HC Deb 17 November 1949 vol 469 cc2186-8
46. Mr. Beswick

asked the Lord President of the Council whether, pending the possible institution of a Press Council, he will set up a committee to investigate the charges made by the "Sunday Express" newspaper that officials of nationalised industries are using their position to buy motor cars through official channels and sell for their personal profit, which charges, though denied by the Minister, have not been withdrawn by the newspaper concerned.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

No, Sir. If I were to set up committees to investigate unproved newspaper allegations in other than very exceptional circumstances, I should soon become over-occupied. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply has dealt with these allegations in a series of answers and any withdrawal or expression of regret is a matter for the professional conscience of the Editor of the "Sunday Express."

Mr. Beswick

Is not my right hon. Friend aware that although the Minister has denied these allegations, the editor of the newspaper concerned has specifically stated that he will not withdraw nor has he had the decency to give the details upon which he bases the charges? In view of the fact that these are very serious charges against a large body of men, does my right hon Friend think that the position can be allowed to remain as it is?

Mr. Morrison

I do not see what I can do about it The thing is on record and I think that the facts are much as my hon. Friend has stated, but in the last resort it is a matter for the editor of the newspaper and, as I have said, it really is a matter for his professional conscience. Of course, I have no power at all of directing newspapers.

Mr. Wilfrid Roberts

Could the Lord President say whether there has been any progress at all towards the setting up of a Press Council?

Mr. Morrison

I do not know. I gather it was announced in the Press that the Newspaper Proprietors' Association were consulting among themselves and had sent out a questionnaire to newspaper proprietors, after which they would consider it again. The House has, of course, unanimously expressed the view that it would welcome the Press proceeding on the lines of the recommendation of the Royal Commission and, personally, I hope very much they will do so.

Mr. Quintin Hogg

Is not the continued use of Question Time as a means of abusing newspapers of a complexion opposite to that of the hon. Members asking the Questions greatly to be deprecated as a misuse of the privileges of this House?

Mr. E. Fletcher

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this and similar episodes further illustrates the necessity of setting up a Press Council?

Mr. Morrison

I think that a Press Council, properly constituted would be in a position to express an impartial opinion on such incidents as this and would be exceedingly valuable.

Mr. Max Aitken

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall the answer given by the Minister of Supply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Brigadier Head) on 24th October, in which the Minister did not deny the charges? Further, the Minister said he had no responsibility for the nationalised industries and did not purchase cars for these industries.

Mr. Morrison

The replies are on record. If I may say so, I think the hon. Member has at least very much exaggerated the facts. My impression was that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply had pretty consistently resisted and denied these allegations.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I happened to put two Questions to the Minister of Supply a short time ago and he quite specifically repudiated the charges made by the hon. Member. In those circumstances, is it in Order for the hon. Member to read from a Fleet Street brief an entirely inaccurate statement which bears no relation to the Minister's reply to me?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of Order. We are getting on to views about this matter. Sir Waldron Smithers.

Air-Commodore Harvey

On a point of Order. The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), in his statement on a point of Order, referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn (Mr. Max Aitken) as reading "a Fleet Street brief." All my hon. Friend was doing was to read the Question and the replies made to my hon. Friends.

Mr. Speaker

These are not points of Order at all. They are points of difference, but not points of Order. Sir Waldron Smithers.