Colin Shepherd – 1985 Speech on the Televising of the Commons

Below is the text of the speech made by Colin Shepherd, the then Conservative MP for Hereford, in the House of Commons on 20 November 1985.

Having listened to the debate from the beginning to the present moment, I am grateful to have the opportunity to add a few words.

It is now five hours since my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House talked about the motion being a leap in the dark. I have listened carefully, but I have not been able to adduce a shred of evidence why that leap in the dark should in any way lead to any light. I am not convinced that anyone who advocates that the leap should be taken knows where it is leading. As was said by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) in his powerful remarks, we have a duty of stewardship in this institution. It is incorrect to lead off in a direction when that direction is unknown and the consequences are unforeseeable. The debate has not enlightened us in that direction; it is all supposition and emotion.

During the summer I visited Canada. Not unnaturally, I took the opportunity of asking, whenever possible of whoever possible, for views of the broadcasting and televising of Parliament in that country. I visited three provincial Parliaments and spoke to Members of the federal Parliament. What I found in no way supported benign statements about the performance of television in the Canadian Parliament.

The argument that has to be won by those who wish the motion to be passed is that the change is acceptable, quantifiable and manageable. There has been change in the House since broadcasting came in. It is not disputed that the House that is broadcast now is not the House that existed before broadcasting. That has been confirmed by several right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. Anyone who thinks that there has not been change and that there is not a different tempo when the House is being broadcast live has only to watch the point of order specialists leap to their feet when the little light is on in the Box in the corner.

Of late the Canadian Parliament has had occasion to consider its televising of proceedings. The committee charged with doing that produced a substantial report, under the chairmanship of James McGrath. He visited the House last week with a delegation from Canada. I had an opportunity to talk to him. He said that he would not go back, but I caught a certain reluctance in him to face the position that he had reached when he could not see how to get back. His report says:

“The evidence of the past eight years suggests that television has caused only a few changes. For example members now applaud rather than thump their desks to signify approval.”

I gather that the public did not like members thumping their desks, so the members now applaud. Mr. McGrath said that someone then discovered the standing ovation, so now they have standing ovations all the time. The report also says:

“Members also tend to move around the chamber to sit at the desks behind the person speaking. Attempts to counter the impression that a member is talking to an empty House are not really successful. No one is really fooled”—

nevertheless it is done,

“The game of musical chairs simply adds an artificial element that would be unnecessary if there were greater public understanding of the reasons why members are not always in their seats in the House of Commons.”

The Canadian House has had television since 1977. It is remarkable that, after eight years of exposure, not one jot of further understanding has been achieved. So much for the thought that television will lead to the better understanding of this House. More needs to be done to achieve that, but in different ways.

On my visit to Canada I spoke to an Opposition spokesman about the competitive element in securing television time. He said that he made a good point—rather like the points made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)—but without success because there was no television coverage. He did the same again—a good point, but no television coverage. The third time he said, “To hell with it. I am going all out for it.” He employed histrionics, shouted, waved his arms in the air and tore at his hair. He said, “I got my coverage coast-to-coast on the news.” The only trouble was that no one knew what he had said, and he did not feel very good about it. What a length to have to go to in order to secure television time. That goes against the reports we have heard about the idealism of the Canadian experience.

While I was there, a fish in a big greasy parcel was thrown on the Prime Minister’s desk—[HON. MEMBERS: “A gift?”] Not a gift, and not very fresh, but it secured the attention of the television. The Member got his coverage. That may have been the practice before the Canadian House had television. That is what is meant when the report states that there has not been much change in the past eight years.

I could not find a member of the public who was anything but indifferent or derogatory about television. I did not speak to 18 million Canadians, but, out of interest, I spoke to people in the street, shops and stores. I visited the Quebec Parliament. The Clerk at the Table, who has just retired after 22 years’ service, when asked for his views on the introduction of television, rolled his eyes to the ceiling, as only a French Canadian can, and said, “Ah, Monsieur”—

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)


Mr. Shepherd

We were speaking in English, because my French is not good enough, and my Canadian is even worse. He said, “The members like it, but they no longer talk to the Parliament; they talk to their constituents.” We must beware of this constitutional matter, which relates to the stewardship point made by the right hon. Member for South Down. Burke said that he was a Member of Parliament first and a Member of Parliament for Bristol second. Members of Parliament here are supposed to address Parliament. There are other opportunities and avenues for addressing constituents. We must not be distracted from our work in addressing Parliament. Anything else is an abortion of what this place is—a forum for deliberation.

I received a similar response about the televising of the American House of Representatives. Speeches no longer have relevance, because they are directed towards far-flung constituents. Let us not fall into that trap.

Mr. Lawler

I do not know whether my hon. Friend has read an article by a former Clerk of the House of Commons of Ottawa—a Mr. Fraser—who says:

“What have been the results after the experience? In the main very positive indeed. The activities in the most important ‘room’ in Canada are being seen and assessed by an audience much greater than was contemplated by the most enthusiastic proponents of parliamentary broadcasting.”

There is also evidence from the Speaker of the time, Mr. Jerome, who speaks favourably about the effects of televising the House.

Mr. Shepherd

I am aware of what I might call the Establishment comments. I was referring to the gentleman I came across who recounted his views. I also watched television while I was there, and saw no fair treatment of Ministers at the Dispatch Box. The Tory party in Canada has enough troubles at present without everyone having a field day at Ministers’ expense. When I watched the televised proceedings on the news, I did not see a balanced picture of what had happened in the House that afternoon, only the Minister in an acute state of discomfiture and the Opposition in a state of triumph. That may be the realistic position, but I could not see on television whether the Minister had had better moments before or after. I saw only the part where he was most discomfited. I had a profound distrust of what I was watching and wondered whether it was right.

Mr. Marlow

It was good entertainment though.

Mr. Shepherd

That is perfectly correct. Indeed, I thought that it had boiled down to entertainment only. Although the proceedings are broadcast the entire time that the House is sitting, it is open to news editors to select those parts that they wish to show for onward transmission.

​ I hope that the House realises that the case for change has not been made today, and that there are pitfalls. I end with the remarks of a robust housewife from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who took me figuratively by the lapels and said,

“The House of Commons in Ottawa has not benefited at all from television. Do not let them do it to you”.

Colin Shepherd – 1985 Speech on the River Wye

Below is the text of the speech made by Colin Shepherd, the then Conservative MP for Hereford, in the House of Commons on 22 May 1985.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Welsh Office, for coming to the House to take part in a debate on a very important subject for our part of the country. I am delighted to see in their places my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) and for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris). The fact that my hon. Friend the Minister of State also has the River Wye going through his constituency and therefore knows it very well gives me confidence that this subject will receive the attention that it deserves.

There is a poignant point that I want to make at this juncture. I received a letter from my late hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson) two days after he died. I know how deeply he felt about this matter because the headwaters of the River Wye ran through his constituency.

The problems to which I wish to refer relate to the whole extent of the River Wye. It is a unique river. For the whole of its length it is a site of special scientific interest and for most of its length it passes through areas of outstanding natural beauty. It is a major asset to my county, Herefordshire, and it gives enormous pleasure to thousands of people through a variety of activities: angling, rowing, canoeing, rafting, birdwatching, or just enjoying nature. People take part in these activities in a spirit of quiet enjoyment.
It has been well known for a long time that there is no co-ordinating authority. These activities have grown up alongside one another, yet with a growing sense of unease that the balance between them may not be sustainable. Until last year the stresses and strains of conflicting interests were accommodated by each recognising the legitimate aspirations of others with, thankfully, an ever-increasing level of understanding, although it would not be entirely correct to say that the use of the River Wye is at present an idyll of harmony.
Those who fish point out that they pay substantial sums of money for their pleasure. In the south Herefordshire district council territory alone they pay £65,000 in rates. If that is extrapolated to cover the entire length of the Wye, we must be talking of well over £160,000 in rates, not to mention about £3,500 in fishery rates to the water authority, on top of which there is another £1,500 in environmental charges—not to mention a cool £52,000 in licensing fees.

Those who enjoy the competitive sport of rafting point with some hard-earned pride to the £50,000, plus, that they raise for so many deserving charities. Those who promote canoeing holidays on the Wye can point to the benefits accruing to the community by the development of the tourist trade. My hon. Friend the Minister of State knows very well that the Wye valley is world renowned in this respect. In addition, the community has an additional interest in the financial aspects of the Wye, in that the declining levels of fish caught, for whatever reasons, are leading to successful appeals against rateable values by fishery owners. It is not unlikely that within a short time ​ there will be a drop in rate income of about 50 per cent, which will leave another £80,000 to be borne by other ratepayers.

In 1981 the Welsh water authority recognised the drift of things and made an application for the functions of any navigation authority still in existence to be transferred to it. I was told in response to my inquiries at that time by my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Welsh Office that the matter was complicated and that the Welsh Office was having to examine Acts of Parliament going back as far as 1674. I was assured that before any irrevocable decisions were taken:
“there will be ample notice and opportunity given to all interested parties to enable them to prepare and present their points of view.”

I heard nothing further until after I wrote again in January 1983, when I was told that counsel’s opinion was being sought and that progress was slow. However, I was assured by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary that he was pursuing the matter further with his officials.

I heard nothing further until I wrote again in March this year, when I was informed that in the light of counsel’s opinion the Welsh water authority was having to reconsider its application and decide what action it might need to take. I was also told that the Welsh water authority had commissioned the Middlesex polytechnic to report upon the uses of the River Wye by various recreational groups, and that it had decided to defer making any final decisions until it had considered that report.

What could have been described in 1981 as a routine evolutionary problem has, since last year, erupted into a major and potentially revolutionary problem. I refer to the advent of hovercrafting as a recreational activity on the River Wye. In 1984 six craft were launched from Hohne Lacey and travelled up and down the river from Ross-on-Wye to north of Hereford.

I have no doubt that from the hovercrafters’ point of view, it is an attractive place to exercise an excitingly new, advanced, technological recreation. Indeed, in the magazine of the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain it was described in glowing terms. For those who have hitherto utilised the river with quiet enjoyment, this has caused consternation. It became clear to them that the craft were extremely noisy—their drivers wear ear muffs—that they disturb the river and its banks, and I have heard reports that salmon fry have been washed up and left high and dry on the banks. The craft are a serious potential danger to other river users.

It has been observed that, when operating at low speed, the wash is substantial and does not appear to lessen at all until speeds of 20 knots are reached. I dread to think of the hazard to a wading angler or a novice canoeist. The anglers point out that there is frequently a drastic reduction of the swan population where there is an abundance of noisy, powered craft, and they stress that the healthy population of swans on the Wye is, in all probability, due to the absence of powered craft along great stretches of it.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds points out that the Wye carries a number of important breeding colonies of kingfishers, dippers and, as my hon. Friend is probably aware, in recent years we have been privileged to see the return of peregrine falcons breeding at Symonds Yat, not a mile from my home. All of those would not lake kindly to an abundance of hovercraft. In addition, farmers ​ and fishermen alike are concerned about the prospect of oil pollution—something not so far experienced on the Wye, one of the cleanest rivers in the country.

Almost more alarming than anything else was the unco-operative attitude of hovercraft drivers on their first run, who were reported by anglers of the Hereford and District Anglers Association to have had complete disregard for anglers and their tackle. A grain of encouragement can be drawn from the revised stance of the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain, which has indicated that in the light of the present consternation it will not now be organising the proposed weekend expeditions on the Wye this year, and that it does not wish to be seen to operate in such a manner as to be a danger to other users of the river or, indeed, its members.

I welcome that wholeheartedly, but I must reflect with some caution that the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain is but a proprietors’ club, interested in promoting hovercrafting. It has no regulatory controls over hovercrafting or over its members or non-members.

We therefore must come to terms with this new situation that has arisen in respect of the River Wye. The door to hovercrafting on the Wye has been shown to be wide open, and it is an activity that is fundamentally inimical to the River Wye as a site of special scientific interest, as an area of outstanding natural beauty and as a recreational asset to so many activities based, as I have said before, on quiet enjoyment. We need to know the precise position concerning navigation on the Wye. I have grave disquiet about the referral of the problem by the Welsh water authority to the Middlesex polytechnic. It has all the hallmarks of a delaying tactic — a kicking for touch, a playing for time. I do not think that that time exists.

Despite the assurances of the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain, the threat of hovercrafting will not go away by itself. Regardless of what the Middlesex polytechnic reports, progress towards resolution of today’s problems will have to be based upon the present legal situation. A clear exposition of that position may well give rise to the kind of lateral thought necessary to achieve a satisfactory and fair reconciliation of conflicting interests, and allay the reasonable concerns of many people and organisations.

Finally, I should like a reassurance that there will be an opportunity to enable all interested parties to put their points of view openly before any change is made, as was promised to me in 1981. I think that we owe this to all the interests on the River Wye. If this can be done, I know that it will be appreciated. I think that it will be helpful for the longer term evolution of the quiet enjoyment of the River Wye for many people.

Colin Shepherd – 1984 Speech on Leptospirosis

Below is the text of the speech made by Colin Shepherd, the then Conservative MP for Hereford, in the House of Commons on 11 April 1984.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for coming to the House this evening to discuss the—to me—very interesting subject of leptospirosis, and cattle-associated leptospirosis in particular. We can both heave a sigh of relief that we are here at a modest hour and not early in the morning, as has been the case of late.

My hon. Friend will know that among the many important functions—and there are many—which go on in Hereford, the Public Health Laboratory Service has its leptospirosis reference unit. It is very much as a consequence of the work done by that unit, and by Dr. Sheena Waitkins in particular, that I have sought to utilise this opportunity to draw attention to the concern which should be shown in the dairy sector of the farming community in respect of one particular strain of leptospirosis—cattle-associated leptospirosis.

In this matter the interface between this House and departmental responsibility is complex. The disease is one which affects cattle, with associated problems of cattle suffering abortion and milk loss, together with financial loss for farmers. It is also capable of being easily transmitted to man. The evidence points to a greater level of infection than was previously apparent.

My purpose in drawing attention to the various interrelated problems is, first, to increase agricultural awareness of the disease; secondly to increase medical awareness of the condition; and, thirdly to sound out my hon. Friend—who is the Minister with particular responsibility for animal health matters—on the possibility of developing a programme of containment of the disease at source, that is to say, to deal with before it leaves the infected cattle.

I raised the matter with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, who gave me a somewhat disappointing reply on 27 March. He said that he was satisfied that GPs have an adequate knowledge of the risks of the disease, especially in dairying areas.”—[Offical Report, 27 March 1984; Vol. 57, c. 133.] My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has no responsibility for the replies of a Minister in another Department, and I would not ask her to comment on that reply. It is worthwhile noting, however, that the disease is being discovered by those medical practitioners who have become attuned to look for cattle-associated leptospirosis. Other doctors may mistake it for flu.

One Herefordshire milk producer, with a herd of 130 milkers, contracted human leptospirosis or CAL. His herd became infected in 1982, and he contracted the disease. He became very poorly. Because the illness was not like ordinary flu, his wife called in the doctor. The doctor said that it was a bad case of flu. He said, “It’s just a case of sweating it out.” The next day, the cowman went down with the disease and a standby cowman was called in to help with the milking. Four days later, the standby cowman, too, fell ill. Because of the dairy connection, his doctor, who lived in Hereford, suspected brucellosis, and treated him with penicillin. Because penicillin deals with CAL as well as brucellosis, the cowman recovered speedily. When his blood sample was sent to the reference unit and showed leptospirosis, Dr. Waitkins became aware of the problem. She went out to the farm, took blood samples and found that the producer and his cowman had the same problem. A few days later, after taking tablets and penicillin, they had begun to recover.

That milk producer said, I have never had anything like it before. The NFU and the farmworkers’ union should press for urgent research into this disease, and if eradication is shown to be possible then they should be supported to the hilt. He had had a blinding headache, worse than anything he had ever known before. It was so bad that he could not bear to touch a single hair. He was miserably feverish—hot and cold—and poured sweat in torrents to no avail. One can understand his sentiments. Two years later, he still has to wear a woolly hat to keep his head warm, and so does his cowman.

Today, when the dairy industry is under severe pressure, it is relevant that the economic losses which the disease can cause are also severe. One farmer in the Welsh borders with 250 cows lost some £11,000 in 18 months in 1980 and 1981. That was accounted for by 21 dead calves, half the normal milk yield from 10 cows that calved early, replacements for two dead cows which had developed chills while ill, lactation loss from 80 cows—the average loss being two and a half litres for 150 days—and milk from 80 cows held back for three days following antibiotic treatment.

Another producer near Ludlow recently aggregated the losses that he had suffered at about £15,000 on his herd of 230 cows. Such losses are in no way inconsequential.

A logical progression from the human and economic factors that I have outlined must take one to the conclusion that prevention is better than cure. But one might ask whether there is in fact a real problem to prevent.

As brucellosis recedes into the past because of the extremely successful eradication of the problem, the wider extent of the human aspect of CAL is becoming more apparent. It has certainly been cloaked before. In a recent written answer I was told: The increase in cattle-associated infections”— of leptospirosis— in 1983 is thought to be due largely to increased awareness of the disease in the farming community and not to an increase in the disease in herds.”—[Official Report, 20 March 1984; Vol, 56, c. 424.] So far, so good, but the work done by Dr. Waitkins of the leptospirosis reference unit points to the probability that at least one third of Britain’s dairy herds are infected or show serological evidence of past infection. That shows that the problem could be far more serious than has hitherto been appreciated. In economic terms, that means that one third of dairy farmers will at some time stand to lose a lot of money. There seems to be an incipient problem which, if the experience of New Zealand is anything to go by, could increase. The rate of infection there is 90 per cent., and climatic conditions are not dissimilar to ours.

Our Herefordshire milk producer who suffered asked for urgent action. In New Zealand it was the farmers’ wives who showed the greatest anxiety. It was the women’s division of the New Zealand Federated Farmers, the equivalent of the women’s section of the National Farmers Union, which built up the pressure for action. Action is being taken and vaccination is becoming much more frequent. Indeed, as many as 50 per cent. of cows in New Zealand are now vaccinated. Hitherto, vaccines have not been available in the United Kingdom although they have been made here. I am given to understand, however, that vaccines are now available for British herds. That is encouraging news. I do not want to pre-empt anything that my hon. Friend the Minister might want to say, but, as Dr. Waitkins put it: Once there is a vaccine for animals then the human problem should be reduced. Whilst vaccines don’t totally eracicate leptospira, treated cows become such low rate shedders that their urine does not contain enough bacteria for humans to be at risk. New Zealand is well ahead of the United Kingdom in the war against leptospirosis—as it should be with its 480 cases in humans which are notified each year. Although we have so far examined only the tip of the iceberg with our 40 cases last year and 100 cases in the past six years, it is probable that there are many more unnoticed and therefore unnotified cases. I do not want our problem to grow to the level of New Zealand’s. I am therefore asking my hon. Friend to do all that she can to promote understanding of the problem and to develop a vaccination programme, as the more vaccination that is carried out, the cheaper will be the cost to dairy farmers.

One of the inhibitory factors so far has been the cost of vaccine. I should also like the Ministry’s advice service to draw farmers’ attention to the economic benefits of vaccination. The present anticipated cost of £4 per cow per year seems a good investment when compared with possible losses of £10,000, as has been experienced in several farms. I should also like there to be the provision of a continuous reporting system on Leptospira in the farming community, which involves collaboration between the central veterinary unit, the communicable disease surveillance unit and the Leptospira reference unit in Hereford.

This would have the effect of broadening the base of knowledge of what is going on in the farming community and determining from that the direction that further research ought to take in order to get a full understanding of the nature of the disease and what needs to be done.

Action now can prevent much bovine and human misery, and I will draw my remarks tonight to a close by giving the last word to that disease-hit Hereford dairy farmer, who said: We were told that all three of us had only a mild leptospirosis problem, but you can take it from me even the mild attack was agony. Anyone who comes in contact with cows should keep Leptospira in mind if their doctor blandly tells them they have ‘flu. That is the nature of the problem. It is the reality of the interface between the two areas, and I believe that the answer lies in terms of animal health, to get at the problem at source.