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The Case for Televising ParliamentIn 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.

Download Robin Day’s The Case for Televising Parliament (1963).

For more on the televising of Parliament, see Cameras in the Commons: The Study for the Hansard Society on the Televising of the House of Commons (1990) and Parliament’s pages on Communicating parliamentary business.

See more of the Hansard Society’s Historic publications and get in touch if there are any additional titles you would like to see scanned and made available.

Audit of Political Engagement 11New Hansard Society research shows extent to which public expect more from MPs’ conduct and accountability.

A ‘People’s Question Time Day’ would be a helpful reform

The 2014 Hansard Society annual Audit of Political Engagement 11, published April 30, shows the level of public concern with the culture and conduct of politics and politicians and, while levels of interest in and knowledge of politics are holding up or improving, the public continue to feel relatively powerless in the political process.

For more information see the new Audit of Political website and the Audit of Political Engagement research page on this site.

Listen to the authors discuss their findings at the launch event for Audit 11

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Tuned in or Turned Off - Public attitudes to Prime Minister's Questions (2014)Tuned in or Turned off? Public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions, a new research report from the Hansard Society published today examines public attitudes to Prime Minister’s Questions and asks whether PMQs is a ‘cue’ for their wider negative perceptions of Parliament.

PMQs is the best known aspect of Parliament’s work, famous throughout the world for its combative, adversarial atmosphere. It is the bit of Parliament’s work that the public are most aware of and have likely seen on the television news. But while politicians and journalists have strong views about the value of PMQs, there is a scarcity of substantive evidence as to the public’s opinions.

Our focus group evidence indicates that heightened awareness of PMQs should not be mistaken for approval – the most common words associated with it are ‘noisy’, ‘childish’, ‘over the top’ and ‘pointless’.

Supporters of PMQs in its current form argue that it is great parliamentary drama, envied by citizens in other countries whose leaders are rarely held to account in public. But our focus group research shows that the drama and theatre of the event is not appreciated in a positive way. In the dismissive words of one participant, ‘this was noise and bluster and showing off – theatrical but not good’.

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Measured or Makeshift? Parliamentary scrutiny of the European UnionIn a new pamphlet from the Hansard Society published today – Measured or Makeshift – Parliamentary scrutiny of the European Union – politicians, commentators and academics demonstrate a growing concern that many EU initiatives are not subject to sufficiently robust parliamentary scrutiny at Westminster and question whether there is a democratic deficit at the heart of our relationship with the European Union.

Measured or Makeshift – Parliamentary scrutiny of the European Union comprises a series of essays from leading experts, exploring how the system could be improved to address the democratic deficit and ensure that Parliament is more effective and influential in its scrutiny of European issues.

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At Home in the New House (2013)‘Life as a TD* is no ordinary life. It is unlike any other career or profession in terms of the responsibilities associated with it; the varied skills it entails; the broad range of competencies it requires; and, the multi-faceted demands it makes of individuals.’ *Teachta Dála (Member of the Irish Parliament)

As part of the Hansard Society’s ‘A Year in the Life‘ study of newly elected legislators, this new paper by Dr Mary C. Murphy (University College Cork) looks at the experiences of TDs in Ireland, following the 2011 election when nearly half (46%) of the Members of the Dáil Éireann were new to the role. The report finds that the 2011 intake are ‘hard-working, optimistic and ambitious’.

The report looks at the make-up of the new intake of TDs, their motivations for seeking election, their first impressions of the Dáil, the parliamentary and constituency aspects of their new role, their understanding of the legislative process, their relationship with the media, and the induction, orientation and long term support available.

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Audit of Political Engagement 10 coverThe Audit of Political Engagement is the only annual health check on our democratic system. Now in its 10th year, each Audit measures the ‘political pulse’ of the nation, providing a unique benchmark to gauge public opinion across Great Britain with regard to the political system.

This year’s report explores a worrying decline in the public’s propensity to vote. Just 41% of the public now say that in the event of an immediate general election they would be certain to vote – a decline of seven percentage points in a year and the lowest level in the debate of the Audit. Twenty percent of people say they are certain not to vote. For young people, the picture is even worse; just 12% are certain to vote, down from 30% two years ago.

Combined with the low turnout levels at recent local elections and the disastrous turnout at the polls for Police and Crime Commissioners in November 2012, these findings are deeply worrying for the health of our democracy.

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#futurenewsThe landscape of print, broadcasting and social media is changing rapidly and how it alters affects Parliament’s ability to communicate and engage with the public it serves. A new report from the Hansard Society – #futurenews The Communication of Parliamentary Democracy in a Digital World – explores these strategic communication trends and how Parliament needs to respond in order to keep pace and ensure it has a voice in the political debate commensurate with its role at the apex of our democracy.

#futurenews examines changing patterns of news consumption, the public’s attitude to news about politics in general, and Parliament in particular, and how and where they access such news. The report finds that, given the UK’s position at the forefront of mobile device and smart-phone ownership, and with one of the highest penetration rates for social networks anywhere in the world, Westminster has a huge opportunity to enhance public knowledge and understanding of its work. But if it gets it wrong, there could be serious consequences for public engagement in the future.

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Assembly Line - The experiences and development of new Assembly Members (2013)What is it like to make the rapid transition from being a member of the public to being an elected Member of the National Assembly for Wales? How do AMs learn the ropes in a new and challenging political environment? How do they decide what they are going to do and how they are going to do it?

The Hansard Society has been examining the role and work of the new AMs through surveys, interviews, and personal observation of their work, supplemented by discussions with Assembly staff, to try and answer these questions and many more.

Do AMs have the resources to carry out their role effectively? How do they balance the expectations and demands of their constituents, their party, the media and others? What are they hoping to achieve, and how does the reality of the experience match up to their expectations? In short, what is it like to be a Member of the National Assembly during their earliest months in office?

The briefing paper, Assembly Line? The Experiences and Development of new Assembly Members, was launched at an event in the Pierhead building in Cardiff Bay.

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