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BBC Parliament

BBC Parliament
BBC Parliament Logo
Launched 1992 (as The Parliamentary Channel)
Owned by BBC
Picture format 576i (16:9 SDTV)
Audience share 0.05% (September 2015 (2015-09), BARB)
Formerly called The Parliamentary Channel (1992–1998)
Sister channel(s) BBC One
BBC Three
BBC Four
BBC News
Website /
Freeview Channel 131
Freesat Channel 201
Sky (UK only) Channel 504
Astra 2E 10788 V 22000 5/6
Virgin Media Channel 605
WightFibre Channel 26
Streaming media
BBC iPlayer Watch live (UK only)
FilmOn Watch live
TVCatchup Watch live (UK only)
Livestation Watch live (UK only)

BBC Parliament is a British 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 Parliament.[1] It broadcasts live and recorded coverage of the House of Commons and House of Lords, Select Committees of the UK Parliament, the four devolved assemblies - the Scottish Parliament, the London Assembly, 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 Parliament and the yearly party conferences of the main UK political parties and the Trades Union Congress. On average, 1.2% of the UK's total population watch the channel for more than three minutes at least once per week; these viewers watch for an average of just over two hours each over the course of the week.[2] BBC Parliament is currently the BBC's only channel in the United Kingdom to not broadcast in high-definition.


  • History 1
  • Programming 2
    • Regular programming 2.1
      • Election night 2.1.1
      • Original Programmes 2.1.2
    • Archive and special programming 2.2
      • General election repeats 2.2.1
      • Special programming 2.2.2
        • 2005–2006
        • 2007–2008
        • 2009
        • 2011
        • 2013
        • 2015
    • Former programming 2.3
  • References 3
  • External links 4


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.[3] 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, now 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 emails and letters",[4] not to mention questions asked by MPs in the House itself, the BBC eventually found the bandwidth to make the channel full-screen.[5]

Until 2008, BBC Parliament was unique amongst the BBC channels in being broadcast using non-BBC facilities - with ITV's Millbank Studios, based in Westminster, supplying the engineering and playout facilities (CBeebies became the second such channel when it moved live presentation to Teddington Studios 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.[6] This replaced the channel's previous identity which was first introduced in 2002.[7]

BBC Parliament was taken off the air during the 2012 Summer Olympics on Freeview in post-digital switchover areas to enable BBC Three to broadcast 24 hours a day. The BBC had done the same during the 2008 Summer Olympics as it used the space to provide an additional BBC Red Button option for Freeview users.


Regular programming

Whenever the House of Commons is sitting, BBC Parliament carries the chamber live without interruption, with any simultaneous House of Lords sitting being shown in full later the same day and the following morning, often in sections that fit around the sittings of the Commons. The House of Lords is broadcast live only on days when there is no House of Commons sitting scheduled. BBC Parliament also provides full, recorded coverage of the House of Commons' second chamber Westminster Hall during weekends, when they will also broadcast selected evidence sessions from different Select committees of the House of Commons.

Whenever both Westminster chambers are in recess, but a devolved assembly is constituted, the channel will provide live coverage of its work, while during Westminster sessions, coverage of the devolved assemblies usually takes the form of highlights at the weekend of the previous week's main debates and business.

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.

BBC Parliament also shows a variety of other recorded programmes, taken from across the BBC's national and international channels, including:

  • BOOKtalk - face-to-face discussion with authors about recently released political books, presented by Mark D'Arcy. A summer special is also produced featuring several 'beach books'.
  • Briefings - a strand of programmes, usually broadcast weekend evenings, containing recorded coverage of major press briefings and conferences given by politicians in the previous week.
  • Daily Politics - a daily political programme broadcast weekdays on BBC Two during parliamentary sessions and presented by Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn. Daily Politics discusses the latest political news from across the United Kingdom, and is repeated on BBC Parliament every night at midnight. The Sunday Politics from BBC One (including the London region opt-out section) is also repeated at midnight on the day of broadcast.
  • Dragon's Eye (produced by BBC Wales) - presented by Adrian Masters or Rhun ap Iorwerth, providing a weekly roundup of Welsh political developments (since replaced by the Welsh section of Sunday Politics).
  • Eòrpa (produced by BBC Gàidhlig) - 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 (since replaced by the Northern Irish section of Sunday Politics).
  • Lords Questions - recorded coverage of the most recent session of Questions in the House of Lords.
  • Mayor's Question Time - record coverage of the monthly question period in the London Assembly to the Mayor of London.
  • Prime Minister's Questions - recorded coverage of the most recent session of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Live coverage is also provided on the channel without comment or interruption as part of the channel's live coverage of the House of Commons' sittings.
  • 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. Repeated every Sunday at 6pm.
  • Scottish First Minister's Questions - recorded coverage of the most recent session of Questions to the First Minister of Scotland in the Scottish Parliament. Scottish First Minister's Questions is always broadcast on Thursday evenings at 11:30pm, and is repeated throughout the week.
  • Sunday Politics Scotland (produced by BBC Scotland) - the Scottish section of The Sunday Politics, presented by Isabel Frazer and transmitted on BBC One Scotland.
  • Ten Minute Rule Bill - Recorded coverage of a backbench MP seeking the leave of the House of Commons to introduce a piece of legislation on a specific topic under the rules of Standing Order 23.
  • The Day in Parliament - nightly programme, broadcast at 11pm, or following the adjournment of the House of Commons if it sits after that time, that rounds up the day's headlines from across all of the UK's legislative chambers. The Record is usually presented by Keith McDougall, Alicia McCarthy, Joanna Shinn or Kristina Cooper.
  • The Week in Parliament - a weekly 30 minute-long analysis and discussion of major events in the UK's legislative chambers. Special editions of the record are produced during Westminster recesses reviewing the preceding session, and at the end of the calendar year reviewing the previous 12 months. The weekly edition is presented by either Keith McDougall or Alicia McCarthy, and the special editions are often presented jointly by McDougall and McCarthy.
  • This Week - repeated from BBC One and presented by Andrew Neil. An often-witty look at developments on the UK and international political scene, with a variety of guest contributions and discussions. Repeated at 10.15pm every Friday.
  • 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.
  • Washington Journal (from C-SPAN) - providing a lookback at the week in American politics, and providing the opportunity for UK viewers to contribute to a phone-in debate.
  • Welsh First Minister's Questions - recorded coverage of the most recent session of Questions to the First Minister of Wales in the National Assembly for Wales. Welsh First Minister's Questions is always broadcast on Tuesday evenings at 11:30pm, and is then repeated throughout the week.

BBC Parliament also broadcasts the annual party conferences of the three main parties in full, highlights of the smaller party conferences, highlights of the General Synod of the Church of England, and live coverage of the annual sitting of the UK Youth Parliament in the House of Commons, the most recent of which occurred on 4 November 2011.

Election night

In the event of one of the devolved nations producing their own results programme on election night, normally the first Thursday in May, BBC Parliament will usually broadcast this service to the whole of the United Kingdom. On election night for both the 2005 general election and 2010 general election as well as the 2011 devolved assembly elections, the channel broadcast BBC Scotland's coverage of the Scottish results, while in March 2011 BBC Parliament simulcast BBC Wales's results coverage of the nation's devolution referendum.

Original Programmes

BBC Parliament often broadcasts its own original programmes. These can either be scheduled or used to fill any gaps in the billed programmes, especially when live coverage of a legislative chamber ends before the next programme is due to start. The programmes cover a variety of political and parliamentary subjects, including:

  • A to Z of Westminster - A series of short programmes presented by BBC Parliament researchers that seek to explain some of the more common aspects of parliamentary protocol.
  • Britain's Best Buildings - Only the episode that features the Palace of Westminster is broadcast, usually edited down into short segments that focus on one specific feature of the palace.
  • Election File - Short summaries of previous general election results, including short bursts of the BBC's original television coverage. These files are now rarely shown.
  • In House - A new strand of programmes that replaced A-Z of Westminster in 2011. The programmes are similar in function to their predecessor series, seeking to explain some of the strange procedures that occur in Parliament.
  • Laying Down the Law - A standalone programme that explains the parliamentary stages a bill must go through to become an Act of Parliament.
  • MP Too! - A series of short programmes that look back at some eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Members of Parliament who were more famous for their work outside of the House of Commons or House of Lords.
  • Village Idioms - Short examinations of modern day idioms that were coined in Westminster, including 'reading the Riot Act' and 'flogging a dead horse'.
  • Laws and Ladies - A topical chat show, featuring a panel of peers discussing the political issues of the day. Those appearing are Baroness Boothroyd, Baroness Knight of Collingtree and Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde.

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 2010 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".[8]

Election Coverage Title Dates(s) Shown
19551 1955 General Election 26 May 2005 - 50th anniversary
26 May 2015 - 60th anniversary
30 August 2015
1959 1959 General Election 9 October 2009 — 50th anniversary2
1964 1964 General Election 4 January 2004
3 October 2008
12 November 2014
1966 1966 General Election 31 March 2006 — One hour 'highlights' programme, 40th anniversary
8 April 2006 - Full Coverage
1970 BBC Election 70 26 September 2003
18 July 2005 — Unadvertised; shown the day after the death of Ted Heath
9 October 2010
February 1974 Election 74 3 October 2003
19 February 2010
15 May 2010
1 September 2012 — Shown in tribute to the late Alastair Burnet
21 February 2014 — 40th anniversary
October 1974 BBC Election 74 10 October 2004 — 30th anniversary
10 October 2014 — 40th anniversary
19793 Decision 79 7 September 2002
3 May 2004 — 25th anniversary
4 May 2009 — 30th anniversary
13 April 2013 — Shown to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher
19834 Election 83 6 October 2006
30 May 2008 — 25th anniversary
1 April 2013 — 30th anniversary
1987 Election 87 5 September 2005
5 October 2007
9 June 2012 — 25th anniversary
1992 Election 92 9 April 2007 — 15th anniversary
9 April 2012 — 20th anniversary
19975 Election 97 8 September 2002
13 May 2005
7 May 2007 — 10th anniversary
2001 Vote 2001 The Verdict 30 May 2011 — 10th anniversary
2005 Election Night 7 May 2005 — Two days after its original transmission
2010 Election 2010 8 May 2010 — Two days after its original transmission
2015 Election 2015 9 May 2015 — Two days after its original transmission

1 - Only three hours of the programme are known to exist.
2 - This was given a special introduction by David Dimbleby, the son of Richard Dimbleby who presented the 1959 broadcast. Only the overnight footage was shown because the daytime coverage was not kept.
3 - In addition, the overnight coverage of the 1979 election was broadcast on BBC Four on 12 June 2008.
4 - The 1983 election was originally scheduled to be shown on 10 October 2003, but was not broadcast.
5 - 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 first archive rerun, which was to celebrate the Golden Jubilee in June 2002 when BBC Parliament reran the coronation coverage.


In 2005, the channel marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill by broadcasting archive coverage of his funeral.

In the same year, BBC Parliament also marked the 30th anniversary of the 1975 referendum over Europe by reshowing interviews with the two main party leaders, and broadcasting two hours of the Referendum results coverage.

The 50th anniversary of the Suez Crisis was commemorated in November 2006, with writer and broadcaster Anthony Howard introducing a special series of programmes on the channel. This included television broadcasts by the then-Prime Minister Anthony Eden and the then-Labour Leader of the Opposition Hugh Gaitskell, alongside a new documentary called Suez in Parliament: a Fine Hullabaloo.


In April 2007, veteran BBC correspondent Brian Hanrahan introduced Falklands Night to mark the 25th anniversary of the outbreak of the Falklands War. Programming included the BBC's original television news bulletins and reports from the period, alongside 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 broadcast 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 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong to China.

The 10th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales was marked on 1 September 2007 with a broadcast of the BBC coverage of her funeral. The rerun was shown at the precise broadcast times of the BBC's original coverage, running from 0825 until 1600. David Dimbleby, who anchored the BBC's coverage, said a few words at the beginning and end of the rerun.

Cliff Michelmore came out of retirement on 18 November 2007 to present The Pound in Your Pocket, a special strand of programming to mark forty years since the devaluation of the Pound by the British government on 18 November 1967. Editions of The Money Programme and 24 Hours were shown along with highlights from the 1968 Budget programme and ministerial broadcasts. The strand's title was taken from the famously misquoted television broadcast made by the then-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 (see permissive society) which examined the liberalising social reform 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 Act 1968, 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.


The fall of James Callaghan's Labour government was marked on its 30th anniversary - 28 March 2009. Donald MacCormick, making what would prove to be his final television appearance before his death, presented The Night The Government Fell, which included nearly three-and-a-half hours of audio highlights of the Commons debate that resulted in Callaghan's government losing a vote of no confidence by 311 votes to 310. A documentary charting the evening's events was shown, as was McCormick's own live programme from Westminster on the night of the vote.

On 28 June 2009, BBC Parliament reran BBC TV's coverage of the 1969 Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales to mark the 40th anniversary of this event. The channel also re-broadcast an interview which Prince Charles gave a few days before his Investiture.

The anniversary of the BBC's own Question Time series was marked on 25 September 2009 by re-broadcasting the first edition of the topical discussion programme from 30 years earlier. Robin Day presented alongside the inaugural panel of Michael Foot MP, Teddy Taylor, Edna O'Brien and Archbishop Derek Worlock.

The writer and broadcaster Anthony Howard presented an archive evening on 10 October 2009 entitled Never Had It So Good, that looked back on 1959. 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".


At the time of the Irish general election, 2011: BBC Parliament simulcasted Irish state broadcaster RTÉ's general election results programme on 26 February 2011. The election saw the incumbent Irish government fall to heavy defeat at the hands of the other parties. The channel also broadcast recorded coverage of the presentation of the Irish government's 2012 budget in the Dáil Éireann in December 2011.


On Thursday 14 February BBC Parliament broadcast an evening of selected archive programmes under the title Harold Wilson Night.[9][10][11][12] Presented by Peter Snow, the five hour block of programming marked the 50th anniversary of the election of Harold Wilson as leader of the Labour Party on 14 February 1963, the longest serving and most electorally successful Labour Prime Minister of the 20th century. The sequence of programmes, which included Harold Wilson's famous "Pound in your Pocket" broadcast and the first airing of the once controversial Yesterday's Men documentary since its initial broadcast in June 1971,[13] was repeated two days later.

On Monday 18 March BBC Parliament showed four hours of the House of Commons debate about whether to commit British troops to the invasion of Iraq. Titled Iraq - Ten Years On, it was shown to mark the 10th anniversary of the debate.

On Monday 8 April, BBC Parliament broadcast an evening of archive programming to mark the death of Margaret Thatcher, the first, and to date, only woman to serve as Prime Minister. The schedule included three interviews conducted by Sir Robin Day, Mrs Thatcher's speeches to the 1980 and 1984 Conservative Party Conferences, her last speech in the House of Commons in November 1990 and her maiden speech in the House of Lords in 1992.

On the 60th anniversary of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (2 June), the channel showed BBC Television's original coverage of the event. The footage was shown 'as live' and included the State Procession which followed the Coronation service.

On Sunday 9 June, BBC Parliament broadcast Beeching Night to mark the 50th anniversary of The Beeching Report on the future of Britain's railways, which recommended closing 3000 miles of track and 2000 stations to help stem massive losses. The evening was presented by Nicholas Owen. The strand featured railway-themed editions of various BBC current affairs programmes, including two editions of Panorama, as well as news reports and two interviews with Dr Beeching. Also included was a new programme looking at the relationship between the railways and politicians.

On Saturday 19 October, BBC Parliament marked the 50th anniversary of the appointment of Alec Douglas-Home as Prime Minister following the resignation of Harold Macmillan. Titled Home at the Top the sequence included the edition of Panorama broadcast on the night of the hand-over and an address to the nation by the new Prime Minister.


To mark the 50th anniversary of the funeral of Winston Churchill, BBC Parliament replayed the black-and-white funeral coverage, commentated by Richard Dimbleby, and at the same time as the original broadcast. The broadcast was introduced by Nicholas Soames, Churchill's grandson and was in attendance that day.

On Sunday 26 July, BBC Parliament showed an evening of programmes to mark the 50th anniversary of Ted Heath becoming leader of the Conservative Party.

Former programming

BBC Parliament has previously broadcast the following political and current affairs programmes from across the BBC:

  • Dateline London - a roundtable panel of foreign correspondents in London discussing the week's news. Dateline is now only shown on the BBC News Channel.
  • 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. Straight Talk is no longer produced.
  • The Record Europe - a weekly review of the work of the European Parliament, and the other European Union institutions, with debate and analysis of current European political issues. Presented by Shirin Wheeler. Ended mid-2012 and replaced by Politics Europe, presented by Andrew Neil.


  1. ^ "BBC Trust. BBC Parliament Service Licence, 7 April 2008" (PDF). 
  2. ^ "BBC Trust annual report 2011/12". 
  3. ^ "Broadcasting Select Committee Minutes Of Evidence, 1997". 
  4. ^ "BBC NEWS - The Editors". Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  5. ^ "BBC NEWS - Programmes - BBC Parliament - BBC Parliament goes full screen". BBC News. 13 November 2006. Retrieved 2007-04-30. 
  6. ^ "BBC - Press Office - BBC Parliament gets a fresh look". 
  7. ^ "BBC NEWS - Programmes - BBC Parliament - BBC Parliament unveils a fresh new look". 
  8. ^ "BBC NEWS - The Editors". Archived from the original on 27 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-08. 
  9. ^ "BBC - Harold Wilson Night - Media Centre". 
  10. ^ BBC Parliament - Harold Wilson Night with Peter Snow
  11. ^ "BBC Parliament - Schedules, Thursday 14 February 2013". BBC. 
  12. ^ discussion of Harold Wilson's legacy with Lord Donoughue and Lord HeseltineDaily PoliticsBBC News -
  13. ^ Yesterday's Men, BBC Parliament, 24 Hours, 2013. Sources vary as to whether the programme was shown on 16 or 17 June.

External links

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