I think I owe the house an explanation as to why there is on the floor of the house at this moment what is called in technical terms a roving microphone. It is merely a duplication of the microphone which is suspended in front of the minister and through which he would speak if the floor microphone was not placed in front of his desk. This is merely an experiment for today.
Hon. members have complained about the insufficiency of the amplifying system. On March 12 the hon. member for Burnaby-Richmond (Mr. Goode) asked that something be done about it, and I promised him, and the hon. member for Ottawa East (Mr. Richard) and others who privately have made requests that I look into the matter, that I would do so. On Monday last Mr. Guy Fountain, the president of the Tannoy group of companies, was in Canada. I had a conversation with him and he sent me an explanation of what the system means. I think there are some misapprehensions as to what this system really is. Perhaps hon. members think too much of this system as a loudspeaker system; that it amplifies the voice, the moment the speaker utters words, to every part of the house including the territory surrounding him; but that is not so.
Around the speaker there is what is called a muted zone. A few members sitting around the Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Pearson), for instance, would hear nothing else but the natural voice of the minister. We had an instance of that the other day when the hon. member for Bellechasse (Mr. Picard) pointed out to me that he could not hear anything while the Prime Minister (Mr. St. Laurent) was speaking. If hon. members will look at the chart -and I have asked the Tannoy company to prepare a printed chart so that we can circulate it among hon. members in order to inform them-they will see exactly what their position is.
When the Prime Minister speaks through the second microphone to my right his words are carried to all hon. members except to
those sitting around him, and the hon. member for Bellechasse, being in that muted zone, would not hear anything through the loudspeaker placed on his desk; whereas the voice of the Prime Minister would be carried through the amplifying system to the distant corners of the house.
With the permission of the house, I should like to read the prepared statement of Mr. Fountain. I quote:
The Tannoy installation provided to improve acoustics and enable free debating to be enjoyed with greater clarity and audibility comprises several important features and performs certain extremely useful, but limited, functions.
Unlike most "microphone systems" where the person using the microphone is on a rostrum, stage, or in a strategic visual position, and where only one microphone point exists with an array of loudspeakers operated from this microphone, the facilities in the House of Commons are designed to enable any member of the house to get up spontaneously and from his own desk address the whole house and be heard by all members in the house, regardless of where he is normally located and whether or not he is addressing his remarks in any particular direction. This versatility is achieved only by permitting certain restrictions, and calls for the constant operation of a control panel by a skilled engineer and his standby.
The devices which hang down on wires from the ceiling are the microphones, and the small cylindrical features on the members' desks and behind the seats in the galleries are the reproducers. The- can scarcely be called "loudspeakers", since they are not intended to make a person's voice appear to be louder than it is.
The microphones are devices which, whilst they can discriminate, within a controlled zone, in the amount of sound they pick up from any given direction,-in other words, they can pick up in a forward direction, but not necessarily in a rearward direction-they cannot, at any time and under normal circumstances, discriminate in the type of noise or sound to which they are sensitive. That is to say, if they hear a person speaking, they will also hear the noise of a dropping book or rustling paper, or any other extraneous noise, and these noises will be amplified proportionately with the person's voice. They will also pick up, in addition to the orator's voice and local extraneous noises, reproduction from any loudspeaker sufficiently loud in the vicinity of the microphone. It is for this latter reason that the whole of the system was divided up into zones, which are individually and electronically controlled by the operator in the following manner:
When a member of the house rises to his feet, the suspended microphone nearest to him is made "live" and sensitive, and simultaneously the remaining microphones are reduced in sensitivity. In addition to this, the small speakers on the desks in the immediate vicinity of the orator are muted, and are not permitted to radiate any amplified speech. The reason for this is twofold: Firstly, if they are left switched on, their output could easily be sufficient to operate the microphone as well as the
3318 HOUSE OF
House of Commons-Amplifying System orator's own voice, which would result in a "howl"; and secondly, there should be no need for other members with normal hearing, sitting in the immediate vicinity of the orator, to require any reinforcement since they would, under normal circumstances, hear him direct without difficulty.
It will be seen, therefore, by such switching, the sensitivity of the microphone in use can be increased to enable the orator's voice to be suitably amplified for the energizing of the remainder of the remote speakers.
When a member who has been speaking concludes his speech and sits down and another member in another part of the house gets up, the Tannoy operator follows the movement visually, and by an ingenious but complex switching arrangement, the operator merely depresses a small switch controlling the zone in which the new member is speaking, and this switch has the effect of unlatching all the previous connections electronically, and setting up a precisely similar set of operating conditions in the new zone.
It will be seen, therefore, that much depends not only on the desirability of a member to speak up and speak so far as possible towards his nearest microphone, but in order to enable the engineer/-operator to switch in the appropriate microphone in the member's zone as quickly as possible, he should see him rise to his feet, preferably pausing for a moment before speaking. Such a procedure gives the engineer/operator more time (a) to identify the member and his zone, and (b) to do the necessary switching (which is almost instantaneous) which will ensure that the microphone in that particular member's zone is made live, and the necessary muting completed. It will be seen that if a member who intends to speak commences his statement whilst he is actually rising from his seat, it is quite conceivable that the operator will not have seen him start to rise, nor be aware of his intention, until the member may have actually spoken two or three words.
A plan of the house is being produced upon which will be delineated the areas and zones which have their individual microphones and control systems. This should enable members to determine for themselves, by simple observation, not only which is the nearest microphone in their zone and to which they should address their remarks as often as possible, but it will indicate whether or not the speakers provided on their desks are operating or whether they are muted when a given microphone is selected.
The engineers will be very happy indeed, at any time, not only to explain to the members or those interested how the system works, but to give advice which would enable both the intelligibility and efficiency of the system to be improved.
As soon as these charts are available, one of which I have before me, copies will be distributed, to hon. members. It was discovered that facilities exist underneath the table for the installation of a roving microphone, such as the Tannoy company have installed in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. When the president of the company informed me of that I suggested that, perhaps, if they had the equipment we might see what would happen if it were used in connection with speeches of hon. members seated in front rows on both sides of the house. The microphone which is now in front of the minister is merely, as I said, a duplication of the suspended microphone,
which is now dead. The minister will be speaking through the floor microphone in front of him, and we will see what happens.