In a series of occasional posts, we look back at publications from the Hansard Society’s archives.
In 1963 the BBC journalist Robin Day wrote a pamphlet published by the Society arguing the case for televising Parliament. He was already convinced of the need for cameras in the Commons – he had made the point in a broader book about television two years earlier – but the news coverage of the Commons debate about the Profumo scandal renewed his desire to push for reform.
The pamphlet begins:
“One wet and windy night this year a small group of men were huddled together underneath dripping umbrellas in Parliament Square, a few feet from Abraham Lincoln’s Statue. The time was 10.15pm and the date Monday June 17th 1963. Across the Square, the House of Commons had just voted in the most critical division for many years, after the debate on the Profumo scandal.
The men who sheltered under the umbrellas were Members of Parliament and reporters. They were taking part in a BBC television report on the division, in which 27 Conservatives abstained. The MPs had rushed out from the lobbies to join the Panorama outside broadcast team waiting across the road in Parliament Square.
The news, the occasion, and the weather made it a dramatic broadcast. But it was a lamentably awkward and secondhand way of using television. Many people, including MPs, suddenly realised how television is hamstrung in its efforts to communicate important Parliamentary proceedings to the public.”
Following the 1964 election a select committee began examining the case for televising the Commons. It recommended a trial period, with the results shown only to MPs for a final decision, but MPs voted against the idea. It would be another quarter of a century until, in 1989, proceedings were finally broadcast from the Commons. By then, the House of Lords had taken the lead, with their first broadcast in January 1985.