When I entered the Chamber the same question was still being dealt with, with the same degree of passion, but I could see what was going on, and I could see that the unrestrained yelling—which had seemed to he all that was happening when I was listening to the radio — was only a small part of the proceedings. The vast majority of the crowded House sat listening attentively and not participating. Television would give a truer picture of the House than radio does. It is also important, when fixing the rules, to make it absolutely clear that what is televised is the proceedings of Parliament, and not any demonstration. That, I think, can be done.
What, then, of the argument that television, if it intrudes, may present an accurate picture of Parliament, but will lower our reputation? I do not consider that that is a criterion to apply, as I said at the outset, but is it in any event true? In my view, one of two things will happen. If people receive a misleading view of Parliament because they do not understand what we are doing—if, for example, they do not understand that, although the Chamber may be empty, hon. Members may be working in other ways— I find it difficult to believe that, over a period, it will be beyond our wit and capability to explain the workings of the House. It is absurd to say that that task is so insuperable that, instead, the public should continue in blissful and benign ignorance of what is happening.
The other, more uncomfortable hypothesis is that people will see us as we are; that they will understand exactly what we are doing and will not like it. If that happens, again, over a period there will be a dialogue between the House and the electorate. Either we will persuade the public that, contrary to their initial belief, the way in which we conduct our affairs is, after all, reasonable, or they will force us to change it—and they will be right to do so. That seems to me exactly the sort of process that should take place in a democracy. We would be foolish to resist it, and obscurantist to evade it.
As one of the waverers, let me say that a point which concerns me, and which has not really been debated tonight, is one that was raised as a point of order by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Cambpell-Savours) and ruled out by Mr. Speaker as being rather hypothetical.
If the cameras are brought in, what will happen to the privileges of right hon. Members, senior Members and ex-Prime Ministers, who are given preference over Back Benchers? What chance would we have? Fifty-eight hon. Members put their names down to speak in the debate on the National Health Service, and I was fortunate enough to be called. However, I believe that if Parliament were televised, four times that number would put their names forward, and Back Benchers would therefore be precluded from speaking.
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's problem, but I do not believe that it would be affected by the televising of the House. Responsibility for the selection of speakers would remain with the Chair, where it has always been. If the House felt that the system of selection required giving the Chair guidance different from that which now applies, it would be open to the House to do so. As for what the television companies would do with the proceedings of the House, it would be no different from what radio does today, or from what the press has done for 150 years. I am not saying that the hon. Gentleman's point is not of legitimate concern; I am merely saying that the position would not be worsened by the televising of the House.
Finally, let me turn to the argument that has, perhaps, carried the most weight up to now with the waverers: the argument that the introduction of television would not only lower our reputations by showing us as we truly are to people who did not realise how we are, but would actually cause our behaviour to change, that it would debase and trivialise our debates, and encourage sensationalism and exhibitionism. At its most extreme, that argument took the form of a suggestion that hordes of demonstrators would descend on the House in a manner beyond control, caused and provoked by the presence of the television cameras.
I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) put that argument in its proper historical perspective when he described the far worse demonstrations to which we were subjected in the 19th century, when Irish Members sought to disrupt the proceedings of the House without anticipating the advent of radio, let alone that of television.
I shall not give way. I want to bring my remarks to a close.
Another point on which there has rightly been comment is that, if demonstrations prevailed more than before, it would be for the House to stop them by exerting its authority, changing its rules or doing whatever was necessary. As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney rightly pointed out, it seems extraordinary that we should give ourselves, and accept, the power to alter, affect and shape all the affairs of the land, but should be afraid to admit television cameras because that would attract demonstrations that we would not have the power to control.
That is a different argument. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will appreciate the difference between an elected democracy, directly accountable to the people, and the law. If he does not appreciate that difference, I shall take him aside and explain it to him over a drink.
I am afraid that I cannot give way any more. I must bring my remarks to an end.
I regard it as extremely pessimistic of the House and the public to believe that the advent of television would lead to such disruptive demonstrations or appalling misconduct on the part of hon. Members that we should not allow the cameras in. There is no evidence that television has had such an effect where it has been introduced. People say that the House of Lords is different, because it is not an elected Chamber, or because television there has been an experiment, but other countries have introduced it, and it has not been an experiment. The suggestion that that has led to the kind of abuse that has been described is entirely unfounded.
It is possible that during the first few months the exhibitionists among our number will see television as a glorious opportunity, but I do not think that the public reaction will be what they expect. Exhibitionism will not be seen to pay and will recede from our proceedings.
Surely a democratic and accountable assembly can dare to trust the people. But, as I said at the outset, I do not rest my case on what the effects of television will or will not be. I do not even rest it on the important point that has been made by several right hon. and hon. Members —that we, through not having television, have allowed the centre of the national stage to escape elsewhere—to the television studios, to other events and other institutions.
I rest my case rather on the fundamental principle with which I began, that those who send us here have the right to see what we are doing. We have no right to seek to enjoy a higher reputation than we would have if those who elected us knew the reality. We should have no wish to enjoy a false reputation based on ignorance of the reality. If we have enough respect for the electorate to accept their franchise, we should not be afraid that, if they see what we are doing, we shall be led to debase our own proceedings.
I hope that the debate will not be diverted into minor matters. As some hon. Members may know, there is a periscope in the Gallery and anyone can watch the House at any time. In the 30 years that I have been here I have often taken children to see it. I do not know whether a camera could be attached to that, but the technical obstacles to televising the House do not exist. Nor is the argument about violence necessarily so. A tragic death at a Conservative party conference has not stopped them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) talked about Privy Councillors. Why does the House not pass a resolution on a Friday stopping the precedence of Privy Councillors? My hon. Friend sits here as though they are the result of some law of God. It is only because the House lets Mr. Speaker get away with the practice, which is wholly unjustified—I say this as a Privy Councillor — that some hon. Members have precedence over others. —[Interruption.] My hon. Friend has been sitting here grumbling about it. More people are not Privy Councillors than are, and that right should not exist.
I was also amazed at my hon. Friend's argument on privilege. He said that he had important privileges but that if he used them, and that was shown on television, they would be taken away. They would be taken away because my hon. Friend has not got the guts to stand up for them in the way that American Congressmen have. In the Irangate hearings, Colonel Oliver North said things which were shown on American television.
What is wrong with the House is that it has given up fighting for its rights. This debate is not about television at all; it is about the role of Parliament in a modern society. The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) and the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) put their fingers on the real question.
Walter Bagehot, in his famous book on the English constitution, gave us a completely new perception of the British constitution—which at that time people thought was run by the King or Queen — by dividing the constitution into the dignified and the efficient. The Crown he defined as the dignified; the Executive as the efficient. The House of Commons is now part of the dignified part of the constitution. It is not at the heart of anything. That is in part—I hope to show it—because it has capitulated and abandoned the right to its privileges. It has failed to raise matters that it should have done.
When I go past the Tower of London I often wonder for how many centuries the Beefeaters thought that they were part of the armed services before they realised that they were a tourist attraction. Let me consider what happened in this House in my lifetime alone. I leave aside the end of empire, because when I was born in 1925 one quarter of the earth's surface was governed from this Chamber and I am glad to see the empire go. That is where I would disagree with the right hon. Member for Pavilion.
I was not glad to see American forces based here in breach of the 1688 rule against standing armies. I was not in favour of the transfer of legislative power to Brussels. I was not in favour of the International Monetary Fund dictating the economic policies of successive Governments. I am not in favour, and never have been, of the new technology of television replacing the House, as it manifestly has done, as the central forum for national debate.
We are discussing whether the House is content—this has come out in some of the serious speeches; I leave aside the others that have been made—to be the Beefeater guard of parliamentary democracy? Are we really so poorly placed in our own estimation that we queue up at the Admission Order Office to try to get tickets for the Gallery, and then say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said in a deeply cynical speech —if I believed one tenth of what he said, I would repeal the Representation of the People Act—that he has no confidence in the public, in the media or in the people's judgment. My hon. Friend thinks that all one has to do is to write a popular article in a Sunday newspaper and that people need not be influenced by us.
We have no merits other than that we have been elected here. This is the only job in Britain for which no other qualification is required. That is why it is an interesting Parliament. There is no diagnostic testing — to use the Labour party's phrase on the national curriculum.
Let us compare us with the media. I began life as a BBC producer. Producers have their own agenda. They ring up only those hon. Members who they think will boost their ratings. They are not producers in the way that Mr. Speaker is a producer of an order of speakers. They are casting directors. They look round at the Tory party for two wets, two dries, a Minister who was sacked and another who resigned. They look at the Labour party for the hard Left, the soft Left, the moderates, the old Left, the trade union group. The producers sit there and plan their programme. If there is trouble in the Labour party, they say, "What about Mr. Benn?" I have refused about a dozen invitations over the past week because I know what they are up to.
When we speak here, we speak with the authority of our electorate, chosen to speak by a Speaker, whom we have chosen. Mr. Speaker does not label us according to the BBC's political classification. He says, "The Member for Chesterfield", or "Mr. Benn" or "Mr. Amery." In this House we have a duty to articulate the anxieties of the people, and we have a duty to see that when we articulate them they are entitled to hear what we say.
Of course, we should not hand the job over to the BBC or ITN. The Official Report should take over the handling of television here. It should keep the archives so that some of the great speeches that may never be shown will still be there, just as the sound records are there. It is a tragedy that none of the speeches made here by Winston Churchill, who left the House long after the technology of broadcasting was established, were recorded. We should start a video archive now under the control of Mr. Speaker, under the direction of the Editor of Hansard, and then let the BBC broadcast the proceedings on the basis of proper balance.
The House should not have ceded its central role as an elected forum to an unelected forum created by producers and media people. It should not have done it. But it is not too late to recover it. I have not been here as long as some hon. Members, but I have been here nearly as long, and some great debates and turning points in history have come out of this place. The one difference between this place and "Question Time" or "This Week, Next Week" or "Last Week", or whatever they call the various programmes, is that decisions flow from this place.
We had the Marconi debate, the famous debate, which my mother now aged 91 heard, when Rosslyn Mitchell defeated the New Prayer Book in 1928. When I first visited here 51 years ago, Churchill was sitting where the right hon. Member for Pavilion is sitting. He was a Back Bencher, with his spectacles on the end of his nose, and he spoke on the Naval Estimates. I was 11 years old and I have never forgotten that.
Then there was the Norway debate. I heard Bevan's resignation speech, the debates on Suez and the Falklands and, although it was not popular politically with the Conservative party, the articulation of the anger and anxieties of miners, printers and nurses must be spoken of here. We have had some conflicts with Mr. Speaker, and rightly so, about whether the Moonies should take preference over the nation's medical services. If Parliament is to be a centre, it must allow people to bring their anger here. If there is an angry scene, people speak as though Parliament has failed. It is the day when they do not bother coming here, but take the bus to Brussels or picket Broadcasting house, that I will be frightened.
I shall not give way; I am coming to the end of my argument.
The reputation of the House of Commons depends on what we do, whether we are faithful to the electors, whether we present our arguments with honour and integrity and whether we stick to our views, even when they are unpopular.
Unpopularity is a strange phenomenon. Two years after I saw Churchill sitting on the Conservative Back Benches in 1937, he was First Lord of the Admiralty and a year after that he was Prime Minister. We must stick to our guns and say what we believe here, even though the media may marginalise a point of view at a certain time.
Given the drift of argument that we have heard, I assume that the House will reject the motion. It will do so for the strangest reason—a jealousy of the media. But it is in our power to make the microphones—a powerful medium is not only people or producers, but microphones and transmitters — and the instruments of modern technology available to the elected representatives of the British people. That is the question, and if we dodge it, let it go and wake up in the morning and say, "We wish that television had never been invented," the people who will suffer initially will be ourselves.
That will not matter as much as the deepening discontent of those who put us here that we should have abandoned a responsibility to be the forum to articulate their feelings, to reach decisions and to insist that what we say is at least available to those who sent us here so that they can make up their minds about whether to renew their mandate when the next election comes.
To see or not to see, that is the question. My reply to that question can now be based on first-hand experience, although I say to the Father of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), that that is very limited experience.
My reply to the question before I entered the House was, like many others, based on fiction. I was a member of the general public and, like them, much of my comprehension of the House was based on rowdy radio snippets. Hence, when I became an elected Member, the first thing that I wanted to do was to give my constituents the opportunity, via television, to see at first hand and to have a true insight into the working of Parliament. I wanted them to be able to see, locally, their representative working on their behalf nationally. That seemed the most natural thing in the world to want to do. We are living in the 20th century; therefore, we must progress.
Having said that, hon. Members might think that this is a happy day for me. I am afraid that it is not. I wanted to bring people closer to their elected representatives. I wanted to get away from the myth that this is the best club in London. I regret that I have found that it is quite the reverse.
This is a sad day for me because, having assessed the reality of the matter, I feel duty-bound to deprive my constituents of that facility. After only eight months, I admit to doing a complete U-turn.
No; it has nothing to do with the Prime Minister.
In opposing the televising of Parliament, I believe that I am acting in the best interests of the country. I want the Chamber to concentrate 100 per cent. on serious affairs of state. I do not want it to be sidetracked by publicity-seeking ventures inspired by the intrusion of cameras.
We have heard some excellent speeches. Unlike some hon. Members, I am not worried about the viewers, because I trust them to make their own judgment. I am not worried about the television companies, which have acted fairly and responsibly in the Upper House in what they have portrayed. I am not worried about the technical problems, because they can be overcome. I am worried about hon. Members, because the nature of the job tends to attract exhibitionists.
We must agree that hon. Members like the sound of their own voices. Earlier, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said that our constituents want to see us on television and to read about us in the newspapers, because that is the way in which they judge us. I believe that there is a danger of us becoming our own worst enemies. The deteriorating behaviour exhibited by a minority in the House in the past few months will serve to deprive the majority. Unless and until that small but vociferous minority is tamed, our constituents will be deprived of what should be a democratic right.
I shall not give way; time is short.
There is a fear that lengthier speeches will be made by hon. Members who want to hog the limelight—as I am now—and that there will be an escalation in publicity-seeking and unparliamentary behaviour. The orchestrated stunts that we have seen over the past few months have undoubtedly increased the number of hon. Members who will take the sensible decision to oppose the motion.
It is interesting that many Conservative Members have been referred to as "old Tory buffers." However, it is the younger Conservative Members who have entered the House and seen matters for themselves who do not like what they have seen.
At the risk of being accused of being party political, my U-turn was confirmed by one incident. I was not an hon. Member many years ago so I did not witness the past antics that we have heard about in the debate. The incident to which I am referring was when we saw the pantomime effect of hon. Members coming into the Chamber clad in multi-coloured T-shirts in support of the African National Congress.
Whatever the T-shirts, or whatever the minority interest group involved, the effect on me would have been the same. It confirmed my suspicions that hon. Members cannot resist the temptation to perform. Such a gimmick will impress the Strangers Gallery, but imagine the effect on a wider audience. Do hon. Members who support the introduction of television believe that that would enhance the reputation of the House?
I squirm with embarrassment on such occasions at what visitors in the Strangers' Gallery must be thinking, and I pray that they neither judge us all nor assess the endless hours of work that we perform out of sight of the public glare on what they see during their brief visit to the House.
Hon. Members who have given the example of the House of Lords are naive. They say that it is a worthy advertisement for the effects of televising Parliament. That ignores the difference in the nature of the House of Lords — the relative peace and calm and the fact that Members in the other place are not subject to the ballot box. They do not have to sell themselves.
This is our workplace. If we turn the House into a peepshow, we are ruined. This is a serious Chamber for parliamentary debate. We cannot afford to waste time being unbusinesslike and hindering the process of legislation.
I do not want to be party to any decision that would encourage individuals, any more than they already are encouraged, to play to the audience. We are elected politicians, not showmen. If we want to be showmen, we should go and work in a theatre in the west end. If politicians want to stoop to some of the other things that we have seen lately in a bid for publicity—only a few hon. Members are lowering the standards of the House —if they wish to indulge in publicity stunts outside the House, that is their affair, but they should not be encouraged to do it inside the House, using the rest of us as a backcloth.
I have visions of general elections being started years in advance. There would be spectacles leading up to every single local election and by-election. It would be party political matters every day of the week. The general public are sick and tired of three weeks of a general election, so politics would be even more of a turn-off than it is now. We want people to want to know about politics that affects their lives; we do not want to put them off even more.
How much activity would be genuinely generated in the Chamber in future in the interests of the electorate who pay to put us here? How much of it would be in the interests of publicity-seeking Members in their bid to be seen or heard?
I fear that those who suggest that television would have a reverse effect are even more naive. They say that it would silence such individuals, who would be shown in their true colours and would never be voted in again. We have only to look at how many chat-show appearances and newspaper articles have been produced as a result of unruly behaviour to realise how misguided such an approach is.
Whatever our views may be on subjects that are raised in the House, we have the overriding duty to our electors to set an example. Hon. Members are among the first to lecture parents, teachers and community leaders about the need to set an example to the young. It is hypocritical for us to do otherwise. If a pupil who had been disciplined in the morning switched on the television to watch Prime Minister's Question Time in the afternoon and saw the wildcat behaviour and heard the abuse hurled at the Prime Minister, what lasting impression would that leave on that young person?
Translating that to a worldwide screen and satellite transmission, do we really want that image of the House of Commons that we love and respect to be projected across the world? I recall that when the subject was debated years ago, concern was expressed that the introduction of television cameras might tempt Lady Members to wear pretty hats. In 1988, that is the least of our worries.
I am proud to have been elected to the House, and so are the majority of hon. Members, but I am not always proud of the House. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House who are genuinely committed to the business of the House, to which we have been elected, to join me in voting against what is considered by those who are misguided as a progressive move, but which in my opinion would be a totally regressive move that we should live to regret.
I am delighted to follow a young Member of the House who has learnt very quickly the inadvisability of admitting the dreadful television cameras to this place. I shall be voting with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks), perhaps for the first and last time in my long career, but tonight we shall make pleasant company together a little later.
One of the first considerations to arise on the televising of the proceedings of the House has to be the conduct of hon. Members. There is a fallacious belief abroad that the behaviour of hon. Members has somehow declined over the past few years. That is nonsense. For generations hon. Members have felt strongly about various issues in the House and have noisily pursued their passionate exchanges. The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) mentioned the Irish question last century. Nothing could have been noisier and more lively. Haranguing and hectoring and hullabaloo have long been the means of enlivening debate. Most of us have done it. Never more have those conditions prevailed than during the Victorian era to which the Prime Minister has such a misinformed commitment.
But when cameras are introduced here, if they are introduced, hon. Members will have much stronger incentives to conduct themselves in a, shall I say, noticeable way. Constituents will be watching. "Will oor Wullie get on the telly the nicht and if he doesna, why not?" That will be the reaction of my constituents. I am speaking as a Scot, and my constituents have slightly different accents, but they know that I speak here often. Hon. Members will know, or very soon will learn, that the "special" performance in debate, in questions or points of order will be captured on camera, and those who never appear—and there will be a lot of them—are obviously not doing their job. The pressures to perform for the camera lens will be enormous. Lack of appearance here will mean loss of votes at the election. Do not let us fool ourselves—that is how our constituents will react.
It is all very well for the interesting and arresting and knowledgeable extroverts such as myself. I do not think that we will be overlooked or that our votes will drop, but what about all the others—
That is the cultural standard of that little whippet.
What about all those earnest, worthy Members —most of them—who do not excel with the witty phrase or the crushing riposte? There are many in the House who look less than distinguished. My hon. Friends hope to appear in front of the camera. They had better spruce themselves up a bit. I am sometimes surprised by some of those eager to introduce television. Do they really think that their mediocre, dull contributions and their lacklustre performances and dreary personalities will become national entertainment?
There are some hon. Members—and we all know them—who are desperate for publicity, for a mention in the media. One of my hon. Friends, not a thousand miles away, got a little mention in The Times for reporting his wife for breach of privilege. Why? Because she tried to force him, by threatening to divorce him, to vote against the Bill of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). The hon. Member concerned—I shall not embarrass him by recognising him — [HON. MEMBERS: "Name him".] I am too charitable and kind; he is such a ludicrous personality. He says in the report:
'I am perfectly serious,' he insists.
He will report his wife for breach of privilege. Why? Because he gets two little inches in The Times. Hon. Members as desperate for publicity as that misjudge the outcome of this, if they think that they will become the stars.
I shall be speaking fairly often, and I certainly shall not allow that mug to sit behind me. The House may come to resemble—and I must warn the House of this— a perpetual game of musical chairs as hon. Members try to get on camera.
What of the security implications? We have had tear gas in the Chamber—some of us were here. We have had red paint and we have had what I must call horse manure thrown in here—
I have been an unmitigated benefit to this dreary place.
I am simply explaining the dangers that will certainly arise in the future were we to be foolish enough to allow the intervention of the camera lens. Could there exist a greater temptation to the demonstrator or even to the normal nutter—we get some of those up there—than to intervene—[Interruption.] We get some of those down here too, but I had better not enlarge on that.
I will ignore that. I did not hear it —I am deaf.
To go back to my argument, could there be a greater temptation to those people who want to make an external point on matters extraneous to the House than to intervene in the deliberations of the House by throwing something, or by hanging banners or even, like the lither lesbians, dropping in for a quick love-in in the Lords? If we think that that will not happen here, we shall be horribly shocked. For people who want to make a point, there will not be a better way of catching the following morning's papers or the late night radio and television treatment than to create a disturbance in the House.
If I may interrupt my hon. Friend's well-informed plea, on behalf of anonymous mediocrity I should like to ask him whether it is a satisfactory philosophy to put forward that what is clearly progress in democratic terms, in letting people see what is going on among the people who represent them in free and open debate, should be militated against by the possibility that we might be held to ransom by the prospect of outrages which, as my hon. Friend has shown by naming such events, have taken place even when there have not been any cameras here? Is that a satisfactory or logical line of argument?
There is a simple riposte to that. There is a greatly increased danger that such things will happen because television coverage will of itself increase that danger. I shall come to the gist of my hon. Friend's intervention in a moment. It is a point that I shall deal with.
I was talking about interventions and external appearances in the Chamber. We are assured that the cameras would avoid observing such sights and that they will stay locked on a bit of green leather and will not move. It would be somewhat difficult to ignore what would then ensue after such an intervention: attendants scurrying about, the altercations that could be heard all over the House, the bodily removals and the suspension of the Sitting. Will the viewers not think that something odd has happened, even if they have not seen the intervention? Of course they will know that there has been some disturbance. There is no way in which we could prevent its publication.
Even were the cameras to be looking skyward, those demonstrators—an extreme form of lobbyism—would get the publicity that they seek in the press coverage and in the radio treatment. There is no way in which we could stop that.
My hon. Friend is as kind as ever. Would it not be possible, if we had television cameras here, to exclude the Strangers Gallery? If there were access by television, there would not be any need for people to go in the Strangers Gallery. Surely that would answer my hon. Friend's point.
The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely silly point. To ask such a question of me, with my love of live audiences—the silly boy.
We all know how irresponsibly the radio boys treated our permission to let their microphones in. Their treatment and coverage of our proceedings did nothing but harm to the public perception of how the House functions and of how hon. Members conduct themselves. They wanted to present — they chose to present —passages of exchange which were damaging to Members and to the House — sometimes entertaining, or rowdy and full of heated exchanges. There was no serious attempt to present the hours of detailed and responsible debate.
The earlier excellence of the reports carried by "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament" was immediately subverted by the selection of recordings and the colourful and imaginative commentary, particularly of those who ran the successor to "Yesterday in Parliament" —a disgraceful change. They failed the House and, as supposedly responsible journalists, they failed themselves.
The treatment of the televising of the Lords—it has been quoted how well and responsibly that has been done —was carefully and subtly handled to con us here in the Commons into believing that the presentation of our proceedings would be as responsibly done. Are we that innocent? Do not let us believe a word of it. The television boys will not want serious handling, because the average viewer will not be all that interested. Let us face it, he will switch over or off, and nothing more disturbs the television authorities than falling viewing figures and falling ratings.
Those television interveners will want the "entertainment" aspects of what happens—the verbal punch-ups, the ruderies, the throwing of papers; I warn you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my colleagues that that will become a visual way of making a point. If my colleagues do not think that that will happen, I will take a bet that it will, if the cameras come in.
If there were to be a continuous television broadcast, which viewers could switch on or turn off, I might consider its introduction, but that is not what we would get. There would be the intervention of the media men. We would have a selection of the livelier moments of our proceedings chosen by them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who is not now in his place, who made a brilliant speech, fairly irrelevant to what we are discussing tonight, talked about letting the people in and letting them see what we are doing — by the kind grace of our television hosts. They will be the ones who choose the pictures and who choose the excerpts. We are not going to do it. The pictures that they would choose would be for entertainment: any incident or any performance which would raise the ratings—that is what their business is about. It would not be the House at work; it would be the House at play. That is what the people would get.
As public service broadcasting is cut back—
Is there anything in the motion that we are debating which either precludes a continuous channel or precludes the House being in charge of the broadcasting system?
Neither does anything in it promise such measures. I am not prepared to take the risk of that sort of experiment.
As public service broadcasting is cut and the commercial stations move in through more channels and satellite, the treatment would inevitably deteriorate and responsibility would decline because ratings would be the real determinant of what went out.
Why are we so silly as not to realise that? I have made the point that this is talked of as an experiment, but do not let us fool ourselves. As the Leader of the House warned, if it comes in, it will not go out. We shall be loaded with it for good. The argument will be, "Consider the cost of installation — the equipment, the staff, the facilities." Once it comes in, we will not vote for it to go out, because if we did so in those circumstances, the perception would be that we had been frightened off by the appalling picture that we had presented of ourselves to the public. We would not have the courage to do that. That is why we cannot do it.
Let us have the sense to keep our proceedings unencumbered by publicity seekers — —[Interruption.] Some of us get publicity we merit, and we do not need the television cameras to get it for us.
Let us keep our proceedings unencumbered by those publicity seekers who want to get the cameras in in the hope that they will be noticed—an unlikely development — by efforts to catch the camera or, much more dangerous, by protesters from the Gallery. Let us concentrate on what we want to debate and on the traditional ways of doing it. Let us keep the trivialising television cameras out of this place. While we are about it, we might as well remove these baubles — these microphones—from the House which have done much damage to the public perception of what happens in this place.
I shall be voting, as hon. Members may have gathered, against the motion.
I cannot think why the House of Commons is worried about being entertaining. We have just witnessed the most excellent scene from HMS Pinafore. A little earlier, we saw some of the werewolves on both Front Benches putting the frighteners on the children.
I seek the House's attention for two points. The first is that, as a matter of record, I want to refresh the memories of one or two hon. Members who came up to Manchester on a Sunday in December to record a programme for "World in Action". We knew perfectly well that the programme makers were going to film for more than two hours, and that the film would be cut down to fewer than 30 minutes. That was the understanding on which we went there, so for hon. Members to pretend otherwise is unfair—
For the record, I must tell my hon. Friend that that is not an accurate statement. We were told that they would make a decision on whether it would be a one-hour programme or a half-hour programme after it was recorded, and it was on that basis that I took part. I understood that there was to be a "World In Action" special that would last one hour. I ask my hon. Friend not to mislead the House.
I am not misleading the House. I was told immediately after being invited that the programme would last for just under the normal half hour. I understand that other colleagues were told that, too.
The point I want to make has already been touched on briefly, and it is a serious one. At the beginning of the debate, several hon. Members built their case on the untrue assumption that our deliberations here are made available to everyone, and that everyone has free access to them through the radio and the newspapers. Of course that is not true. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) pointed out, some people cannot hear the radio. The number of those who cannot is far larger than the number that has been mentioned.
Eight to 10 million in the United Kingdom—1 in 5 of all our citizens—suffer from significantly impaired hearing. I must tell hon. Members who are older than me that three quarters of those who reach the age of 70 will be quite deaf by the time we get there. That is to say, there will be 5 million of us, because we have a rapidly aging population. In among those 8 million to 10 million people are 50,000 — they were mentioned earlier — who can communicate only by sign language, because they are profoundly deaf—meaning 100 per cent. or nearly 100 per cent. deaf — 2 million or 3 million people wear hearing aids. Many more would wear them if they did not feel inhibited by those excellent devices.
Television is the answer that will enable these people to become involved in the wider debate and to participate in our proceedings. They have no hope of hearing the radio. The appalling cacophony which has been described is useless to them, just as many normal programmes are.
Another group that has not been mentioned is the growing army of adult illiterates—people who are more than 16 years old and cannot read or write. There are now 5 million of them. Very few people read the quality press —or what is called the quality press—which describes our activities reasonably fairly every morning of the week. The tabloid headlines bear no relation to anything that happens here, but the 5 million people who cannot read have no hope even of grasping the headline in the Daily Mirror, which, in any case, will bear no relation to anything that any hon. Member has said.
Young adult illiterates, who form the majority of adult illiterates, are all television literate. Like most of the population, they gain almost all their news and views from the television. We are all so busy here—in Committee Rooms, and because the Whips keep us running up and down, and because our constituents' letters keep piling up —that we do not realise how most of the world uses television as its main method of communication. We are vastly underpowering our own impact in the debate in the United Kingdom and overseas if we cut ourselves off from the lifeblood of the nation's communication system.
As a completely new Member, I may say that I do not find this House dull. I cannot think why hon. Members keep calling themselves boring: they are all interesting—their speeches are perceptive, funny and fascinating—but what they seem to this House is not the point. Those speeches affect people's lives, because we make the decisions within whose framework everyone else operates in this country.
If there was ever a case for televising Parliament, it has been made by today's debate. Although it has improved since the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) sat down at about 6 pm, it has not been a very good debate. If it had been on television, it would have been sharper and less prone to the manipulative fears of insiders posing as a little club against the world. It would have been less prone to manipulating the fear of television, as if it were a monster from outer space that was rotting the brains of our constituents—but not of ourselves. The debate would have been less prone to using arguments about the incredible damage that Granada Television seems to have inflicted on some fragile egos. Its programme was better done than today's debate.
Had the debate been televised, we should have had less of the sort of irrelevance given us by the right hon. Member for Chingford, who commented on the bad behaviour of many hon. Members — most of them, incidentally, rivals for the Tory leadership. The incidents to which he referred cannot be blamed on television—it was not there. I was not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman meant that the Press Gallery should be excluded so that such behaviour should not be reported to the world, or whether that if there were television hon. Members would behave in a deranged fashion. Perhaps all that springs from his experience of television, but it does not spring from mine.
I have heard no intellectual argument against television tonight. That statement was confirmed at some length, but with considerably more volume, by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). We have lost sight of the fundamental problem that we need to face. This is not a party political matter, and it is wrong to argue it in those terms. It concerns the essence of our job in Parliament. That job is no longer the sort of occupation that Bagehot would have described in the 1860s, when we all persuaded each other and, at the end of an articulate persuasive debate, we arrived at a consensus. Those days have gone. On the few occasions when that still happens, it will make good television, but for the most part we now have a system of government by party. We are elected as members of parties; we are here to put our case, to debate the decisions of Government and to argue the case for or against them. How futile it is if that debate does not reach the people on the medium on which they now rely for their views, news, opinions and information about what is going on in the world.
How much stronger Parliament could be if we had direct communication with the people, and if the people listened to us, instead of our being here in a closed chamber talking to ourselves in our self-important fashion. How much better it would be if we reached out to the people and heard an echo from them; how much more influential we would be. How much more the Government would listen to us. The Government do not listen to the House of Commons; they listen to opinion outside. If we communicate with that opinion, we are more effective and powerful.
In every poll that I have seen, public opinion has wanted television in the House. People want to know what is going on here. They may be gluttons for punishment, as some hon. Members have said; but MORI said that 57 per cent. wanted it and only 26 per cent. were against. A poll today for "The Time … The Place … " said that 62 per cent. were in favour of television. A poll for the SundayExpress said that almost two thirds of people were in favour of television. We are those people's representatives, discussing their issues, and we should be talking to them on the medium on which they rely for their views and information.
Every other major Parliament has television in some form. What makes us so unique that we must cosset ourselves away from the world in this closed, introspective fashion? Why are we afraid of reaching out and speaking to the people? Do we want to hide here in a little corner to which no one pays attention? That is ridiculous. If television has had no harmful consequences in other Parliaments — they have all kept it — why are we so timorous about a decision that should have been taken years ago?
The opponents of the motion have manipulated every degree of fear — they have all been conscripted — but those fears are contradictory. We are told that the proceedings of the House will be boring, but, on the other hand, that they will be hyped up as the result of television. We are told that people will watch to see what their Members are doing, but that nobody will be watching and that nobody will be interested. We are told that television will encourage exhibitionists, but that it will make dull television.
We are told that we cannot show all the proceedings and therefore we should not show any of them. We are told that the proceedings will be too awful for the public to see, yet we are told that they are too arcane for the public to understand. We are told that people are too stupid to appreciate what is going on—that is the ultimate insult to our constituents—yet we are told they will be too interested in what is going on for hon. Members to enjoy a quiet life in the obscurity of this club.
The reality is the opposite. There will be no substantial changes. We shall have wall-mounted cameras that are remote-controlled — people will not be tripping over cables—there will be no bright lighting and we shall not be in fear of frying. What comes over well in the Chamber as serious discussion of serious issues will also come over well on television.
There will be several levels of coverage. We shall have full-time coverage, start to finish, or "gavel to gavel", as the Americans say, of debates on major issues. That is all to the good. There will be no editing and there will be full coverage. There will be extracts on the news instead of the present pictures or cartoons together with some atrocious sound from the microphones. An official statement made to the House will be shown rather than a statement made to a press conference or to a television whippersnapper like Sir Robin Day. The public will see that statement being made to the House and being responded to by the House.
We shall be presented with an edited version of "Today in Parliament." What is wrong with that? Why do we not trust television? If we do not trust television, we are placing ourselves at the mercy of the most biased medium, the newspapers. Why should we rely on them and exclude the television medium that is far more impartial than the newspapers?
My hon. Friend asks why we should not trust television. Has he forgotten the night, 15 years ago, when he was an interviewer on "Newsnight"? We did an interview on the green and he took the mickey out of all of us in the most appalling way. The whole thing was sent up. My hon. Friend remembers that night well. He made us a figure of fun — so much so that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) made a strong complaint to the BBC.
My hon. Friend is quite right and I remember that night with considerable embarrassment. However, that would not have happened if we had had television in the Chamber. We would not have television staging alternative debates to distract attention from what we are doing here. The emphasis would be on reality in the Chamber. We can trust television, because it is the least biased medium.
If we have edited versions, there will be choice. People have complained about "Today in Parliament" —perhaps in some cases rightly so — but it is the only condensation that is available. When we get television, there will be condensed programmes on ITV and on BBC. We shall have choice and there will be competition between them to do a better job. I believe that that is a good way of approaching the matter.
I am prepared to trust journalist integrity, but those who are not should remember that television coverage will be supervised on a continuous basis by a Select Committee to which complaints could be made. Fear of television, fear of change, fear of ourselves—it is a heady brew.
The arguments that have been put forward against television today are mainly irrelevant. One such argument is bad behaviour. There is no better control of bad behaviour than constituents seeing their Member of Parliament on television. They will deal with that Member, and such behaviour will stop. We in the House know what attitude to take to exhibitionists. Let us give our constituents and the nation the ability to adopt a similar attitude to the kind of person who behaves badly. Why should the people be unable to make such a judgment?
Concern has been expressed about what might happen in the Strangers Gallery. If we had a deluge of pantomime fairies leaping on wires from the Gallery or a hail of bodies coming down, they would not be shown. Those are the rules. It is no use holding that argument against television.
The only intellectually honest way to approach the motion is not to manipulate fears, not to exercise our paranoia about television, our fear of the outside world or our desire to remain a nice little cosy club, but to have the experiment. We can then decide, on the basis of what we see — on the basis of the coverage and the editing— whether we like it or not. The motion asks only for a Select Committee to consider an experiment and to come back to report to the House. The House will then have to vote again and that will be followed by an experiment.
At the end of that period, if we are honest, we should decide on the basis of that experience. I promise my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) that if the televising of the House turns out to be as bad as he says it will be—it will not—I will vote with him against it.
No; I am coming to my conclusion.
We are now taking a decision that we will not have the chance to consider again. If we vote against the motion, we will have to wait another four years to discuss the matter. It is a crucial decision and television is a crucial means by which this House can reach out to the people. Hon. Members can decide how they will come over on television and make their judgment on that basis. Obviously the Prime Minister has made her decision—I think wrongly — and the right hon. Member for Chingford has made his. Indeed, on the basis of his speech tonight, his decision is probably right — he would not come over very well on television—and his performance tonight was not one of his most endearing.
Yet it is the House that will gain as a result of television. It is a question of our jobs and the future of this place. Is this House of Commons to become steadily a backwater, a closed debating society with perhaps 100 people, none of them from Grimsby because it is too far away, in the Strangers Gallery watching what is going on? On the other hand, is the Chamber to reach out to the community? Will it remain a world where fat, complacent insiders talk to each other in their own code and language about their own business and exclude the world, or will it be relevant and reach out to the world? Will the Chamber become strong because it has the backing and interest of the people because it is associated with them? That is the decision that we must take.
My conclusion is simple: we should look to the people.
At one stage the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and I both worked in the television and radio media. I am afraid that I differ from him in my views. This debate, which has been going on for five hours, would not make good television in the eyes of the producers who were once our employers.
The basic factor that has been missed in the debate is whether the proceedings of the House will truly be enhanced by the presence of television cameras. I do not believe that this debate would make good television because, as touched upon by various hon. Members, it is the frothy, contentious and controversial bits that the producer would ideally wish to see on television. I suspect that the most controversial parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) appear. No doubt the revelations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford would also appear, and probably some of the higher-flown parts of the speech by the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). If television is to be introduced, I fear that what we really need — a full broadcast, a full dedicated channel—would be of little interest to the television medium.
This Chamber is about conflicting arguments. Certainly all hon. Members present will have enjoyed today's debate, even after another hour and a quarter, but it is not the sort of thing that makes a good broadcast in the eyes of the media.
I ask the House why, given the power of the broadcasting authorities to transmit the debate and all our proceedings on radio, the very important debate which has been talked about at great length on the radio and television and in the press is not being broadcast — [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] I find it interesting that in the various discussions that I have heard over the past couple of days, I have not heard any trailer for it. Last week, when the very important statement about the Inner London education authority and its future was made, that was not broadcast live to the people of London.
The debate is being broadcast, but it is interesting that the broadcasters have chosen this debate, not the important debates that we have had over the past six months. They are concerned only with discussing issues that concern them.
My hon. Friend is correct. My experience over the years when I worked for the BBC, and since, is that editors look for dramatisation. Much has been written in the press by eminent broadcasters and journalists about the dramatic elements of what goes on in the Chamber. I am sure that the very long and detailed debates — I suspect that editors will very often think they are tedious debates because they are so detailed — would not be broadcast. As hon. Members have pointed out, that is the essential work of the Chamber and of the Standing and Select Committees. That part of the work of the House should be put across to the public if the editors were serious about broadcasting the work of the House to the nation.
The hon. Gentleman would be able to take up these and other such reservations in the Select Committee established to consider our procedures. It is entirely within the ambit of the House to decide how the experiment will be run. It need not be given away to the television channels. A body of the House could decide on the editorial content. Would he not be reassured by a place on the Select Committee, where he could raise those reservations?
I would be reassured if the hon. Gentleman could tell me that what would emerge would be a serious dedicated channel on the work of the House. At the moment the cost of a terrestrial channel and the availability of a spectrum for a dedicated television channel is not possible. We are talking about the present, not what might be possible in five years. I have put down an amendment to the motion, which accepts that in due course a dedicated channel showing the whole work of the House would be the only acceptable form of television, and I stand by that view. Perhaps in five or six years it will be a financial and technical possibility.
The desire of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conway (Dr. Thomas) for a technological Hansard of the air may be deliverable, but I do not believe that we are at that point now. Hon. Members may know more about the costings of television, but I believe that it works out at about £1,000 a minute to deliver a television signal. At present the cost of delivering the work of the House to the nation on television is not practicable.
If hon. Members think that they could stay in the Chamber for five or six hours in comfort with the kind of lighting that is necessary to carry pictures to the outside world, they are running away with a myth, because it is not technically possible to have cameras in here without a considerable amount of uncomfortable lighting.
The debate has revealed a great deal of interest and variations across the Chamber. It has not been a party political debate, as one hon. Member said; it has been a helpful debate. We should reject the idea of televising Parliament, although it may be right to return to it in five or six years.
For the convenience of the House, at 9.30 I shall call the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) to begin a winding-up speech on behalf of those against the motion, and at 9.45 pm I shall call the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) to speak on behalf of those in favour. It would be helpful, as so many hon. Members wish to take part, if we could now have five-minute speeches.
When I voted against televising Parliament the last time we debated the matter, I did not expect to be in a majority. I thought that a few people would be conducting a rearguard action against the inevitability of television, but I was wrong. Since then I have not heard arguments that have convinced me. I am concerned not about the usual arguments one hears—for example, about extra light and heat; I accept that. We sometimes hear that television would change the nature of the House, but perhaps we ought to have some changes. There are fears about exhibitionists, comedians and hooligans, but I am not terribly worried about them.
I can see some powerful arguments in favour of the Labour party. The press is almost wholly in hostile hands, whereas the electronic media are more impartial. I also take the view that the more the public were to hear the strident, discordant, raucous tones of the Prime Minister and her gramophone record at Prime Minister's Question Time, the more the public would be repelled, so there are powerful arguments there.
My lack of enthusiasm comes from this paradox: if we vote for television, that is not what we would get. Some hon. Members think that if they vote for televising Parliament, all their speeches will be broadcast on television. That is completely wrong; it will not happen. A minuscule proportion of the proceedings would be broadcast, just tiny snippets, which is completely different.
If we were to have a channel dedicated to the televising of Parliament and the whole of the proceedings were to be televised, I would support that with enthusiasm, but that is not what we would get.
I wish to say a few words about the nature of Parliament and of television. What is Parliament? It is not just what happens on the Floor of the House. Often, what happens on the Floor is the least important. There is what happens in Standing Committees and Select Committees, the conversations that take place in the Corridors and in the Lobbies, and in the Tea Room and the Restaurant, what happens in Back-Bench committees and in party meetings. All this is extremely important — sometimes there is blood on the floor—but none of that would appear on television. Only one facet of what happens here would he shown. By excluding the rest, television would distort. That is the drawback of the television medium.
No; we have not got time.
The House should also consider how much television there would be. I discussed this with a television company last week. I was told that the most we would get would be a half-hour programme, not in prime time. Apart from that, we would have only little clips of 15 or 20 seconds on news programmes. If the programme were split with the other place, we would have a programme of 15 minutes at most. Our proceedings start at 2.30 pm and often go on until 2.30 am, so 12 hours of proceedings would have to be condensed into 15 minutes. We would have about one minute for each hour of our proceedings.
My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) sent us a helpful piece of paper in which he said that all the Select Committees and all the Standing Committees would be televised as well. If the 14 departmental Committees meet for two hours a week, that makes 28 hours of proceedings. Hundreds of hours of parliamentary proceedings would have to be condensed into a few minutes.
The proposition before us is not that Parliament should be televised, but that television companies should have the right to dip in and pick out snippets. Do we trust the television companies to portray our affairs properly? I do not trust them. Their criteria are not our criteria. What use do the media make of their existing rights? Radio has the freedom to broadcast our affairs. Why does radio not have a dedicated continuous channel for parliamentary proceedings? It has the right and the power. We are told that it is doing it today. Why does it not do it every day when there are even more important debates? We have "Yesterday in Parliament". That is what it comes down to. I agree with the criticisms made of that programme. It has become a travesty.
Then we have the press. People talk about the struggle to obtain freedom of the press to come in here and report our affairs. What does it do with that freedom? The heavies used to report Parliament, but now they do not. We just have sketches in which they make it all a big joke. I am all in favour of being entertained, but the idea that the media are fighting to report this place is absolute nonsense. They have rights which they do not use. If the press does not use those rights and the radio does not use them, what would television do?
We are starting at the wrong end. We should start with radio and have a dedicated radio channel on which Parliament is reported continuously. Eventually, when the technology is available, we should have exactly the same with television—a continuous, dedicated channel under the control of Parliament. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) is absolutely right. The matter should not be left to ITV or even to the BBC. It should be under the control of Parliament, not of the television companies. If we pass this motion tonight, I can see what is in it for the television companies, but I cannot see what is in it for Parliament and the public. There is scarcely anything in it for us. The motion would not give us the televising of Parliament; it would simply give television companies the right to dip in and out for their entertainment.
Some strange and interesting alliances have been formed in this debate. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) goes into the Lobby arm-in-arm with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), it will be quite a parliamentary occasion.
This has been a good debate, and I shall vote without hesitation for the motion moved so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson). Tonight we are being asked to set up a Select Committee to decide and to report back to the House on how this should be done.
A great deal of irrelevance has been talked in this debate. People say that there will be snippets on various programmes. There may not be snippets on various programmes. The Select Committee may recommend that, for the experimental period at least, the only occasions to be televised should be televised in their entirety—the Budget speech, for example. If I had the privilege to serve on that Committee I believe that that is how I would argue.
It would also be a good thing to insist that during the experimental period the broadcasting authorities should broadcast some Select Committees and Standing Committees, so that people can see what goes on in Parliament. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) made a false analogy when he referred to conversations in the Tea Room and in the corridors; fascinating though they may be, they are outside the public domain, to use that rather unfortunate phrase.
Our constituents have a right to see us through the medium of the day, and television is the medium of the day. They have a right to see and hear what we do. It is true that radio has been a distorting medium in many ways. When one hears only the cacophony at Prime Minister's Question Time, one does not get the flavour of the House. However, when a debate is broadcast in its entirety, the flavour of Parliament is conveyed. I had an enormous number of letters — as did other hon. Members — after the Saturday morning Falklands debate, which showed Parliament at its best. My only regret is that it was not televised. During my time here there have been many moving and dramatic occasions—for example, the defeat of the Labour Government in 1979 and the narrow vote by which we entered the Common Market. The people have a right to hear and see those occasions.
We have debated whether people should be allowed to sit in the Strangers' Gallery, whether our proceedings should be printed and whether they should be broadcast. We have conceded that the public have the right to know and we have delivered into the hands of editors—most of whom do not print anything about Parliament—the power to say what Parliament is doing and what it is not doing. We are already the prisoners of television and radio producers and of editors who decide that there is no particular appeal in a parliamentary page. We now have the opportunity—I am delighted that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) mentioned this; I suspect that his source was the same as mine—to set up a unit based on Hansard and to make videos for schools about what is going on in the Chamber. We shall be failing fundamentally in our duty if we pass up that opportunity this evening.
We are unlikely to debate this matter again during this Parliament. What we must do tonight is to give a Select Committee — whose timetable would be extremely generous, as the Leader of the House was kind enough to suggest — the opportunity calmly, carefully and deliberately to decide how our proceedings will be televised, and nothing else. We do not have to say that there will be 15-second clips every night on the news or that Parliament will be trivialised. It will not and need not be trivialised. It lies in our hands. The argument advanced by some hon. Members who say that they do not trust us is the ultimate in abdication of responsibility. We should feel confident about what we do here.
Of course we have bad behaviour from time to time —sometimes arising from real passion and other times from imagined and simulated passion. However, if it is known that the eyes of the nation are upon us, there will be real restraint from outside the House as well as from inside. A properly conducted experiment could do nothing but good, and I hope that at the end of the experimental period we shall have what we ought to have—a daily report of Parliament. We are a long way from that now. All that we have to do tonight is to give the House an opportunity to decide how the experiment will be conducted. I hope that hon. Members will support that proposition.
Mr. Eric S. Heifer:
I am in a dilemma because, having listened to the debate, I am not sure how I shall vote. When I came into the House today I knew precisely how I would vote: if we did not get an assurance that there would be a continuous channel, I intended to vote against the motion. I have always believed that we ought to have television in the House because I think that the people have a right to see the House in operation. They should know what their Members of Parliament do. They should see them debating and they should be able to comment on what happens here.
However, for a long time my dilemma has been about the way that television might be manipulated. I had not been in the House for more than a couple of years when we had the Crossman debate on television. I voted for it then. I was tremendously enthusiastic. I had not been on television often. Over the years I have been on television quite a lot. My experience of having been invited to appear on television has led me to fear the manipulation that could happen if our proceedings were televised.
I should like to give hon. Members an example. Many years ago I was invited to appear on a programme. I was asked to go to Blackpool for a couple of hours and to be interviewed for half an hour. I went. When I saw the programme, I got about two seconds and it seemed that I was saying something totally different from what I had said in the interview. I was very angry, but there was nothing I could do about it.
I want the House to be televised and I want the people to be involved in real democratic practice, but I am worried about how the proceedings would appear. In today's debate not all the speeches have been scintillating or charismatic. Some hon. Members, whose speeches have been neither charismatic nor scintillating, have spoken common sense. If the proceedings were being televised, those speeches should be shown as well as the robust contributions, which have not necessarily been full of common sense. I want those speeches to be shown on television as well.
I want to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) on television. He said things with which I agreed completely. —[Interruption.] It was a brilliant speech, as were some which put forward the other side of the argument. I should very much like to see on television the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes)—the true Englishman! I think it would be marvellous for the people to see him on television. They would know that hon. Members really represented a cross-section of the population. I was once referred to as a dinosaur, but I am positively a forward-looking individual compared to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge.
I want the House to be televised, but I want an assurance that we will have real television, with all hon. Members involved. I should like a continuous channel. People should be able to put on the television and to hear everyone in a debate. I should like also an additional channel covering Select Committees and Standing Committees. No doubt it would cost a lot of money, but I want all that to happen. I do not want an editor to decide that Heffer or Benn will be on but that an hon. Member who is unknown will not get on. I want to see everybody getting their fair share and becoming involved in debate.
What do I do in that dilemma? I agree in principle with the idea of a Select Committee, if that will lead to a continuous channel being set up, but if that does not happen—and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) is convinced that it will not — I should prefer the House not to be televised. We should have real, true television in which everybody is involved. My dilemma is whether to abstain.
No, I will not give way. There may be some hon. Members, even at this stage of the debate, who have been sitting through it and who still want to make a contribution.
My dilemma is whether to abstain, to vote for the motion or against it. Even at this late hour I have not completely made up my mind. When I do, I will stick by my decision, but if there is no sign that we shall get a continuous channel of the type that I think is essential, I shall come out against the motion.
I shall be brief and will address my remarks to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), in view of his last comment.
I wanted to speak in the debate because I spent two and a half years in Canada, where the House of Commons is televised. That House is very similar to ours in its rules and procedures. The Canadian experiment is a much better example to study than the House of Lords, or indeed televising this House under broadcasting authorities, which would be under the sword of Damocles of a review after six months.
My experience in Canada has led me to believe that televising the House is a very bad idea. The reason for my belief is not anybody's fault: it is because of the system used. A full and continuous channel on cable television was available to the majority of the Canadian population. Unfortunately, most of them did not watch that channel. The main television channels took extracts from the continuous broadcasts and they were mostly from the question period, which we call Question Time. The reason for that was simple. A 60-second exchange fits well into a news programme. It is much better television than a long and boring debate. The extracts were full of conflict and they were exciting and good entertainment. It was good television.
After five years of televising the Canadian Parliament, concern was expressed by serious journalists and commentators that the Canadian public were being deceived about what their Members of Parliament did. The impression that could be obtained easily from watching such extracts was that Canadian Members of Parliament spent their time coming to the Chamber for 45-minute periods conducting pointless arguments without a constructive outcome, scoring points and then clearing off without further developments.
It is difficult to measure the respect in which an institution is held. It is easier to measure the respect or lack of respect in which members of an institution are held. After eight years, it was an interesting coincidence that members of the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties, the major political parties in Canada, selected their leaders—John Turner and Brian Mulroney—neither of whom was a Member of Parliament at that time. The party leaders were selected from those outside the House. That was entirely because the reputation of Parliament had fallen so low in those eight years. That development was affected by matters outside Parliament. It was caused not by mischievous journalists, but by the system as it stood.
There was also a change in the nature of Parliament, especially at Question Time. Because I must be brief, Mr. Speaker, I cannot quote from Members of Parliament who had previously been in favour of televising Parliament. Their thrust was that televising Parliament had led to corruption of the questioning process in several ways. It had become much less spontaneous and more organised, and there was much involvement by Government and Opposition Whips. Just as the stakes for a Member of Parliament who wants to be disruptive are increased by being on the 10 o'clock news, so the stakes for Government and Opposition are very much higher when they know that a fluffed question is to be on the 10 o'clock news.
So, not in six months, but over the course of the years, the Whips on either side took control of that procedure. The result was an undermining of the freedom and the importance of Back Benchers on both sides of the House. That, in my view, is one of the most corrosive outcomes of the televising of the Canadian Parliament.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. That was very much the point that I was trying to summarise.
I am a new Member of Parliament and perhaps a naive one, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the extent to which the debate in the House is deliberative rather than emotive and rhetorical and is spontaneous, effective and free-ranging. It seems to me that, rather than resulting in an extension of democracy, the televising of the House would undermine all those valuable aspects of debate in the House.
The Leader of the House said that this was a parliamentary occasion rather than a party political one. Apart, perhaps, from the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), most hon. Members have accepted that.
In that spirit, I start from the view that the Prime Minister has not always been wrong. I should like to draw to the attention of the House the first speech that she made, her maiden speech, as a Back Bencher addressing the House and commending to us the Public Bodies (Admission of the Press to Meetings) Bill. The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said then:
The public has the right, in the first instance, to know what its elected representatives are doing.
She went on to quote from the Franks committee, which said:
Publicity is the greatest and most effective check against any arbitrary action."—[Official Report, 5 February 1960; Vol. 616, c. 1350, 1351.]
I believe that she was right and that the measure which she commended to the House was right. Having served in local government, I believe that the relationship between the people and local government improved because there was that desire to open the doors, to give public service, to have open government. For that reason, I cannot understand the opposition to the motion.
If hon. Members, and particularly the right hon. Member for Chingford, believe that television, and even the very thought that it might be considered in a Select Committee, would have such an undesirable effect—if the right hon. Member for Chingford had been here I would have given way so that he could answer the question —why is it that, of the 24 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 21 allow their Parliaments to be televised and every one of the European Economic Community countries, with the exception of Ireland and Great Britain, allows television in Parliament, and in no known case have any of those Parliaments asked television to withdraw?
We have heard a number of speeches — passionate speeches, humorous speeches, well-rehearsed speeches, sincere speeches—by right hon. and hon. Members, but are not the people entitled to a say, to access to what is going on in the House? My right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) quite rightly referred to the problems of the disabled. The truth is that, apart from many of them being unable to hear what is being said, there is no way that many can obtain access to any part of this building except Westminster Hall. How, then, are they able to follow our proceedings?
The truth is that the House has a responsibility to ensure that modern technology — for instance, the provision of satellites—means that the people who have elected us have some indication of what we are doing, or claim that we are doing, on their behalf. Are we to say —as the right hon. Member for Chingford is probably saying in an interview on television at this very moment — that there is a magic circle in this place? We can almost predict who will appear on "Any Questions?" or "Question Time", and in the winter gardens at Blackpool, being interviewed about what other people are saying on television at the various party conferences. They will find a way to communicate their views to the nation. But what right have they—in particular, what right has the former chairman of the Conservative party—to deny the rest of us the right to communicate with our constituents in the way that we seek?
When we last debated this issue, we were told that we really should not have the cameras in this Chamber because people would be bored out of their minds. Today, we are being encouraged to take the view that our behaviour is so bad that we cannot allow ourselves even to be seen by the public. I say to the right hon. Member for Chingford, in particular, that he really ought not to insult the intelligence of the British people. They are perfectly capable of making up their own minds on the real or alleged behaviour of hon. Members, bad or otherwise. They are also capable of taking on board the questions that are put, and the replies, or non-replies, that are given.
In my view, the British people who elected us should have the same opportunities as those in most Western countries. I believe that the motion ought to be carried, because we ought to be telling those people that we have nothing to hide.
In the few moments that remain before the winding-up speeches, it is perhaps worth while to emphasise one or two points that have come up. The most important, I believe, is that many questions that have been raised can be answered only after careful consideration by a Select Committee, followed by the experiment which I hope will flow from that consideration. I have to disagree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House: we are voting this evening on the reference of the matter to a Select Committee for an experiment, and there is no commitment on offer to the House at present.
Technically, the television cameras, and the lighting that go with them, are no longer intrusive. The cameras will be smaller than in the House of Lords, and the lights will, if anything, be darker. The objections raised by various hon. Members on those grounds are therefore invalid. As for the action of television on our behaviour, we cannot really forecast it. I personally believe, however, that it is unlikely to make behaviour change much. The advent of radio did not have much effect in that regard; nor did the advent of newspapers. Both, however, were important steps forward in making the House more open to the rest of the country, and to the constituents who send us here.
I also believe that television will create more opportunities for Back Benchers to be seen and heard. Let me say to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) that, whatever the small nuggets may be, it is better to have small nuggets than no nuggets at all. I hope that that will weigh in the balance when he decides which Lobby to enter this evening.
Another point that has been made outside the House, but not, I think, in today's debate, concerns the effect of the prying eye of the television cameras on what the Whips are up to during our debates. Would it make the Whips more public in their actions? Would they be unable to do their whippery as well as they usually do? I fear that the cameras would have no deleterious effect on what the Whips will be doing. But again, let us experiment and see.
Will televising our proceedings have an effect on those attending our debates? If it drags people back into the Chamber, makes more people come and listen to what is going on in the Chamber, it must be beneficial to the House of Commons. In so far as what goes on in the Chamber is of interest to those outside, they should be able to see it.
In the last century, Parliament was stubborn and nearsighted in resisting press coverage of its affairs. When at last the press was allowed in, parliamentary democracy took a real leap forward. Political freedom was enhanced, government was improved and answerability increased. As one of our colleagues is reported to have said the other day:
Parliament must work with the tools of the age, or it will sculpt no monuments for the future.
Let us embrace enthusiastically this evening an experiment after careful Select Committee discussion and conclusion. Given the chance for that experiment, we shall all be surprised by its beneficial effects.
I have to declare an interest as a member of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians. It is generally known to the House that I am a television producer and director. It is also generally known that, as a producer and director, I am wholly opposed to the televising of the House on two separate but equally valid grounds — technical and editorial.
Technically, there is no doubt that the presence of television in the Chamber will be intrusive. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) referred, in an excellent speech, to "World in Action" some weeks ago which debated the televising of Parliament.
Some hon. Members will recall the advertisement that was placed on the inside page of The House Magazine two weeks ago. "World in Action" was perhaps a little careless. Those who know anything about television and who studied the photograph will have seen the tripod camera in the bottom left-hand corner of the picture, mounted smack in front of the doorway blocking the exit for the Aye Lobby.