20 years of televised proceedings of the House of Commons

11 December 2009

To mark the 20th anniversary of the first televised proceedings of the House of Commons, a selection of videos are being made available for the first time on the UK Parliament YouTube channel.

Being made available on the UK Parliament YouTube channel are videos of Margaret Thatcher’s last Prime Minister’s Question Time from November 1990, and Tony Blair’s first Prime Minister’s Question Time from May 1997. Further videos will be added to YouTube throughout the anniversary year.

The televising of proceedings from the Commons began on 21 November 1989, with the broadcast of the Loyal Address that followed the Queen’s Speech.

Today, Video and Audio carries live and archived coverage of all UK Parliament proceedings taking place in public, including debates and committee meetings of both Houses including Westminster Hall, with material available from an on-demand archive for 12 months. The service is believed to be the most complex and comprehensive of any legislature in the world with a maximum of 18 channels simultaneously webcast.

Parliamentary proceedings are also covered on a number of television channels including BBC Parliament and Sky News and most broadcasters use brief extracts of Parliamentary material in news bulletins and current events programmes. Members of the two Houses are also allowed to carry this material on their personal websites.

The broadcasting of Parliamentary proceedings in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords is a comparatively new phenomenon in the United Kingdom.

As far back as 1923 the BBC’s first General Manager, John Reith, sought to broadcast the King’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament, but permission was refused.

The debate on the televising of proceedings continued over the decades. Reservations were expressed by MPs about the material to be chosen for broadcast and the potential impact on the traditional character of the Chamber. Those in favour argued that the House did not have the right to deny access to its proceedings to the millions of people unable to attend the public gallery.

In 1985, the success of a televising experiment authorised by the House of Lords helped swing the argument in the House of Commons.

Broadcasting on an experimental basis was given the go ahead, and the televising of the proceedings of the House of Commons began with the State Opening of Parliament on 21 November 1989. In July 1990, the televising of proceedings became a permanent feature of UK political life.

All material is archived by the Parliamentary Recording Unit, which provides video and audio material of all recorded Parliamentary proceedings to domestic and foreign broadcasters, as well as to MPs, Members of the House of Lords, Government departments, educational and commercial organisations, charities and individuals. The material can be supplied in all current formats, including online.

Image: Parliamentary copyright

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