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The Commons goes live

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. In 1988 MPs debated televising the Commons for the eleventh time in 22 years.

Prior to the debate the Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, asked why Mrs Thatcher opposed the reform. "My concern is for the good reputation of this House," replied the Prime Minister to Labour chants of "frit, frit, frit", shorthand for "frightened".

In a free vote there was a majority of 54 in favour of a six-month experiment. Preparations were slow and a committee dealing with the broadcasting arrangements did not report to the House until May 1989. The first proceedings to be televised were the Debate on the Address in November 1989, and the first televised speech was by Ian Gow, a Conservative opponent of the experiment.

Initially broadcasters could only show a close-up of each speaker or a wide shot, but this was relaxed after a few weeks to allow reaction shots. Televised proceedings led to a substantial increase in the number of news reports featuring the Commons, and in July 1990 the House agreed to make the experiment permanent.

Important occasions such as the Budget and resignation speeches by ministers were all broadcast live on television.

Related Information

Live and archived coverage of all UK Parliament proceedings taking place in public, including debates and committee meetings of both Houses

Historic Hansard

1988 Prime Ministers Questions exchange on broadcasting

1988 Commons debate on broadcasting

Hansard of first televised Commons debate