Televising UK Parliament

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The first proceedings to be televised of UK Parliament were, the Debate on the Address in November 1989, and the first televised speech which was by Ian Gow, a Conservative opponent of the original experiment.

Currently, The House of Commons is trialing live British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation of Prime Minister’s Questions which began in February 2020.

Prime Minister’s Question Time, also referred to as PMQs, takes place every Wednesday that the House of Commons is sitting and gives MPs the chance to put questions to the Prime Minister.

Anthony Mitchell

I am one of a team of interpreters who, with Red Bee Media are involved in providing this segment of the House of Commons business each week.

History of Parliament TV

Since 2008 the House of Commons and House of Lords have become major publishers of audio and video on the internet. Live and on demand streams are made available for all proceedings, via www.parliamentlive.tv On busy days there can be more than 70 hours of live coverage.

To support this activity the Broadcasting Unit relies on the efforts of its television contractor Bow Tie Television to produce the output and maintain the equipment, and also on the Westminster Sound team who produce and maintain the audio output.

Recipients of the broadcast feed include BBC Parliament, which transmits live Commons coverage and more recently live coverage of the Lords and Committees when time allows. Committees are filmed when requested by media companies.

1964 – A Select Committee recommends a trial period of televising Parliament.

John Reith

The BBC’s first Director-General, John Reith, had wanted to broadcast Parliament from the formation of the British Broadcasting Company BBC in 1922. He proposed live radio coverage of the King’s Speech or the Budget statement but the Government rejected the idea. Whenever the prospect of broadcasting Parliament was raised in the Commons during the 1920s and 1930s it was always rejected by the Prime Minister of the day.

In 1944 the Speaker refused a request by the BBC to record any post war victory speech, advising that it was a matter for the House to decide.

Clement Attlee

Clement Attlee’s Labour Governemnt set up an inquiry into broadcasting headed up by Sir William Beveridge, but in 1949 his committee advised that the effect of broadcasting proceedings would be harmful.

When the new Commons Chamber opened in 1950 it included microphones for the first time, but it took another 38 years for the Speaker’s cry of “Order! Order!” to be heard on the airwaves.

Finally, on 8th December 1983, the House of Lords led the way by voting in favour of a live television experiment.

House of Lords

The Upper House was first broadcast experimentally on 23rd January 1985 when the Earl of Stockton (formerly Harold Macmillan, the Conservative Prime Minister) stole the show with a critique of the Government’s economic policies Broadcasts were made permanent soon after.

House of Commons

Even after the House of Lords was televised there was still considerable resistance from MPs over extending this to the Commons. When Members debated an experiment in late 1985 it was narrowly rejected by 275 votes to 263.

Three years later in a free vote there was a majority of 54 in favour of a six month experiment. The rest they say, is history.

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