|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 639backwater unless we communicate on television with the people who now rely on television for news and information on current affairs. Our role is not to control the Executive-- we can do that only if it is afraid that we can throw it out. That function has passed from here to the people. Our role is not even to influence each other. In this Chamber we are developing and testing the arguments and putting to the people the cases for and against what the Government are doing as the raw materials on which, at the end of four or five years, they will decide whether to keep or throw the Government out. Our essential job is public education--putting the arguments before the people. We are, therefore, irrelevant and the job is incompetently done unless we reach the people through that medium. That is the essential argument for televising Parliament.
That has always been the case, and it is the case now. It is not so much that the people want Parliament televised, although 60 per cent. do, and it is not so much that they have a right to it, although they do. It is that we cannot do our job without televising Parliament. In that light, I am not entirely happy with the Committee's report. It took far too long for the report to be produced--18 months was far too long. The report is too cautious because it is too deferential to our egos, susceptibilities and tendernesses and it attaches too little importance to the public's wishes. It is irrelevant, however, to go into that now, because the report has been agreed. Its recommendations will be developed in the light of experience. Indeed, because of the technical problems of covering the most difficult studio in the world and because of the quick interchange of debate, the recommendations will probably have to change anyway.
In any case, if the report had recommended that the speech of every Member should be prefaced by a herald from the royal chorus of trumpeters in the Gallery, that little cherubim and seraphim should be superimposed on the picture round every Member's head and that sound and applause should be dubbed in, I would have accepted that, too, because it is so important to get across the principle that the proceedings of this institution should be covered by the television cameras. If it gets the cameras in, I would accept it. That is the basis on which I accept the report.
The opposition to the report and to televising is based only on fear--fear of ourselves, of the medium and of the public outside. It is interesting that opponents of televising have moved their ground. They no longer oppose it in principle but are now trying to use other arguments, saying that we should have televising only if there is a dedicated channel and that it should be done liberally. Opposition to the principle is now concealed by other motives.
On amendment (c), I must say that I am an enthusiatic and strong supporter of a dedicated television channel, covering Parliament full time. That is essential. Indeed, I would go further and say that it is essential in this country to have a channel such as C-SPAN in the United States, which carries public affairs generally, so that the political nation can talk to the political nation. Such a channel would cover not only Parliament-- because we are no longer the only forum for discussion--but the parties, the speeches, the press conferences, the pressure groups and
Column 640the university seminars. I should like to see all that on television and it could be covered via satellite and via cable. However, it is wrong to make a dedicated channel a sine qua non, which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has done, in effect. It is wrong to say that we will not have the report unless we have full-time, dedicated coverage. Such coverage will come. Getting Parliament on television will strengthen the case for it. People will want to put political issues in context and there is a demand for full-time coverage, which will be voiced only when Parliament is shown on the other terrestrial channels. Yet it is wrong to make a dedicated channel a condition of the coverage. The report is too cautious and too late. We are 10 years behind most advanced countries, five years behind the other place, which has benefited enormously from coverage on television, and one year behind any reasonable timetable in this place. However, with all its problems, with all its reservations and with all its cautiousness, the report enshrines the vital principle of bringing to the people, through the medium on which they rely for their news and information about current affairs, what is being done by their representatives in their name and on the issues that affect their lives. That is the principle which we must espouse.
As hon. Member for Great Grimsby, where people cannot drop in and out of the Chamber, even with the difficulties that obtain for people here, I believe that we need to bring Parliament to everyone throughout the country. This is an historic opportunity and an historic moment for the House. Let us seize that opportunity. 9.16 pm
Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge) : I have spoken more on this subject than on any other subject I can remember. I am not a member of the communications industry, but just an ordinary Englishman. We must be careful not to think that we all spend all day every day looking at that awful box. It is very harmful to the nation, its manners and its morals. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that the televising of our proceedings would change our procedures. That means, I suppose, that Question Time would become everyone else's high tea time. I do not want that to happen. I want our procedures to remain as they are. I want the House to remain what it is because I love this place. It has a special character which is quite unlike that of all the other places that have been televised, which are so terribly boring that nobody watches them. This place is special and precious and we must safeguard it.
I have always felt that, in general, the coming of the television industry has been thoroughly harmful rather than beneficial to the nation. When television covers current affairs, it tends to distort, to trivialise and to sensationalise. That is why I oppose the coming of television to this House and why I find it hard to accept the report, good as it no doubt is and hard as the Committee worked. The main danger is that television is a branch of the showbiz industry and it is not suited to the quite different business that we conduct here. That is why we must have every possible safeguard built into the experiment.
I noted that the clever Mr. Bernard Levin wrote a particularly stupid article in The Times in which he implied
Column 641that by controlling the broadcasting we were trying to make ourselves look like plaster saints. We are not. We are trying to stop the television editors and producers making us look like a non-stop variety show.
We must never forget that the public have no interest in whether the House is televised. In my 19 years here, representing about 80, 000 of the best people in England, not one has ever written to me saying, "You must televise your proceedings." All the demand for televising that has been talked about is absolute rubbish. Our constituents want to be able to send good men here, men whom they can trust. They will be all right then. Let us remember that in the greatest days of this country, not only was there no television but there was no reporting, and never has this country been better governed.
However, now we are told that we can learn some lessons from the televising of the proceedings in the other place, which I still so greatly admire, despite the new life peers. Television in the other place, originally much heralded, was initially broadcast daily, first at a reasonable hour, then at a late hour. Now the proceedings are broadcast only weekly. Then it will be monthly and eventually it will vanish altogether. Let us remember also that their Lordships have no constituents and that they are not subjected to the lobbying to which we are subjected.
We are in danger of making ourselves self-important and ridiculous. Hon. Members may think that the debate will be the talk of the pubs. Well, go to the pub tomorrow--not you, Mr. Speaker--and you will not hear the subject mentioned. It is of interest only to people in the media, not to most ordinary people, who are much more interested in cricket scores and good things like that. We must have a sense of proportion. Surely the Labour party, which purports to represent the ordinary man, should hold such views just as much as the Tory party. I am surprised that it does not.
I fear that the televising of our proceedings would utterly ruin the character of this great and famous Chamber, the most famous debating chamber in the world. I very much hope that this nonsense is thrown out.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I have some sympathy with some of the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes), but the House has taken a decision and unless people disagree with that decision--their moral right to do so is questionable--we shall have an experiment. Therefore, it should be as good as we can make it.
I agree with the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge, and the many other hon. Members who feel concern about this, that the perception of our constituents about the job of a Member of Parliament is that we come into the Chamber, sit in serried ranks and speak or not speak as the case may be. We all know that the job of Parliament and of parliamentarians is about much more than either being in here or in Committee, but we cannot get that across to our constituents. Sound radio tended to reinforce that wrong perception. Many people are concerned that that perception will be still more heightened by the way in which edited excerpts and highlights, emphasising the Front Benches, will be used during television news programmes and I believe that that is probably what will happen. The danger of that is
Column 642comparable to hearing a Beethoven symphony played on the timpani and the trumpet. We must do something in the experiment to counteract that.
Some people have said that "Today in Parliament" is a good programme and it is perhaps the best of the BBC's efforts. However, I wrote to the editors of the programme many years ago when I first became a Member of the House and asked why they did not mention the Adjournment debates, saying, "Surely people are interested in knowing that this cottage hospital or that bypass has been discussed." I said that the debate need not be mentioned in detail but that the fact that an hon. Member had raised a matter should be referred to. The editors said, "No, it will be of concern to only a small number of people. That is not news."
What we do here may not be newsworthy but it is important. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has said, this is the biggest television studio in the world, it will be used by the media as a new source of raw material. This place is much more important than that. It should not be seen simply as a new source of visual news material. This place is the centre of the democratic operations of our nation and democracy today is on the march. We know that a great deal of what we do here today was developed in the 1680s and 1690s and that many things happened across the Channel and in North America in the 1780s and the 1790s.
We see events from all around the world on television. We see and hear about what is happening to the democratic process in Poland, Moscow and in Tiananmen square. Poland and perhaps even South Africa may be branching out towards democracy. We are not talking about just another show or more raw material for the broadcasters. We are talking about something that should be put in its worldwide context. We are the guardians of a procedure that I believe to be unique. On Friday 9 June The Independent carried a translation of what one young man had written on the hoardings in Tiananmen square : "So we appeal to the Chinese : Get rid of the tradition of pure ideology-making, of sloganising, of objectifying. These are empty democracy. They must start the process of actual operation, of practical procedures, of turning a democracy movement centred on the enlightenment of thought into that of an actual operation. They must start with the details."
The procedures of the House are practical examples of democracy in action. Our democracy may not be perfect, but at least it is in operation and, to some extent, we are pioneers. Anything that could possibly damage our proceedings must be viewed with concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby is right that, unless the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is accepted, it will be the producers and editors who press the button and choose what the public see. It will be the executives who choose the producers, the directors of television firms who choose the executives and those who own the firms who choose the directors.
I believe that the condition of having a dedicated channel, if that is possible, as I understand it, is an important one. It would allow people who wanted to see part of an Adjournment debate to do so. A debate could be relayed to a town hall, for example. It would allow people to see their Parliament. Tonight, we are in a position to decide that all the people should be able to see
Column 643all the time all that is said and done in their name in their Parliament. That would be a very important democratic safeguard. I hope that my hon. Friend's amendment will be accepted, because there can hardly be a case against it. But even if it is not, I hope that the Committee will proceed along similar lines. Unless it does, the perception of this place and the way in which it works--the democratic methods that we have developed--may be placed in jeopardy. I urge the House to support my hon. Friend's amendment and the proceedings of the House as we know them and to make them open to the whole public all the time.
Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South) : I support the report and I shall vote for the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I am delighted to note that, although so many hon. Members are busy with European elections and by-elections and even though it is Monday, we have quite a good turnout. I hope that we shall make progress tonight. I think that we shall be making history tonight and we shall remember that with pleasure in the years to come.
Let me offer a word of praise for the Committee's efforts. The press coverage of the Committee's report was not good preparation for this debate. Many of the leader writers in national newspapers hooted with laughter and cast derision on what it said. As the Opposition Front Bench spokesman ruefully admitted, the press mainly poked fun at the Opposition, and called them
"denizens of London's clubland queruling lest some unauthorised person should blow his nose in the billiards room."
That strikes me as a pretty fair description of one or two Opposition Members.
The Committee's report, however, was not like the representations of it in the press. Some of it could only have been written by a Committee. I read with amusement paragraph 21 which says : "In addition to our proposals for House representation on the board of House of Commons Broadcasting Unit Ltd., we recommend the appointment of an Officer of the House to act as the Supervisor of Broadcasting. The Supervisor should report to a monitoring Select Committee."
That could only have been written by a Committee ; what busy bees they are going to be. That sort of tone is a bit of a pity and it demonstrates some of the compromises that the Committee had to reach.
I take the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that this is an experiment. We should go along with it and make our decision when it is over. I do not accept the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). I listened carefully to his description of the technical possibilities, but he was beginning to put me off. He suggested that we might have access to 10 Select Committees simultaneously. That does not attract me, as I have had considerable difficulties with one Select Committee. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand if I demur a little at the way that he put his point.
In general, I am impressed. It is clear that a great deal of work has gone into the report. I listened to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) said about the proposal to restrict the view to head
Column 644and shoulders, which was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). I think it a little unfortunate to dub that as merely shampoo politics. It is a pity that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has left the Chamber--probably for a television interview--because if such shampoo politics were to encourage him to have a haircut, that might be an advantage. What is the problem? Why do right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House feel so concerned? I look at the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and bear in mind that on television we all look about a stone heavier, as he well knows. I wonder whether he is worried that constituents might be a little concerned about ample girths or that on some occasions hon. Members are not dressed as sartorially as they might want. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt)--who served on the Committee--and other right hon. and hon. Members, especially on the Conservative Benches, should be perfectly satisfied with the notion that they might be photographed from the neck down as well as from the neck up. I note that the real concern of the Committee is that it does not want close-ups, which I do not understand, but it is an experiment and we should proceed with it. I have listened carefully to the debate and I am glad to have this opportunity to participate in it. I gained a slight impression from the Committee's report and from many Opposition Members that the House produces something--a debate, procedure or an activity--and that someone wants to interfere with it and take it from us. Paragraph 11(i) refers to consumers being the broadcasting companies whereas paragraph 37 refers to viewers. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House implied that the broadcasters are the producers and that the House, in purchasing a sort of electronic Hansard, will be the customer. Both those approaches are fundamentally flawed because they show no awareness of the fact that the consumers are the viewers, and that the viewers are the voters. They put us here and they are puzzled why we keep them out. They do not understand what we are debating tonight--53 years after the first television broadcast in Britain ; they cannot understand why we are so afeared of it.
That point was put extremely well by Robert Harris in a recent article in The Sunday Times. He said :
"What kind of timid and enfeebled nation have we become that we cannot be allowed to see our own legislature at work in all its noise and colour, its inefficiencies and longueurs? who exactly is protecting whom. Nobody seriously believes that it is the electorate which has to be shielded from the unsavoury sight of the Commons"-- even the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras in full spate. "Quite the reverse. It is the Commons which has decided that it wants protection from the prying eyes of the public. Thus is democracy stood on its head."
All it leads to is the impression outside this place that we have something to hide--not that broadcasters or viewers cannot be trusted, but that we flinch at public reaction. That is nonsense.
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) rose --
I shall vote for my right hon. Friend's motion because I recognise the work that has been done and because the
Column 645report makes sensible suggestions. Most of all, I will vote for the report because it will get the cameras in here, and it is about time. The people will then judge, and whichever way they judge, I will be content.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : If for no other reason, I compliment the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) on her choice of colours this evening ; they will look very good on television. The thought of her coming at the public on 10 different channels makes even the strongest hon. Member baulk.
I owe the Leader of the House an apology. I am prepared to give him that apology this evening. The advent of the report has taken away my favourite business question. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was dragging his feet. I thought that the report was rather like the holy grail--everyone had heard of it, but no one knew where it was. At least the report is here, but I am disappointed that it is timid. There is not the scope that I would have expected the Select Committee to come up with. I do not like the commercialism in it--the idea of setting up a limited company. I know that that might be paying lip service to the economic philosophy of the present Government, and of the Prime Minister in particular, but I do not think that it suits the House of Commons. It could even be the thin end of the sponsorship wedge. Before long, we will end up as the John Player Parliament, with Mr. Speaker's wig being sponsored by Vidal Sassoon and the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) being sponsored by Harrods' food hall. I do not think that we want that.
I will support the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), although I suspect his motives. I know how he feels about broadcasting and the televising of Parliament. A dedicated channel is wanted. It will answer all our doubts and fears. It would mean that there would be no intermediary and no filter. I do not consider that we have been well served by the Press Gallery. I would like to see the director being able to aim the cameras towards the Press Gallery so that members of the public could see just how few members of the press are here, yet they manage to write so much, and so much that is incorrect, about what we say. I do not know why The Sun bothers to have someone in the Parliamentary Lobby. For the life of me, if The Sun can have someone in the Parliamentary Lobby, so should the Exchange and Mart, Penthouse and, quite frankly, Beano and Dandy as well. I do not want people of that sort interposing between what goes on here and the public. That is why a dedicated channel is absolutely crucial. We should not be looking around for someone to pay for it. We should do it in the interests of democracy. We should say that democracy is beyond price in the market place and that, therefore, Parliament is prepared to put up the necessary funds.
In conclusion, I ask the Leader of the House one question. If the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington is passed, will the right hon. Gentleman advise the House to support the amended substantive motion? Quite frankly, if I thought that, by supporting my hon. Friend's amendment, we were likely to lose even that which we have, clearly I will opt for the
Column 646smaller and look later for the larger, extended, dedicated channel which I know would find support on both sides of the House. 9.38 pm
Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton) : When my right hon. Friend used the phrase "the important thing is", referring to Committees, I hoped that he was going to say, "The important thing is that the experiment being conducted should not interfere with the work of the Select Committee." I have forgotten what it was that he said was important, but it was not the most important thing of the lot. Quite a number of hon. Members have said that the epicentre of effective action has moved out of the Chamber. That is certainly so. It is the Select Committees which, by being able to focus sustained questioning on witnesses, are able to get information in a way that the one question only on the Floor of the House at Question Time never can. If questioning is to be focused and sustained in Select Committee, it is absolutely essential that every member of the Committee has a full view of the witnesses who are being examined and that the lighting is not such as to impede the Committee in its work. We could very easily achieve a situation where we look like the Toton Macoute in Haiti, where more and more Members are wearing dark glasses. Although those who recommended televising Parliament before the crucial vote never stopped assuring us that the cameras today needed no additional lighting to what we already have, having got the vote, they then assure us that there is no truth in that whatever and that greatly increased levels of lighting are needed. That, I think, was a bit of sleight of hand that the House did not deserve.
I am particularly concerned about the effect of these proposals on Select Committees, even more than the effect on the Chamber. The important thing is that the advent of television will put the public in the position that they would have been if they could have been in the Gallery or in a Select Committee meeting--it should not alter what they are seeing. That is the criterion by which we should judge the success or failure of this experiment.
The lighting must be controlled. The cameras in Select Committee must not interfere with the process of examining witnesses. If they do, the Chairman of the Select Committee must have power to order them to cease doing whatever they are doing that is breaking the focus and the sustained effect of the questioning.
I shall support the amendment of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), because I think it is a very valuable thing indeed that, just as nobody censors what those in the Gallery see and nobody censors what is seen in public sittings of Select Committees, the programme going out continuously will not be chopped about to the convenience of somebody other than the viewers.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I shall be brief because I know that a couple of other hon. Members want to speak. Although I welcome the report and I voted for the advent of televising the House, I must say that the experiment is far too closely controlled. It is as though the
Column 647Committee was very much afraid of the media rather than it being composed of people who have grown increasingly used to working with them.
The reality is that the Chamber has been withering. The attendance tonight is not too bad, but for the majority of the time a dozen hon. Members is about the maximum present. Indeed, in spite of big occasions such as the Budget, the biggest attendance that I can recall since 1987 has not been for a debate on an external crisis, on events in other countries, or on the economic crisis, but it was when the House was discussing the discipline to be handed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown). Television cameras would help to replace such a discussion with more important issues, would gain maximum attendance in the Chamber and would encourage a reversal in the decline of attendance in what should be the centre piece of Parliament.
One does not deny the importance of Select Committees and the cross- examination of witnesses. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said that the freemasons have been giving evidence this afternoon, which is a matter of great import, and that that would, no doubt, have been covered by television. The fact is, however, that the Chamber is one of the most important places in the building, where Ministers are called to account. If this place is packed, it is more forbidding for Ministers. They have to get the nuts and bolts of their cases much more ordered in their minds before they come here. As many hon. Members have said, the advent of television will, of course, increase the democratic relationship with people outside. It will also make Ministers that bit more fearful of this place, which will be all to the good.
I have strong reservations about the idea of a dedicated channel. It seems to be a recipe for undermining the proposals and not for adding to them. I do not want Parliament to be put into an electronic ghetto to be seen by everyone for about five minutes in their lives, then switched off to become a memory. If we have confidence in ourselves and confidence in this place as the forum for the exchange of views and ideas we should have the confidence to put ourselves on a par with the rest of the other events reported by the media electronically on television.
We grumble about the press and about the way in which it reports us because it does not report the words of the particular individual. None the less, the press has access to the House. There was opposition to the access of Hansard and opposition to the access of radio--I can recall the debates and anxieties then and I can recall the packed House for Welsh Question Time on the first day that radio was introduced to the House. Radio has taken its place in our proceedings and television will play its part.
I shall vote for the report because I see it as the beginning of television making a proper, adequate report of this debating Chamber, which should be the important focus of attention in the nation's affairs.
Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester) : I concur with some of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). This issue is one of commonality across the party lines and I welcome that as this is a matter peculiar to the House itself.
Column 648Although the Committee has come in for some fair criticism and comment this evening, I believe that it has had a difficult but important task in trying to read the will of the House as expressed in February 1988. It has tried to draw a line between those who wanted no television and those who wanted the most liberal coverage of the House and in doing so it has struck the right balance. Although the report may not have pleased everyone, the experiment is worth a try and it should be seen as an experiment.
Before we vote tonight we should recall the principles which have been enunciated by a number of hon. Members tonight and which led the House to support the motion in February 1988. Those principles were repeated by the hon. Member for Bradford, South. Televising the Chamber will have a demonstrable impact on the influence of Parliament over the Executive. To some extent that influence has slipped since the introduction of Select Committees, welcome as they are, in 1979. The power and influence of Government have grown. Why should we exercise a self-denying ordinance? Is it not somewhat patronising for us to say that politics should be left to us alone and that people outside are not interested? We seek their mandate and their support. We say that we should be accountable to the people, but we say that they should not be allowed to see what we do in this place.
There is a latent, pent-up demand--more so than some hon. Members have assessed--for televising the proceedings of the House. As has already been said, this matter should not be seen from the point of view of what the broadcasters wants to deliver as they may look at things in terms of the national numbers who watch their programmes. For the people of each region there are issues of great importance and those people should be entitled, not only to read and listen to the proceedings of the House, but to see and assess for themselves the mood of this place about decisions that affect their regions. The guidelines that have been established and the rules of coverage proposed will enable a fair, true and balanced representation of this House to be shown. In Committee we sought to take account of the misgivings expressed in the numerous representations from hon. Members to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House as Chairman of the Committee. We have set up the structure for the House of Commons Broadcasting Unit and have proposed a director of broadcasting in this House to allay some of the worst fears expressed.
If the rules prove to be too restrictive, the monitoring facility will allow those rules to be changed. It is interesting that, from this debate, it is clear that it is thought that the rules might be too restrictive and that the Committee should have been inclined to be more liberal, but those rules can be suitably amended. The Committee gave proper emphasis to the importance of Select Committee work. Those Committees and the Standing Committees occupy much of the time of hon. Members, they are part of the proceedings of the House and they undertake important work. It is right and proper that coverage by the media and television should cover them as well. The amendments which have been chosen by you, Mr. Speaker, the amendment of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), should not commend themselves to the House. The first is essentially
Column 649a wrecking amendment and the latter-- [Interruption.] The latter amendment leaves the rules of coverage too wide to satisfy the House at this time.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) rose--
Mr. Nelson : I shall not give way at this time, but I will explain why the first is a wrecking amendment. We are concerned with an experiment and the House was concerned that the Select Committee should bring forward recommendations for its implementation. Not unreasonably, it has tried to impose it by the autumn of this year. Whatever British Aerospace or the hon. Member for Workington may say about the provision of a dedicated channel, which I would support in the longer term were we to have permanent arrangements, it is not a practical arrangement for the short term. If it were made a condition of the package of the main motion it might result in the whole experiment being dropped. It should be seen for what it is : a wrecking amendment, which should be dismissed by the House. For those reasons, I hope that the House will take further the step which it embarked on in February 1988. A historic step can be taken tonight and I hope that the House will not turn back from it. 9.51 pm
Mr. Wakeham : This has been an interesting and well-informed debate, with contributions from members of the Select Committee and other hon. Members, representing a wide range of views. If I have taken one message from the debate, it is that hon. Members from both sides of the argument feel that the time has come for decisions.
The House is not being invited tonight to reopen the principle of televising the House. That argument was settled, for the time being, last February. We are concerned with the machinery for implementing the experiment. The report ensures that the House will have the chance to vote for or against the permanent televising at about this time next year. That is a point which I make to my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes)--and I have a shrewd suspicion about the way in which he will vote.
I am sure that the House will forgive me if I do not attempt to respond to all the points made by hon. Members. There are a number of specific points and questions with which I shall seek to deal. I am grateful for the kind things said about me in various parts of the Chamber, particularly the comments of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I spend most of my time trying to put him right on one thing or another, but it was a great pleasure to work with him in Committee, as it was with the other Committee members, and the advisers and Clerks who served us extremely well. I agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) that we learnt a lot from the witnesses who substantially improved our knowledge of the subject.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) admonished us for attaching too much weight and seriousness to the proceedings of the House. He told us that we were theatre. I thank him for his entertaining contribution.
I feel like saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell- Hyslop) that I feel a bit like the Irishman and would not necessarily have started from
Column 650here. I was against the experiment in the first place, and voted and spoke against it. I certainly did not persuade anybody to vote for it on the basis that the lighting would be one thing or another. The concerns which he expressed were directly expressed in paragraph 85 of our report, which stated that if any difficulties became evident during the experiment they could be looked at. We had a test of the lighting and were reasonably satisfied with the results, although, again, the experiment may offer us scope for changes. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) focused primarily on the iniquities, as he and his hon. Friends see it, of our electoral system, and made two points. He drew attention to what he called the Scottish dimension of the experiment. The Committee felt strongly that the Scottish affairs and concerns of other parts of the United Kingdom should be properly reflected, and we obtained assurances from the broadcasters on that point. The broadcasters specifically expressed interest in televising the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about monitoring the broadcast output. We are considering proposals for a comprehensive monitoring exercise during the experiment, which would include political balance and regional coverage among the items to be analysed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mrs. Currie) and the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) all accused the Committee of being too timid, but for different reasons. Being accused of being reluctant and slow by those hon. Members and by my hon. Friend from different viewpoints convinces me that we have probably not got it too far wrong. Before I finish, I want to say a word about the two amendments that have been selected. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) holds out the enticing prospect of a dedicated channel providing continuous coverage of our proceedings. I know that that proposition will hold appeal for many Members. I for one would very much like to have a dedicated channel, but I ask the House carefully to examine what the amendment means. If it were passed, the experiment could not take place unless a dedicated channel was established. The report makes it quite clear that, as no public money is available for this purpose, the idea of a dedicated channel can be realised only as a result of commercial decisions by the broadcasters. That is the present position ; I am not talking about a dedicated channel at some time in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) argued his case skilfully, as did the hon. Member for Workington, and gave the House figures which purported to show that a dedicated channel was financially viable. My hon. Friend's and the hon. Gentlemen's enthusiasm is not matched at present by the broadcasters. Even they would agree that it would be quite wrong for the House to seek to second guess their judgement--
Column 651broadcasters--commercial broadcasters, not necessarily existing ones--must finance it. If any broadcaster says that he wants to broadcast a satellite programme starting in October, I for one would be perfectly happy for him to do so. I am not stopping anyone doing so ; anyone who wishes to apply can do so. I am suggesting that, if no one applies, that is not a case for not going ahead with the experiment.
Despite every opportunity, neither British Aerospace nor British Satellite Broadcasting came forward to us, or more importantly to the broadcasters, with a fully costed and worked-out formal position. To go broke on the basis of three letters to the hon. Member for Workington seems to me highly risky, to say the least. If the House passes the hon. Gentleman's amendment, it will in effect throw the whole experiment back into the melting pot of uncertainty and, possibly, of protracted delay. I therefore recommend that the House votes against amendment (c), although it is for individual right hon. and hon. Members to make up their own minds. [Interruption.] To answer the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who asked me whether I would vote for the main Question if the amendment were passed, I still would. That does not mean that it would not involve risks. The other amendment that the House must decide upon is that moved in a characteristically thoughtful way by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), relating to the rules of coverage. Here the argument is simple. The Committee has recommended a framework of rules which strikes a balance between the strict Canadian model and the somewhat relaxed regime which applies in the other place. My hon. Friend is proposing significantly to relax the rules proposed by the Committee in a way that I do not think would lead to the sort of coverage of our proceedings that most hon. Members would want. There is a further practical point. It is very much wiser to start as the Committee proposes with a fairly strict set of rules and the prospect of some relaxation as the experiment develops. If a convincing case can be made in the light of experience, that is well and good. I do not think that it would be quite so easy in practice to tighten up the rules once the experiment has begun. Therefore, I advise the House not to accept amendment (n).
It is now 16 months since the House voted in favour of an experiment in televising our proceedings. The report offers a sensible, balanced and practical way to implement the will of the House, and I recommend it to the House as it stands.
It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to order [9 June], to put the Questions necessary to dispose of the motion and of the amendments thereto which had been selected by him.
Amendment proposed : (c), at end add
provided that televised proceedings of the House are broadcast on a dedicated channel, unedited, from the start of the sitting to the rising of the House.'.-- [Mr. Campbell-Savours.]
Question put, That the amendment be made :--
The House divided : Ayes 98, Noes 274.
Division No. 232] [10 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Column 652Blackburn, Dr John G.
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Browne, John (Winchester)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Emery, Sir Peter
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Glyn, Dr Alan
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Porter, David (Waveney)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Rhodes James, Robert
Shaw, David (Dover)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Wise, Mrs Audrey
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Nigel Spearing and
Mrs Ann Clwyd.
Abbott, Ms Diane
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Amery, Rt Hon Julian
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Buckley, George J.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)