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Televising Of Proceedings

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1.9 am

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. John Wakeham)

I beg to move,

That a Select Committee of not more than twenty-one Members be appointed to consider the implementation of the Resolution of the House of 9th February in favour of the holding of an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by television and to make recommendations.
That seven be the Quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place; and to report from time to time.
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee's order of reference.
That Mr. Graham Bright, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Don Dixon, Miss Janet Fookes, Mr. Roger Gale, Sir Philip Goodhart, Mr. Alastair Goodlad, Sir Anthony Grant, Mr. Bruce Grocott, Mr. David Harris, Mr. Robert G. Hughes, Mr. David Hunt, Mr. Eric Illsley, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Anthony Nelson, Mr. Merlyn Rees, Joan Ruddock, Mr. Richard Tracey, Mr. John Wakeham and Mr. Brian Wilson be members of the Committee.

The House will know already from the almost weekly progress reports which I have been making at business questions since our debate on 9 February that this is not an easy subject. Since the House's decision that in principle it wished to carry out an experiment in the public broadcasting by television of our proceedings and to establish a Select Committee to make recommendations on the implementation of that experiment, there have been extensive discussions about the setting up and membership of that Committee. Although the proposals I have made have received a broad measure of support, it is clear from the amendments that they are not universally acceptable.

One point on which I hope the whole House agrees is the establishment of the Select Committee, following the resolution of the House of 9 February. The House decided then to hold an experiment in televising, and I am sure that no hon. Member would seek to use this debate as an opportunity to reopen that discussion. The time to consider again the experiment is when the Select Committee has reported. Tonight we are concerned just with setting up that Committee.

The first part of the motion in my name would establish a Select Committee of not more than 21 members, with the customary powers of Select Committees to send for persons, papers and records. In addition, the Select Committee would be able to travel, to make reports and to appoint specialist advisers. The second part of the motion nominates 20 members to serve on the Committee. I have put these names forward, having in mind the need not only to balance the parties, as on any Committee of the House, but to take account of the majority in favour of a televising experiment. I believe that all those nominated will do their best to carry out the will of the House, whatever views they may have expressed during the debate, and I am pleased that these nominations do not seem to be disputed by the House.

The original motion in my name, as hon. Members will have realised, provides for the possibility of one more place on the Committee than the number of those it nominates. Under the conventions of the House for allocating Committee places between parties, this place should go to a member of a minor party. Indeed, a Committee of 21 was put forward with the intention of enabling two members from minor parties to serve. As I said in our debate on 9 February, in response to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), although I could not discuss the exact composition of the Select Committee, I envisaged that it would have as wide a representation as possible of all shades of opinion in all parties in the House, but I made it clear that I could not give the absolute undertaking for which she asked.

If the right hon. Gentleman will refer to Hansard, he will see that he said:

"all parties in the House?"—[Official Report, 9 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 207.]
It is there in black and white.

I also said that there would be representatives of opinion and that I could give no undertaking. The proposition that the Committee should include eight representatives from the minor parties would pretty well need a Committee of the whole House to achieve it.

If the hon. Lady will allow me, I shall do my best to explain why I believe that this is the best way forward.

I had hoped that the two minor party members of the Select Committee would serve as representatives of all the minor parties since, despite their differences on policy, as I believe they recognise, they have some similar interests in this matter. I think that I speak for both the larger parties in the House when I say that we had hoped that the minor parties would be able to agree their representatives among themselves.

As the House knows, that was not the case. On the very day that the motion appeared on the Order Paper—10 March — there also appeared an amendment from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) nominating their colleague the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), and an amendment from the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) and others adding to the Committee the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley).

The discussions at least produced agreement in one respect. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and the hon. Member for Angus, East and their colleagues joined together to propose an amendment that would allow the Select Committee to have 22 members. That amendment appeared on the same day as the amendment from my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), which would reduce the size of the Committee to 20—the number nominated in the original motion.

The intention of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley and the hon. Member for Angus, East in seeking to increase the size of the Committee to 22 is, I understand, to provide places for three Members of minor parties to serve on the Committee. As I said during business questions last week, that is not what it would do. The conventions governing the allocation of places between parties would give that 22nd place to one of my right hon. or hon. Friends. We would need a Committee of at least 35 for the conventional formula to produce a third place for minor parties.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) were appointed, the balance of the House in the context of how the vote was cast on 9 February would not be altered in any way? Why, therefore, must we observe the conventions of the House?

It is for the House to decide whether to abide by the conventions of the House. Those conventions are long-standing. I believe that the Committee should be set up on that basis, which would produce two members for the minor parties.

As I said, I do not believe that an amendment that produces a deviation from the formula and requires either the Government or the Opposition to give up a place on the Committee would be generally acceptable to the House. I shall therefore vote against the amendment. If the amendment is not approved by the House, it will not be possible for the House to approve as additional members of the Committee both the right hon. Member for Strangford and the hon. Member for Caernarfon. Hon. Members would have to choose between them. I am sure that either Member would be an unexceptional member of the Select Committee, and the House might well not wish to argue their personal merits or claims across the Floor. Certainly, I would not consider it appropriate for members of the Government to favour one above the other. In those circumstances, in my view, the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking offers the most useful way forward by reducing the maximum size of the Committee to 20 and we would obviate the need to distinguish between two Members, which many hon. Members might find distasteful.

In saying that, I should like to make it clear that I have consistently recognised that minor parties have a specific view as regards the televising of our proceedings and that we must ensure that there is an opportunity for that properly to be taken into account. I note also that there are particular considerations to be taken into account in the coverage of our proceedings in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. But there is certainly more than one way of achieving that. It could be done by having a second representative on the Select Committee, but there is no reason to suppose that submitting formal evidence to the Select Committee would not also be an effective method. For my part, as Leader of the House, I undertake to ensure that parties not represented on the Committee are properly kept in touch with its work.

I know that there is considerable interest in the debate, Mr. Speaker, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. I am sorry that it has not proved possible to reach a generally acceptable arrangement for minor party representation on the Select Committee—

Would the Leader of the House be so kind as to give the House his views on why both sides have got together to make a composition of this Committee of a quite appallingly flaccid collection of right hon. and hon. Members because they think that, if they do that, they will get this ridiculous and damaging imposition on the House of cameras operating and observing the House in action? Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on the unsuitability of the composition; and what can be done to change it before it is too late?

I brought this upon myself because when the hon. Gentleman made an almost identical point at business questions a week or so ago I said that I wondered whether he would be here late at night to repeat it. He is here, and my answer is the same. I believe that those nominated by me represent an excellent cross-section of hon. Members, who will do a first-class job. I shall invite the House to approve my nominations in a minute.

I am genuinely sorry that it has not been possible to reach a generally acceptable arrangement for minor party representation on the Select Committee. I am especially sorry if the minor party place, which was intended to be helpful, should become a source of discord. As it is, it seems to me that our priority must be to set up the Committee with as little personal rancour as possible so that it can start its work. For that reason, in addition to the motion standing in my name, I shall support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking and I urge the House to do likewise.

Before I call Back-Bench Members, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if we had a general debate on this matter. I will put the amendments at the end, when I will ask the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) to put his amendment first.

1.20 am

I beg to move amendment (a) to the motion, leave out 'twenty-one' arid insert 'twenty'.

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, for that proposition which I am sure will meet with the approval of the House. I do not want to make a long speech or to enter into personalities because the purpose of my amendment is simply to cut the Gordian knot and let us get on with it. It is undesirable that we should be detained late at night splitting hairs about which minor party has the greater say, or about the personalities who should serve on the Committee. What we really want to do is to get on with setting up the Committee so that it can get on with its work.

I understand that it is desirable that that should be started before Easter and I do not suppose that anyone, whichever point of view they take on the general question of the merits of televising, would dissent from the proposition that we should get on with it.

I very much hope that the minor parties will not feel that in some way they are being snubbed or downgraded. If their experience of this House, which they should value, is as great as I think it is, they will not be denied the opportunity to give evidence. I am fairly certain that they will all come to give evidence to the Committee and will not in the least be inhibited by the fact that they are not members of it. They may be encouraged by that, as may other hon. Members who may have valid views to put, without necessarily having the disadvantage of being members of a minor party because the Committee will no doubt be eager to take evidence from all Members of the House, even from the representatives of the professional actors in our midst.

It is a simple proposition. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has examined the mathematics and the conventions that bind us. It is quite clear that it would be objectionable to establish a Committee of 22; it appears impossible to establish a Committee of 21; so let us establish a Committee of 20 and let them get on with it without hanging about any more.

1.22 am

I beg to move amendment (b), to leave out 'twenty-one' and insert `twenty-two'.

Tonight, unfortunately, we have an example of the House of Commons making a mockery of its claim to being the protector of minorities and of democracy. We are being invited to set up a Select Committee to consider televising the proceedings of the House.

The motion and the first amendment seek to ensure that only two of the four parts of the United Kingdom shall be represented on the Select Committee. Wales and Northern Ireland are to be deprived of places because they are minorities that can be disregarded. Despite its reputation, the House dislikes minorities. They are inconvenient and different, which is not surprising since Parliament continually legislates to make them different.

The affront to parliamentary democracy arises from another phenomenon. This may help the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who raised a point earlier. I refer to the cosy relationship between the two Front Benches. England has to be favoured because it provides the elected majority for the Government, and Scotland must be thrown a bone or two because it provides a solid block of Labour sets. For those reasons, the Front Benches do a deal, and consequently democracy bites the dust.

You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that on 9 February, only a few minutes after the House voted for the proceedings to be televised, my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) raised a point of order, pointing out that the broadcasting authorities in Northern Ireland had banned the sound broadcasting of our proceedings. He asked for Northern Ireland representation on the Select Committee.

I shall not be so unfair, Mr. Speaker, as to misinterpret your words: they are there in Hansard. You said:
"I am sure that that request will have been heard by those responsible." —[Official Report, 9 February; Vol. 127, c. 288.]
I do not doubt that it was heard, but it has not been heeded. Nor, I fear, will many of our representations and submissions be heeded, any more than representations on many an issue from the Unionists, SNP and Welsh Nationalist Benches have been heeded in past months and years.

I wrote to the Leader of the House nominating my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford. My request, as we see, has been brushed aside. Not only have the two Front Benches declined to nominate him for a place, but, to make doubly sure, they are now removing the place.

This point must exercise all our minds, and I hope that someone will clear the matter up before the end of the debate. I feel that the Leader of the House has the ability and the capacity to so so. If the subject of the debate were a Bill of vital importance to the Government we would understand and accept the need for the Government to be assured of a majority on the Committee. This Committee, however, results from a free vote on an issue that cannot possibly affect the standing or authority of Her Majesty's Government. Why, then, do the Government insist on adherence to convention and the ratio on Committees? The divide on the Committee will be between those who are for and those who are against television, not between those for and those against the Government. Even the for-and-against balance would not be upset by a membership of 22. As I understand it, the two hon. Members whose names appear in the later amendments would be on opposite sides of the question. They can confirm that.

On behalf of all three parties, I beg the Government to rid themselves of this obsession with dominating the House of Commons and its Committees. To Her Majesty's Opposition, I say that both they and the Government will lose nothing by displaying a little generosity and a little flexibility.

1.27 am

The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) has spoken with conviction, and I think that the House will understand his reasons for wishing to press the claim for the representation of his party, and Northern Ireland, on the Committee. As a proponent of the principle of broadcasting, however—the only one to speak in the debate so far—I feel that it is important that I, at last, should state my wholehearted support for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

I do not go along with the right hon. Gentleman's view that this should be essentially a Back-Bench and nonpartisan, or non-governmental, issue. I believe first that the Government have a legitimate interest in the considerations of the Select Committee and their eventual outcome, and secondly that the way in which such affairs are managed in the House involves the usual channels and a certain amount of organisation and understanding—which, I think, has brought us to the point at which we find ourselves tonight.

While the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) would undoubtedly make an objective and able contributor to the Select Committee's proceedings, he was an opponent of televising, as were the signatories to the amendment proposing him for membership. That would undoubtedly upset the proposed balance of nine to 11.

The House should reflect on the fact that the minority parties have been given an opportunity in the construction of the amendment to get their act together and bring forward a member in addition to the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) to represent the minority parties. The answer was in their hands. I regret that there will not be a representative in addition to the hon. Member for Ross Cromarty and Skye, because there are special considerations in Northern Ireland and, I say to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), there are particular considerations in Wales. Those considerations are important and should be drawn to the attention of the Select Committee. However, it is a failure of the minority parties, rather than the failure of the House, in not getting their act together and enabling themselves to be put on the Select Committee since the opportunity was generously provided by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House by facilitating that provision in the terms of his motion.

I voted in favour of the motion and my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) voted against it. Therefore, it would be wrong to draw a red herring and say that my right hon. Friend would be speaking against televising, thereby upsetting the balance because the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) takes entirely the other position. We are saying that on the Select Committee there should be a representative from Wales and a representative from Northern Ireland, because, as the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) said, there are particular issues affecting those areas.

I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I believe that whether they be proponents or opponents of the principle, all hon. Members whose names have been considered for inclusion on the Committee will do a workmanlike job within the remit that the House has set and will wish to present a report that will command the respect and authority of the House. However, the complexion of the Committee is important in terms of the respect it can command, not only within the House but outside. Regard has to be given to whether Members voted for or against the principle.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, if the two hon. Members who have been proposed were appointed to the Committee and it had 22 members, there would still not be an anti-Government majority. Since each of the two Members proposed holds a different view on televising the House, it would not change the overall attitude of the Committee.

I understand the point made by the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not accept it for two reasons. First, the House has to decide what is a reasonable working size for a Select Committee.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is my view. I have to say that 21 members is a considerable size and, of course, 22 would be larger. Secondly, with respect to the right hon. Member for Strangford, I do not accept the argument that the balance will not be altered. The representation of 11 proponents and nine opponents on a Select Committee will almost exactly reflect the proportions voting when the motion was brought before the House. If the representation were to be increased significantly, the balance would be changed and the House should have regard to that.

For those reasons, I believe that the House would do well to take the advice of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. He has had an exceedingly difficult task in trying to strike the right balance and in seeking to take into account the views of all minority parties, the Opposition and opponents and proponents. Therefore, I hope that the House will support his motion.

1.34 am

We are discussing tonight the setting up of the Committee that is to examine the intention to introduce the cameras to observe what goes on in House of Commons and to convey to the public outside an immediate impression of how we conduct our business. It is really disgraceful that this issue, which is going to involve a change in the procedures of the House and which will affect very gravely the conduct of hon. Members in the House, should be discussed at this time of night. We started this debate at four minutes past I in the morning. Instead of a full House to discuss this issue, we have the payroll vote. That is not much in evidence at the moment, but after midnight when the Government need it, the payroll vote comes out like worms from the wainscotting, and undoubtedly they will be here when the vote is called.

Of course, we have on our side a collection of the inexperienced, the young Members, who really have not yet learned how the House conducts its business, and many of whom do not frequently utter in the House. They —eager beavers—have turned up tonight either out of their own keenness or because it is a good idea to keep in cahoots with the present leadership of the party because the present leadership of the party thinks that this would be a healthy introduction. These young Members, with their lack of experience, think they are all going to become national stars overnight. With most of their performances, there is not a hope in hell.

I have to say to my very distinguished leader, for whom I have great affection, that if he thinks he is going to become a star overnight he has an unhappy realisation coming to him, as does the Prime Minister, that that camera moving in closely on them is going to expose them in the cruellest fashion for the public to observe how they behave, both of them, in this small, confined Chamber of ours.

We have got to discuss this issue at this time of night because the expectation of the usual get-together of the two Front Benches is that at this time of night there will be less opposition, Members who would want to speak will not be here because they will be in bed—they have got more sense than to be here at this time of night—and of course because most of them who are going to be here are going to be those who will support the introduction of the cameras.

These timings of debates do not happen by accident. We have very subtle operators in the Government Whips Office. We have somewhat less subtle operators in the Opposition Whips Office. They are more easily—I must not use the word "conned", as it may be unparliamentary — they have a predisposition to have the wool pulled over their eyes, and we have suffered the effects of that since last June. There may be, of course, changes in the future. I am not putting myself forward for that sort of job, not with this crowd.

We have to discuss the composition of this Committee, and I think it is quite insulting that the Government and of course the Opposition Whips and the shadow Leader should decide that we discuss it at this time. But I think what is particularly insulting is that two very distinguished members of the minor parties are going to be excluded by the intention of the Government and with the connivance of the Opposition. May I say the inclusion of those two particular hon. Members would much improve the calibre of the suggested membership of this Committee. They have got more backbone than most of the rest of the collection put together.

I did describe very accurately the intended members of this Committee as a flaccid bunch. I do not retract either word, except I can think of a worse one than bunch. But we had, when we went through the farce of the vote about this matter, a 6:1 majority on our side of the House—in the PPL — for the introduction of the cameras. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear"]I hear one lone voice at this time of night. Excellent. We have this disproportion of votes, six to one, for the introduction because pressures had been brought to bear on the young and inexperienced.[Interruption.] We do not always get visitations in the Tea Room, as we did 24 hours and 48 hours before this matter was discussed. But, fairly, the parliamentary Labour party decided that we would have the same proportion on the Committee. Therefore, we have the six Members for and I shall try to be charitable and not mention even their constituencies, let alone their names.

I do not wish to be insulting to one of my young colleagues. Before I make any comment I want to make it clear that whatever I say does not reflect in any way on my admirable young colleague. But, for the shadow Leader to decide, in a clever trick, that he would lessen the opposition, not by choosing my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who does know something about the procedures of the House and has some experience, to oppose this, or even my admirable hon. Friend the Member for Worthington, who is a procedural specialist—[HON. MEMBERS: "Workington."] He has been a pain in your neck, Mr. Speaker, for many years.

; Is that "Worthington" as in, "Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington"?

I am sorry, I did not hear what my hon. Friend said because this loquacious windbag at my side, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), never stops talking, so I cannot reply. I am sorry, my hand slipped and my Order Paper has hit him on the head. Oh, sorry, I have done it again.

Instead of choosing even a tired old warhorse like the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) who does have some knowledge of the procedures of the House, who has been here for quite a long time and who knows the tricks of the media men, that hon. Gentleman must be kept off the Committee. Because any one of those three might have been effective in the arguments in Committee, not in opposing the introduction of the cameras but in seeing that proper restraints were laid; seeing that proper regard was given to the House controlling what was done with our proceedings.

What does the clever shadow Leader of the House do? He plays what I can only describe—I have sent him a copy of a letter that I have written to one of his hon. Friends— as a shabby little trick. He has not only cheated the Committee of a proper membership that could have made effective arguments about safeguards, but he has made life very difficult for a young colleague of ours who should not have been treated with such scant disregard. That young hon. Member will know what I mean in a few months' time when he has had to live through the proceedings of the Committee.

Now I shall finish my speech—[Interruption.] I have sat up a long time and I shall finish my speech, however much I may be interrupted by my hon. Friends who want to oppose my ideas.

We should have an effective membership in the composition of the Committee because what will be decided by the Committee will affect massively, much more than most of the unthinking Members on both sides of the House have considered, the conduct of Members.

We in the Labour party have a new procedure whereby one has to be reselected. My goodness, won't some of our young lads be eager to prove themselves in this Chamber. With reselection coming up, what better could an hon. Member do than mount a demonstration of his virility or macho-ness as a Member? What will happen to those hon. Members who usually have slight regard for the disciplines of the Chair? Will they be well behaved, better behaved or worse behaved when the cameras come in? We all know the answer to that. The answer is that they will be much worse behaved. We have all been guilty of it, even those sitting near and dear to me.

We shall also find that the effect of the introduction of the cameras will inevitably alter the procedures of the House.

"Good", some young fellow shouts. The traditions of the House and the experience of the many hundreds of Members over many, many years have produced the procedures of the House. Some young whippersnapper says, "Good", when there is a comment about changing the procedures of the House. The procedures of the House are going to be changed to the damage of the conduct of its business. If most of my hon. Friends on both sides of the House have not considered that, they should start doing so pretty quickly.

Finally, I have to make a comment about you, Mr. Speaker. Your life and your work in the House will be made insufferable. You will be inundated with exercises of display, Standing Order No. 20 applications, and demonstrations such as we had from an ill-judged young Scot the other day. The life of the Speaker in the Chamber and his problems with discipline will be enormously magnified.

When we introduce this —no doubt the Government and our Front Bench will carry this business—when it is introduced, let me give a little advice to the House. The intention of the Committee is probably that we shall have a short-lived experiment. Please, please, do not have a short-lived experiment.

Television cameras are in the House of Lords, recording and reporting what the Peers do and say. The media boys have conducted that experiment with considerable control and responsibility. Once the cameras come in here on a six-month experiment, we will have the same soft-glove responsible treatment. We shall then vote for the introduction of this ghastly innovation. What will happen? The media men will then be off. We shall have let them off the leash. They will do what they want with what goes on in this Chamber. It will not be just the responsible ITN people. It will not be just the responsible BBC people. Satellite, cable and God knows what will have a right to report what goes on in this place. How will they report it?

I urge my colleagues that if the cameras come in here for an experimental period, make it at least a year. Make it preferably a year and a half or two years because in that time those irresponsible people up there who want this place for entertainment and not for information to the public will have managed to forget the restraints that they think will help them to get the experiment carried. We will then see how they will treat this place. Give them their head, let us have a one-and-a-half year experiment. I will take any money with any of my right hon. and hon. Friends that after that long period every single hon. Member in the House will want to get the damn things out again.

1.47 am

Not having the theatrical training of the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), I shall not try to emulate him, but I shall make two comments on his speech. First, in arguing against the advance of television into this place, he could apply those arguments equally to the use of the written word, and I disagree fundamentally with him. Secondly, I thank the hon. Gentleman for the very strong compliments that he paid to the hon. Members whom we should like to see taking their places on the Select Committee on the televising of the House.

In the light of the remarks of the Leader of the House, I make it clear that no SNP Member opposes the experiment of televising the House. Indeed, we are the only group in the House to record a 100 per cent. vote for the televising of the House. One of the reasons why we were willing to participate in that debate and to advance the cause of televising the House was recorded in the words of the Leader of the House on 9 February in column 207 of Hansard when he gave a very strong indication that the rights of minorities in the House would be observed.

It was interesting that the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) said that the exclusion of minority parties from the Committee would not deny us our democratic rights. I suggest that there is clearly a distinct difference between participating in the discussions of the Committee and presenting evidence. If the right hon. Member for Woking thinks about it, he will recognise that clear distinction. Why should minority parties be denied the fundamental right to participate in this Committee which is to consider what is to happen in this place not just at the end of the 20th century but in the 21st century?

The comments of the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) defy logic. He said that the minority parties should get their act together and that they must not upset the balance of the Committee, but the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and I have already pointed out that the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and the right hon. Member for Strangford would in no way upset the balance of the Committee. The hon. Member for Chichester said that the House must decide the size of the Committee—the 20, 21 or 22 issue. The House must take account of the views of hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman said that 11 proponents and nine opponents is more acceptable than 12 proponents and 10 opponents, but I do not agree. Perhaps it is my Scottish education, but I cannot understand the difference between 11 and nine and 12 and 10.

The televising of the House is a new concept, and we should therefore adopt a new approach. The convention is that there should be a Government majority on Committees, but this is not a Government Committee. It is a Committee of the House of Commons. It is a question of democracy because the decision was taken after a free vote in this place.

If the hon. Lady is saying that the Government party is not entitled to be represented in accordance with its numerical strength, why does she assert so loudly her claim, as a member of a minority party and on behalf of the other minority parties, to greater preeminence?

The right hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. I said that there was a free vote in the House of Commons. Individual Members decided how to vote according to their conscience, not according to their party Whip. Therefore the Committee should reflect the views of individual Members.

If the hon. Lady follows the logic of her argument, does she not accept that if the vote was on an individual basis there are 630 hon. Members who cannot serve on the Committee? How can she possibly argue for representation according to party when she says that the matter was decided on a free vote? If a Welsh Member were to sit on the Committee, it would probably be a member of the Labour party rather than a member of a minority party.

I intend to pursue that argument. If the hon. Gentleman had wished a Labour Member of Parliament with a Welsh constituency to serve on the Committee, he should have pursued it through the usual channels, which the minority parties cannot usually use.

I believe that the rights of minority parties are fundamental. Any democracy is judged by how it treats minorities. We may dislike minorities and we may disagree with them. On many occasions I have disagreed with the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), but I respect his right and that of his party to express their point of view.

There should be 22 seats on the Committee. That would allow three minority representatives to serve on it. We ignore the rights and the aspirations of minorities at our peril. History shows us what happens when the rights of minorities are ignored.

It is said that it is a convention of the House that all its rules and regulations should be observed. It has been argued that it is a convention of the House to nominate a Committee. In this case the agreement was that there should be a Committee of 21 members. Yet the Committee of Selection refused to nominate 21. That, I understand, defies the normal convention of the House. It indicates to me that the Committee of Selection was not prepared to bite the bullet. It was not prepared to decide as between the minorities within the House of Commons who should be nominated to the Committee. It seems wrong to use the argument of convention to defend the Government and then attack us because we are looking for a place on that Committee to support our rights.

To be fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) and the Committee of Selection, the nominations came from me, not from that Committee, which did not consider these names at all.

In that case, I make it clear that the Leader of the House was not prepared to bite the bullet and decide which Member should serve on the Committee.

It may surprise hon. Members to learn that one of the suggestions that was passed on to my hon. Friends and the hon. Members on the Bench behind me was that we should toss a coin to decide which Member should be on the Committee. That is a travesty of democracy and justice, and denies the rights of all hon. Members.

I urge all hon. Members to remember the rights of minorities and of individuals, if they are genuinely concerned to make the Committee work so that we can reach the right conclusions on how the experiment should be conducted. There is no way in which the appointment of the right hon. Member for Strangford and my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon could adversely affect the balance of the Committee.

I urge hon. Members most sincerely to search their consciences. Do they believe in the rights of minorities or do they not? Democracy is based on the rights of minorities and individuals and that is what our joint amendment is about. I ask the House to support the suggestion that there be a Committee of 22 to take account of all views in the House.

1.57 am

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) has just said. She accused my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of failing to bite the bullet, but in reality it is the minor parties who have failed to bite the bullet. They were given the opportunity, along with the hon. Members from the Ulster Unionist party, to have a representative on the Committee. Between them they could have reached a decision as to who should represent their interests. They had a responsibility to the people who elected them to ensure that they were represented on the Committee. They have failed; they have not even tried to reach a decision.

Ulster Unionist Members did reach a conclusion—that we both have an equal right to serve on the Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman not believe in equality?

I think, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Lady gives away her point in response to what I said. A decision had to be made. There is such a thing as the mathematics of the composition of the House. We have rights, too. We have a substantial majority of Members. Therefore, we want to be represented. I refer not just to Members who, like me, voted in favour of televising, but those of my hon. Friends who voted against as well. They have rights, too, and they are entitled to representation.

The hon. Gentleman talks about rights. Is it right that these parties should have been totally excluded? There will be many Conservative members, there will be members from the Labour party, but there will be no members of Plaid Cymru or the SNP or the Ulster Unionists.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. It is not right that those parties should not be represented on the Committee, but it is entirely their own fault and they have only themselves to blame. They should be ashamed of themselves for wasting the time of the House at this hour and for holding up the establishment of this important Select Committee.

Is it entirely the fault of the two minority parties involved in this debate that Wales and Northern Ireland are excluded from the Committee?

All they had to do was to nominate someone to serve. That hon. Member would have been on the Committee already, we would not be having this debate and the establishment of the Select Committee would not have been held up for so long.

I have one more point to make. Members of Opposition parties have said on several occasions that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave a commitment that all parties would be represented. Hansard shows that he did not make that commitment. What he said has been misrepresented by hon. Members. I shall quote what was said:

Would the Leader of the House expect such a Select Committee to have adequate representation from all parties?

…I envisage that it would have as wide a representation of all shades of opinion in all parties in the House, but I cannot give the absolute undertaking for which the hon. Lady asks." —[Official Report, 9 February 1988; Vol. 127, c. 207.]

No one reading that could believe that my right hon. Friend was saying that all parties would be represented.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are eight minority parties in the House of Commons? Does he believe that one in eight is adequate representation for those minorities' views?

The minority parties have tried the patience of the House on this matter. They must understand that it is their fault if they are underrepresented. They have failed their electorate and the House.

2.3 am

First, I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on his comments about my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), who is on the Committee on the basis of interest and merit and who certainly does not deserve to be showered with sour grapes by the old thespian himself before the Committee has even been established.

My hon. Friend must really not take on an old timer with such rubbish. I checked: my young colleague, for whom I have great respect, was asked, and did not volunteer, to sit on the Committee.

As the hon. Member in question, may I make it clear that I was not asked to serve on the said Committee?

I am pleased to have been able to perform a conciliatory act.

Some time ago, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) began the racial myth that has run through the entire debate. He said that bones were thrown to Scots Labour Members because of their predominance on the Opposition Benches. That is patently untrue. A proportionate representation on the Committee would put three or four Labour Scots Members on it— but there is only one, and that is me. I am on it not because I am a Scot, but because I take an intelligent interest in broadcasting and journalism.

The real nonsense of the selective use of the words "protecting minorities" comes from the Ulster Unionists, who suddenly appear as one splendid, united force to put forward their nominee. As I understand it, at any other time in the House, they do not even sit all on one side of the House. There are popular Unionists and unpopular Unionists; democratic Unionists and undemocratic Unionists—[Interruption.] For the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley to stand up as the standard bearer of Unionism and say that his purpose in life is to defend minorities is stretching credibility.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman giving way. I hope that his knowledge of Ulster Unionism is not a reflection of his understanding of television and broadcasting, because then he will not serve very well on the Select Committee.

The Ulster Unionists sit on this side of the House and we are united. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) on Saturday, he would have realised that my right hon. Friend has defended the rights of minorities not only tonight but on other occasions.

The right hon. Gentleman merely demonstrates the point. If he is speaking only for the Unionists who usually sit on the Opposition Benches—[HON. MEMBERS: "Always."]—he then does not speak for the Unionists who usually sit on the Government side of the House. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who leads the Democratic Unionists, does so.

I am very interested in this sudden outbreak of unity. I assume that in the European Parliament they would all sit with Monsieur Le Pen, if they were all that united, because that is where the nominee put forward tonight usually sits.

There are eight minority parties in the House. There is not a member of the Social Democratic and Labour party in the Chamber tonight. The idea that there is a voice for Northern Ireland that would speak in the Select Committee for Northern Ireland strikes me as preposterous. Equally, I believe that the outbreak of unity—

No, I will not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, the hon. Lady has had her chance. I am trying to debate.

Equally, the unity of Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party on this issue rings less than true. I am sure that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) does not need reminding that if she and the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) had not defied the wishes of Plaid Cymru in 1979, they might be a big party instead of a small party—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I believe that there is a strong case for the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) to take his place on the Select Committee because I believe that there is a case for linguistic minorities, apart from anything else, being represented on the Select Committee. But he and other hon. Members on that side do no good for the argument by lumping themselves together as a united party of convenience in order to try to divide the Committee along racial lines rather than along the lines of genuine interest within the debate and along the sides of the House.

Will the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) not accept that his jibe about racism was really very unworthy of him, and that in Northern Ireland and Wales, which he has accepted in terms of a linguistic problem, very different issues come into play with regard to television and broadcasting? It is not a racist matter at all. It is a different issue.

What I said, as I am sure Hansard will show, is "along racial lines" or lines of national identity. That is not what the Select Committee is about.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) says that that issue is involved. But the precise point is that, because 12 hon. Members come from Northern Ireland, the idea that on an issue like this they speak with one voice—[HON. MEMBERS: "There are 17."]—or that 17 hon. Members from Northern Ireland speak with one voice for Northern Ireland on an issue like this is nonsense. I do not think that the House should fall for that tonight.

This Committee should be formed in the way suggested, and while it would be better if there were two minority party places, if they cannot agree among themselves, let there be one minority party place. There will be plenty of other Committees on which all eight minority parties will be able to fight for the right to have a place.

2.10 am

I welcome the fact that we are having this debate, albeit at such a late hour. I welcome the proposal to establish the Committee and I welcome its membership as suggested by the Leader of the House. I recognise that there are eight minority parties in the House and that not all of them can be represented on the Committee. It will be necessary, therefore, to establish the sort of machinery—and make sure it works—about which the Leader of the House spoke so that the interests of the various countries and regions are properly represented, bearing in mind the different ways in which their broadcasting authorities are organised and work. I pledge that we shall do our level best, whatever the outcome of the voting tonight, to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom are properly dealt with.

It is equally important that the full range of opinion in the Hoise is reflected on the Committee, for that spread of opinion varies from those who do not want televising at any price to some who would have it at almost any price, with the whole spectrum of views between the two, and I hope that the Committee will represent them all. If those on this side who are not directly represented wish to make representations through Committee Members, they will be welcome to do so, and I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will make provision for that to happen on the Government Benches.

For all those reasons, I welcome the proposal and hope that we will get on quickly so that the cameras can be introduced in October.

2.12 am

Hon. Members in all parts of the House want the Select Committee to report rapidly. To that end, it is to be hoped that its members will not find it necessary to travel here, there and everywhere. For example, there should be no need for them to visit New Zealand to view television there. My fear is that if they went that far they could obtain a world class ticket that would enable them to stop off anywhere en route.

I hope that the Committee will not find it necessary to watch television in Italy, like the members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, or to visit Boston, Philadelphia and other American cities to view television, as the Employment Select Committee Members have done, spending several hundred thousand pounds in the process.

I urge all the members of the Committee to recognise that the issue concerns this House and no other. They should tackle the matter with urgency and resist the temptation — to which virtually every other Select Committee, apart from the Statutory Instruments Committee, has given way—to join the travel club.

I think that it will be unnecessary for this Committee to go abroad. It will have the advantage, over all other Select Committees, of having videos of the televising of other chambers, and they can be seen in this building.

Before my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) comes over too virtuous, I urge him to recall a recent meeting of the House of Commons Commission at which we agreed to vote considerable funds to permit him to entertain foreign visitors, under the aegis of the Statutory Instruments Select Committee.

Question put, That amendment (a) be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 153, Noes 35.

Division No. 241]

[2.15 am

AYES

Amess, DavidFoulkes, George
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Fox, Sir Marcus
Ashby, DavidFreeman, Roger
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Galbraith, Sam
Baldry, TonyGarel-Jones, Tristan
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Golding, Mrs Llin
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Goodlad, Alastair
Barron, KevinGow, Ian
Batiste, SpencerGraham, Thomas
Boscawen, Hon RobertGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Bottomley, PeterGriffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaGrist, Ian
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHanley, Jeremy
Bright, GrahamHarris, David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHaynes, Frank
Browne, John (Winchester)Hayward, Robert
Burt, AlistairHeathcoat-Amory, David
Butcher, JohnHind, Kenneth
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs LyndaHome Robertson, John
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHoward, Michael
Chope, ChristopherHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Cope, JohnHunt, David (Wirral W)
Couchman, JamesHunter, Andrew
Currie, Mrs EdwinaIllsley, Eric
Darling, AlistairIngram, Adam
Dixon, DonJackson, Robert
Dobson, FrankKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Doran, FrankKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Dorrell, StephenKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKnowles, Michael
Durant, TonyLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Eastham, KenLang, Ian
Fairbairn, NicholasLee, John (Pendle)
Fallon, MichaelLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fisher, MarkLewis, Terry
Forman, NigelLightbown, David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Lilley, Peter
Foster, DerekLloyd, Peter (Fareham)

Lord, MichaelRoe, Mrs Marion
Luce, Rt Hon RichardRogers, Allan
Lyell, Sir NicholasRuddock, Joan
McAllion, JohnRumbold, Mrs Angela
McAvoy, ThomasRyder, Richard
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Sackville, Hon Tom
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Maclean, DavidSayeed, Jonathan
McLeish, HenryScott, Nicholas
McLoughlin, PatrickShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Madden, MaxSoames, Hon Nicholas
Major, Rt Hon JohnSoley, Clive
Maples, JohnSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mates, MichaelStern, Michael
Maxton, JohnStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickStewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Mellor, DavidStradling Thomas, Sir John
Michael, AlunSumberg, David
Mitchell, David (Hants NW)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Moore, Rt Hon JohnThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Morrison, Hon Sir CharlesTrippier, David
Morrison, Hon P (Chester)Twinn, Dr Ian
Neale, GerrardWaddington, Rt Hon David
Neubert, MichaelWakeham, Rt Hon John
Newton, Rt Hon TonyWaldegrave, Hon William
Nicholls, PatrickWard, John
O'Neill, MartinWareing, Robert N.
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyWiddecombe, Ann
Patten, Chris (Bath)Wilson, Brian
Patten, John (Oxford W)Wolfson, Mark
Portillo, MichaelWood, Timothy
Prescott, John
Rees, Rt Hon MerlynTellers for the Ayes:
Renton, TimSir Anthony Grant and
Riddick, GrahamMr. Anthony Nelson.
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)

NOES

Beggs, RoyNellist, Dave
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Primarolo, Dawn
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Salmond, Alex
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Sims, Roger
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Skinner, Dennis
Canavan, DennisSmyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Cryer, BobTaylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Faulds, AndrewThomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)Tracey, Richard
Gale, RogerWalker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Janman, TimWall, Pat
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Wallace, James
Jones, leuan (Ynys M00F4;n)Wigley, Dafydd
Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineWise, Mrs Audrey
Kennedy, Charles
Livsey, RichardTellers for the Noes:
McCusker, HaroldMr. William Ross and
Maginnis, KenMr. Andrew Welsh.
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That a Select Committee of not more than twenty Members be appointed to consider the implementation of the Resolution of the House of 9th February in favour of the holding of an experiment in the public broadcasting of its proceedings by television and to make recommendations.
That seven be the Quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; to sit notwithstanding any Adjournment of the House; to adjourn from place to place; and to report from time to time.
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the Committee's order of reference.
That Mr. Graham Bright, Mr. Frank Dobson, Mr. Don Dixon, Miss Janet Fookes, Mr. Roger Gale, Sir Philip Goodhart, Mr. Alastair Goodlad, Sir Anthony Grant, Mr. Bruce Grocott, Mr. David Harris, Mr. Robert G. Hughes, Mr. David Hunt, Mr. Eric Illsley, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. Anthony Nelson, Mr. Merlyn Rees, Ms. Joan Ruddock, Mr. Richard Tracey, Mr. John Wakeham and Mr. Brian Wilson be members of the Committee.