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BBC Parliament is a Britishmarker television channel from the BBC. Its remit is to make accessible to all the work of the parliamentary and legislative bodies of the United Kingdom and the European Parliamentmarker. It broadcasts live and recorded coverage of the House of Commonsmarker and House of Lordsmarker, Select Committees of the UK Parliament, the three devolved assemblies, being the Scottish Parliamentmarker, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Welsh Assembly, and occasionally from the General Synod of the Church of England. The channel also broadcasts reports from the European Parliamentmarker and the yearly party conferences of the main UK political parties and the Trades Union Congress.


Before being taken over by the BBC, the channel was known as The Parliamentary Channel, at first operated by United Artists Cable and funded by a consortium of British cable operators. The Parliamentary Channel launched as a cable-exclusive channel in 1992. The channel was purchased by the BBC in 1998, retitled 'BBC Parliament', and relaunched under the new name on 23 September 1998. It now broadcasts on cable, satellite, and Freeview.

The channel ran as an audio service via DAB from launch until 14 November 2000.

Due to capacity limitations on the Digital Terrestrial Television platform, known as Freeview, from launch until 30 October 2002, the channel ran as "audio only". Then on Freeview from October 2002 until 13 November 2006 the channel was only able to broadcast a quarter-screen picture. After receiving "thousands of angry and perplexed e-mails and letters", not to mention questions asked by MPs in the Houses of Parliament itself, the BBC eventually found the bandwidth to make the channel full-screen.

Until 2008 BBC Parliament was unique amongst the BBC channels in being broadcast using non-BBC facilities - with ITV's Millbank Studios, based in Westminstermarker, supplying the engineering and playout facilities (CBeebies became the second such channel when it moved live presentation to Teddington Studiosmarker in 2008). Production, editorial and journalism are, however, maintained by the BBC.

The channel's current identity was introduced on Monday, 20 April 2009 as part of the unifying of all of BBC News' output, the process which saw the BBC News Channel and BBC World News receive revamps in 2008. This replaced the channel's previous identity which was first introduced in 2002.


Archive and special programming

General election repeats

Since 2002, the channel has frequently shown (almost) complete recordings of BBC general election coverage from a given year, from the 1955 election, the first British election programme to be telerecorded, to the 2005 election. Some have been broadcast on the anniversary of their original transmissions. The channel's editor has described this as adding "something of value" and says it helps the channel "reach a wider audience for our normal parliamentary schedule".

Election Dates(s) Shown
1955 26 May 2005 - 50th anniversary. Only three hours of the programme are known to exist
1959 9 October 2009 - 50th Anniversary.
1964 4 January 2004 3 October 2008
1966 31 March 2006 - One hour 'highlights' programme, 40th anniversary 8 April 2006 - Full Coverage
1970 26 September 2003 18 July 2005 - Unadvertised; shown the day after the death of Edward Heath
February 1974 3 October 2003
October 1974 10 October 2004 - 30th anniversary
19791 7 September 2002 3 May 2004 - 25th anniversary 4 May 2009 - 30th anniversary
19832 6 October 2006 30 May 2008 - 25th anniversary
1987 5 September 2005 5 October 2007
1992 9 April 2007 - 15th anniversary
19973 8 September 2002 13 May 2005 7 May 2007 - 10th anniversary
2005 7 May 2005 - Two days after its original transmission

1 - In addition, the overnight coverage of the 1979 election was broadcast on BBC Four on 12 June 2008.2 - The 1983 election was originally scheduled to be shown on 10 October 2003, but was not broadcast.3 - Notably, the 1997 coverage was broadcast "clean"- without the original on-screen graphics, although they have been included on all other election reruns.

Special programming

BBC Parliament often broadcasts programmes that have a historical or broader social significance, often encompassing major events both in the United Kingdom and in the world. They have also included a selection of programmes exploring issues of import and topicality in-depth, akin to BBC Four. They are generally shown on the anniversaries of major events. Programmes in this area have been diverse in character, such as the channel's very first archive rerun, which was to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in June 2002 when BBC Parliament reran the coronation coverage.

In 2005, the channel showed the coverage of the funeral of Winston Churchill to mark the 40th anniversary of his death.

Also in 2005, BBC Parliament marked the 30th anniversary of the 1975 referendum over Europe. The programming featured interviews with the two main party leaders and showed two hours of the Referendum results coverage.

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Suez Crisis in November 2006, writer and broadcaster Anthony Howard introduced a special series of programmes on the channel. This included television broadcasts by the prime minister Anthony Eden, Labour Leader of the Opposition Hugh Gaitskell and a new documentary called Suez in Parliament: a Fine Hullabaloo.

In April 2007, Brian Hanrahan introduced Falklands Night. This programme featured BBC television's news coverage of the Falklands Conflict, shown to mark the 25th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities. The output included news bulletins and reports from the time, editions of Newsnight and excerpts of debates from Question Time. Falklands Night was shown twice during the spring of 2007, to mark the beginning and the end of the conflict.

On 1 July 2007, the channel had a Hong Kong Night, presented by Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong, which reran coverage of the handover ceremony, to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the end of British rule, and the handover of Hong Kongmarker to Chinamarker.

On 1 September 2007, the channel re-ran the funeral of Princess Diana to coincide with the tenth anniversary of her deathmarker. The rerun was shown at the precise broadcast times of the BBC coverage, running from 0825 until the BBC coverage ended at 1600. David Dimbleby, who anchored the BBC's coverage, said a few words at the beginning and the end of the rerun.

On 18 November 2007 Cliff Michelmore came out of retirement to present The Pound in Your Pocket. This was an evening of BBC archive programmes shown to mark forty years since the devaluation of the Pound by the British government on 18 November 1967. The Money Programme, Twenty-Four Hours, highlights from the 1968 Budget programme and ministerial broadcasts were among archive shown. The programme's title is taken from the famously misquoted television broadcast made by the Prime Minister Harold Wilson about the devaluation on 19 November 1967. Wilson said: “It does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket, in your purse or bank has been devalued.

On 26 May 2008, Joan Bakewell introduced an archive evening called Permissive Night which examined the liberalising legislation passed by Parliament in the late 1960s. Topics covered included changes to divorce law, the death penalty, the legalisation of abortion, the Race Relations Bill, the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts (using editions of the documentary series Man Alive) and the relaxation of censorship. The evening concluded with a special new edition of Late Night Line-Up, the review programme that Joan Bakewell presented in the late 1960s.

On 28 March 2009 Donald MacCormick made his final appearance on television presenting an evening on BBC Parliament. The Night The Government Fell marked the 30th anniversary of the vote of no confidence in the Labour Government headed by James Callaghan. 30 years previously MacCormick had presented a live programme in Westminster covering these same events. The night included nearly three-and-a-half hours of audio highlights of the Commons debate as well as a documentary charting the evening's events and other archive programmes.

On 28 June 2009, BBC Parliament reran BBC TV's coverage of the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince Of Wales to mark the 40th anniversary of this event. The channel also broadcast an interview which Prince Charles gave a few days before his Investiture.

At 8pm on 3 September 2009, BBC Parliament re-broadcast the British declaration of War made by Neville Chamberlain just after 11am on 3 September 1939. This marked the point when Britain entered World War II. From this time "a state of war" existed between the United Kingdommarker and Nazi Germany.

On 25 September 2009 the channel marked the 30th anniversary of Question Time by broadcasting the first edition of the topical discussion programme originally broadcast on 25 September 1979 and presented by Robin Day. The inaugural panel consisted of Michael Foot MP, Teddy Taylor, Edna O'Brien and Archbishop Derek Worlock.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the 1959 general election the channel repeated the BBC's election results programme on 9 October 2009 (originally broadcast on 8 October 1959). Only the overnight coverage was shown because the BBC did not keep the daytime coverage. This was given a special introduction by David Dimbleby, the son of Richard Dimbleby who presented the 1959 broadcast alongside Cliff Michelmore, Alan Whicker, David Butler and Robert Mackenzie.

As a companion piece on 10 October 2009 the writer and broadcaster Anthony Howard introduced an archive evening looking back at 1959 called Never Had It So Good. This included television election broadcasts by the prime minister Harold Macmillan, Leader of the Opposition Hugh Gaitskell and Labour's Tony Benn, an edition of Tonight and other BBC current affairs programmes. The evening's title is taken from a phrase contained in a speech made by Harold Macmillan in 1957 when he optimistically said "Let us be frank about it - most of our people have never had it so good".

Regular programming

Whenever the House of Commons is in session, BBC Parliament covers the chamber live. Additionally, the House of Lords is shown on the channel on the same day and following day when it in session, in sections that fit around the Commons. Whenever both Houses are in recess, but a devolved assembly is constituted, the channel will provide live coverage of its work. Thus, when taken together with both live and recorded coverage from the other bodies it covers, BBC Parliament's schedule is dominated by direct broadcasts of the legislative and political institutions - whether they be plenary, quasi-plenary (such as Westminster Hall), or in committees - that affect British public life. However, BBC Parliament shows a variety of other recorded programmes, taken from across the BBC's national and international channels, including:

  • Dateline London - a roundtable panel of foreign correspondents in London discussing the week's news.
  • Dragon's Eye ( produced by BBC Wales) - presented by Adrian Masters or Rhun ap Iorwerth, providing a weekly roundup of Welsh political developments.
  • Eòrpa (produced by BBC Alba) - current affairs series which covers political and social developments covering Europe, transmitted in Gaelic with English subtitles.
  • Hearts and Minds (produced by BBC Northern Ireland) - weekly programme covering the latest issues in the politics of Northern Ireland.
  • Mayor's Question Time (from the Greater London Authority)
  • Politics Scotland ' (produced by BBC Scotland) - the Scottish section of The Politics Show, presented by Glenn Campbell and transmitted on BBC One Scotland.
  • The Record - daily evening roundup at 11 O'Clock of that day's business in the UK Parliament.
  • The Record Review - weekly hour-long analysis of discussion and events in the UK Parliament. Also during recess, a review of the Parliamentary term.
  • The Record Europe - once-weekly review of the work of the European Parliamentmarker, and the other European Union institutions, with debate and analysis of current European political issues, with a look at the work of EU member state parliaments. Presented by Shirin Wheeler.
  • This Week - presented by Andrew Neil and shown on BBC One, an often-witty look at developments on the UK and international political scene, with a variety of guest contributions and discussions.
  • The World Debate - part of a selection of programmes originally transmitted on BBC World News, that are broadcast exclusively on BBC Parliament to UK audiences, such as the 2009 London Intelligence Squared debates.
  • Straight Talk - a weekly political talk show in which presenter Andrew Neil discusses the motivitations, ideas and politics of leading figures in UK public life using the 1960s classic "Face to Face" format.
  • BOOKtalk - face-to-face discussion with authors about recently released political books
  • Washington Journal (from C-SPAN) - providing a lookback at the week in American politics, and providing the oppurtunity for UK viewers to contribute to a phone-in debate.
  • Question Time (repeated from BBC One) - a topical debate programme based on Any Questions? which typically features politicians from at least the three major political parties as well as other public figures who answer questions put to them by the audience.

During breaks, BBC Parliament does not often show programming information, instead showing short portions of, for example, Britain's Best Buildings, in particular the Palace of Westminstermarker episode, or its regular series A to Z of Westminster, attempting to make plain some of the more common aspects of parliamentary protocol. These portions usually last from 5–15 minutes, depending on how long the gap is to fill.


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