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									                   Webcasting of Parliament
                   Standard Note:    SN/PC/1761
                   Last updated:     24 July 2009
                   Author:           Paul Lester
                   Section           Parliament and Constitution Centre

This note provides a brief overview of the webcasting service provided by the UK Parliament
including its historical development. Information is given on the webcasting services in the
devolved assemblies as well as in selected Parliaments around the world.


1    Current service                                                                         2

2    Background                                                                              3
     2.1   Early moves                                                                       3
     2.2   Outcome                                                                           3

3    Rules of coverage                                                                       4

4    Webcasting in other parliaments                                                         4
     4.1   Devolved assemblies                                                               4
     4.2   Selected other parliaments                                                        4

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and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. It should
not be relied upon as being up to date; the law or policies may have changed since it was last
updated; and it should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice or as a substitute for
it. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information is

This information is provided subject to our general terms and conditions which are available
online or may be provided on request in hard copy. Authors are available to discuss the
content of this briefing with Members and their staff, but not with the general public.
1       Current service
‘Webcasting’ is the use of the world wide web to deliver live or delayed versions of sound or
video broadcasts. As part of the effort to make Parliament more accessible and relevant to
the public, the webcasting of the Westminster Parliament began on an experimental basis on
8 January 2002. This was the first time the UK Parliament itself had made its proceedings
continuously available online – although the BBC, Press Association, ITN and Westminster
Digital also had licences to use parliamentary material on their websites. On 26 October
2003 a permanent and fully funded service went live from the Houses of Parliament.

The Video and Audio section of the Parliamentary website (www.parliamentlive.tv) currently
carries live and archived coverage of all UK Parliament proceedings taking place in public,
including debates and committee meetings of both Houses. Viewers are able to listen or
watch proceedings live, or listen from the start of a session if they have missed its start. The
material is then available from an on-demand archive for 12 months. The site has links to
order papers and background papers and also carries videos explaining how Parliament

As many as 18 live streams are available simultaneously. Coverage of debates in the
chambers of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, sittings in Westminster
Hall and up to four committees at a time receive full audio-visual coverage.

During 2006-07 a trial took place to establish whether automated webcam systems could be
used to achieve full audio visual coverage of committees that were available in audio only.
Since the trial, the Broadcasting Unit has provided enhanced online coverage of committees
through the installation of webcams in some fourteen committee rooms. 1

The Video and Audio site is operated by The TwoFour Group on behalf of the UK Parliament.
The Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting monitors adherence to the rules of coverage laid
down by the Committee. The full Parliamentary tape archive is administered by the
Parliamentary Recording Unit and can supply tape, CD and DVD recordings of proceedings
at modest cost.

Debates from the two chambers have a live captioning facility which identifies the current
speaker and the subject under discussion. Select committee coverage has links to detailed
notes for visitors outlining the specific business that day and a further link to each
committee’s home page on the Parliament website. Links to standing committee home
pages are also available.

The webcasting archive system is currently being hosted by The Two Four Group who are
also involved with developing increased functionality through the audio and video site. The
webcast content is delivered through Windows Media format and the site offers full
broadband quality video, and audio at bitrates which equate to the quality of FM radio.

    As at September 2009. Information provided by the Director of Broadcasting,

2       Background
2.1     Early moves
The drive to webcast Parliament came from the Broadcasting Committee. The Committee's
first report of 1999-2000, The Development of Parliamentary Broadcasting, 2 commented

        In the earlier part of this Report, the Committee has described the history and the
        current situation concerning the broadcasting of Parliament—but what of the future?
        The Committee considers that webcasting, i.e. broadcasting Parliament over the
        internet, could offer the way forward. The Committee was interested to note that on 17
        ay 2000, the Opening Day of the Scottish Parliament's meeting in Glasgow was carried
        live on the internet, as a pilot for future use of the web to broadcast the Parliament. 3

The Group on Information for the Public, which comprises officials from both Houses of
Parliament, conducted a study into the possibilities for webcasting. The recommendations
produced by the Group, including the recommendation for a one-year pilot project, were
accepted by the Clerk of the House of Commons. In October 2001 the then Leader of the
House, Robin Cook, stated in answer to a parliamentary question from Margaret Moran that
a pilot project to “...explore the potential of webcasting” would begin in January 2002. 4 The
Leader made clear his own views on the subject in a memorandum, dated 12 December
2001, to the Modernisation Select Committee, saying that “it should be routine for live
coverage of public committee sittings to be available through the internet”. 5

2.2      Outcome
The House of Commons Commission reported on the relative success of the pilot project in
its annual report of 2002-03. During the first year there were more than 200,000 visitors to
the site and the average viewing time was 10 minutes. 6

During the year that the project was running, a specialist consultant was employed to
analyse feedback and data from the pilot. His report and recommendations were widely
discussed, including with the Broadcasting and Information Committees. On 14 July 2003,
the then Chairman of the Information Committee, Michael Fabricant, announced in a
parliamentary answer that the experiment would be made permanent. 7 The House of
Commons Commission’s annual report 8 , published the same month, stated that the following
proposals had been put to the House of Commons Commission and agreed:

         •   the establishment on a permanent basis of an enhanced version of the current
             webcasting service, including wide screen format, improved audio quality and

         •   the launch of new channels offering audio coverage of all committees meeting in
             public, supported by information pages about the committee being webcast and
             its work;

    HC 642 1999-2000
    Ibid, para 84
    HC Deb 25 October 2001, c322W
    Modernisation of the House of Commons: a reform programme for consultation, HC 440, 2001/02,
    House of Commons Commission, 25th annual report, 2002-03, HC 806 2002-03, p38
    HC Debs 14 July 2003, c51w
    Op Cit, p38

           •   the establishment of a limited archive, allowing on-demand viewing over both the
               internet and the Parliamentary Network for a period of up to a fortnight, with the
               possibility of more advanced options in future;

           •   making webcasts available on the intranet, subject to improvements to the
               Parliamentary Network.

3         Rules of coverage
The Broadcasting Committee discussed webcasting in its report on rules of coverage,
published in June 2003:-

          Webcasting offers a real opportunity to extend coverage of the work of Committees. A
          permanent webcasting service will begin later this year. This will include audio
          coverage of all Committees meeting in public and there are plans to install webcams in
          a number of Committee Rooms at a later stage. The webcams are likely to be capable
          of giving only an unchanging overview of a Committee Room. The fixed nature of
          webcams means that most of the rules of coverage will not apply. However, the
          direction of the shot for a webcam might need to be defined in the rules of coverage
          and there should be further discussion on whether the public gallery should be shown
          in webcasts. Any shot of witnesses would be likely to include part and possibly the
          entire public gallery. Any shot of the Chairman and the Committee will show only the
          back of the witnesses' heads. Given the constraints of the cameras, a balance will
          need to be struck between the risks associated with showing the public gallery, which
          in some cases might encourage disorder, and the need to show the witnesses. On
          balance, we feel the cameras should be positioned so as to give an overview of the
          room, showing the witnesses, but should limit, as far as is possible, how much of the
          public gallery is shown.

4         Webcasting in other parliaments
4.1       Devolved assemblies
The Scottish Parliament was quick to develop a comprehensive webcasting service. All the
Parliament’s proceedings - committee and Main Chamber business - are streamed live over
the internet. Proceedings are available within 24 hours of the relevant live session and the
sessions are archived for one calendar month. Viewers can also see “Holyrood Highlights”, a
weekly studio programme looking at recent parliamentary business. Further details can be
found at www.holyrood.tv.

The Welsh Assembly began live webcasting of its proceedings on 15 October 2002 although
the archive of recordings actually runs from June 2002. Plenary sessions and a number of
committee meetings each week are broadcast although vision is only available for meetings
held within the main Assembly building in Cardiff. Speeches in the Welsh language are
simultaneously translated into English. The webcasting service can be accessed at

4.2       Selected other parliaments
Many other parliaments webcast their proceedings. Selected examples are given below:

    The rules of coverage, Broadcasting Committee first report session 2002-03, HC 786 2002-03, para 26

•   The Parliament of Australia webcasts proceedings of the Senate, House of
    Representatives, the House’s Main Committee, and various Committee sittings.
    These are available via http://webcast.aph.gov.au/livebroadcasting/.

•   The Parliament of Canada webcasts plenary and committee sittings for both Houses
    at http://www.parl.gc.ca/common/webcast.asp?Language=E

•   The German Bundestag webcasts plenary                and   committee    sessions    at

•   The French Senate is available at http://videos.senat.fr/video/seance_direct.html, and
    the       French       National       Assembly         at       http://www.assemblee-

•   Proceedings of the European Parliament and its committees can be viewed via the
    ‘See & Hear’ page -


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