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Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : In that case, why did the Committee not recommend that the proceedings of the House should be shown on the internal monitors we have in our Committee Rooms? It recommended only that the proceedings should be shown in the Division lobbies. Surely it would be simple to broadcast the proceedings in every office of the building.
Mr. Wakeham : It is not technically possible to do that and it is certainly impossible to do it in time to conduct an experiment that will begin in the autumn. It is, of course, possible to do so in the long term, if that is what the House wants, but it raises big issues. Some hon. Members, who may be very much in favour of televising the House, would be passionately against closed circuit television in offices and around the House. It is a matter to which we shall, no doubt, return another day.
The House has decided, after prolonged consideration, that there should be an experiment in the broadcasting of its proceedings by television. The motion before the House will enable the experiment to take place. I invite the House to support the motion.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : I strongly support the motion that we agree with the report of the Select Committee on Televising the Proceedings of the House. The arrangements suggested for the experimental televising of our proceedings are not exactly the ideal that I or my Labour colleagues on the Committee would have preferred, but I believe that the proposals are workable and that they meet the legitimate doubts and reservations that were expressed in the debate in February 1988 when the principle of televising was accepted by a majority of 54 votes.
It is only right that before dealing with the proposals in the report I should pay tribute to the work that has gone into its preparation. In particular, I congratulate our Clerks who have managed to boil down 15 months of Committee proceedings, hearings, technical demonstrations, an overseas visit and more than 250 written submissions into a 33-page report which is easy to read and understand. I am also grateful to our technical advisers and Officers of the House who contributed to assessing and demonstrating the practicalities of what was being proposed.
Curiously enough, I should also like to thank my fellow members of the Select Committee who put in so much effort and even made the sacrifice of a visit to Canada, during the recess. I pay tribute to the eight Conservative Members on the Committee who originally voted against televising the House but who accepted the February 1988 decision of the House and now support the recommendations for the experiment. I personally thank my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) whose
Column 615practical experience as a producer of television current affairs programmes was of great help to me and to other Members.
Finally, and even more novel, I pay tribute to the Leader of the House, who, having voted against televising, nevertheless worked extremely hard, both in chairing our proceedings and in private, to put together practical proposals that would be acceptable to the House. The extent of his success was amply demonstrated last Thursday when the remarkable edifice that he had constructed was topped out by the Prime Minister's announcement of her support. Some of his Cabinet colleagues are green with envy and want to know how he got such a public statement of support, but, whatever the explanation, all this means that whatever fate may befall him in the threatened Government reshuffle, the Lord President will go into the history books as the Leader of the House who brought television cameras into the Chamber. I think that he will pleased with that.
This is an historic development because it will permit the people of this country to see as well as to hear their elected representatives at work. With the exception of a number of what might be described as wholly unreconstructed exclusionists, no one can object in principle to being shown on television if we concede the principle of being reported in Hansard, misreported in newspapers and heard on the radio.
However, a substantial number of hon. Members have legitimate practical doubts and reservations about the impact of the cameras on the workings of this place and about the trivialising capacity of television. Much of that doubt and uncertainty springs from a politician's distrust of the news media--distrust between the reporter and the would-be reported. There will always be tension between politicians and journalists and I believe that there should always be that tension between us. It is not the job of journalists to give us an easy time but we can and do expect them to be reasonably fair. In relation to what happens in the House and its Committees, we also expect them to be reasonably representative and not unfairly selective. They must try to maintain a reasonable balance between the parties, between the Front and Back Benches and between Members from different parts of the country. As the report makes clear, to assist them in that task it is intended that the House will monitor their output.
The Select Committee's report is designed to secure our legitimate concerns without trying in turn to deprive the television broadcasters of the rights that they must have in a democracy, because a Parliament has no more right than a Government to tell broadcasters what to do.
The first proposition in the report is to protect the interests and integrity of the House by putting the whole operation of the cameras under the control of a House of Commons Broadcasting Unit, a Supervisor of Broadcasting employed by the House, and a Select Committee. That means that the broadcasters will not control the signal that is made available to them, but for the period of the experiment the broadcasters will foot most of the bill and provide the equipment. For any permament televising arrangement, the Select Committee believes that the House should establish a broadcasting unit as a Department of the House--as an electronic
Column 616Hansard --making the signal available to those who want to use it and maintaining an archive to which anyone should have access. We have looked into the technical requirements for the introduction of remote control cameras in the House and are satisfied that the necessary improvements in lighting can be achieved without unacceptable levels of glare or heat.
Although other members of the Select Committee are satisfied that the arrangements for the remote control of the cameras will work, I still have some residual doubts about the speed of response of the cameras, especially at Question Time, and about whether they will pick up Members quickly enough. However, that is something that will become clear during the experiment.
Many hon. Members have been rightly concerned to ensure that there is television coverage of Select Committees and Standing Committees, including the Scottish Grand Committee. We have looked carefully into that and propose various experimental arrangements that we believe will prove acceptable and from which a great deal should be learnt before the experiment comes to an end. Of course, we cannot force the broadcasters to show the proceedings of Select or Standing Committees, but in our meetings with them we have emphasised our wish for such coverage. In any case, evidence from the United States suggests that Select Committee proceedings at least are likely to prove attractive to the broadcasters. They have done so there and there is no reason why they should not here.
We have also placed great emphasis on the need for coverage by the broadcasters of matters raised, whether in the Chamber, Select Committees or Standing Committees, which are of particular interest to viewers in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. That is likely to be of particular importance to Back Benchers. The Select Committee pressed the broadcasters hard to ensure that they would be able to cope technically with the additional traffic that would result from more regional coverage. Assurances were given by the broadcasters and we look to them to honour those assurances. We have emphasised to the broadcasters that their regional coverage during the experimental period will be a major determining factor for many hon. Members when the House considers whether to have the cameras in permanently.
Although the House will have direct control over the signal that is made available for both broadcasting and recording, we will not have similar control over what use the broadcasters will make of that signal. We can restrict the use of that signal--
Mr. Bidwell : I intervene now for the reason that I sought to intervene during the speech of the Leader of the House. Many of us who have been doubtful about televising over the years and who are shifting our view about it and will be greatly governed by this debate when deciding which way to vote are concerned not so much about the cameras being switched on but the conditions under which the cameras will be switched off. As I understand it, what is strange about the report is the role of the Chair-- of you, Mr. Speaker--and the traditions that we have given you and that you have exercised fairly--mostly--over the years and the extent to which, if the House were--
Mr. Bidwell : I am concerned about what you, Mr. Speaker, would do, but you are much too friendly for me to admonish you in any way. I am concerned about control of the cameras when the House is suspended, as it has been, mostly as a result of exercises that have already been referred to, such as the throwing of tear gas bombs that burnt a hole in the carpet. I am concerned that there seems to be no reference in the report to the role of the Chair in decision-making about when the cameras should be switched on and switched off. That point completely puzzles me.
Mr. Dobson : The report deals with that point, stating that it would be best if you, Mr. Speaker, did not have the facility to turn off the cameras because there would be great shouts, cries and rows about those occasions on which you chose to do so and, probably even more importantly, about those occasions when you did not. We should not like that responsibility to fall upon the Chair in such circumstances.
The one thing that we can do with the signal is to restrict its use, and we should restrict it in some ways. For example, as the Leader of the House has already said, the Select Committee proposed that the signal should not be used in advertisements, party political broadcasts or comedy programmes or any combination of the three, but we cannot insist that broadcasters use material which they, in their editorial judgment, do not want to use. The House can reasonably expect that broadcasters will make more use of actuality from these proceedings than they do of the still photograph with voice-over, which is what they are reduced to at present.
A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned that broadcasters may be happy, or at least willing, to obey the new rules during the experimental period and then, should the House decide to have cameras permanently, they would go wild and ignore the rules. We ought to have a standing Select Committee to ensure that the rules are kept both during the experimental period and afterwards, should the House decide to keep the cameras in permanently.
Mr. Spearing : The House may know that I was a member of the first Select Committee which dealt with sound broadcasting. We developed a very satisfactory code of practice. Does my hon. Friend agree that, at least to start with, it might be a good thing for decisions to be on a sessional basis if the television cameras became a permanent feature--for very good procedural reasons?
That brings me to the present rules on broadcasting. I am a fan of the "Today in Parliament" programme and an avowed enemy of "Yesterday in Parliament". Therefore, I welcome the undertakings given by the BBC as outlined in paragraph 56 of our report, and the hope expressed there that these will be adopted by the other broadcasters. I hope that the BBC will apply them throughout its organisation. Hon. Members will note, however, that while ITV through Channel 4 is proposing a daily afternoon
Column 618programme including live coverage, the BBC is proposing such coverage only on Tuesdays and Thursdays at present. I hope that before the experiment begins the BBC will discover that we also meet on other days of the week. It seems to have enough people here on other days of the week.
Many hon. Members would like a dedicated channel which would provide live continuous coverage of all the proceedings of the House, and I am one such Member. The Select Committee looked into this, but our investigations have shown that there is no prospect of achieving such a dedicated channel by the beginning of the experiment. Our report suggests that the rapid developments in this field should be monitored and that the idea of a dedicated channel should be pursued and promoted.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : I shall read to the House letters from British Aerospace which make it clear that that company is in a position to offer two options for transmission on a dedicated channel from October this year. If the Committee did not receive similar correspondence, it can only be said that it did not ask for it. If it had, it would have received the answers that I received in correspondence and telephone conversations.
Mr. Dobson : If my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) had read the report of the evidence, he would know that we attempted to have dealings with British Aerospace, in seeking some immediate solution to the problem of a satellite channel, but it could not deliver in time.
There is no real prospect of one of the limited number of terrestrial channels being dedicated to the continuous coverage of the House. The only practical solution is a satellite channel. If the House decides to allow the cameras in permanently, we should be prepared to finance a dedicated satellite channel as part of our commitment to parliamentary democracy.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : Those of us who did not serve on the Select Committee are grateful to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the efforts that they made in this difficult matter. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that if, in spite of his good efforts, the House rejected the Committee's proposals, it would not necessarily result in a more liberal regime? The Select Committee would have to go back and report again, which might allow a dedicated channel to emerge. Is that a possibility?
Mr. Dobson : That is certainly possible, although I am embarrassed by the fact that, having fallen behind most other Western democracies by not allowing the electors to see the elected at work, we have now also fallen behind the Soviet Union. I think that it might be best if we got on with it.
Mr. Dobson : They have all sorts of different methods of reception and, to my knowledge, not all of them have dedicated channels. The other major significant feature is that the market for satellite and cable television is very different in Canada and the United States, and at a very different stage in its development.
If we consider arrangements for the permanent televising of the House, we should accept that, if necessary, it should be paid for entirely from public funds if that would produce the best arrangements. It would surely be better to have public investment in promoting parliamentary democracy than to accept a second best that someone else was willing to finance.
One aspect of the report has already attracted considerable criticism, partly from the broadcasters but also from others. I refer to the proposed guidelines governing what may or may not be shown by the cameras. My hon. Friends and I argued that the guidelines were too restrictive and, despite the best efforts of the leader writer for The Guardian, Labour Members voted for a more relaxed approach. We accept that what happens in the Galleries should not be shown because that would lay the House open to a demo a day. It is surely right, however, that we should permit any deliberate action by an hon. Member or hon. Members on the Floor of the House that can be reported in newspapers to be shown on television. If someone behaves in a disorderly, silly or boorish manner, why should that fact be kept from the people who elected him? Evidence from abroad suggests that the voters do not like to see such behaviour and may take their vengeance at a later stage.
We should also prefer broadcasters to be permitted to show the reaction of other hon. Members to what an hon. Member is saying. That is preferable to the proposed rules in the report.
Mr. Cryer : I am interested to know why in the list of highly restrictive rules there is a rule to say that an hon. Member's papers must not be shown. Surely it would benefit the public to know if an hon. Member was reading a brief provided by a lobby organisation. That would allow the public to see not just the remote control of the cameras of the television closed shop but the remote control of hon. Members.
Mr. Dobson : There is some merit in that suggestion, but I can envisage circumstances in which an hon. Member from whatever political party might be referring to papers with a note saying, "Don't raise this unless the other lot raise it first", or words to that effect. It might be better if the information were not available.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) : Has the hon. Gentleman cleared this part of his speech with the Leader of the Opposition who was not keen for the public to hear the whole of his interview the other day?
Mr. Dobson : If hon. Members had not been attending this debate, they could have listened to the Leader of the Opposition on "Wogan" this evening--fully, extensively, truly and accurately reported. There is a slight difference. In future, hon. Members will know that everything they say here may be carried unless they behave in a disorderly manner, in which case it will not be carried.
Despite my reservations, I commend the whole report to the House. I shall be voting for it. I believe strongly that it deals satisfactorily with the practical objections to
Column 620televising the House. What we say in the House is already reported through other news media and we should now permit its direct coverage on television. We must remember that most of what we do in this place needs to be reported if it is to have much impact. Those who report us are as much a part and parcel of the democratic process as those of us who serve in the House. We must ensure that they play their part in our democracy in a responsible way.
It could be argued that those who insisted, despite all sorts of pains and penalties, on reporting the old, undemocratic House of Commons made a greater contribution to the development of democracy than did those on whom they reported. Until then, those in power had claimed not only that ruling the country was a matter for the privileged few, but that it was only of interest to the privileged few. The journalists and the pamphleteers breached that wall of privilege.
Until the advent of modern technology we, the elected representatives, could not address directly from this House those whom we represent. Instead, we have had to rely on journalists to act as go-betweens, and on many an occasion they have been rather inadequate go-betweens. As that great democratic Socialist Aneurin Bevan pointed out when he called for the televising of the House so long ago that I was still at school, through the medium of television hon. Members can have a direct relationship with those who elect them. Neither they nor we would have to rely on the fallible intermediaries of the press. That argument still holds good. Broadcasters must understand that the argument that television permits a direct relationship between the elected and those who elected them requires that they keep their editorialising to a minimum. That is why the continuous coverage of a dedicated channel has such appeal. Most of us accept that the news and current affairs programmes must edit what we say, but the broadcasters must behave responsibly and, in particular, keep their commentary to a minimum.
Mr. Rooker : My hon. Friend makes an important point about broadcasters on current affairs programmes keeping their comments to a minimum. The premier political programme put out by Central Television--the former employers of our hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) --previewed this debate last Thursday. Jon Lander introduced this place not only as "the palace of varieties" but described the
"twice weekly shoot-out at the OK corral with Ma Thatcher and the boys."
That is a description of this place from a premier television station in its main political programme of the week. If that is the style and content of what Central Television is planning, all the forebodings of my hon. Friends, including those of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), will come to fruition. I hope that that does not come to pass.
Mr. Dobson : I certainly understand my hon. Friend's reaction to such a description. Hon. Members will no doubt keep a note of that sort of occurrence, to say the least, during the experiment. It may be that the actual portrayal of what happens in this place will slightly undermine the cowboy description.
Column 621of televising the whole of the proceedings of, for example, the Scottish Grand Committee when it meets in Edinburgh? Those meetings last for two and a half hours.
Mr. Dobson : If the Scottish television companies want to show the whole of a Scottish Grand Committee sitting in Edinburgh, they can do so. It would be fatuous to suggest that we could force upon them an obligation to do so especially if, for example, the British Open were being held at St. Andrew's. I cannot imagine that it would add to the popularity of Scottish Members if their contributions were shown rather than the last few holes of the Open.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we will have to consider the way in which the television companies portray the whole of the work of Parliament, not just the exciting bits? It is interesting that the only two occasions on which the proceedings of the House have been broadcast live since I entered Parliament in 1987 have been when the House has been discussing issues in which the press are interested --the televising of Parliament and the Official Secrets Act. From the number of press in the Gallery tonight, it is clear that they have turned up because we are discussing a matter of interest to them. Many hon. Members want television to give an accurate portrayal of all the work of the House, not just the matters in which the press are interested.
Mr. Dobson : Quite unusually, I have considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's desires. However, in a democracy we cannot insist that the broadcasters, the journalists or anyone else show what they do not think should be shown other than if it were on a dedicated channel, which most people favour as soon as it is technically possible. We must continue to bring pressure upon the broadcasters to ensure that they provide something approaching what might be described as a representative sample of what is happening in this place.
Mr. Tony Banks : My hon. Friend is making a point that has support on both sides of the House. A dedicated channel would avoid all those problems and must be the most desired option. The report says that while the experiment is being monitored consideration will be given to the introduction of a dedicated channel. Will my hon. Friend give a firm commitment that the next Labour Government will provide for such a channel out of funds voted by Parliament and not look around for a commercial deal with some broadcasting undertaking?
Mr. Dobson : Having taken part in the Committee's deliberations, I am reasonably convinced that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee want a dedicated channel as soon as that is technically possible. Even so, it must be remembered that even if we had the power to force the provision of a dedicated channel, we would never have the power to force people to watch it. They would have the choice, and that is what we want to provide. They would probably still get the bulk of the coverage of what happens here from the news and news magazine programmes on other television channels. Nevertheless, a dedicated channel would provide the protection of ensuring that everything was shown.
Column 622researchers at Aston university have set up a £60,000 study into the experiment of televising Parliament, during which they will assess the behaviour, the language, the appearance and the intelligence in debate of hon. Members? Of course, Labour Members have nothing to fear from such an assessment, but has my hon. Friend considered that as the study will be carried out by a professor who specialises in television violence it may be incomplete unless a continuous feed of Parliament's activities is seen on television?
Mr. Dobson : As I have made clear, I am in favour of a dedicated channel providing full coverage as soon as that is possible. Some hon. Members would do well to fear their electors rather than a few professors from Aston university assessing their performance. The many interventions during my speech have made it clear that there is considerable concern about the editorialising and the smart-Alicking of commentators-- especially, if I may say this, of the BBC. I for one do not mind being portrayed, in Cromwell's phrase, "warts and all", but I do object to some clever dick from the BBC adding jokeshop warts to the ones that I already possess. Hon. Members will be looking carefully to ensure that what the broadcasters do during the experiment sticks very closely to the undertakings that they have given in their evidence and to the rules that we have laid down. If they do that and enter into the spirit of the experiment, as hon. Members are doing, it should work. If what I have said by quoting various people, including Aneurin Bevan, has not entirely converted some of the doubtful Conservative Members, I put to them two soundly Tory mottos--the Churchill family motto of "Trust the People", and, if that is not good enough, they can stick with the Duke of Wellington and "Publish and be damned". 8 pm
Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North) : The Register of Members' Interests does not disclose that I have written a book. As the book is about the House of Commons, and as its prospective sales must relate, I hope, to the growing public interest that will be engendered by television, and as this evening holds out the daunting prospect that it could be remaindered even before it is published, I thought that I should place that fact on record--at least my publisher would wish me to place that fact on record.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on giving us the chance to take a decision that will nudge further forward our experience of televising the House. It is a modest decision and it clearly has all the hallmarks of compromise. It is the classic in that sense. Also, the arch compromiser, the spectre and the moral inspirer must have been Lord Reith.
I can think of nothing more designed to dehydrate this place than the proposals in the report. I say that with no spirit of hostility but with a great sense of gratification. It is important for the House to come to a decision which clearly embraces a wide range of opinion of those who support and oppose the experiment. My right hon. Friend deserves our thanks for the skill with which he has put together a point of view that I hope will command majority support. I am quite certain that, in the long run, the central decision cannot hold. Paragraph 26 of the report refers to a
head-and-shoulders shot. That is a shampoo approach to
Column 623public affairs. It destroys the true character of the House of Commons. It is and always has been theatre. As long as it tries to represent the wide range of opinions that are argued outside in the saloon bar and are put in a rather different form in this place, it will retain its vitality. It must accept that the challenge of television is that it will do that with cameras. For televising to be made acceptable, we require a degree of self-restraint on the part of hon. Members and the televisers. Such self-restraint would be more difficult to secure on the part of hon. Members than of televisers. I have no doubt that it could be secured.
If Parliament wishes to retain its vitality and to secure a link and an affection with the British public, when there are plenty of other institutions seeking to rival it, it knows that it must come to terms with the most powerful element of the media. This evening we take one small step forward, but forward it is, and I hope that my right hon. Friend gets a resounding majority.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : I am happy to take part in this debate, and I join with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in commending the Select Committee for the way in which it carried out its work and for its workmanlike and positive report. The experimentation arrangements have been clearly and succinctly set out. On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I support the conclusions set out in the report.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are certainly prepared positively to consider the amendments. The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) provides that the service should be set up in a certain way. It is of prime importance to minority parties that full on-line broadcasting should take place from day one. But I would not wish to delay the holding of an experiment on that basis. In an intervention, the hon. Gentleman said that he has an explanation for getting round the problem. I look forward with interest to hearing it.
The objectives are fairly set out in the report. They are to achieve a full, balanced, fair and accurate report of the proceedings of the House of Commons--an unvarnished, warts-and-all account. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I will test the experiment on that basis, but we have our own perspective. We were elected under an electoral system that does not leave the composition of the House of Commons in proportion to the balance of votes cast in the election. No hon. Member needs any reminding that, in the last general election, our alliance parties, as they then were, secured about 22 per cent. of the vote and we ended up with just over 20 Members.
That puts us in a difficult and peculiar position. We are trying to reflect the views of about 7 million people who voted for us. The opportunities that are given to us in Parliament do not enable us to do that. That is no reflection on the way in which the Chair conducts the business of the House ; I do not make that point at all. We are in a difficult position because we must try to give a decent account of ourselves to the people who voted for us. If there are only two dozen or so of us in terms of
Column 624parliamentary strength, it makes our position peculiarly difficult in terms of what we must do in facing up to broadcasting requirements.
I do not think that it is possible to discharge a responsibility to the people who voted for us in a full balanced, fair and accurate way if we are not properly treated in the allocation of broadcasting time. We do not get anything like 20 per cent. of the parliamentary opportunities under the existing conventions of the House, and that is a problem for us. We are prejudiced in the share that we get as of right in participating in the proceedings of the House.
The Procedure Committee says that it is not right to make any changes in procedure in advance of the experiment being tested. There is a certain logic in that argument but if the Procedure Committee is not prepared to admit any changes to try to make sure that the balance of minority parties, and my party in particular, are not addressed, it leaves us in a difficult position. The Procedure Committee said that it will closely monitor the experiment to see whether modifications are desirable. I lay down that marker for the future consideration of the results of the experiment.
From their evidence to the Select Committee, and from correspondence that we have had with them, we know that the broadcasters are saying that, that their coverage will be based on the number of parliamentary seats and nothing more. They regard it as no more than their duty to do that. If that is true, again, we as a substantial national but minority parliamentary party will have difficulty in trying to accommodate that approach. If we simply accept indefinitely the situation as set out by the Select Committee, the Procedure Committee and in the evidence given by the broadcasters, we cannot possibly give full value to the 7 million people who voted for us at the last election. I do not believe that, with edited highlights, there is any reason why balanced programmes cannot be produced. That is the message that I want to send out from my party to the broadcasting authorities this evening.
The principle of votes cast as a basis for allocating broadcasting time has been used in similar political contexts--certainly it has been considered in the rules for party political broadcasts. Votes have an influence and should be brought to bear when considering the allocating of broadcasting opportunities in the House. If during live coverage it is not possible to put the view of the Social and Liberal Democrats because the procedures of the House discriminate against the calling of hon. Members from that party, we believe that broadcasters should have a duty to explain why that is so. I do not believe that the Select Committee report goes far enough in making that point clear.
One of the clearest results of the experiment will be an overwhelming cry from the public for a need to change the proceedings in the Chamber. Once they have seen an unvarnished, warts-and-all account of what goes on, how matters are conducted, how time is used and what procedures and Standing Orders are employed, there will, rightly, be an outcry for a massive programme of reform of the procedures, which I would support.
In the experiment, the broadcasters must take account of the fact that they have a duty to make the proceedings intelligible in terms of such matters as hours and Standing Orders. If the Leader of the House is to reply to the debate, will he clarify the simple and interesting question that has been put to me? Supposing attempts are made to produce
Column 625television programmes to demonstrate the outmoded and archaic methods that we use in the House, will there be any inhibition on the television company using edited film extracts from the proceedings to make that point? I hope that there will not be. However, some of the restrictions contained in the conclusions and recommendations of the Select Committee report put that matter in doubt. I hope that the Leader of the House will make it clear that there will be no such restriction on the way in which the rules and procedures are looked at by television companies.
Althought I have not time to develop the point here, I believe that the introducton of television cameras will precipitate the argument that the procedures of the House are ripe for change and that the way in which we conduct business here is simply not suitable to sustain the best system of government and the most efficient process of democratic participation for a modern democracy in a country such as ours. A clear need for change in that direction has been shown. The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) has on a couple of occasions made the point that the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh should be televised. I understand, because the report makes it clear, broadcasting of Committees will have to be demand- led. In terms of the Scottish dimension, I believe that it is essential that the Scottish Grand Committee should be televised. I fear that, looked at from a Scottish perspective, many people in Scotland, if they study the television reports of the proceedings in Parliament, will think that Scotland does not receive its fair share of debating time in the House, which some of us have been saying for a long time. I need only to cite the example of the inability of Scottish hon. Members to get at the heart of what is going on in the Scottish Office, because they are restricted to only one Scottish Question Time every four to six weeks.
It is not just a Scottish problem ; it is a wider regional difficulty. I note that the Select Committee report indicates that the members of the Select Committee were aware of some of the problems of getting the live broadcasts transmitted in time for programmes produced in the regions not to be prejudiced by the demands being made simultaneously over two to three busy hours of the day by the national, London and south-east broadcasting organisations.
I hope that urgent consideration will be given to the ability of smaller and regional companies to make a proper contribution and play a proper part in the televising of the proceedings of the House. To that end, is it possible for the Select Committee which is monitoring the results of the experiment--I do not know whether that is the most appropriate body to do it--to keep and publish a log over a 12-month period of what excerpts are used, in what direction and by which company in which programmes? We could then have a complete picture of what use has been made of the film that is presented by the broadcasting units. It is important that we satisfy ourselves that regional broadcasting authorities get a fair crack of the whip. I have always supported cameras coming into the House, as most of those on the Opposition Benches have done. I believe, however, that the danger is that the broadcasters will glamorise the House as consisting of two rival teams locked in mindless opposition, as we see so often in this place, and the reasoned, middle way will always be edited out. When people watch coverage of the
Column 626Commons, they expect to see a balanced debate reflecting the views of the parties for which they voted and not just a two-party Punch and Judy show.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : I address the House as the only member of the Select Committee who voted against my right hon. Friend's report. It will be widely assumed that I did so because I am opposed to televising the proceedings of the House. Following the vote in February 1988, I accepted entirely the will of the House and I, and those who thought as I do, did our best to ensure that, if the House were to be televised, it would be done in the most effective and efficient manner possible.
I commend the report of my right hon. Friend and I congratulate him on the compromise that he has achieved. In the month that it took the Committee to debate and to prepare the report, largely stimulated by our interest, there have been considerable technological advances. The cameras have been improved and miniaturised, much greater effort than was given before has now been given to the change in lighting in the Chamber, and, as a television producer and director, I am satisfied that very many of the technical arguments that I raised when we first debated the issue have, as a result of our interest, been solved.
So why did I vote against my right hon. Friend's report? I believe that the House is about to miss a great opportunity. I moved amendments in Committee to suggest to the House that, if we are to go down this road, we should go entirely down it. I said that it is possible, as is done in the Canadian Parliament, which has been cited long and often in these debates, to provide every hon. Member with the "Oasis" information system. That is a desk-top monitor that could give every hon. Member not only television broadcasts from the House, but all other news services, the data services from the Library, the information services that would allow us to print out the pages from the Vote Office that we need on a day-to-day basis, which in itself would save I suspect several rain forests a year, and it would enable us to have a Division bell override. In Committee, Members on both sides of the House chose to reject the public expenditure that would be necessary to provide that system.
However, there is a further stage, and it is that concern to which I believe the House should only address itself tonight. If we are to carry out the televising of the House and the broadcasting by television of the House, it should be available in its entirety to the electorate.
In the 1988 debate virtually every speaker in favour of televising the House addressed himself to the enhancement of democracy. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House said that the proposal will bring the House of Commons to the people. What the House of Commons is being offered tonight and what the public are being offered is quite simply a confidence trick. It is a conspiracy designed to prevent the public from seeing the House of Commons at work. I suppose that I should take some satisfaction from the knowledge that those of us who were originally opposed to televising the House have won the argument if the motion goes through unamended tonight.
It is possible to convey the proceedings of the House unedited to the public and it is possible to do so immediately. Earlier my right hon. Friend suggested that the costs would be such as to dissuade broadcasters from
Column 627embarking upon the exercise. The Opposition spokesman suggested to the House that he would really like to have a dedicated channel, but that that might delay the experiment and that it was not technically possible. Tonight the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell Savours) will seek to move an amendment to introduce a dedicated channel to the experiment. It is technically possible to do so, never mind in October, but now, and it is affordable.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) rose--
The cost of a satellite transponder would be somewhere between £2.5 million and £3.5 million for a year.