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The 1959 Hansard trawl - featuring an early proposal for televising parliament

So much for my self-denying ordinance, but I need to do this to hold onto my sanity after some of the grief work has been furnishing.

In which Nye Bevan is rude about my lot:

"It must not be understood always that the success of the party opposite has been consistent with the national well-being. The party opposite has won victories before and the consequences for the nation were calamitous. It won in 1931 and its massive majority here presided over massive industrial decay in the country. The party opposite won in 1935 by a very large majority and made its peculiar contribution to the policies that led to the Second World War. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I had not thought it necessary to arm myself with the quotations, because I thought that the speeches of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) were familiar to Members on both sides of the House. I could also have armed myself with the speeches of the present Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members opposite are so thin-skinned in victory, how thin-skinned might they be in defeat?"

Not quite as pithy as "No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party . . . So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.”


It would not be an exaggeration to say that the way in which the party opposite uses its victory and the large Parliamentary majority that it now commands may be responsible for the future of democratic government in the Western world. There is no reason whatever why we in this House should be complacent about the situation. Democracy is not very powerfully established in Portugal or Spain, and in France it could hardly be described at present as a classic form of Parliamentary government. 

Whereas Labour always uses its majorities so wisely....  I would have been inclined to say the Iberian nations laboured under dictatorships, personally.

So - time for a five year plan, and lots of steel plants

Personally, I think that one of the problems is democratic education. One of the most remarkable differences between the climate of opinion, for example, in the Soviet Union and in Great Britain is the extent to which economic education has proceeded there as against here. Whatever its defects—and there are many—there are very few citizens in the Soviet Union who are not aware of the relationship between personal and public consumption and who do not realise, grimly and oppressively, that it is necessary, if the economic foundations of society are to be expanded, that the basic industries must first have their share of the national income before personal consumption can rise very much.

On less controversial ground:

"There is a lessening interest in our discussions. We are not reaching the country to the extent that we did. It can no longer be argued that the national newspapers are means of communication between the House of Commons and the public. The fact is that Parliamentary reporting has become a sheer travesty. Apart from a few responsible, solid newspapers with small circulations, the debates in this House are hardly reported at all, and such reports as take place are, as hon. Members on both sides know, a complete travesty of our proceedings. I am not making a special attack upon the newspapers. It may be that the demands of circulation make it impossible for them to report our proceedings at any length"

By today's standards, 1959 was the very Elysium...

And he would not approve of the scrum on College Green, judging from this:

The same can be said of the radio and even more can be said of television. Recently, and not only recently but for some years now, there has grown up what I consider a most humiliating state of affairs in which Members of the House are picked out to take part in television broadcasts at the ipse dixit of the bureaucracy at Broadcasting House. In fact, there has been nothing more humiliating than to see Members of Parliament in responsible positions selected by unrepresentative persons to have an opportunity of appearing on the radio and the television.  In my opinion, there is something essentially squalid—I use the term "squalid"—in Members of Parliament beginning increasingly to rely upon fees provided by bureaucrats in the B.B.C. [An HON. MEMBER: "And I.T.V."] Yes, and I.T.V. [An HON. MEMBER: "Speak for yourself."] It is no use speaking for myself. I rarely appear and do not want to appear too much, and for many years I did not appear. I am only saying this and hon. Members know in their private hearts that what I am saying is correct".

A man before his time, perhaps?:

At the beginning of this Parliament I am going to suggest that a serious investigation takes place into the technical possibilities of televising Parliamentary proceedings.  I know that hon. Members shake their heads, but why should they be so shy? Would it not be an excellent thing if, instead of speeches being made in comparative obscurity, and, in fact, never heard at all except by the few Members who assemble here to hear them, they were heard by their constituents? I am not saying for a moment that the electoral results might have been different. Indeed, they might have been confirmed or might have been reinforced. I do not know. All I am suggesting is that in these days when all the apparatus of mass suggestion are against democratic education, we should seriously consider re-establishing intelligent communication between the House of Commons and the electorate as a whole. That, surely, is a democratic process.  I have never looked at television very much, but I have looked at it recently and I have been impressed by it as a medium of communication. There is no doubt at all that it is a very powerful medium, but I think that the time has come when people should be able to switch over to a Parliamentary debate. After all, they are not compelled to listen to us. There ought to be a special channel that they can turn on and listen to us at any time. I am not arguing that we should have only special debates televised, but that there should be a special channel for the House of Commons itself"
Note that ITV only started to broadcast in 1955, and was not truly national until 1962.   BBC2 took to the stage in 1964.  So, Parliament TV would have been our third station, and through lack of viewing choice elsewhere, would doubtless have picked up plenty of channel hoppers from time to time.  I would think that we might have had a rather better educated electorate had Nye's plan come to fruition.    

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Blogger James Higham said... 8:33 am

The overall education system in Russia was better - there were far more stringent criteria as to what constituted a pass grade. Not now though.  

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