Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 2 NOVEMBER 1999
180. Thank you, Chairman. Just following on
from the points you have raised, a couple of things occurred to
me. You say that in Scotland and Wales you are doing it as if
from a public gallery but, in fact, if you are in the public gallery
here you do not get close-ups and you would not get zooms, there
would not be that sort of close scrutiny, it is quite a distant
shot. If we are going to have this all-singing all-dancing broadcasting
of Parliament have you done any research or surveys amongst the
public or MPs about how they feel about it?
(Ms Sloman) Perhaps I can start on that. We do not
want an all-singing all-dancing Parliament, we just want the televising
of Parliament to look the same as the televising of other serious
events. We made the point as strongly as we could that we do not
want parliamentary coverage to be used in entertainment programmes,
we are talking about making coverage. When I said that in Scotland
that is the principle they work from, that you are in a surrogate
gallery, what I mean is when you are in the gallery you can turn
your head wherever you like and can see much more when you are
sitting in the gallery than you can see on television ironically.
Maybe not at the back but certainly in the front rows of the public
gallery you can see quite closely. It is part of the story to
see, for example, how the opposition are reacting to a statement
or how a backbencher is reacting to something. I do not want it
all-singing and all-dancing. On the subject of research, we have
not done any specific research on this point but we are fairly
sure that the audience would prefer it if it looked slightly more
like the party conference coverage. We have never had a single
complaint, as far as I am aware, about our party conference coverage
where there are no rules at all and we do not do dramatic zooms
for effect, we just tell the story through pictures.
181. Mr Lloyd?
(Mr Lloyd) Only to pick up on questions to do with
what the human eye actually does when it is in the public gallery.
Actually, the physical evidence is that the human eye searches
for the closest possible detail it can compared with the distance
it is from that subject and the light level and whatever. I think
it is a natural inclination to look for the detail in an event.
If I may just answer the question the Chairman raised. Personally
I would not be arguing for zooms, I think it would be out of keeping
actually with the normal coverage of the occasion. Others might
disagree with me but certainly myself I would not think that zoom
shots were a particularly useful coverage of the Chamber.
182. Mr Phillips, do you play poker?
(Mr Phillips) No, I am not a gambler myself.
Mr Pound: In that case let us have a
183. But you are familiar, I take it, with the
rough rules of poker?
(Mr Phillips) Yes, I am.
184. You know what it is "to bluff"
and you know what it is to "up the ante"?
(Mr Phillips) I am not sure. I know as a metaphor
what it means to "up the ante", I am not sure that technically
I know what it means.
185. Pass me your wallet and I will explain.
(Mr Phillips) I left it outside.
186. If I can just refer you to part of the
briefing that you supplied to us. It is quite simple to answer,
item 12, where you say: "Also, we believe that we are at
the point of substantial reassessment of the cost of re-equipping
the Chamber. This process has to happen in the next couple of
years". In your own submission I believe you said that costs
of new equipment were not a priority for PARBUL shareholders at
this time. Then very swiftly you and item 12 move on to: "The
models adopted in Scotland and Wales contrast with that of Westminster.
They reflect a more realistic balance in investment and expenditure
between Parliament and the broadcasters, and recognise the different
relationship that exists now compared to 10 years ago." Can
I ask you, is there a suggestion here that although you would
not really like to invest in the cost of new equipment at the
moment if we were to see fit to relax the rules and allow you
the shots that you like, then you might be prepared to do it?
There seems to be a very strange linkage developing in the presentation
that you have made and in the submissions which you gave to the
Committee ahead of time that suggests that one might be traded
for the other. I want to break that link absolutely if it is there.
(Mr Phillips) I do not think that there was any intention
of any suggestion of linkage between those two issues.
(Mr Phillips) From our perspective there are two unrelated
issues, both of which we think need consideration in order to
get the right arrangements for PARBUL but there is no suggestion
whatsoever from any of the broadcasters of a deal somehow involving
both of those elements, they are two different things.
Mr Gardiner: I am very relieved to hear
that but I do think all four of you are experts at presentation
and therefore I think that you must be very careful about the
way in which you presented it because you have by implication
made a link between these two. I would be very disturbed if that
was to emerge. I do think it is important, Chairman, that we consider
both of these matters, they are important matters but we consider
them separately and clearly.
Mr Gale: Thank you. I think Mr Phillips
has clarified that for us and that is now a matter of record.
I would like to return, if I may, to the question of coverage.
Mr Lepper: I have to say it does seem
to me that it is wrong of you to pursue the metaphor of the viewer
at home being like the person sitting in the Strangers Gallery.
It seems to me that is totally false. What the viewer at home
will see is what the producer allows him or her to see. The viewer
at home does not have the freedom of choosing what of a range
of things they wish to concentrate on as does the person sitting
in the public gallery. I have to say I have some sympathy with
relaxing the current rules but it does seem to me you are going
about it the wrong way if you are arguing that it provides the
viewer at home with something synonymous with being in the public
gallery. I think that is totally false. You are providing perhaps
more interesting visual experience for the viewer at home but
it is one dependent on the choice made by the producer/director,
whoever, not by the viewer him or herself. That is just by way
of observation. I would welcome your comments on that but I really
want to ask something about the other issues to do with access.
188. We shall move on to that in a moment but
before you respond to David Lepper, Mr Lloyd referred to cut-away
shots as well and here again in televisual terms those of us who
have directed are well aware of the editorial power of cut-aways.
You can take a shot of somebody listening to a speech with great
interest and by implication demonstrate endorsement. You can take
a cut-away shot of somebody yawning and demonstrate total boredom.
I think the original concern, and I suspect it still persists,
is that the director, if allowed to take cut-aways of anybody
other than specifically the person who has been referred to, which
is a very obvious link, the director might be inclined on occasions
to editorialise. Perhaps you would like to comment on that.
(Ms Sloman) I would just like to pick up Mr Lepper's
point which is I said that was the basis on which the Scottish
deal was negotiated. It was the Scottish Parliament who took that
as the basis of the group that met. That was the view of the Scottish
Parliament, that was not our view. Their view was I think, to
be fair to them, not that the viewer at home was in the same position
because, of course, you make your point very validly that the
producer would be in the same position of somebody, so just to
clarify that particular point.
189. There was a suggestion nevertheless that
it would somehow offer a more realistic experience for the viewer.
(Mr Lloyd) I used the word engagement, Chairman, and
I stand by that. I think that of course the two experiences can
never be exactly analogous but what I think it behoves us all
to do is to try and deliver an experience as close to that of
witnessing these proceedings in person.
190. I would still maintain just to bring this
to a close perhaps, what you are suggesting may be a more interesting
visual experience but it is no closer to the reality of being
present at the event than what we have at the moment.
(Mr Lloyd) We may differ a little on that.
Mr Pound: Can I possibly just raise something.
I do apologise for interrupting. Do such shots exist? Have you
ever done any test shots of close ups? I am sure you must have
occasionally tried such things. Personally I think anything that
livens it up, I would like to see Quentin Tarentino directing
it at the earliest possible opportunity. I think a slasher movie
in the Adjournment Debate would be entirely appropriate. I am
very interested to see what it looks like. I can understand that
there are aesthetic grounds, particularly in my case, for avoiding
close up shotsI entirely understand thatbut most
of us who do not have Mr Gale's expertise in this strange, serious
world do not know what it would look like. Chairman, perhaps I
could ask you rather than Mr Lloyd, is there any way at any time
we could see what a close up or a zoom or any of these strange
Americanisms that you use would actually look like?
Mr Gale: I do not want to presume to
answer for our guests but I think the answer probably is that
yes such an experiment could be set up. I suspect that what you
would probably get is a fairly anodyne experiment to demonstrate
what a good thing it is.
Mrs Gordon: Could we not see some of
the coverage of the Scottish Parliament?
Mr Pound: Do we really want close ups
of the Scottish Parliament?
Mr Gale: Can I come back. There is one
final issue which arises from this that is important which Mr
Gardiner wishes to raise.
191. Can I just clarify with you, the argument
that you have set out has been about making the experience through
the medium of television analogous to that of the person in the
Chamber. Now one of the things which has always concerned this
Committee is that if you are in the Chamber and somebody decides
to unfurl a banner or to conduct a demonstration in the public
gallery, they are immediately whipped out, of course, by the ushers,
and that is something that being in the Chamber you can see, you
can observe going on and there are no holds on that. But if one
were then to televise that event, to make it analogous with somebody
in the Chamber, it could do nothing but encourage demonstrators
to do that in Parliament, in the public gallery. Therefore it
is a real concern to this Committee that by making the experience
similar to that which one would have in the Chamber you could
actually be opening the Chamber up to become a focus of not just
Parliamentary debate but extra Parliamentary objection.
(Mr Lloyd) It is a very fair point and in the time
that I felt that I had available to myself I did not address this.
No part of what I am suggesting is to relax the rules that relate
to distractive behaviour or distractions from the public gallery
or elsewhere. I do not think that is any part of the pitch of
myself and my colleagues today.
Mr Gale: Are there any further points
arising out of this?
192. I said I was interested in hearing a little
bit more about the ideas of widening the access to Parliament
to the broadcasters. You talk about the fact things happen on
College Green or wherever because they cannot happen, they must
not happen here in the House of Commons or indeed in the House
of Lords. I just wonder if you would like to say a little more
about the way in which you see perhaps that widening of access
working? I am thinking, for instance, of an example which came
to my mind immediately which was one which some of us saw in the
Canadian Parliament when we visited, the equivalent of a Division.
The cameras are immediately outside the Chamber ready to interview
members of various parties as they come through the Division Lobby
about why they voted as they did and so on. Would you see that
as something that will be legitimate to introduce?
(Ms Sloman) I think we would be very happy to discuss
with the House and with the House of Commons and House of Lords
members of PARBUL what might be appropriate and what might not
be appropriate. All we are really saying is if something could
be fixed up, this is quite a large building, a great deal larger
than they have in Scotland or Wales. There are corners of it where
cameras could be fixed up without infringing too much on Members'
lives and which would give access to people instantly without
them having to go over the road, sometimes to do with a Division
or to do with a Committee that is going on or anything like that.
At the moment as you know we can do things in Members' rooms but
Members' rooms are not good places to do interviews because many
Members share rooms. It is not fair.
193. I think there is a number of us who feel
that the restrictions over access to the building are in this
day and age rather ludicrous while at the same time recognisingwe
must place this on the recordthe Serjeant at Arms and his
staff, of course, have an overriding duty to maintain the security
of the building at all times in fair political weather and in
foul. That is an arduous task and it is not always easy. So the
authorities of the House are naturally and instinctively I suspect
resistant to allowing more equipment or boxes into which explosives
could be put, for instance, into the building than is necessary.
But when we originally considered this and when the cameras were
originally allowed into the House on a semi permanent basis consideration
was given to converting the entire space over the Central Lobby
which is a vast area, as high as the House of Commons, quite literally,
into a series of television control rooms and studios for precisely
the purpose that you have outlined. At that time those who have
much greater wisdom than any of us quite clearly decided that
this vast resource should be wasted and left as a black hole in
the sky. I just wonder whether any of you have pressed the case
again for proper provision to be made internally and whether you
have asked anybody whether they might readdress the use of that
space or something similar?
(Ms Sloman) I think we are looking for major investment.
These new light weight cameras where you come in with a camera
and you have a point where it is arranged. In Scotland there is
no permanent facility there but there is a part of the corridor
which is for interviews. People come in with light weight cameras
and just do the interview and take them away at the end of the
day or at the end of the afternoon. Nowadays the technology is
so light weight, a more come and go situation though at agreed
points so you do not have cameras wandering all over the place.
Mr Pound: At Stormont where security
is possibly even more of a consideration than here they have precisely
that facility. If they can manage it at Stormont surely they can
manage it here.
194. Where do you feel this might appropriately
be done without causing difficulty for the authorities of the
(Ms Sloman) We would have to do a recce, would we
(Mr Lloyd) We would have to reconnoitre the premises.
195. You will forgive me, I thought you had
done your homework before you came.
(Mr Lloyd) Not in this respect.
196. Perhaps you would like to review it and
submit a brief memorandum in the light of considered thought as
to where it might be done.
(Mr Lloyd) Indeed.
Mr Hopkins: I want to raise my general
concern and perhaps I am speaking for the dark forces of conservatism,
with a small "c" I hasten to add. I think someone ought
to speak up perhaps for resistance to change because many Members
will have concerns. I must say, reading through the paper there
were some coded messages which I did not understand, I am starting
to understand them more now. When I read through the Rules of
Coverage I must say I found them unobjectionable. I can see some
concerns about change. My colleagues here do not seem to be quite
so worried as I am and knock me down please if I say things which
can be easily answered. I do believe that media coverage of politics
alters the nature of politics. Indeed, from Adolf Hitler to Marshall
McLuhan and others that has been appreciated and no more so than
by modern political parties who go to extreme lengths to present
themselves in a media-friendly way. Party leaders' media-friendly
nature and their telegenic characteristics may have an influence
on whether or not they become party leaders.
Mr Pound: Explain William Hague!
Mr Hopkins: Looking at my own party,
I wonder whether Clem Attlee would have become Party Leader with
modern media coverage. I am concerned about changing the nature
of the coverage because it might change the nature of the politics,
i.e. having broader shots, more random shots, more freedom for
cameras to show what they like and whom they like in the Chamber.
On a lighter note, some of my constituents say to me, "We
haven't seen you on the television" and I say, "Well,
I was there but I was not in shot". I will not be able to
use that excuse quite so easily if you are freer to make shots!
Mr Pound: Mine complain when they do
Mr Hopkins: There is that concern. It
is possible that instead of getting on with their work in Committee
and in their rooms members will spend an inordinate amount of
time in the Chamber listening to speeches they are not very interested
in, but simply to be seen on television or to be there for their
constituents. Others might attract attention to themselves in
various ways. Perhaps some are more telegenic than others. In
a sense when we speak in the Chamber we are choosing to be on
television. When we are sitting in the Chamber listening to a
speech we are choosing perhaps not to be on television, but we
will not have that freedom in the future. I think these are concerns
that others might express. Then there is this idea of interviewing
members as soon as they come out of a Division. That is going
to an extreme perhaps. More often than not I choose not to be
interviewed by television because I do not wish to be interviewed
by television. If one walks out of a controversial Division and
is immediately confronted with a camera and a microphone, one
can say, "No, I do not wish to be interviewed", but
that then becomes a political event. It affects that particular
Member. I can see that some would be concerned about these things.
Perhaps I have spoken rather too long, but I am speaking up for
some members who might have concerns of this kind.
Mr Gale: If I can summarise, what Mr
Hopkins in his entirely non-partisan introduction was arguing
for was a common sense revolution. We would be extremely grateful
if you would consider this just a little further, let us have
your written observations as to how you feel access within the
House might be improved and if you wish to submit at the same
time any detailed written proposals for changes to the camera
coverage then of course the Committee would welcome those and
would consider them before writing its final report. I would like
to move on now to the whole question of funding of the replacement
cameras and, Mr Lepper, you would like to start on this.
197. I think you said in your introductory remarks,
Mr Phillips, that you felt the cameras in the House of Commons'
Chamber probably did not need replacement.
(Mr Phillips) Not immediately, no.
198. What sort of life-span would you give them?
(Mr Phillips) I am not a technical expert. Certainly
the view that we have had is that provided they are effectively
maintained and parts are replaced they can go on for some time
from here, certainly for another couple of years or so.
(Mr Lloyd) We may be talking five years without too
199. You will forgive me, but all the evidence
we have been given to date suggests that the replacement is imperative
if only to serve the needs of digital television.
(Ms Sloman) They do not have to be digital.
(Mr Lloyd) If one were determining that there is an
imperative need to go towards wide screen digital then of course
the cameras must be replaced, but it is only in that context that
it becomes imperative. It is not that they are about to fall apart
or anything like that.