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An untelevised Commons is now unthinkable

Picture 20 It is twenty years ago to the day that the House of Commons was televised for the first time and I remember it well. The first MP to deliver a speech in the newly televised House was Ian Gow (pictured, with Gerald Howarth sitting behind him) who was of course murdered by the IRA less than a year later.

I was barely out of short trousers, but I immediately got hooked, my interest in politics took hold and I haven't really looked back!

It's amazing to think in the multimedia, digital age of today, that prior to 1989 we only had access to audio coverage of our elected representatives at work. Now we can watch our MPs, Lords and all the devolved bodies in session whenever we like through the wonders of the internet, with the BBC's new Democracy Live website bringing them together in one place for the first time.

There were of course many who opposed the televising of Parliament, saying that it would alter the nature of debates in the chamber and that it would encourage MPs to play up to the cameras. I'm not sure that is true or indeed provable.

Others said that a televised Commons would mean lazy MPs not bothering to turn up to debates and following them from their offices instead. I accept that there is some truth in that - but it's not a reason to be opposed to the televising of Parliament per se. It just means that it's easier to expose the occasions when MPs aren't bothering to turn up, as I did last week when Labour MPs showed a lack of interest in the Queen's Speech debate.

No, in an age where people - rightly - are demanding more transparency and accountability than ever before from their elected representatives, it is unthinkable that their debates should not be able to be scrutinised by voters watching the footage. If anything, we should be extending this openness to other bodies, not least local councils.

Tonight BBC Parliament is marking this anniversary with a special programme at 9pm looking at how parliamentary life has changed since the cameras arrived.

In the meantime, watch the film below from Giles Dilnot of the Daily Politics, who asked whether it was right to let the cameras in.

Jonathan Isaby 


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