§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.7 a.m.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill was my choice when I was successful in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills on the ground that Private Members' time should be utilised to secure effective legislation likely to confer benefit on the whole community. In moving the Second Reading I shall deal with the broad principles of the Bill, as details of the composition of the Council and its powers, and things of that description, are capable of friendly compromise by arrangement with the various interests concerned in Committee.
The Bill is designed to implement the one recommendation of the Royal Commission on the Press, and the will of Parliament, as expressed in the Motion carried in the House without opposition on 29th July, 1949. I am convinced that if we can today put party political feeling entirely on one side we can, with this Bill, unite hon. Members in all quarters of the House.
I admit that a gentleman from New Cross, on a postcard written in script, has informed me that I am one of "Bevan's vermin." The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. H. Nicholls), in his most charming and friendly manner, inferred that I was a "tool of the Left," and that paragon of journalistic taste, the "Daily Express" has inferred that I am, to use their words, "Morrison's stooge." What has inspired a number of hon. Members on the other side of the House, on a Private Members' Bill, to table an Amendment for its rejection I do not know, but one usually judges people by the company they keep.
I reiterate that this is a non-party, nonpartisan Measure, and I claim its right to be discussed on its merits and not as a Bill calling for Government whipping or Opposition, even of a semiofficial character. Quite a number of hon. Gentlemen who are behind the Opposition Amendment are interested in 963 advertising and newspaper production. I hope they will declare their interest today. My hon. Friends whose names appear on the back of the Bill, in its supports have no intimate connection with journalism, and though I am a member of the National Union of Journalists my Parliamentary and constituency duties have prevented me from engaging in remunerative journalism since 1945.
Both in the newspaper world and in the minds of the general public there is a desire that the moral, ethical and technical standards of journalism should be maintained and improved. That is exactly the object of the Bill which I have the honour to bring to the notice of the House.
The background to this Bill is worthy of consideration. On 29th October, 1946, Mr. Haydn Davies, who was then a Member of this House, moved a Motion calling for the setting up of a Press Commission. On a free vote of the House it was carried by 270 vote to 157. The Royal Commission was duly appointed on 14th April, 1947. Its report was presented to Parliament in June, 1949. On 28th July, 1949, the House approved, without a Division, the fallowing Motion:That this House, having taken into consideration the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press (Cmd. 7700) would welcome all possible action on the part of the Press to give effect to the Commission's conclusions and recommendations.The one definite recommendation of the Royal Commission was the setting up of a General Council for the Press. Nearly 3½ years after its publication, we are still awaiting its formation by the Press, of their own volition. This Bill seeks to expedite the formation of a General Council for the Press.
In the debate on 28th July, 1949, no responsible person on either side of the House opposed the principle of a General Council for the Press. I wish to quote from some of the speeches which were made. Leading for the Opposition was the late Mr. Oliver Stanley. We who knew him and associated with him as a Member of this House were always impressed by his wit and charm, but in that debate, of which I have a lively recollection, he excelled himself. Because I want to present a fair picture I want to 964 quote rather fully from his speech, though all of it does not support my case. He said:I want to refer only to the Press Council. It is true that the Press Council is recommended by the Royal Commission on a variety of grounds. I want just to deal with it from the point of view that I am now discussing … that the Press Council could be of some help in raising the standard of the Press in two respects—the fair presentation of the news and abstention from sensationalism. That is the main interest of the Press Council to me … I do not believe that a statutory body set up in defiance of the wishes of the Press … would have any chance of success … it is for the Press to decide, and I am content to leave it with them to decide.He recognised the necessity of something being done by the Press to achieve what he had in mind, if they rejected the Council which he accepted in principle. On this he said:Certainly, we all expect from those in authority, that if they say that the Press Council is not the right way to do it, they will tell us what is the right way. … It is in the interests of hon. Members on this side of the House just as much as in the interests of hon. Members opposite, just as it is of everybody whom we represent in Parliament, that by some means or other we should eliminate, first, the deliberate distortion of news and, secondly, any unhealthy pandering to crude sensationalism.We all agree with those sentiments.
The present Home Secretary, in winding up for the then Opposition, reinforced what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and Mr. Wilfrid Roberts, speaking for the Liberal Party, whose representative today is to second this Motion, said:I think there is a place for the proposed Press Council provided that it is not influenced by any passing Government, that it is a free organisation.Sir Stanley Reed, another independent figure in this House, who was then a member of the party opposite, said:On the whole, I think the newspaper world would be wise to accept the suggestion and form the Council."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 2715–2738.]From that it will be seen that, taking a representative selection of Members from the opposite side of the House, there was no opposition to the principle of a Press Council.
In my desire to be fair I should like to quote findings of the Royal Commission which were favourable to the Press.
965 In paragraph 527 on page 143, they found that there was… no evidence of concerted pressure by advertisers to induce newspapers to adopt a particular policy.In paragraph 548 on page 149, they said:It is generally agreed that the British Press is inferior to none in the world. It is free from corruption; both those who own the Press and those who are employed on it would universally condemn the acceptance or soliciting of bribes.In paragraph 561 on page 152 they found that the Press adequately provided for a sufficient variety of political opinion.
The Report acquitted the Press on these points, but many of my hon. Friends on this side will doubtless disagree with those findings. In spite of this, however, the Royal Commission made as their only definite recommendation that of the setting up of a General Council for the Press. After three and a half years the Council has not yet been set up, and two of the most representative newspaper trade papers censure the newspaper industry for the procrastination which justifies the Bill.
The "World's Press News" in the issue of 21st November, 1952, in the leading article said that the choice of this Bill meant… that the whole question again comes rapidly to the forefront, Anything that smacks of Government interference with the Press is suspect … danger of loopholes left for censorship and newsprint control by Governments of the future. The far better way is for the Press to set up its own Press Council. It is now likely that the interest of the House will accelerate the process.On advertising, the same journal said that the advertising men… would not welcome interference due to popular clamour when they are already running their own business well.That is a bit of special pleading. The "Newspaper World" of 20th November. 1952, in a panel in heavy type on the front page, said:No news of any fresh development in the negotiations concerning the setting up of a voluntary Press Council was available this week. No meeting of the joint committee … has been held since the end of July … the proprietors put forward amended proposals at the last meeting … the journalists' organisations have now considered these proposals and submitted their views. But no meeting has been held to see if further progress is possible.966 In their leading article they say that the very fact that the matter is coming up in the House of Commons is'… an indication of the lack of urgency in the negotiations for the setting up of a voluntary Press Council.They add:If the Bill falls then the Press might assume that Parliament attaches little significance to the establishment of a Press Council.The "Man in the Street," in the same journal, on page 701, writes:It is just as well to regard … the introduction of this bill as just one more sign that there should be no further avoidable delay in producing the voluntary plan.I think that is an unanswerable case against the dilatoriness of the Press in doing what Parliament requested them to do. The "Manchester Guardian," in their leader of 22nd November on the Press Council Bill, said:Its introduction may serve a useful purpose. The outside public—and a good many on the inside—have been baffled to understand why the newspaper organisations should have taken such an unconscionable time in putting forward their alternative to the form of the Press Council … suggested by the Royal Commission. The chief difference from the Commission is on the inclusion of outside members. There is, of course, scope for a Press Council. Some trends in the British Press since the Royal Commission have been unpleasant and have justified many of its criticisms.It is clear from the quotations I have put before the House that a substantial and influential element in the newspaper world wants a Press Council and that it welcomes this Bill, though not agreeing with all its provisions, as a goad to the procrastinators and feel that the rejection on Second Reading would probably kill the voluntary council before it was born. When we come to look at the situation that has been created by this procrastination, I think that the House has a right to know who is holding up the formation of a general council for the Press.
There is an opinion, and it is supported by the Royal Commission, that a voluntary council is preferable to a statutory one. But, before we reject the idea of a statutory council, we ought to know whether there is any hope whatever of an effective voluntary council being established by the Press themselves. What is the price that certain newspaper owners are demanding of the working journalists for their co-operation in the forming of a 967 voluntary Press Council? A Press Council dominated by newspaper owners would be useless. A Press Council entirely composed of newspaper men, owners and journalists, would create suspicion. It would be said by the man in the street, "What have they to hide that they want to rig up their own little private conclave? Where do the interests of John Citizen come in?"
It may be asked why I should be introducing this Bill, why I was so weak-minded as to succumb to the blandishments of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The fact is that although I am no longer actively engaged in journalism, I am a member of the National Union of Journalists. Indeed, I am a member of two trade unions: the National Union of Municipal and General Workers and the National Union of Journalists. I am loyal to the organisations to which I belong and the National Union of Journalists have come down heavily in favour of the Press Council and have made scathing comments, through their President, who is now the General Secretary, on the attitude of the Press.
At the 44th Annual Delegate Meeting, held at Central School Hall, Cambridge, in March, 1951, Mr. H. J. Bradley, who was then President, said this of the newspaper owners:… they propose a Press Council in which no one except themselves shall have more than a token voice … For 14 months your Union has sought consultation. It was not forthcoming … At the best it is a manoeuvre by the proprietors to get their proposals and not those of the Royal Commission accepted as a basis … To recalcitrant proprietors I say that … if their organisations stick to their present draft, or anything like it, we shall have to ask Parliament to consider the situation in the light of its unanimous decision of nearly two years ago.That is good enough for me, as a loyal trade unionist.
I do not mind the "Well, well's" of a dramatic critic of one of Lord Beaverbrook's papers. Conciliation and compromise are all right in their place, there are times for conciliation and compromise, but the prejudice and stubbornness of the Press barons is standing in the way of the formation of a voluntary Press Council. They are reluctant to give us a Press Council unless they are allowed to run it. They apparently want power to steam-roller the working journalist and 968 to ignore the citizen by denying any representation at all to independent members. That would be a delusion and a sham.
All this Bill does is to place a statutory obligation on the members to have a Press Council. That is the object of the Bill, to set up a Press Council. When the Press Council is demanded by statute then it will be the Press themselves who will set up the Press Council. It will be the Press themselves who will elect their Council representatives and they will do their job entirely free from Government interference.
Before I leave the idea of a statutory council and a voluntary council—I speak in an inquiring manner and tentatively on this point—would not the statutory council probably be more protected in law than a voluntary council? Could they not afford to be more independent and fearless because they have the protection of being a statutory body? That is a point at which both sides in this controversy might do well to look.
I ask finally, why all this opposition if it is not to kill the idea of Press Council altogether? Why all this distortion and misrepresentation of a Bill such as we have been getting in the "Daily Express" and the "Evening Standard"? The "Evening Standard" says:Mr. Herbert Morrison is on the war path … he prefers to have his fighting done for him by others … Mr. Simmons is simply one of Mr Morrison's satellites … other functions could hide sinister aims and powers politely behind apparently innocent phrases.They they go on, in this leading article:The Council could, in other words, operate even if it were boycotted by important sections of the newspaper profession.What does that mean? Does it mean that they intend to boycott it? Do they intend direct action on the part of the newspaper owners and is that why the voluntary scheme is being held up?
Further, they quote what I have already quoted myself, namely, that the Royal Commission said that the British Press is inferior to none. Before they start patting themselves on the back too much, before they get too self-righteous about it—although I quoted the favourable parts of the Press Commission—in notes I prepared before that article appeared in the "Evening Standard," the following give the other side. The Press Commission did not entirely absolve the Press 969 from blame. In paragraph 560 of the report they say that a number of quality papers do fully, or almost fully, meet the demands of truth in the absence of bias. But all the popular papers, and certain of the quality papers, fall short of a standard achieved by the best either through excessive partisanship or through distortion in the interests of news balance or a combination of both. Partisanship is less marked in the provinces, for some of the provincial newspapers are, to a certain extent, a corrective to the fault of the nationals.
In Birmingham we have the "Birmingham Daily Post" which, I believe, is a first rank newspaper. Its politics are opposed to mine but it is fair, it is objective and one cannot expect them to give Socialists as much space as they give their own people. However, they give us a fair share and there is a certain amount of representation.
Paragraph 561 of the Report of the Royal Commission says:The appeal of the popular papers … is very largely to the lowest common denominator of taste and interest: some popular papers are almost entirely frivolous on nearly every subject that they handle, while others attempt to deal with serious material seriously, but give little of it.That is a little corrective to the self-righteousness of the "Evening Standard," who quote only one portion of the Report.
Then we get the "Daily Express." They have got my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the Opposition on the brain. They say:Mr. Morrison pulls the strings. His brain is behind this Bill.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
Did not the hon. Gentleman say that he succumbed to the blandishments of his right hon. Friend the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition in introducing this Bill?
§ Mr. Simmons
I think that the hon. Gentleman, who is himself at times a master of irony, does not appreciate it in someone on this side of the House.
I challenge the Press to show how, under my Bill, there can possibly be any Government interference in the conduct of the day to day business of the Press. I reiterate that the Bill, once having established the Council, leaves its day to day working entirely in the hands of 970 newspaper men, plus 4 out of 24 independent members, and leaves the appointment of its membership to the Press.
The Press raves about my right hon. Friend wanting this Bill in order to threaten and bully newspapers and in order that a future Labour Minister may, by means of this Bill, end all freedom of speech in Britain. Really, this employment of invective exposes a fear of the Bill. What has the great "Beaver" to fear or to hide that may be dragged to light at the meetings of the Press Council? Answer echoes, Why and What. I make no further comment, but it makes you think, mate.
On the political issue, I want to say that I, personally, do not worry when the Press calls me names—politically, of course. Most politicians believe that all is fair in love and war. I believe in hitting hard, but also in hitting above the belt. When the Press goes for me, my constituents just say, "I see old Jim has been upsetting them again," and because they like a fighter in the Black Country it enhances my reputation. I do not like thin-skinned, squealing politicians. They are worse than the horizontal champions, in boxing, and as far as political infighting in concerned I would be the last to spoil the fun and detract from the gaiety of the occasion.
On the general question of representation of political opponents, I advise hon. Members to study Chapter 12 of the Report, pages 106–122. Looking back over the years I have a feeling that the standard of journalism is not as high as it was in my youth. In those days, we had more editors who were personalities in their own right, men who were capable and determined to express their own independent thought, men possessed of high literary attainment. That is still true of some today, but we have far too many who are acutely conscious that they are just employees of strong-minded Press barons.
As a youth I read certain newspapers with pleasure and profit, and as one who left school at the age of 14 I was indebted to them for my further education. I used regularly to dip into my dinner money to buy every day the "Manchester Guardian" and the "Daily News," and the "Weekly Westminster" and the good old "Clarion," which was more than a 971 Socialist tract. It was an educational force among the young people of the country. From these newspapers I gained an appreciation of good literature and current affairs. I made the acquaintance with such great men as Chesterton, Shaw, Belloc, Wells, Bennett, Blackley and others whom I cannot call to mind at the moment and was constrained to make their better acquaintance through the cheap reprints of that time. To the editors who gathered such talent around them I owe eternal thanks.
To whom are the youth today introduced in their daily and weekly newspapers? Today, they are regaled with confessions of Princess Narriman, with the love lives, usually sordid, of film stars or the experiences of spivs or drug addicts. I go to an independent source for the elements to back up what I have just said. In the "World's Press News" of 21st November "Sentinal" writes:The historian will write of the Social History of this age:'The people of Britain really suffered from a prurient and prying interest in sex which made the middle of the twentieth century one of the most mentally unhealthy ages in history. The cause was probably repression, industrial weariness or pure adolescence. This appetite was fed in a somewhat slimy—and to us nauseatingly hypocritical—way by what purported to be some highly respectable family Sunday papers.'He goes on to say:Better that the people should read the good honest bawdy of the eighteenth century rather than the disguised pornography of an age which does not even have the guts to say outright 'We sell sex and sadism, Come and get it.'He quotes as an example the personal narrative of Princess Narriman on her "Great Romance" with Farouk, now running in a Sunday paper, and he comments:The greatest pity, and to journalists everlasting disgust, is that the general public never hear what the journalist himself really thinks of the muck that somebody is forced to write,and comments:Any one of the three million soldiers who served in Egypt could tell the entire story of Egyptian corruption in two words—it stank.That is what an independent arm of the Press says about that. Its language is much stronger than I would think of using in this House. I am convinced that just as the real craftsman hates to be compelled by a money-grabbing employer to do shoddy work, so the 972 journalist with a sense of vocation hates cheap and nasty journalism and the vast majority of men in the newspaper world would like to see the Press using its great power and influence to advance all that is decent and true, refusing to debase its standards for either circulation or popularity.
A section of the Press has acted very badly on the question of flogging. Overemphasis has been given to crimes of violence and the figures showing that there has been a reduction in the number of such crimes since flogging was abolished have been ignored. It looks like a deliberate appeal to fear and to mass sadism. There is also the gutter Press which makes a feature of probing into the private and family affairs of those engaged in public work and twisting and slanting what they find out. We all know them and despise them. I would nominate them for the "high jump," with very high priority, when the Press Council is set up.
The ethical and moral standards of today are not so high as they were a generation ago, probably as the result of two world wars in one generation; and I know that the Press in many instances feels that it must play down to those standards to achieve circulation. But the fact is that the Press is still the most powerful instrument capable of moulding public opinion and creating a worthwhile sense of values. I say that in spite of the cinema and the great developments in broadcasting, both visual and oral. It is the Press that has this power today and that places great responsibility on its shoulders.
It has enormous potential power to set moral and ethical standards and to assist in the cultural development of the people, and I should like to see it using that power for good to the full. It may not be a popular line that I am taking, because I am only too conscious that a great many people today regard the morals and ethics which I learned and afterwards taught in the Methodist Sunday school as old-fashioned. I am one of those emotional coves who just has to say what he feels. I feel intensely that a return to Christian morals and ethics in our private and public lives would do more to rehabilitate this grand country of ours than all the efforts of the Legislature and all the theories of the economists.
973 I say this at the risk of being thought a self-righteous dreamer, because I feel intensely about it and I feel that it should be said more often in this House and on the public platform by those who hold similar views. We are a Christian nation and this House is one place where we ought to proclaim our faith. I hope that these remarks will not be thought irrelevant to the Press, but the Press is an important part of our national life. It has been called the "Fourth Estate" and I want to see it worthy of the power which it wields and capable of giving the nation a lead in the highest standards of conduct. It should have the power to deal with the irresponsible minority whose activities give the Press as a whole a bad name.
If an effective voluntary Press Council could be formed so much the better, but I feel that we must have such an instrument in order to encourage the best elements in the Press and to shame the worst. I therefore ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading so that it may pass on to the Committee stage where hon. Members in all quarters of the House can make their contributions towards perfecting it and shaping it to achieve the end desired by all of us—an effective General Council of the Press.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I beg to second the Motion.
I think that the whole House will have listened with great enjoyment to the speech of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons). He speaks with wide knowledge of the subject and he covered a great deal of ground, which it is certainly not necessary for me to go over again.
A certain amount of comment has been made on the fact that I am supporting this Bill. I have been much touched by the kind inquiries, some from rather unexpected sources, about my health and general well-being. I should like to make it clear that I have certainly undergone no Pauline conversion from Liberalism to Fascism. If there is any impression that this Bill is not a Liberal Measure, I pray in aid that lion of Liberalism and free speech the "Manchester Guardian."
974 Like the vast majority of hon. Members, I am entirely in favour of an independent Press free from the taint of censorship and with adequate safeguards for its proper rights. I feel that this Bill would be an additional safeguard for those proper rights of the Press and that is one of the reasons why I support it and second this Motion.
But while the Press certainly has its rights, other people also have their individual rights which on occasion the Press may sometimes unwittingly infringe. It is a just tradition of this House that in any case where there is a conflict between rights of that kind, this House will pay special attention to protecting the weaker party, and I must confess that I do not think that it is by any means always the Press which is the weaker party when it conies into conflict with the rights of the public.
It was the fashionable doctrine of the 19th Century that men and women should be treated as almost inhuman units moving by the blind laws of Nature in a vacuum. I do not think that that is a true theory, and although that was a time of great success for the Liberal Party, I always think that it was a pity that that theory had such universal acceptance. Just as I also regret that in the first half of this Century it was assumed that all progress must come through the intervention of the executive and the State. I believe that our primary task is to organise a living society which has its own organisations to make its own regulations and to allow for proper changes in its development.
I do not want to embarrass my Socialist friends and allies on this side of the House in this matter, but I personally regard this Bill as a step in that direction—as a Liberal Measure. This Bill is not intended to bring the executive into the Press but to allow the Press to do its own organisation freely among its own members.
We have heard a good deal lately about what the Press is going to do, and I am certainly very glad that it is going to do something about this recommendation of the Royal Commission. I would much rather that the Press set its own house in order and set up its own Council but, as the hon. Member for Brierley Hill said, three and a half years have gone past, and how long are we to wait?
975 No doubt there are great difficulties. We know that the Press is not a single unit but has a great diversity in itself. Nevertheless, three and a half years is a fair time to make some progress towards fulfilling this recommendation. The opponents of the Bill sometimes maintain that they are the people who want to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission and that it is the wicked promoters of the Bill who are going against the Commission by attempting to do something by Acts of Parliament. But I ask the sponsors of the proposed Amendment to this Motion and those who feel like them whether they are really certain that the Press is going to do what the Royal Commission asked it to do?
Is it going to set up a Council which has an independent chairman and lay members? That is the point on which the House will want some enlightenment and some assurance if anyone can give it. If the answer is "Yes," I agree that this Bill may well disappear, although discussion of it may still be useful. But there is at least a fairly strong suspicion that the Press does not intend to set up a Council with lay members, and I maintain that without such members the Council would fail in its most important duty.
I have a very high regard for the Press, but I experience a friendly reaction of amusement to some of the comments which the Press has been making about this Bill. At the very sight of the Bill they beat all the drums of "liberty, censorship and gagging of Fleet Street," drums which sound very synthetic to my ears. But who is really threatening the liberty of free speech? I have some difficulty in accepting this picture which has been drawn of the poor, oppressed Press Lords weeping and trembling at the sight of this Bill. Who is persecuting them? There is no power in this Bill to persecute anyone. There is no sanction except publicity. Are the Press going to tell us that they are afraid of publicity, or are they going to say that they are afraid of reasonable censure by responsible people on this Council with some laymen sitting with them?
Certainly the Press does an immense service to freedom in this country by disseminating facts as quickly as possible 976 and publishing various views and comments. But occasionally it may fall from its high standards, and few people would deny that occasionally it does fall. I do not think that is denied, certainly not by the mover and supporters of the Amendment. They agree that a Press Council is necessary.
Why is a Press Council necessary? One of the prime reasons is that in the search for a bigger circulation the Press may infringe certain rights of individuals. I should say that today individual people in a democracy have a right to the presentation of accurate news. I think that is safeguarded in this country to a great extent by the high standards of many newspapers and by the fact that we have competition in the presentation of news. If we do not believe the Daily Herald "we can try the "Daily Express," and then, of course, by a natural process we come to the "News Chronicle." But certainly I maintain that we have such a right.
I think also that few people would deny that there is misrepresentation sometimes of news in the Press, Although, as I say, one can change one's newspaper—one can buy a more expensive one—nevertheless, I think it is a serious matter that we may on important points have a paper with a very wide circulation, possibly unwittingly, misrepresenting important facts.
Then there have been cases lately of the invasion by the Press of the elementary rights of privacy and ordinary decency. I do not want to put this matter too high. I do not suggest that these invasions are very numerous, but that they are extremely serious to the people who suffer from them. It may be said that there are lots of ways of stopping them. Some people suggest that new newspapers with higher standards may be started, but today that is not a very practical proposition. The fact is that existing newspapers have a monopoly and they are subject to all the temptations of monopoly. Again, it has been suggested that we may make alterations to the Common Law, but that would be an extremely difficult matter.
As for the point of misrepresentation of views or news, it was suggested before the Royal Commission that papers should be compelled to give space for rebuttal. There again anyone who studies the 977 matter, as the Royal Commission did, will know that that would be a very difficult thing to enforce. Therefore, I think the Press Council is the only practical suggestion for meeting these admitted difficulties which exist.
If the Press Council is to meet those difficulties and answer its purpose, it must have lay members. That is really the crux of the matter. In very few professions does dog eat dog with any relish, and that is probably a very good thing. In a very few professions indeed is dog eaten by dog with less relish than in the Press. It is very noticeable that nowadays less publicity is given in the Press to the shortcomings of their colleagues than to the shortcomings of the general public. Therefore, the sanction of publicity, which is an important sanction, is not fulfilled adequately at the moment, and will be improved by the setting up of the Press Council only if it has independent members.
Without lay members it might serve some purpose. I think it is a serious matter that today so many small newspapers are going out of publication. That is a matter on which a professional Council might make useful recommendations. There might be charitable or semi-charitable purposes to which a Council composed entirely of members of the Press could give their attention, but the essential purpose of a Press Council can only be achieved if there is an independent chairman and lay members.
I do not deny that there may be room for change and improvement in the details of this Bill. Some of them may be too wide for the taste of some Members. So far as I am concerned, I think it is likely that the Institute of Journalists have a grievance. I am not an expert in these matters, but my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill is. I think we can say that we shall be ready to consider any Amendments designed to meet points of that sort and improve the Bill if the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Simmons indicated assent.
§ Mr. Grimond
In this debate we must look back with some interest and amusement to the recent debate on the subject of sponsored broadcasting and television. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) has left the House. I hope he will forgive me mentioning 978 him in his absence. The hon. Member for Southgate, in a most moving speech, brought tears to our eyes by his reference to the appalling effects of sponsored television on the golden youth of America. I should have thought that if we are to have strict control of television by the Government, we can hardly object to the mild suggestion that a Council should be set up for the Press.
Certainly I think the House should be extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing this Bill. He denied that he was in any way a stalking horse for any other interest, and I do not think that I could be accused of being a stooge of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). I have been accused, however, of being a sort of front for a different interest of a different sex. That is not so. I certainly believe that there is a need for this Council. As I said, I would welcome it if it were to be set up on the lines suggested by the Royal Commission, by the Press itself; but I would ask hon. Members not to be too frightened of the fact that a Private Member's Bill might be instrumental in getting this done. This is not an act of the Executive. This Measure has come before the House from private Members and we have asked the House to give a free vote.
I am sure that we shall hear a lot later on about the thin ends of wedges. But what is the wedge behind this? I repeat, we are not asking the Government to be given any control over the Press whatsoever. We are not even asking that this Press Council should have any sanction except that of publicity and the opinion of responsible people. Can it really be said that that is the thin end of any wedge?
The time may come when liberty of expression is threatened in this country; I do not believe it has come now, but if it does come it will come through a radical change of opinion in this country. It will not come because entirely bogus precedents can be prayed in aid. If opinion in this country changes, it will not matter whether we have this Bill or a Press Council or anything else. What I am certain of is that the mere fact that this House has enabled the Press to organise itself cannot be used at any future date to justify any form of censorship by the Executive.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House, whilst urging the establishment without further avoidable delay of a voluntary Press Council, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, contrary to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, seeks to impose by statute directions on the newspaper industry which is already engaged on formulating its own proposals.I welcome the fact that this Bill has been able to be brought in today despite the somewhat threatening clouds which were over the proceedings of this House at an earlier hour. I welcome it because is endorses the right of Private Members to bring forward such Measures and I also welcome it because it has given us the opportunity of discussing very freely this problem concerning the Press. I believe that the Press, also, should welcome the atmosphere in which this discussion has been launched and it will be my endeavour to follow the precedent set by the hon. mover and seconder of the Second Reading.
I at once declare what is not so much an interest as an association. I am an advertising man. I count it no shame, particularly when I remember that the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) started in the same line of country.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I was in another noble branch; mine was circulation, and both of us looked down on the editorial people.
§ Mr. Harvey
I was recalling a speech of the right hon. Member at a dinner which I had the pleasure of attending, some time ago, when I got the impression that he and I started at the same line though there is no danger of us finishing at the same post.
I think we should look very carefully at the arguments which were put forward by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), particularly because of the reasonableness with which they were put forward. I felt that right at the beginning he touched upon the very problem which is confronting the Press at this moment and dismissed it with the very easy phrase that the composition of this Council can be amicably settled when the Bill goes upstairs. The point the hon. Member did 980 not bring out, but which it is imperative we should bring out, is that it is upon the composition of this Council that so much of the delay has rested and to assume that by taking this Bill upstairs and by statutory action to impose a settlement which the Press voluntarily is having considerable difficulty in reaching is to assure something which, in my humble submission, would destroy the whole purpose of this Press Council.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill said that the object of this Bill was to implement the recommendation of the Royal Commission. I again challenge that statement because what the Royal Commission did say—the hon. Member was good enough to be very fair in his assessment of the terms of the recommendation of the Royal Commission, and, I thought, very fair to the Press—and what the hon. Member for Brierley Hill did not say, is:We are all, however, agreed that a voluntary organisation which proved itself effective in practice would have great advantages.and—another quotation:In our view it is preferable to seek the means of maintaining the proper relationship between the Press and society not in Government action, but in the Press itself.Finally, and the hon. Member did, of course, refer to this, the recommendation stated:We recommend that the Press itself should create an essential organ for this purpose.That is, in fact, what the Royal Commission did recommend and that is not, in fact, what this Bill would do because it would impose upon the Press a settlement of difficulties which, at the moment, it is endeavouring to solve.
Let us deal quite frankly and fairly with this question of delays. No one, not even the Members of the last Government, could argue that there has not been quite unjustifiable delay in the promotion of this Press Council and the Press itself is, I think, prepared to recognise that. But one of the reasons is the great complexity of the nature of the Press and that has been hardly touched upon either by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill or by the seconder of the Motion. It is that complexity which makes it impossible to reach a solution of this very difficult proposition in a short time.
981 In the same terms of reference it might be perfectly easy to criticise the United Nations because there have been delays over the solution of very grave and considerable problems before them. But is it for a moment suggested that that is a reason for imposing, by force—because that is what it amounts to—a solution which argument has failed to reach amicably?
I believe that when the hon. Member for Brierley Hill said that this Bill seeks to expedite the recommendations of the Royal Commission he contradicted exactly what the Bill will do. It will hold up for an interminable time—if it does not destroy—all hopes of final, satisfactory, voluntary negotiation. That would be a very grave dis-service to the Press, to this House and to the people. It is very desirable that we should be quite clear here this morning as to what is our intention in this matter.
Is it our intention to exert our will upon the Press because we are tired of waiting for them to reach a solution? Is it that we want to alter the whole composition and set-up of the Press for the sake of altering it so that it conforms to new and different principles? Or is it that we wish to see a Press Council set up voluntarily by the Press, freely negotiated, which will raise the standard of the Press and serve the people of this country better? If that last object is the object of our deliberations—and I believe that it should be—then this is exactly the way in which not to go about it.
My hon. Friends and I have been very careful, in putting down this Amendment, to show that we in no way dissent from the principle of the Press Council and we in no way dissent from the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Press. We are quite prepared to admit, by implication in our Amendment, that a delay has occurred which it is thoroughly desirable should be terminated at the earliest possible moment. But to terminate that delay we think that the Press, and the Press alone, must be responsible.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
Is the hon. Member prepared to concede lay members in principle?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Could the hon. Member inform the House whether the proprietors in the negotiations are prepared to concede the principle of lay members?
§ Mr. Harvey
I feel that it is not for me to speak for the proprietors, or for any element of the Press. I am certain that that is a point of negotiation which has to be thrashed out by the interests of the Press and not dictated by this House.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill made the composition of this Council appear very simple, but it cannot be decided by dictation if, afterwards, we are to have a workable and satisfactory solution. One can impose a state of affairs upon an industry, but one cannot ensure that it will work efficiently unless one has free will and voluntary support of all concerned.
§ Mr. Simmons
I said that it was capable of discussion and amicable agreement between the interested parties.
§ Mr. Harvey
My hon. Friends, who are more closely associated with the negotiations which have been proceeding than I am, will, I hope, have the opportunity of outlining them in detail. But it is quite clear that if the House intervened at this time it would not provide a solution, but would be taking sides with one element in the dispute about the composition of the Council. I submit that it is not the function of the House to take sides in a dispute in a voluntary organisation.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
This is a most important point and it is imperative that there should be no misunderstanding. This is not taking sides in a dispute. This Bill is based fairly and squarely on the Royal Commission's recommendations.
§ Mr. Harvey
That is not an entirely accurate representation of the facts. As we shall endeavour to show in the development of the argument—the delay—which hon. Members opposite have continuously attributed to the Press barons, who have come in for a certain amount of abuse—has also been attributable to other elements in the dispute.
This Bill, if placed on the Statute Book, would be a very strong weapon in the hands of those who are pressing for 983 a different composition of the Council. That is why we believe that this proposal which is about to go forward—admittedly, after a long period—should be allowed to go forward; and we believe that at this moment it would be most inopportune and even disastrous for the success of the voluntary scheme if the House were to press this Bill on to the Statute Book.
No one on this side of the House has any objection at all to the discussion of the various problems involved. We believe, moreover, that an open and frank discussion in this House will have the effect of accelerating the negotiations which are taking place. Often there is a deadlock which is helped by action of this kind. But it is one thing to discuss the problem and to give an indication of our views and another thing to impose our opinions and will in a situation which does not need that sort of intervention at this time.
I thought the hon. Member for Brierley Hill made a very odd deduction—it was the only point in his speech with which I was in great disagreement—when he said that the acceptance of the Bill would ensure the success of the voluntary scheme. I and my hon. Friends believe that it would, in fact, kill the voluntary scheme. It is an acceptance of the point of view of that element on the Royal Commission who thought it imperative to have a statute to impose the organisation of the Press Council upon the Press.
Perhaps I may turn for a moment to the extremely interesting and pleasant part of the hon. Member's speech, when he talked about the influence of editors. I suggest that there is nothing more likely to reduce the influence of editors and their independence of thought than the type of intervention envisaged by the Bill and in some of the terms of the Bill, with which I shall deal in a few moments. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), with whom I formerly had very happy associations, did not have to declare an industrial interest but I thought he might easily have declared a family interest in this matter. He referred to a distinguished journal not dissociated with his party, and I ask him whether he has read the leading article in the "News Chronicle," which summarises this case most fairly and 984 comes down quite firmly against the point of view which he is at present adopting? He seemed to think it rather odd that on these discussions the same people were here as were during the discussion of sponsored television.
§ Mr. Harvey
There seems to be a peculiar tendency in the House to assume that when any subject is to be discussed only those who know nothing at all about it should express their views.
I am well aware that in the discussion of the Press there must be those who have certain personal influences due to references which have been made about them from time to time. I am aware that the editor of a great Sunday newspaper, in referring to my right hon. Friends and myself said, "They are a Government that nobody wants." In the next sentence he referred to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite and said, "They are a party that nobody trusts." We can only assume that the only people he wants and trusts are the Liberals, and if that is the case I do not think his paper will go very far in circulation.
I should like to deal with one or two fundamental points underlying the presentation of the Bill. Although it was not disclosed in the able speech of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill, there is, I think, a fundamental difference in approach between hon. Members opposite and those on this side of the House. We do not believe that the Government should intervene in the ordering of any element of the community unnecessarily and we do not believe that that intervention should be undertaken lightly or for its sake alone. If it could be proved—and there has been no proof and no endeavour of proof; and I believe any such endeavour would be completely false—that the Press is an irresponsible industry deserving instant direction and control, then there would be some justification for the imposition of statutory action to deal with it.
We all admit, as the hon. Member for Brierley Hill said, that there are occasions when mud is thrown about in the Press, but a little mud does not make a morass. We all admit that there are tendencies in the Press to exploit sadism and sex, and I respect and agree with the remark which the hon. Member made 985 about that. I equally agree with his remark about religious interest, and I wish he could feel that he had the same kind of support from all his hon. Friends.
Equally, if it were shown that the elements within the Press were irreconcilable, I should agree that the Bill was desirable, but there is no evidence of that. The Press is essentially a community of interest, and I am quite confident, from the considerable contact and knowledge I have had with the Press, that the present difficulties which they confront in reaching this solution of the problem presented by the Royal Commission will be resolved satisfactorily.
§ Mr. Simmons
The source of my argument was the quotation I made from the presidential address of the President, now the General Secretary, of the National Union of Journalists. That is the only source of information I have, and I think it is quite acceptable.
§ Mr. Harvey
I am glad to hear that the hon. Member has brought that out into the open, because it has some relevance to our discussions. My hon. Friends will look in greater detail at this Bill. As everybody can see, it has been taken more or less out of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. However, the recommendations of the Royal Commission do not constitute an effective machinery for operation. They are recommendations in principle, and if we are to incorporate them into a statute—and the Royal Commission never suggested that—then we have to have some regard to their practical application.
There is talk of the safeguarding of the freedom of the Press. I see nothing, frankly, in this Bill to achieve that in fact, I sense something of the reverse. It states that it will encourage the growth of a sense of public responsibility. I do not think—and my hon. Friends do not think either—that that is the sort 986 of thing guaranteed by statute. It talks of furthering the efficiency of the profession. I believe that the profession is doing a great deal to further its efficiency, and I do not believe that dictation will do anything more. There is talk of organisation of recruitment. That is already being done efficiently by the Press. Then we come to a rather strange paragraph in Clause 3:(d) by censuring undesirable types of journalistic conduct …Very well, but let us be quite clear that there will be considerable differences of opinion about standards of conduct and the methods of approach. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South has every reason to know that what is regarded by some newspapers as satisfactory conduct is regarded by others as reprehensible.
Then, most important, I think, we must look at Clause 5. Clause 5 has to be read to be believed, and when it is read it is hardly believable It says:Subject to the provisions of this Act the Council shall have power to do anything which in its opinion is calculated to facilitate the proper discharge of its functions.What exactly does that mean? That, in my humble submission, is a Pravda Clause.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
What the hon. Gentleman has described as a Pravda Clause is, he will be interested to know, a Clause lifted straight from a Government Bill.
§ Mr. Harvey
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will be good enough to direct my attention to it?
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Certainly. I will tell the hon. Gentleman straight away. It is the Dentists Bill.
§ Mr. Harvey
Well, there must be a difference between a Dentists Bill and the application of a Bill to the Press, which affects the whole of the dissemination of opinion and views. The fact that it is possible to take out of a Dentists Bill a Clause and put it wholesale into a Bill of this importance seems to me just another condemnation of the nature of the Bill.
Then there are various phrases in this Bill which talk glibly about finance. I should like to be assured that that finance 987 will be forthcoming if the Bill were to become law. In the Schedule there is a very strange definition, which again indicates, I think, some loose thinking. There, the Institute of Journalists is described as an organisation representing editors, which is not true.
Finally, it would appear that this Bill has been presented for the sake of being presented. It has been drawn up as an instrument to assist certain parties in a dispute to get their own way, and because it is that I believe that this House should refuse to be dragged into the personal disputes of the newspaper industry, and that those disputes should be settled by the industry itself.
Once again, I commend to this House the Amendment. We have been very careful, in drafting it, to make quite clear that we accept the principle of a voluntary Council, which is the recommendation of the Royal Commission. We have made quite clear that we believe—we accept—the fact that there has been delay, and that we believe that that delay should be brought to an end; but we are equally definite that if the objects that the Royal Commission had in view—establishing codes of morality and strengthening the position of the Press and of all those who work for it—are to be achieved they will not be achieved by statute, and they certainly will not be achieved at the present time when negotiations, delicate negotiations, are nearing their close and could well be brought to nothing by the intervention of this House.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)
I beg to second the Amendment.
In doing so, it is proper that I should, as the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) requested, declare an interest. I am on the editorial staff of a London newspaper. I would, however, ask hon. and right hon. Members opposite to accept by word that I do not represent any particular group in this matter. I have indeed taken the elementary precaution—knowing how sensitive hon. Members opposite are on this particular point—of not even consulting my proprietor. If my views were to turn out to be entirely contrary to his, neither he nor I would worry very much.
§ Mr. Deedes
We are moving this Amendment because it seems to us more closely in accord with the views of the House and what the House has said it wants on the occasions on which this subject has been discussed. While I am on that subject, I would make quite clear what the Royal Commission said it wanted. Paragraph 619 is the relevant paragraph of the Report. The Commission said:We recommend that the Press itself should create a central organ for this purpose.
§ Mr. Deedes
It is important that this House should now decide just what it does want, and that it should be consistent. The Bill which is being proposed today is not consistent with the findings of the House three years ago in the debate of July, 1949. I will say this, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) is consistent. I think he has been consistent throughout, because it is his wish—he will correct me if I overstate the case—to clip the wings of the Press.
§ Mr. Morrison
Of course, this is typical "Peterborough" stuff; and it is nice to know who "Peterborough" is, because I think that Members of Parliament who write for the Press should so declare, especially when they attack other Members of Parliament—on both sides, by the way. I think the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I have never had such an ambition, and what he says is quite untrue. He knows it perfectly well. He is in the House of Commons now, not in Fleet Street.
§ Mr. Deedes
The last observation of the right hon. Gentleman is not particularly worthy of him. I am perfectly well aware that I am in the House of Commons, and I have declared my interest, and will proceed from that point. Perhaps I may preface my remarks by making two general observations. Hon. Gentlemen opposite—
§ Mr. Morrison
The hon. Gentleman has said—not only has he said it for himself, but he has implied that I have admitted it—that all the way through my ambition has been to clip the wings of 989 the Press. I think he has either to substantiate that allegation or withdraw it.
§ Mr. Deedes
Of course I withdraw it at once.
What I want to see, and what I sincerely believe we all want to see, is journalism in a healthy state, and good relations in the industry, and it is because we do not think that this Bill will achieve either that we are opposing the Bill as it is. Let me begin by saying two things. I think it is important that hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite should realise that their zeal for higher standards in the profession of journalism is not confined to their side of the House. Indeed, it is not confined to this House. It is shared by the great bulk of journalists. If I may quote the right hon. Gentleman—this time correctly, I hope—in the debate on 28th July, 1949, he used these words, with which I entirely agree:'There is no such homogeneous collection of newspapers as can be classed under one heading as the Press. Strictures on the Press as a whole are very unfair to the vast majority of newspapers.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 2684.]And I hope he will agree if I add—the vast majority of those associated with the publication of newspapers.
I have a certain sympathy with those who assert that a debate on these lines is desirable. I have no sympathy with the Bill, but I do recognise that the Press have taken a considerable time to fulfil the desire of this House, namely, to establish a Press Council. It is possible to make out reasons for that delay. There have been seven very diverse bodies engaged in the negotiations; they are now nearing agreement, and we hope agreement will be reached shortly. I am anxious not to make too much on that score because I know, as hon. Members opposite know, that in some quarters there has been a feeling that if this matter were delayed long enough, it might lapse altogether. That is well known, and I think it well to declare it.
Although in this respect may be my loyalties between the profession as a whole and here are divided, I would say that there can be no question that the will of the House, which was declared in the debate in July, 1949, cannot be trifled with and must be met. Whether or not we question the wisdom of the outcome of that debate, that was the will 990 of the House and it must be fulfilled by the Press. Therefore, I seek to make no excuses whatever for the delays which have occurred since that debate.
We say in our Amendment that we support the voluntary Council as opposed to the Bill. Perhaps I might here utter a word of warning. I am bound to say that I think that even in respect of a voluntary Council hon. Members underrate the difficulties of establishing it and its work, and perhaps overrate the effectiveness of that body when it is created. It is important that it should not be overrated, because should it fail in the early months or years of its life there might well arise a cry of "Give it more teeth", and from that point on it would not be perhaps as easy as it is today to control the direction in which the Press Council might go.
But even if we admit a cause for censure of this delay, which this debate is, I think, entitled to deliver, censure is one thing, and this Bill is another. I do not think that it makes a substantial contribution—and I think hon. Members might bear this in mind—to solving the difficulties which the Royal Commission laid fairly and squarely on Fleet Street. The creation and formation of this Council was, I think, quite the hardest part of the task, and on that the Royal Commission made certain recommendations and left the rest to Fleet Street. Not even the fact that the promoters of this Bill have constructed Clause 3 almost entirely from the words of the Commission prevents my saying that I do not think Clause 3 as it stands is practicable.
I pay the promoters this compliment. I do not think they seriously believe in all of this Bill as it stands. They have seen the need for an occasion to give the Press a bit of a jolt, and this Bill has formed a very useful occasion for doing so. All I can say is that to fulfil the object of the Bill as it stands would require, not a Council of 25 members, but a miniature ministry. The objects of the Bill as outlined could not be fulfilled by 25 members.
Under Clause 4 (c) and Clause 5 one can construct a ministry out of this Council—almost as much as one wants, certainly one could under Clause 4 (c), and it is important that we should have a little more information about how 991 large a body, with its permanent officials and others, this is eventually envisaged to be. Clause 5 my hon. Friend has already dealt with, but I suggest that, whether it appeared in the Dentists Bill or not, it is an extraordinary bit of delegated legislation in a Bill which concerns the freedom of a whole industry, since I can see no limit to what that Clause does. I see no reason for the rest of the Bill, because Clause 5 by itself would supply all that the Press Council could conceivably want.
Clause 6 was rather skimped by the promoters. This is the Clause dealing with expenses. When the total expense is ascertained, how is it to be shared among the constituent body? How much is to be paid? How is their share to be apportioned? Who is going to raise the money? Not even for the privilege outlined in Clause 3 (i) which isto represent the Press on appropriate occasions in its relation with Her Majesty's Government, with the organisations of the United Nations and with similar Press organisations abroad.are the organisation concerned going to be eager to pay what I foresee as a considerable sum of money.
Clause 3 (h) is interesting. It is,to study developments in the Press which tend to greater concentrations or monopoly.That is a very old friend. I should like to point out, in passing, that the principle appears to apply only to the Press. Exactly the reverse principle was applied when we had the debate on broadcasting. Here, they are to watch for developmentswhich tend to greater concentrations or monopoly.But a similar view expressed on this side in respect of the B.B.C. was resisted by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
To go to the heart of this matter, I think we are agreed on both sides that the straightforward alternative is a Council based on good will or a Council based on statute. While I would stress that I think there are many obstacles to it if it is to be a Council of the first kind, if this Bill is designed merely as a stimulus to that Council, then it must have good will among all the seven bodies and the members concerned. I am bound to say that I think this Bill 992 tends to bedevil the very good relations between all parties who have engaged in the formation of this Council up to now.
When I heard the hon. Member for Brierley Hill stressing how slack or slow the setting up of this Council has been, I rather wondered whether he appreciated the immense difficulties which have been met with so far, and will have to be met with before this job is over. I stress, if I may, just one point, which my hon. Friend has already taken:by censuring undesirable types of journalistic conduct.That is an enormous undertaking. How is it to be done? By publicity, it has been said. I am bound to admit that if it is done by publicity in a voluntary Council, I can see the possibility—and if I am wrong I shall no doubt be corrected by someone who knows more about the law than I do—that the whole Council might appear in the dock for libel, as the law stands. I admit that clearly is a point of difficulty in respect of a voluntary Council.
But whether it is voluntary or statutory, what sanctions is it to exercise against those who offend? Can a majority vote a verdict of guilty? And who decides what the punishment, if any, shall be? What happens if the offending parties snap their fingers at the body, whether it is based on good will or statute? That is an important point to be considered, because it is one which many people in Fleet Street are concerned about, and not only the proprietors.
Perhaps I might now touch on the Schedule, which seems to carry with it the inherent weaknesses of many bodies of this kind. This type of body is becoming rather familiar—a body not answerable to this House, independent of the judiciary, and fitted up with all kinds of delegated powers the limit of which many people are by no means clear about. I quote "The Times" here with some confidence because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South spoke of "The Times" in a very laudatory manner on Monday. He said that "The Times" was a newspaper for which he thought all of us, irrespective of party, had considerable respect. It was a great newspaper and its views were of importance. "The Times" this morning, on this subject, 993 has listed the three principal objections which it saw to this Bill, and it added,Such a machine is a potential instrument, half-made, for robbing the Press of its freedom and for keeping it under official control by Westminster and Whitehall.From a newspaper of the calibre of "The Times" these words cannot be lightly dismissed as the words of an organ which is unlikely to expect trouble from a Press Council.
I must draw to a close, but I should like to mention one or two other points about which, I think, there has been some confusion. In these negotiations there are two main parties—the proprietors and the working journalists. The editors form a third party and constitute a rather difficult part of the negotiations. There is a perfectly reasonable fear, I think, on the part of the Union—and I do not represent the Union here more than I represent anyone else—that the editors will get a double share of representation; that they will appear under their own head and also come in as working journalists; and, therefore, some of those who appear as working journalists may be termed proprietors' men, and the balance of the Council may be lost.
I am bound to add something contrary to what was said by the hon. Member for Brierley Hill when he said that if the Press Council were dominated by the proprietors or big men, it would be useless. I think that there is a point to be made in the opposite sense. If a voluntary Council is to have the power of getting a job done, then the men on that Council should be the men who are in a position to see that it is done. One should be able to turn to a man and say, "Your newspaper has done this; what are you going to do about it?" In other words, delegates are not going to be as strong as the men who actually control the newspapers.
I think that the real snag will lie with the lay members. As I understand the position so far, four persons called the lay members are to be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice of England and the Lord President of the Court of Session of Scotland. I hoped that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill would be able to give an assurance as to how this work of selection was to be done. From a list supplied by whom?
Then there is the question of the evidence to be given. Will it be given on 994 oath under a statutory Bill and will there be counsel for the defence? Then there is the question of who is to be included under the broad powers of this Council? I understand that the provincial Press are included in the voluntary plan and would be included under the Bill. News agencies I think are not included. Then there is the question of the periodicals. Are they included? Is the "Tribune" in on this?
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
Do not all these problems apply to the voluntary Council of what the hon. Member is in favour?
§ Mr. Deedes
Not entirely. I think that those who are promoting the Bill should be able to answer some of the points which arise from it.
§ Mr. Gordon Walker (Smethwick)
If the hon. Gentleman will look at paragraph 2 of the Schedule, he will find the representative bodies listed there.
§ Mr. Deedes
I see the organisations listed there, but the list is rather different from that which is being negotiated on a voluntary basis.
I should be sorry if anything that I said against this Bill led any hon. Member to think that any of us on this side of the House were apposing the Bill and trying to dress all the newspapers in a white sheet. I have more sympathy with the sponsors of this Bill than I have with certain elements of the Press which have made this Bill appear desirable. This is not I think a political matter. Complaint has been made of the tendency of Right wing papers to be unfair to Left wing opinion. Newspapers both of Left wing and Right wing have been guilty of offences of which hon. Members have rightly complained. The catalogue of sins has no monopoly on one side or the other.
There are sections of the Sunday Press which are a disgrace. They make a parade of crime and divorce under a very thinly veiled hypocrisy, and I think that it would be a splendid thing if hon. Members on both sides said, "We may disagree about this Bill and many other things, but we do agree these sections of the Sunday Press are a disgrace." Drugs, divorce and dirt are served up in some of these newspapers for their Sunday morning readers. As 995 a Member who is proud of the profession, when I read some of the Sunday newspapers, I do not ask, "For whom the bell tolls." I know that it tolls for all of us, and the bell is tolling here today. That is partly why this Bill is before the House. I am bound to say that I cannot see how this Amendment or this Bill can remedy this particular matter. I do not think that this can be a Bill to control public morals.
I think I know why this Bill was promoted and I do not for one moment attack the motives. But there is a danger arising from it. We all know that the power of the Press has tended to increase recently, possibly to a greater extent than the powers of Parliament and the politicians. It may be that many feel the need to redress the balance. There are symptoms in this Bill of political uneasiness. That is the danger. Because of that and for the other reasons that I have given, I reject this Bill and support the Amendment.
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ Mr. N. H. Lever (Manchester, Cheetham)
The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said he would not be opposing the Bill if it contained the power to suppress, and would have the effect of suppressing, undesirable aspects of newspapers. An odd thing is that I should not be giving the Bill my support if I thought it had that power.
The Bill is not an illiberal Bill in any shape or form. It is a Bill proposed by people who entertain the greatest respect for the notion of a free Press. It is not the Bill of people who regard the Press as irresponsible and dishonest as a whole. If we regard the Press as a prostitute, we can hardly make a complaint when we find that it has not acquired the chastity belt of a Press Council. It seems to me that the Bill could be proposed only by people who believe that it is the Press itself which should put its house in order and who recommend a Council composed wholly or mainly of people concerned with the Press.
Criticisms have been directed at the details of the Bill. I believe they are all Committee points. It is a valid point that a voluntary Press Council would have the same problems to hammer out and the same difficulties to face as a statutory one and that the idea of a 996 voluntary Press Council will not suffer hurt if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading. All the objections by the mover of the Amendment would be valid ones if this had been the Third Reading of the Bill and if the House were about to legislate for a statutory Press Council today.
The questions about the composition of the Press Council are Committee points. I and many of my hon. Friends are not committed to the idea that, in order to be successful, the Press Council ought to include lay members. I should not like to hold myself bound to any such conclusions because of the terms of the Bill. If I saw appearing on the scene a suitable voluntary Press Council agreed by the different interests in the newspaper world which had not lay members upon it, I should not be disposed to oppose its creation.
I sympathise with the point raised about meeting the cost of the Press Council. It seems utterly wrong that representation should be based upon one s willingness to contribute to the expense of running the Press Council. However, once again, these are Committee points. I assure hon. Members who have opposed the Bill today that if they give it a Second Reading they will find very great readiness on this side of the House to meet them on what we have all agreed is a nonparty Measure and can be discussed in Committee in that spirit.
We have been asked what the detailed powers of the Press Council would be. It would not be appropriate to go into that on a Second Reading speech. We are all agreed that there should be a voluntary Press Council. We all agree that there are occasional lapses from good taste and from healthy ideals in the Press and that for that reason it is desirable to have a Press Council, the function of which should clearly be to focus, alert and inform public opinion on the subject of the Press. I believe, in the ultimate, in a free society with a free Press such as our own, that it is an informed public opinion which will determine the standards of taste and accuracy of the newspapers.
I am not in favour of the illiberal motion, which has been supported on the other side of the House, that there should be some statutory action to remove salaciousness, sadism, sex and drugs from the Sunday newpapers. After all, people 997 are not obliged to read those serials; they can modestly avert their eyes from the attractive semi-nudity which appears in the Sunday newspapers.
§ Mr. Deedes
I do not want to be misunderstood. There was no question of any statutory powers to abolish Sunday newspapers which offended. I said that if I thought the Bill would contribute towards a solution of the problem of the Sunday newspapers I should be more sympathetic towards it than I am.
§ Mr. Lever
The Bill is clearly the work of people who believe that we ought to develop and encourage a Press Council in order to inform, educate, and alert public opinion to demand higher standards of accuracy, intelligence and ethics from our newspaper Press. It is not the work of unlimited and indiscriminate critics, because they could not support a voluntary Press Council or a Press Council which, even as the Bill is drafted, and that is not final, would mean that the Council would be composed wholly or mainly of members of the newspaper industry.
If we believed that the newspaper industry was composed of scoundrels, distorters of accuracy and poisoners of the wells of truth, we should hardly be suggesting that they are the right people to set up this organisation for the improvement of the Press. It would be as sensible as urging upon the housebreakers of London the setting up of an institution for the perfection of burglar alarms.
Whether the Council is formed voluntarily or as a result of the Bill, there must be very careful and close consideration of its powers. I should have thought that we could readily agree that a minimum of direct sanctions should be available to the Council in whatever form it appears. Nobody is really suggesting that a Press Council, as a statutory or a voluntary body, should be given powers to exercise sanctions other than those of disapprobation, censure and public exposure as the weapon to hand for the purpose of improving the Press. I should be very slow to accede to any argument for any other weapon to be put in the hands of such a Council.
As regards protecting the council from libel actions in the event of its exercising the function of public censure, that is a relatively trifling matter.
§ Mr. Robert Boothby (Aberdeenshire, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear that he is saying "censure" and not "censor"? There has already been some confusion over that. It is very important.
§ Mr. Lever
I am obliged to the hon. Member. If anything I said seemed to imply sympathy with Press censors I shall be very surprised. What the Press Council has to do is not to exercise censorship but to censure misdeeds, and then only the grossest and most unquestionable misdeeds. I do not want any Press Council to go around chivvying the Press and setting up standards of moral uplift, about which we have heard from both sides of the House.
I must be the exception to all the public men of whom I have heard in the last 20 years in that I read and enjoy a great deal of the popular Press. Most public men, to judge from their speeches, get enjoyment by reading only the "Manchester Guardian" and "The Times," both of which newspapers appeal to me and arrive at my door in the morning. But I do not feel the acute agony which is frequently expressed in public about some of the popular newspapers and some of the interesting illustrations to be found in them.
Moreover, I am not ashamed to say that I am not a bit unfriendly towards the popular Press, and I do not say that because I need the favour or good will of the popular Press. I feel that a good deal of humbug is talked about our popular Press, but our popular Press happens to have very much higher standards than any other popular Press that I know. I have not read the entire Press of the world, and, therefore, I cannot make sweeping generalisations, such as are sometimes made, about whether our newspapers are the best or the worst in the world, but I have read a good deal of the Press of the Continent, of the United States and of the Commonwealth and I confidently assert that our Press does not suffer by comparison.
Invasion of privacy by the Press is a most detestable thing, but it occurs far less in this country than elsewhere. In the United States it is a matter of standard practice that the private lives of politicians should be invaded in order to regale the readers with juicy titbits. Our Press is far more responsible in 999 this matter than is any other Press that I have read.
As to the talk about political distortion in the newspapers, although that is theoretically valid it has very little practical validity in a country like ours. There is no such thing in Great Britain as a "Daily Express" reader or a "Daily Herald" reader. There is only the composite reader. Individuals may read only one newspaper, but they go to work where other opinions, views and facts are put to them, quite apart from which they are well able to make up their own minds about the matters they read in the one newspaper which they may take.
This sort of talk is greatly exaggerated, as has been shown by the fact that although we have had an overwhelmingly Tory Press for the greater part of this century there has been a steady rise in the Labour Party vote and a growing political intelligence among the public has been manifested; although the Press itself has, I regret to say, stayed at the same political level and remained the same political colour.
I am quite satisfied that so long as we have a Press which brings to the notice of the public the great issues of the day I do not mind if they express partisan opinion. I do not mind if they are tendentious and partisan. So far as I am concerned, although I am a supporter of the Bill—and I congratulate my hon. Friend on producing it; and I am sure it will be a very valuable Bill, whether or not it reaches the Statute Book—I would rather have the Press as it stands, with all its faults—partisan, coarse, sometimes even indecent, but free—rather than see it compressed or chivvied or coerced into some sort of genteel uniformity; a sort of extension of the gramophone industry. I would prefer that it remain the free Press of a free country. I hope that no one on this side of the House will misunderstand me. We want a Press Council because in such a Council we see the means for establishing conditions which will lead to a free Press.
I have said a good deal about side-issues, and I would like to say something to hon. Members opposite. This is a Private Member's Bill. It is a very fragile creation. If this were Third Reading I would sympathise with a great deal of 1000 what has been said by hon. Members opposite. But I want to appeal to them not to wreck this Bill on Second Reading. If the Bill is either talked out or wrecked that will do no service to the Press of this country or to the impression created in the minds of very many hon. Members on this side of the House; especially if that sort of opposition comes from people who, without any shame or any reason for shame, have admitted that they have connections with and are interested in the Press.
Apart from anything else, I think we all recognise that the Private Member's Bill has been performing an ever more useful function. New standards of conduct towards it are being created. I see that the learned Attorney-General is in his place. He has done a great deal to encourage Private Members, and I for one have reason to be grateful to him. He may live to regret it, but he has done a great deal to encourage Private Members, quite apart from having himself introduced a valuable Measure. I think he will set up a régime in which Private Members' legislation will achieve a new status and importance in the country's legislation.
I beg hon. Members opposite not to indulge in anything which would appear to be wrecking tactics. It will not only not help them, but it will create a most disagreeable impression, and do deep and lasting damage to the atmosphere required in relation to the Press, at any rate so far as some hon. Members on this side of the House are concerned. I make that appeal even if hon. Members opposite may have great doubts about this matter. There are many hon. Members on this side, even myself as a sponsor of the Bill, who feel there are immense problems which would have to be faced and solved in Committee before this Bill could be reported to the House. It may very well come about that, in the meantime, a voluntary Press Council will be set up, which would solve our legislative difficulty.
I appeal to the House to give this Bill a Second Reading. Let it go to a Committee and it may well be that the House, in the most practical manner, will thus be able to give effect to the sentiments which have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides, that there should be a Press Council, and preferably a voluntary one.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
I hope that the House will not have listened without considerable thought to those last seductive arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever). Just let this Bill have a Second Reading, he said, there is no harm in that; because if we defeat this Bill on Second Reading we may affront our friends in the country and shock their consciences and do harm to the Press. I hope we shall do exactly that and throw this Bill out good and hard this afternoon—throw it out, not talk it out.
§ Mr. N. H. Lever
My real appeal was that wrecking tactics should not be used against this Bill. I take it that the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) understands that. I should not object to any hon. Member voting according to his conscience.
§ Mr. Baxter
So far as I know, there is no plan to talk out this Bill. Certainly I do not intend to talk it out. We intend to vote it out if we can.
When the debate began, there was some misunderstanding about just where this idea first originated, the idea which developed into the debate of 1949. Rightly or wrongly, apparently, there was some doubt about this after this morning's exchange of compliments across the Floor of the House. We had the feeling that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) caused it to be known among his friends when the party opposite were in power, that he would like to see a Private Member's Bill introduced to force a commission of inquiry into the Press.
I must say that, like performing seals, they leapt forward to the task. The hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Foot) denounced the Press with great vigour, with some wit and a good deal of bitterness. There were many others—the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg), the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and a whole collection of them. I think that perhaps the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South was feeling a little bitter. There was a lot of hard pounding going on and he thought, "Whether we get the Press commission or not, it may slow down the hammering." I do not blame him at all. And so they carried the Motion and a Royal Commission was set up.
1002 Now here is the House of Commons at it again. Has the right hon. Gentleman been talking again? He says. "No," according to the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons). Apparently the idea of the Bill sprang entirely from the breast of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill, or so we are led to believe. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is the instigator and creator of this present Bill.
§ Mr. Simmons
I did not speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) about this Bill until three days ago. As a Member of the National Union of Journalists, who accepted the constitution of the Commission of the Press, the Press Council, and approves of the independence of the Press, I was being loyal to my union in bringing forward this Bill.
§ Mr. Baxter
I see. So the hon. Gentleman was speaking for his union, and that. I suppose, is perfectly all right.
I wish to say a word or two about this matter, because I am against a Press Council altogether. I do not believe it is possible for it to work. If it is to come, by all means let it come voluntarily. But how can it, if today Parliament, with all its power, despite the fact that this is only a Private Member's Bill, says, "We demand that you carry through the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and that you hurry up about it, because we are so determined to safeguard the freedom of the Press that we are going to give you orders right now about what you are to do"? I must say that freedom is wearing some strange chains at the moment.
I am against it. I think that hon. Members of this House and Parliament as an institution have good cause to want to hit back at the Press. Those gentlemen in the Press Gallery are always expressing their candid views about us, and I am all for expressing candid views about them. Newspaper proprietors order the great guns into action. Let us criticise newspapers and hammer them all we like. But do not let us make the fundamental blunder of creating a machine by which later on, in other hands, we can control and dominate the Press from the centre here. That has happened in other countries. One of the first things dictatorship demands is the 1003 suppression of the free Press. It is not done in one step. It is done by devices like this invented by men of good heart and good conscience, and sounding plausible and appealing to many. But this is creating a machine for the control, censorship and domination of the Press from the centre.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Would the hon. Gentleman say that that would result from a voluntary Press Council?
§ Mr. Baxter
I am also against that, although it would not be nearly the same thing. What I oppose is the fact that Parliament should be using its great powers to force its way upon the Press.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
The hon. Gentleman made a rather serious point when he inferred that the Press Council would have power to censor, or was he talking about power to censure? Of course, the Press Council would have no power of censorship. That is the sort of confusion which the "Evening Standard" has been creating.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman says that the Council could not have powers of censorship; but Clause 5 says:Subject to the provisions of this Act the Council shall have power to do anything …
§ Mr. N. H. Lever
The hon. Gentleman might have saved himself a great deal of wasted eloquence, because the Clause has no such legal effect. The hon. Gentleman obviously would believe that the Clause gave power to the Press Council to execute him, if necessary.
§ Mr. Baxter
I read the Clause in the presence of the Attorney-General and he did not indicate dissent. I suggest that the words:Subject to the provisions of this Act the Council shall have power to do anything which in its opinion is calculated to facilitate the proper discharge of its functions.may include censorship. There is that danger. There may be that interpretation. I leave that point.
I do not doubt for one moment that the party opposite at the time they came into power, while paying lip-service to the freedom of the Press, would have liked to get their fingers not exactly round its throat but somewhere near it. The party opposite have to fight an uphill fight 1004 against the Press. I know that—[Interruption.] I intend to make my speech. There are several arguments I wish to put forward to show why I think that the Council would have great difficulty.
Everybody says that we must try to control intrusion upon private grief. That can be very bad; but what will happen to the editor's life if this Council is set up? The editor has to deal with his proprietor, because the proprietor owns the newspaper and has some rights. He has to deal with the manager, because a newspaper is a big financial undertaking. That must be understood. He has to deal with the circulation manager who never approves of what is in the paper and always wants something else. Then he has his staff. If the paper is convicted of a slander or a libel, it is the editor who goes to jail, not the proprietor. But on top of all this we want to add a Press Council to his worries.
§ Mr. Baxter
It will not assist him at all. I want to show how the Bill will work. I have dealt with the question of safeguarding the freedom of the Press. In Clause 2 there is the phrase:… to further the efficiency of the profession.What effrontery that is. What in the world does it mean? Does the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South know? This Council of laymen and professionals, proprietors, editors and trade unionists—everybody who wants to be on it—is to increase the efficiency of the profession. What will the Council do? The day after the Derby will it send for the tipsters and say, "You should study form more carefully than you do"?
§ Mr. Baxter
Will it send for the dramatic critic and say, "You must read up on Aristotle, Euripides and Aristophanes"? It is difficult to tell what it means, however closely one looks at it, and the absurdity becomes greater and greater.
In the first place, I do not agree that proprietors should be allowed to meet one another at all. Newspapers came into being as pamphlets. Somebody 1005 wanted to express an opinion. Newspapers should meet only so far as they have to for the mechanical processes of production; otherwise, they should make war upon each other and we should encourage them. I hate the concordat which has been thrust upon Fleet Street.
Clause 3 refers to:… censuring undesirable types of journalistic conduct …An editor might say, "We have heard from the Council; this poor boy has been trying to get a story; we have had a complaint; off he goes." It may well be that there is a recommendation that he be fired. What is to be done?
§ Mr. Baxter
I do not know who will be fired. Who are these people on the Press Council who are so much above the sins and temptations of ordinary people that they alone should be safe? Here is a juicy phrase:to represent the Press on appropriate occasions in its relations with Her Majesty's Government. …What are the Government to do? I do not know. What about the organisations of the United Nations? Are men to be given free trips to these and other organisations abroad? Off we go to South America to talk with the South Americans, all at the expense of the newspapers. [HON. MEMBERS: "You might be sent."] I prefer to pay my own way. I have never travelled on Government hospitality in my life. I have never made free trips to any part of the Empire. I always pay my own way. I do not like these deputations that go abroad on other people's money.
Again, the Council is:to improve the methods of recruitment. …What does that mean? Either a young fellow has printer's ink in his blood or he has not. If he has got it, he will make good. If he has not, one can train him until one is black in the face and it will be of no use.
§ Mr. Baxter
I looked at it. But I spent 15 years as editor of papers in Fleet Street. I know very well that journalists are born, not trained. If they are born to the job, then they can benefit by training; but this whole Bill is pathetic. The only place to learn how to be a journalist is on a newspaper. Take the boy on to the paper; if he survives, he is a journalist; if he is not a journalist, let him go into politics.
Here is a Clause on which I think we can reach common agreement. Clause I says:For the purposes of this Act there shall be established a General Council of the Press (in this Act referred to as 'the Council') which shall be a body corporate by that name with perpetual succession and a common seal with power to acquire and hold land without licence in mortmain.It must be that this is some ancient custom with regard to the acquiring of land. Are we to have a great United Nations building in Fleet Street, or something like that?
§ Mr. Baxter
I gather that mortmain, which I think is ancient Norman, means "dead hand." I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he helped to draft this Bill, in having his dead hand on it.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Gentleman has just asked a number of questions about the meaning of Clause 1. It may have escaped his recollection, but may I remind him that he made all those jokes on the same Clause in the Hairdressers Bill? [Laughter.] If he will consult HANSARD of the appropriate date, he will find the explanation of why this Clause is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Baxter
The hon. Gentleman has me at a disadvantage. I do not remember speaking on the Hairdressers Bill, but I am delighted to think that I made such a deep impression upon him that he remembers. He does not want to ask another question? Then here is an interesting thing. The American Press 1007 have no Press Council, no central body to advise the control of the Press. Yet what is the result? The biggest daily circulation and the paper with the most readers in New York is the "New York Times."
§ Mr. Baxter
There may be 200,000 or 300,000 more copies sold, but the "New York Times," with its huge contents, has more readers to a copy than any other paper. That must be accepted. The "New York Times" has an immense and powerful circulation whereas, for example, "The Times" in London has great influence but has a smaller circulation. That cannot be altered by a Press Commission. The public has to find its own level. I agree that the Sunday newspaper problem is a great one, but the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill attacked the "Daily Express" and the "Evening Standard" as if they were among the pornographic newspapers—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That was the impression he gave.
The House has been good enough to listen to my arguments and I want to conclude with the following plea. The essence of the freedom of the Press depends on its lack of unification. The newspapers should be as independent of their rivals as is possible in these days. I agree that there are things they have to come together upon, such as wages and the importing of newsprint. Outside of that, let every newspaper be its own judge and let every editor and proprietor work to his own conscience. Leave it to the public to be the jury.
I see great danger in setting up this Council, whether by the order of this House or voluntarily as a result of the Royal Commission. I make this plea believing that with all its faults, our Press has standards of conduct and of integrity greater than any other newspapers in the world. There is much that is wrong in the contents but, after all, there has been no scandal for a great number of years.
I say to this House: criticise the Press all you like. Attack it, certainly. Attack proprietors and editors and anything you like, but do not delude yourselves that 1008 you can force freedom by chains being forged at this moment in this House.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Smith (Nottingham, South)
The hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) used the word "effrontery" in connection with the phrase in Clause 2to further the efficiency of the profession …I do not propose to emulate his polemical methods, which are much less effective in this House than they are in the suburbs of North London. I propose to give the hon. Gentleman reasons why that phrase is justified. I propose to deploy a closely knit argument based on facts and on the experience of one who, for 30 years, gained his living in Fleet Street, mostly as a sub-editor.
I propose, with your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to discuss the handling of one item of news, the sort of item of news that is perfectly well understood by hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House, and was in the newspapers this morning. I propose to discuss the kind of news handling that showed itself in connection with the two by-election results declared late last night.
Mr. Deputy - Speaker, you are possibly not aware that it is possible by means of headlines to create an entirely wrong impression without in any way departing from the truth. I ought to know—I was a headline writer for the best part of 20 years. Let us look at the handling of these by-election results this morning by the four popular London dailies—the "Daily Mail," the "Daily Express," the "Daily Herald" and the "News Chronicle."
The "Daily Express" put on these results the headline "Socialists hold as-you-were seats." With great correctitude they gave the figures of last night's by-election results and the corresponding results of the General Election in each of these cases, and they ended their news story with these words:So, though the Socialist majority was again cut—fewer people voted on each side.I submit to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and to the House that any reasonable man reading that report would conclude that something extremely unfavourable had happened to the Labour candidature in these by-elections.
1009 I now proceed to the "Daily Mail"—
§ Mr. N. Smith
No, I am going to deploy my case first. It is closely knit, and based upon facts all restricted to the event, supplied by one news story in the papers this morning though, goodness knows, I have had enough material over the last few months to choose from.
I now come to the "Daily Mail" headline:Socialist vote cut by nearly 12,000 and total vote slumps in two by-elections.The news story begins like this:Socialists held Small Heath, Birmingham, and Farnworth, Lancashire, in yesterday's 'Little Election,' with reduced majorities. At Small Heath, 11,588 fewer people voted for Labour.That is the end of my quotation. Again, I submit that any ordinary, reasonable person reading that would conclude that something most unpleasant had happened to the Labour, as distinct from the Conservative, candidate in that by-election.
I come now to the "Daily Herald." After giving the figures it said in its news story:In both divisions Labour and Conservative votes went down in approximately the same proportion.
§ Mr. Smith
I have not got it, but I remember it. It was, "Labour holds two seats."
The "Daily Herald" presentation of the news would create a rather less inaccurate impression in the mind of its reader, but it still would not tell him what had happened.
I come now to the fourth of these popular dailies which, I confess, is my own favourite newspaper, the "News Chronicle," and I will quote the comment in the news story following the election figures of a gentleman whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting, still less of speaking to, in my life, but who must be a rather rare bird in Fleet Street. He is a Mr. Geoffrey Cox. What I am doing is to show good reason why there should be a Press Council in order to improve the efficiency of the profession. The "News Chronicle" this morning said:Geoffrey Cox writes: These two results show that there has been no further swing 1010 towards the Tories since High Wycombe, but, if anything, a slight rallying of Labour's forces. At Small Heath, Labour's share of the total poll has gone up by just over 3 per cent. while the Tory share has improved by 2 per cent. At the General Election there was a three-cornered contest with a Liberal standing. Last time Labour had 59.21 per cent. of the votes at Farnworth; this time they had 59.90 per cent.Mr. Geoffrey Cox put the picture in its proper perspective. He showed that there has been a very slight change of opinion since the General Election and also one which was the opposite from the slight change of opinion registered by the previous by-elections at High Wycombe and Cleveland.
It is the essence of my argument that the qualities that go to make a good journalist, or, if I may borrow the phrase of the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter), the qualities that put printer's ink into a journalist's blood, do not include even the most elementary mathematical ability. That being the case, there is always the serious danger that any ordinary Fleet Street journalist, handling a by-election result, will, with the best will in the world, mislead his readers most completely, as did the "Daily Express" and, all the more so, the "Daily Mail" this morning.
§ Mr. Boothby
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the proposed Press Council can put this right, and, if so, will he say how it could without exercising a form of censorship?
§ Mr. Smith
The Press Council could say to these newspapers, "A propos your presentation of the bye-election results this morning, you really ought not to have left your readers with the impression with which you did, in fact, leave them." There is a very urgent need for somebody to be in a position to give the Press to understand that their code of headlines is just not good enough.
Let me give the House a further example which happened to me in my own constituency at the last General Election. At the previous Election I had been returned in a minority in a three-cornered fight. Last time there was no Liberal, and, that being the case, it was evident that everything depended on what was going to happen to the Liberal vote. That is axiomatic.
1011 About a week before the poll, the "Nottingham Journal," a really admirably edited newspaper—and I know when a newspaper is well edited—came out with a 36 pt. headline across the top of one page which read:South Nottingham Liberals support Rees Davies,Mr. Rees Davies being my Conservative opponent.
Any ordinary Nottingham reader of that newspaper, on being confronted with that headline in very big type, would think that the Liberal Party had met and had taken a decision to come down on the side of the Conservative candidate. But when one read the story it became clear that only a few Liberals had met and decided that, so far as they as individuals were concerned, they would support Mr. Rees Davies, and no doubt they did.
My whole point is that that headline was completely misleading. Surely it should have been somebody's business to point out to the editor of the "Nottingham Journal" that he could not do that sort of thing, certainly not with 36 point type, which is about as thick as my finger. It is wrong to put up these headlines which mislead, but newspapers do it every day, and I have had to go no further than today's issues to give an example of this.
§ Mr. Baxter
What is wrong with such a headline? As the hon. Gentleman knows, a heading can only have two, three or four words in it, and it seems to me that was the only way of putting it.
§ Mr. Smith
That is precisely the sort of ethical code which the hon. Member for Southgate has. He knows perfectly well that the reaction of the ordinary person would be to decide that this was the decision of the whole Liberal Party in South Nottingham. He takes advantage of a bit of casuistry and, in so doing, exposes his own low standards and base ethical code where headlines are concerned. He actually defends this sort of thing.
§ Mr. F. M. Bennett (Reading, North)
The hon. Gentleman pointed out that in these circumstances the Press Council would rightly say, "You cannot do that sort of thing." But, on the question of 1012 censorship, supposing a newspaper says, "We can and will," what would this Bill do to stop it in future?
§ Mr. Smith
So long as it is the job of someone to point out to these newspapers that they are offending against decency as measured by ethical standards, an advance will have been made. That is the whole point and that is what I want to achieve.
I am not saying that the "Daily Mail," because it is worse than the "Daily Express"—and this really is the gravamen of my argument—goes out of its way to mislead its readers with regard to the result of these by-elections, and that is why something is needed to improve the efficiency of the profession.
As a result of my careful observation over 30 years in journalism, I have come to the conclusion that if a man has the qualifications of a good journalist he has very little quantitative sense. Let me give the House an illustration of what I mean, and this is really fundamental to the whole position. A code needs to be imposed upon these people from outside. I once had a job, and I was the first person in Fleet Street to have it, of using mechanical methods to make the captions under pictures in illustrated papers all of the right length, that is to say, the length of the picture. Nobody had ever been able to do that before because of this curious but undeniable absence of a quantitative sense in the make-up of a typical successful journalist.
The editor said, "We produce by photogravure. Our sub-editors cannot get captions of the right length under the picture the first time, with the result that corrections have to be made which not only hold up the process, but are expensive. Will you undertake to get them right the first time?" After some cogitation I said I would. I might get one line in 200 a little too long or too short. But I invite the House to observe the qualifications necessary to get them right the first time.
First, it was necessary to be able to count up to at least 150. Whether many journalists in Fleet Street can do that or not I do not know, but of this I am certain—they will not. They have not the patience to do it, and 150 happens to be the approximate number of letters and spaces that will go into a full line 1013 under a page-width picture. I was willing to count up to 150 and I have found no substitute for doing so, but the ordinary man with the Fleet Street temperament just will not. He will count the words and that is as far as he will go.
Moreover, I had to have an intimate knowledge of the alphabet. It might surprise the House to know that an intimate knowledge of the alphabet is not shared by everybody. It is an extremely useful attribute in a newspaper office, and for other reasons than for merely looking up people's telephone numbers. In that job it was essential by reason of the fact that the letter "w" or "m" takes up much more space than the letter "i" or "l," and it is a historical fact, a matter of objective truth that only I at that time was willing to do this thing. Nobody else had been willing to do it. Lastly, I had the ability to manipulate a slide-rule, but I will not expatiate on that.
It is my firm conviction that it is because the ordinary successful newspaperman has no understanding of figures and cannot think quantitatively that we get these preposterously distorted presentations of by-election results. Mr. Geoffrey Cox, whose name I quoted, is a most exceptional man in Fleet Street in that respect. Such men are very few. Even "The Times" commentator, who remains anonymous and who is described as "Our Parliamentary Correspondent" said this morning:The Government did not expect to regain either of these solid Labour seats, but the Small Heath result, in particular, will give more satisfaction to the Government than to the Opposition.
§ Mr. Smith
How can hon. Members opposite get any pleasure when the Opposition candidate put his poll up by 3 per cent. and their candidate put his poll up by only 2 per cent.? I continue the quotation:While the votes cast for both candidates there fell in roughly similar proportions, the Labour votes were 11,588 fewer than at the General Election, while the Conservative vote fell by only 5,542.That betokens that "Our Parliamentary Correspondent," as he is called in "The Times" office, just has no arithmetical sense at all. It is his misfortune and I do not reprehend him for that. I 1014 myself, alas, have no poetical sense at all and I have a shrewd idea of what I am missing. We all have our blind spot, but a journalist with a blind spot like that should not be allowed to comment on by-election results, because he has not the capacity to do it.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
If this Bill became law and the Press Council were established, would that particular gentleman, whoever he is, be liable to the censure of the Press Council because he had his figures wrong?
§ Mr. Smith
All that I would envisage is that the Council would write to the editor of "The Times" and say, "You really ought to get your Parliamentary Correspondent to take elementary lessons in arithmetic, at least as far as the Rule of Three." That is not very far. I remember learning it in 1897, which is a long time ago. If the Parliamentary Correspondent of "The Times" is, to presume to comment on by-election figures he should at any rate have that much knowledge.
I have made one point and one only, which is that there is great misrepresentation of fact in headlines, not, I believe, through deliberate political malice but through the limitations which necessarily must go with the typically successful practitioner of so exacting a career as journalism. I do not know that I want to interfere very much with the liberty of the Press. I could not help contrasting the division of opinion opposite between, on the one hand, the hon. Member fog Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who deplored the pornography of the Sunday newspapers, and, on the other hand, the complacency of the hon. Member for Southgate, who said it was a bit of a problem and then dismissed it and forgot it.
Let me remind the hon. Members of this—that those responsible for getting out the "News of the World" are only practising the first law of capitalism which is, "Sell the public what they want for as much as you can get for it." It obviously requires some sort of authority, not with executive powers or powers of punishment over these people but just to hint to them and to say, "You really must live up to some sort of ethical code." I very much hope that this will be done and I think that now is the time to do it.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Mr. S. Storey (Stretford)
Before I say anything else, I think that as chairman of a company producing newspapers I should declare my interest in this Bill. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Norman Smith), but I should like to say that I sympathise with him about the typographical difficulties which he has described. I remember what it was during the General Strike to try to reproduce typescript copied by photographic means in the same width of column and same size of face as ordinary type.
In opposing this Bill, I do so not because I am opposed to the idea of a Press Council. Since this proposal was first mooted, publicly and in both written and oral evidence to the Royal Commission I have stated my view that only if it is set up voluntarily and without lay members will this Council serve a useful purpose. I go further and say that I have always taken the view that the Newspaper Proprietors' Association and the Newspaper Society should seek by all possible means to raise the standard of the performance of their newspapers, just as I think that the journalists' organisation should do the same in respect of the performance of their members—and they do seek to do that.
When I was president of the Newspaper Society, intrusions into private grief, as they were called, were the subject of much interest. I then took action both individually and through the Newspaper Society to secure that members of the Society should impress upon their staffs the necessity to guard the reputation of their newspapers by maintaining decency in the collection and presentation of their news. I think I can say that for some time afterwards there was a distinct improvement.
Also, while I was president of the Newspaper Society I had to deal with the only instance that I can remember of advertisers trying to purchase editorial support. Anyone interested will find the incident described in the Report of the Royal Commission. I would only say here that again I took action publicly and through the Newspaper Society, and shortly afterwards that advertising campaign was withdrawn. I hope the House will excuse me recounting these personal experiences. I only do so to show that 1016 I am in favour of the Press taking voluntary action to raise its standards and to meet threats to its integrity.
My opposition to the Bill is due to the belief that it is a bad Bill. It is a bad Bill because it seeks to impose by Statute what the Royal Commission recommended should derive its authority from the Press itself. It is too widely and too vaguely drawn. It seeks to include laymen upon the Press Council. It overloads the Press Council with some duties which are already adequately performed by other bodies. It imposes one duty which, in my opinion, would interfere with negotiating machinery established in the industry. It omits another duty—here I am expressing a purely personal view—to raise the standard of advertising as well as of news.
May I say a word or two about some of these objections? I will not repeat the argument about the Bill being too widely drawn. I would only say that this House is rightly jealous of any powers of delegated legislation, and to say that the Press Council can do anything which, in its opinion, is calculated to facilitate the proper discharge of its functions seems to me to give it far too wide powers to legislate over its constituent bodies.
The next objection on which I should like to say a word is that it seeks to include laymen on the Council. This proposal, upon which the Royal Commission itself was not unanimous and about which six of the seven bodies negotiating for a voluntary Press Council are agreed, is one that we must take into serious consideration. The opposition of the Newspaper Society and the other associations connected with these negotiations is, I think, quite natural. If any industry suffers from individuals who think they know better how to run it than those who have spent their lifetime in it, it is the newspaper industry. The industry, therefore, is suspicious of any proposal that would include laymen amongst those who are going to regulate its performance.
§ Mr. Grimond
This is a very important point. The supporters of the Amendment said that they were definitely in favour of laymen on the Press Council, and they understood negotiations were going on on that basis. The hon. Member has 1017 great knowledge of the Press. I understand that he is contradicting that statement and is saying that the Press will resist the election of lay members to the Council.
§ Mr. John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
I do not think my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) made any significant pronouncement, except that he himself was in favour of laymen on the Council, but he did not commit other hon. Members on this side of the House.
§ Mr. Storey
I am not speaking on behalf of any of the organisations which are taking part in these negotiations. I think that they share the view, which I express as a personal view, that laymen should not be included upon the Council. They are particularly suspicious of the proposal to include laymen on the Council because this Bill omits—and I hope the House will note it—the safeguard recommended by the Royal Commission that the laymen should be entirely independent of the Government of the day.
§ Mr. Jack Jones (Rotherham)
I am neither a journalist nor a person who is well versed in the intricacies of journalism, but is the hon. Member suggesting that of the tens of thousands of his constituents there is not one layman fit to express public opinion upon such a Council?
§ Mr. Storey
It is all very well saying "Nonsense." The hon. Member has not been in and listened to a lot of this debate. He has come in and, as he always does, he has talked too much.
§ Mr. Storey
I did not suggest that the hon. Member talked too much when he was outside the House, but I think it will be within the recollection of most hon. Members that when he is in the House he is very apt to make interjections.
§ Mr. Storey
I did answer it. I said that there are people who are capable of so doing, but that in my opinion the industry is quite able to settle its own affairs.
§ Mr. Storey
That is what I said: this is a matter of opinion.
Now I turn to the duties with which I think this Bill overloads the Press Council. For instance, it makes it the duty of the Council to improve the methods of recruitment, education and training of journalists. There is no harm in placing that duty upon the Press Council, but I think it is quite unnecessary. I would not like the House to think that nothing is being done in this matter. Even before the Royal Commission was appointed, consultations were proceeding on these matters.
Quite recently a national advisory council was created by the Newspaper Society, the Guild of Editors, the National Union of Journalists and the Institute of Journalists, which I might say is not purely an editorial body but has working journalists amongst its members. They worked out and put into operation a scheme of training with a three-year basic course and with a certificate of training and a national diploma as its aim. The scheme has already received encouraging support. In my own offices I think practically every junior is taking part in those courses. I understand that the London papers have decided to come in on this scheme.
Another duty imposed upon the Council is the promotion of technical research. For over 25 years to my knowledge, newspapers have co-operated with the printing and allied trades in running their own research association, and the Newspaper Society has its own technical committee which works closely with that association.
1019 Then there is the comprehensive pension scheme. This, to my mind, is a dangerous provision. Pensions definitely affect the salaries and working conditions of journalists which are directly negotiated betwen the employers and the trade unions. To superimpose a Press Council upon such direct negotiations would, I think, be a false step. Many newspaper companies have their own pension schemes. They cover not only the journalists but their whole staffs. Each has its own level. Personally I would strongly oppose any comprehensive scheme that would break up my own scheme, and anyhow, for those who want a comprehensive scheme there has been since 1928 the Newspaper and Printing Trade Industrial Pension Fund which they could join.
Take the question of common services. We are told that the Press Council should promote common services. We already have the two big news agencies, one owned co-operatively by the newspapers of the country and the other by the newspapers of this country and of the Dominions. They have their own private wire system for transmitting photographs and news. There is the Newsprint Supply Company, and there is also the libel insurance company sponsored by the Newspaper Society. I submit therefore, that the industry is quite capable of creating any common services which might be needed without bringing in outside help.
There is one omission from the duties which it is proposed to lay on the Press Council. I am sorry that they do not include seeking to improve the standard of advertising copy, particularly the copy of newspaper publishers. In recent months I have been seriously perturbed by the amount of advertising based on sex appeal which some national weekly newspapers have been sending to the provincial Press. Already newspapers have joint machinery to vet advertising copy; I think it time they did something to vet the copy of their own advertisements. I have done my best to inspire some action. The Press Council might more reasonably undertake this duty than some of those which have been proposed for it.
I hope I have shown that most of the proposed duties of the Press Council are already covered, voluntarily and without outside help, by the industry itself. I see no reason why the really important 1020 duty proposed for the Press Council, that of raising the standard of the performance of the Press, should not equally well be carried out by a voluntary Council without lay members.
I am not a party to the negotiations except through the representatives of our society, but I believe that a voluntary Council is within measurable reach of achievement. There is only one, or at the most two, points which I understand are still unsettled. There is no question of steam-rollering working journalists, as the promoter of the Bill rather suggested. I believe there is some small question of whether there should be one or two fewer working editors and one or two more working journalists on the council. That surely is a matter which by good will and negotiation can be settled by the negotiating body. I believe there is still the question, so far as one body is concerned, as to whether there should be laymen on the Council.
We may have been slow and I am quite prepared to admit that we have been slow. But when it is remembered that there are seven bodies largely composed of individualists—and may there always be a lot of individualists in the newspaper industry—and that we have to reconcile the views of those individualists and then the views of the seven bodies, I do not think there is any wonder that the negotiations have been protracted. It has been suggested throughout the day that all the delay has come from the newspaper proprietors' side. I am sure that is not correct; in fact I know it is not correct. They may have taken a long time with the first proposals, but at least one of the journalists' bodies held up for a long time its reply to the first proposals.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Maldon)
When the proposals made by the proprietors are deliberately framed in such a way as to be bound to be unacceptable, that obviously causes some delay.
§ Mr. Storey
There may be some blame on both sides, but I do not think it is any good going into the question of delay now. The fact which really matters is that agreement for a voluntary Council is within measurable distance of achievement. Therefore, I ask the House not to kill the possibility of a voluntary Council by imposing a statutory one. A free Press can only be led; it cannot be forced. Any 1021 attempt to impose a Press Council upon the industry by legislation would be a first step to a Government-controlled Press. Therefore, I feel that such a proposal must be resisted by all who believe in a free Press and I hope that the House will support the Amendment.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
We live in a world of changing values and Fleet Street is no exception. It feels the change going on all around us. The only people who do not seem to feel it are the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) and the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Storey). Both contributed to this debate thoroughly old-fashioned alarms and outmoded ideas.
It is a good thing that Fleet Street has within its ranks men like the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who has shown in this debate that sort of independence of spirit and clarity of thought which is always necessary in Fleet Street. May be it is a very good thing that old newspaper men like the two hon. Members to which I have referred and myself have left any really serious executive capacity in Fleet Street, leaving the work to the younger men who have to carry the burden.
There is a story in Fleet Street about a newspaper—I think it was the "Wallasey and Wirral Chronicle"—which one day sent out one of its reporters to write a story on a shocking series of murders which had taken place in the area of circulation of the newspaper. The reporter came back and wrote a story in which he described how a man had gone home, taken a hatchet to his wife, cut the throats of his three children and hanged himself in an outhouse. The sub-editor of the paper put up a heading to this grisly story, "Bootle labourer's strange conduct."
That is a form of journalism and a form of heading which is not in constant use today, but I suggest that the newspaper proprietors could well be described as exercising strange conduct. What have these gentlemen done? They waited three and a half years before they produced a plan for the Press Council and at this stage they have made an offer to the journalists' bodies, dated 30th July last, on a "take it or leave it" basis. No one in this House or elsewhere can accuse the newspaper proprietors of this country 1022 of being slow. I worked in intimate contact with them as a member of the Council of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association for 15 or 16 years. I have found that they showed the utmost speed in decision and action.
The setting up of the Newsprint Supply Company when Scandinavia was overrun was a magnificent piece of organisation, achieved at the highest speed. The war-time emergencies were also carried out with great speed and even the mergers, say, of the "Daily Chronicle" and the "Daily News," were carried out with the greatest rapidity. The tempo of Fleet Street is that one moves at a very fast rate and newspaper proprietors, not only in Fleet Street but in Withygrove, Newcastle, Birmingham and everywhere, are all trained in that way.
It is an astonishing thing that men who have conducted their businesses at such speed and great velocity have shown this extreme tardiness in such an important matter. Why? What is wrong with setting up a body which Parliament wants to be set up, which the country wants to be set up? I suggest to hon. Members opposite that they should look at the Press as it is today, with realistic eyes.
This is all a gigantic business established for the purpose of making money. A "broke" newspaper proprietor becomes no longer a newspaper proprietor. People stay in the game because they want to make money out of it—also because they want to get power at the same time; but, fundamentally, to be successful in the modern term, the newspaper has to make money and to make a lot of money. That is the desire. In achieving it, one has to fight for circulation and for advertising, and in the process somebody gets hurt. Among those who get hurt are the readers, because they have their private lives interfered with or they read something in the newspaper which they know is not true and which upsets them.
The people who read the newspapers which are produced in these modern times and under present conditions are critical of them, and yet the newspaper proprietors, who are men of a certain realism, go around in a world of half fantasy, believing that the public love them. The only people who love them 1023 are their workers, who love them because they are extremely nice people to work for; but the reader does not love them. The ordinary reader thinks that they are remote, slightly cocky and slightly wicked men.
The proprietors of newspapers today say, "Look, we are being attacked." When they say that it reminds me of the story of the two Jews walking down a dark street in Berlin and seeing two storm troopers coming towards them. One of them said, "Let us get out of here; we are alone and there are two of them." That is the feeling of the newspaper proprietors—that they are alone and that everybody else is ganging up against them. For people who can dish it out, that is astonishing. It is a fantastic belief that people are ganging up all around them to attack them.
If these gentlemen, with all their power and their intelligence, decided to take the public into their confidence and to set up a Press Council—or rather, to support this Bill—it would show to the world at once that they have nothing to fear—and, of course, they have nothing to fear. If they run journalism in this country in the interests of the country, and of the people, it will still pay.
But the proprietors are afraid that something might interfere with the process of making money. It is all very silly, and I urge those hon. Members opposite who have any connection with the Press at all to realise that the bold step, the sort of unusual step which Lord Beaverbrook is always taking, is the step which will capture public imagination.
We have heard a good deal today about the country's salacious, sexy newspapers. They survive because of two supports which they get. One is from the reader and the other is from the advertiser. I do not think it is necessary for us to be considering how the newspapers should be cleaning up the advertising which they issue. What we should be considering is whether the advertisers should go on supporting newspapers which they know quite well are inimical to the interests of the public.
It will not do for gentlemen connected with advertising to cast stones at the dirty papers, the few pornographic papers, and then to see that the products they 1024 are being paid to advertise are, in fact, advertised in those newspapers, because if it is morally and ethically wrong for the people to read those papers, it is morally and ethically wrong for the advertisers to advertise in them. Without the advertisements, these newspapers could disappear overnight; these newspapers would not exist, and our Sunday would be a comparatively clean day, if the advertisers would take the necessary care.
There is nothing in the Bill of which the newspapers should be afraid, nothing to cause fear among the journalists or the mechanical workers in the industry—those important people who, from ten at night to four in the morning, go through the process of producing the paper. This Bill is not what they have to fear. What the newspapers have to fear is some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who want sponsored television. There is the dreadful warning of what happened when radio advertising became powerful in the United States. The "Saturday Evening Post" never recovered from it, nor did the "Ladies' Home Journal"; and the old periodicals we knew as young men are today miserable copies of what they were, for they lost their advertising to the radio.
What did the American newspaper proprietors do to counter it? They bought into or established radio stations, because it was only by doing so that they could catch their share of the advertising, which was being taken out of their pockets. That is a dreadful warning for the British newspapers, for the amount of money which will be spent on sponsored television, which will be promoted by some hon. Members opposite, will come out of the advertising appropriation earmarked for the daily, Sunday, evening and weekly newspapers.
There is no sign which I see of the newspaper proprietors deciding to participate in television stations. They are, in fact, on the horns of a dilemma. They are so eager to say that free enterprise should be given its full play that they are having to swallow the horrible pill of sponsored television. I predict that the newspapers which are now trying to increase their size and future quotas, and which are going out on necessary campaigns to get advertising, will find, from the moment that we have sponsored 1025 television, that their advertising revenue is eaten into as it was by Radio Luxemburg, Radio Normandy, Radio Fécamp, and Radio Athlone before the war.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey
I follow the hon. Gentleman's point, and I do not entirely dissent from anything he has said, but in view of his comments on advertising and advertisers, can he tell us why there is no reference to them in the Bill and whether he feels that it would be reasonable for them to be represented on the Council?
§ Sir L. Plummer
I do not think it would. It is a Committee point, but perhaps I can make it now. If we ever let the advertiser into the consideration of how the Press as a whole shall be run, we shall have said goodbye to a free Press in this country. The interest of the advertiser and the interest of the reader are not identical. We believe in the freedom of the Press and the freedom of the reader to choose the newspaper he wants—and the freedom of the reader to be able to read in his newspaper the news he is entitled to see; and to put the advertiser in the position where he could use his economic power to say, "This is the sort of paper which should be produced," or "This is the standard of journalism I want you to observe," is to put a vested interest into the newspaper at the expense of the reader.
I issue this warning about television advertising. The carve-up is on and the operators are moving in. I am quite certain that sponsored television will be a howling success, but it will be a success at the expense of the free Press. It will hit at the prosperity of the Press—daily, Sunday, evening, weekly papers and periodicals alike. It will affect the standard of living of the people employed by the newspapers, and I think it will cause a great deal of grief and alarm for the newspaper proprietors.
But I offer this word of cheer to them. If they support the Bill and show that they are disinterested and that they want to see journalism established in the way in which we all want to see it, they will get the support of this side of the House and of the people of the country. Who knows, the combination might destroy the awful spectre of sponsored television which is facing them.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
I think it may be convenient if I speak now in order to give the view of the Government on this Measure. Considering that probably most hon. Members have had a very short period in bed—if any at all—I think that the general tenor of the debate has been remarkably amicable. Indeed, there has been an extraordinary closeness of objective between all hon. Members in all parts of the House.
I think that the greatest divergence, curiously enough, was between the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons), who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who seconded it. I think that they were farther apart than any of the hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, and it will be interesting to see, should the House give a Second Reading to the Bill, just how long they will remain hand in hand on these matters.
This is a Private Member's Bill, and it is not the custom on such a Measure for the Government Whips to be on, and I should like to assure the House that the Government Whips are not on. It is, on the other hand, customary for the Government to express their attitude to a Measure, particularly an important Measure of this kind, and even to recommend hon. Members in all parts of the House how we think that they ought to vote, if there should be a Division upon the Bill. I am, personally, most conscious of the great importance of this matter and of the responsibility which rests on me in speaking for the Government on this occasion.
It may be well if I give, very briefly, the history of this matter. The Royal Commission on the Press really gave it birth. On page 165 of its Report it is stated:The problem is not peculiar to the Press, but in this sphere it is particularly acute. If the Press is not aware of its responsibility to the public it cannot perform its functions adequately; but if it is not free it cannot perform them at all.Then, later, the Commission said:In our view, therefore, it is preferable to seek the means of maintaining the proper relationship between the Press and society not in Government action but in the Press itself.1027 I should like hon. Members opposite to note those words—"not in Government action." I think they would certainly be wide enough to include the promotion of a Bill in this House. The Commission then said:We recommend that the Press itself should create a central organ for this purpose. We shall discuss the nature of this organ, which we propose to call the General Council of the Press, when we have considered in more detail the functions which it might perform.Then, in paragraph 620, it is stated:There are two problems of outstanding importance to the quality of the Press which we consider that a General Council could usefully study: the problem of recruiting and training and the problem of formulating and making effective high standards of professional conduct.Shortly after this Report was published there was a debate in this House on 28th July, 1949, and the late Mr. Oliver Stanley spoke first for hon. Members on this side of the House in that debate.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
We were then in Opposition.
He defined the attitude of the Conservative Party in these words, which have been referred to today:Certainly, we all expect from those in authority that if they say that the Press Council is not the right way to do it, they will tell us what is the right way. We shall look with very great interest, first on their decision as to the Press Council and, secondly, if that is negatived, to any alternative because it is the interests of hon. Members on this side of the House just as much as in the interests of hon. Members opposite, just as it is of everybody whom we represent in Parliament, that by some means or other we should eliminate, first, the deliberate distortion of news, and, secondly, any unhealthy pandering to crude sensationalism."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 2716.]That view was restated by the present Home Secretary, who said:I would add my voice to his: I ask the Press, recognising the difficulty of these points, to find a way off their own bat, on their own volition, for dealing with the difficulties which have been pointed out; and I am sure that they will win not only the respect, but the affection of their readers in the country as a whole if they pursue that path."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July 1949; Vol. 467, c. 2789.]I have referred to those passages again because they then represented the 1028 attitude of the leaders of the Conservative Party. Those leaders have at all times given their steady support to the Royal Commission's purpose in suggesting that a Press Council should be formed, and that is the attitude of the Government now.
It has been said that it is three years, or rather more than three years, since the Report was published and that the Press Council has not yet been set up, and questions have been asked during the debate today whether the delay which has taken place has not been excessive. Hon. Members who are directly concerned with these matters have said quite frankly that they feel that the delay has been long, that there have been very great difficulties. This is, after all, a matter which is entirely without any parallel, so far as I know—without any precedent.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned that, because I should like to deal with it in a moment.
There are various and necessarily conflicting interests here, and it would obviously be a difficult task to get all those reconciled together into a workable scheme. I read the paragraph from the Royal Commission's Report which referred to one of the purposes of this Press Council which has not been mentioned very much during the debate today, that is to say, the training and educational scheme for those coming into the Press, and I think it is material in this context to mention that such a scheme has, in fact, been proceeded with separately.
Here is a matter on which there have been discussions and negotiations between, I think, exactly the same parties, or very nearly exactly the same parties. The matter is not one which, I imagine, is so technical or difficult as the main question of setting up a Press Council, but in that particular case I am glad to say that agreement was reached. It was reached, in fact, in April of this year, and I believe that the new training scheme came into operation on 1st October.
1029 Therefore, if hon. Members opposite are inclined to say that the delay has been excessive and that there is not a genuine desire on the part of the newspaper proprietors or anyone else to get together, here, I think, it is fair to answer, that in the other case, the other recommendation, there has been equally a delay, but in that case it has been possible to get together and, I believe, to put forward a scheme to the satisfaction of all parties.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the negotiations are between the same parties?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
As I understand, it is between identically the same parties. Certainly, the principal parties concerned; certainly the N.U.J. and the newspaper proprietors.
§ Mr. Storey
The parties were not exactly the same. The Newspaper Proprietors' Association were not concerned in the original negotiations, but I understand that since then they have decided to adopt the scheme.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
It has been possible to get agreement, though it has taken some time to do so. I, personally, feel confident that if the discussions which are now going on with regard to the Press Council were to go on as they have done hitherto there would be an early and completely satisfactory agreement arrived at. The promotion of this Bill will, of course, necessarily interfere with that.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
If discussions are taking place to arrive at some voluntary arrangement and then a Bill is brought forward which would completely override that arrangement and substitute for it compulsory powers, those engaged in these negotiations will not only have their eye taken off the ball, but they will, obviously, wish to wait to see what happens.
§ Mr. Lever
This is a vital point in deciding the vote today. It has been made clear in the debate today that if, in the necessarily prolonged Committee stage which this Bill would have to receive if granted a Second Reading, the agreement is reached which is hopefully expected within a matter of weeks, as we are told, there is good ground for supposing that a certain course of action would be taken in Committee by those who hold the view that a voluntary Council is to be preferred to a statutory Council. That would overwhelmingly be the view of the Committee, who could express their view in appropriate action.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The hon. Gentleman and others know as much about this matter as I do, but my expectation is that if this Bill were sent to a Standing Committee it would be virtually impossible to arrive at any decision so long as that Committee proceeded. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is a matter of opinion, but I feel as sure of that as I feel sure of any such matter. Indeed, I would say it is a pity that this Bill should have been put forward at this stage.
I ask the hon. Member for Brierley Hill if he really desires an agreed solution to be arrived at, to consider whether it might not be better to withdraw the Bill. I think that if he presses the Bill there will undoubtedly be a Division; there will be a cleavage of opinion in the House which might be interpreted in different ways by the parties involved in these negotiations, and I am quite certain myself that that would necessarily prejudice the reaching of a completely satisfactory voluntary agreement.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
But three and a half years have already gone by since the House expressed itself. Has the hon. Gentleman any authentic information about the intentions of the proprietors and others, the nature of their proposals, and how soon they are coming to a conclusion? That might be talking business. Has the hon. Gentleman any information as to when the conclusions are coming to fruition and what the proposals will be?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I cannot, of course, speak for the proprietors, any more than I can speak for the N.U.J. For all I know, it may be that it is not 1031 the proprietors who are making difficulties. I do not know. The discussions have been going on, but we have been assured quite definitely by my hon. Friends who have spoken in the House—and it has not been contradicted, so far as I know, from anywhere—that agreement is imminent. One of my hon. Friends said that he expected agreement to be reached within a matter of months, and possibly even weeks.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I can only accept what my hon. Friend has said, and I believe that we shall get an agreement in a reasonably early time.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
The hon. Gentleman knew this debate was coming up; he knew that this was material. Has he not done what I should have thought would have been wise, made polite inquiries, as it would be quite competent to do, from those concerned as to how matters stand, so that he could have official information for the House?
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
Will my hon. Friend allow me to intervene? It is, after all, a private Members' day. I am hoping to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, and I hope to be able to give some of the information the right hon. Gentleman is seeking.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that inquiries were made as to the probability of a satisfactory outcome, and that the information I received—and this is necessarily merely a matter of opinion; it cannot be anything else—was that a satisfactory outcome can be expected in the very near future.
Apart altogether from what might be called the tactical position of the Bill, there are serious objections in principle to the proposals in the Bill, and it is right that I should try to deal with these in the time available to me. The Bill seeks to set up a statutory Press Council. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill made that absolutely clear; that was his intention; it was to be a statutory Press Council. That is fundamentally different from the proposal of the Royal Commission, and it was, of course, quite different from the views of the majority of the Royal Commission as stated in their Report.
1032 The objects the Bill seeks to achieve, which are set out in Clause 2, are, in themselves, obviously desirable objectsto safeguard the freedom of the Press, to encourage the growth of the sense of public responsibility and public service among all engaged in the profession of journalism … and to further … efficiency.Those are objects which all hon. Members, in every part of the House, would obviously approve in principle. But they are somewhat vague. The most cogent argument which has been put forward—and it has really been the only argument put forward by hon. Members supporting the Bill—is the need to encourage the growth of a sense of public responsibility.
When I see a reference to statutory encouragement I at once take alarm. It seems to me that encouraging anything by statute is a somewhat risky thing. It is the same sort of encouragement as was received by Admiral Bing, who, the House will remember, was shot pour encourager les autres, and I cannot help feeling that if statutory powers are taken to encourage something to be done that is going a great deal further than encouragement in the ordinary sense of the word.
The right hon. Gentleman interrupted me earlier to say that there was a precedent for this sort of thing.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
Not an exact precedent, but a precedent in the shape of the General Medical Council. Well, it was not proposed in the Report of the Commission that the functions of the Press Council should include regulating admission into the profession of journalism. Nor, as I understand it, was there any suggestion at all, either in the Report of the Royal Commission or in the minds of those who drew up the Report, that there should be disciplinary powers given to this Council over those engaged in journalism.
§ Mr. Morrison
I think the hon. Gentleman is giving himself and the House needless trouble. The point which he was raising before, as I understand, was that it was a most difficult operation for Parliament to concern itself in setting up any body of this kind. While I agree that the analogy with the General Medical 1033 Council does not run so far as functions, and so on, nevertheless, it has shown that Parliament can set up a body concerned with professional standards.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I was making the point that it was difficult for those engaged in the business of journalism to get together and form a body for which there was no precedent. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that the point which I was making was that there had been necessarily some delay on the part of these people in arriving at an agreed solution among themselves. The right hon. Gentleman then interrupted me to say that there was an example in the case of the General Medical Council. I think that the right hon. Gentleman may have had it in mind that this proposed Council could in some way be analogous to the General Medical Council.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deny that he has in mind any question of individual disciplinary action being taken under the powers proposed in the Bill.
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), in an interjection, referred to Clause 5 of the Bill, which, he said, had been taken from the Dentists Bill. The Dentists Bill was a Bill designed to set up a Council with disciplinary powers. Of course, if we are seeking to obtain disciplinary powers, then, maybe, we need something like Clause 5 of this Bill.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas
The hon. Gentleman is putting forward a most extraordinary argument. The appointment of a Dental Council under the Dentists Bill was to set up a General Dental Council whose general concern it would be to promote a high standard of professional education and professional conduct among dentists. That is very much the same kind of object as we have in this case. The Schedule of that Bill contained precisely the same provision as is contained in this Clause. It is lifted word for word from the Dentists Bill and put in Clause 5 of this Bill. I do not see what point the hon. Gentleman is making. There is no question of disciplinary powers involved or anything of 1034 that sort, and he must know that perfectly well.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
The point I am making is that these words were used in the Dentists Bill in order to give the body mentioned in that Bill powers, including disciplinary powers.
§ Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a Second Reading, debate and not a Committee stage debate. I cannot have the debate conducted by a series of short interjections.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am not trying to score off the hon. and learned Gentleman.
What I want to know is what is in the mind of the Opposition, because both the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East have referred to cases where there are disciplinary power, involved. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland would not give this Bill one moment's support if he thought that anything in the nature of disciplinary powers were involved. This Clause, in fact, is a Clause which gives such powers.
The main purpose of the Press Council—and this, I think, will be agreed on both sides of the House—is to eliminate undesirable types of journalistic conduct. If a voluntary organisation is to be formed by agreement, then, of course, no statutory powers are required at all. The Council would agree what they wish to do, and they would, by virtue of their agreement, have such powers as they require. If the Press of the country as a whole is in favour of the establishment of this Council then this Bill is unnecessary, because the Press will succeed in the discussions now taking place and an agreement will be made finally. [An HON. MEMBER: "When?"]
I am assuming that the Press as a whole, or parts of it, are in agreement and desire to have a Press Council. The suggestion behind that interruption—indeed, it has been suggested on a number of occasions during this debate—is that all sections of the Press are not in favour of a Press Council. If that is so, it is pointless to force upon the Press a Council without giving that Council any power. It will have no effect at all.
1035 If we impose on the Press a Council which the Press are unwilling to operate, and we give the Council no powers to compel operation, the result will be a dead letter. There is no way of making a statutory council effective, unless we give the Council the necessary powers. Although it may be said by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who seconded the Bill, that in fact the only power which the Council will have will be one of publicity—and, of course, that does not need any action to be taken at all—the fact of the matter is that the powers which are proposed to be given must be greatly in excess of that power.
I am convinced that the powers given by Clause 5 (1) of the Bill are very wide indeed. Unlike the powers given in the original subsection there are no qualifying provisions to follow this particular subsection, and also, of course, it is in the body of the Bill and not in the Schedule, as in the case of the Dentists Bill. So the powers taken in that Clause are very wide.
I am not criticising the hon. Member who promoted this Bill, because to carry out the purpose he has in mind he could do nothing else. It is impossible to define powers which would be necessary to carry out the functions proposed in the Bill. That is what I am advised. We could do it by these very wide general words, but to seek to define the powers in any way so as to limit them is not possible. That being so, I suggest to the House that it is in a complete dilemma in trying to compel the Press to accept a Council if they do not wish to do so. I am sure that the right course to take is to withdraw this Bill, and to enable those concerned to discuss the matter together and to reach agreement.
After what has been said during the debate this afternoon. I think that no hon. Member need have any doubt that all sections of the Press will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the views expressed on all sides of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill will withdraw the Bill, but if he is not willing to do so I can only say that the Government take the view that it would not be possible to amend the Bill so as to limit the powers in any way which would be acceptable. In those circumstances, I recommend the House to reject the Bill.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Lewisham, South)
I am sorry that the Joint Under-Secretary of State has given the advice he has to the House. I should very much doubt whether my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Simmons) would be willing to withdraw the Bill, because I believe that the case for it is made already and will be made still more in the further debate which will no doubt take place.
The Bill does not propose Government action; it requires the industry to do what the Royal Commission recommended it to do, but it will be the industry itself which will do it under the Bill, and not the Government. The Joint Under-Secretary also indicated that, in his view, the proposed powers of the Press Council are too wide if Clause 5 is taken into account. In the first place, it is difficult to give specific and exhaustive definitions of the powers of a body of this sort, and, therefore, it is necessary to have a general Clause, for there would otherwise be proper complaint in newspaper circles that the body was being unduly circumscribed in its function. But I should have thought it is clear that the Bill would give no authority to the Council, even under Clause 5, for any disciplinary powers of powers of punishment. I cannot imagine that being so, and, if it were done, it would require the unanimous consent of the newspaper profession in order to get it through.
In that respect this is not a Measure like those which set up the councils for the medical and dental professions, but the argument which we put forward there is that they show that it is possible to set up a body to conduct a profession's own affairs. Surely nobody is going to fear that a body of this kind, which we ourselves propose should be dominated by newspaper interests, will interfere with the freedom of the Press or will discipline the Press by way of penal punishment, and so on. That would hardly be so with a body which, as proposed by my hon. Friend, is to be dominated by newspaper interests themselves.
Three schools of thought, or attitudes, among hon. Members have been expressed. There are those who favour the Bill. There are those who favour the 1037 Amendment, which, as was pointed out by the hon. Members who moved and seconded it, itself favours the establishment of a Press Council in principle, but they prefer that it should be done on a voluntary basis. To that extent their attitude is more satisfactory than that of the Joint Under-Secretary. It did not get that positive blessing from him.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I began my remarks by reading at some length the comments made by right hon. Friends of mine and saying that they represented the attitude of the Government and that they still represent the attitude of the Government.
§ Mr. Morrison
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I heard him make the quotation, but I did not get the latter point. However, if he says he did so, I accept it. The quotations were not exactly specific, but I interpret what Mr. Stanley and the present Home Secretary said at the time as being in favour of the principle of a Press Council. So we may take it now as the policy of Her Majesty's Government that they would welcome the industry's setting up such a Press Council and that, indeed, they associate themselves with the Resolution of the House of Commons of July, 1949, which was adopted without dissent. I am very glad that that should be so.
There is also the third school of thought represented by the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter). I do not know whether anybody else has said exactly the same thing. He is against the establishment of a Press Council in any case and in any circumstances.
I want to say how much we all enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill in moving the Bill and that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) in seconding it. Their speeches were admirable expositions, and explained the Bill adequately and properly. As this is a non-party day and we are all seeking to be impartial, I should also like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Ian Harvey) and the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), who moved and seconded the Amendment. They stated their point of view very fairly and without any kind of excessive partisanship, in which we all 1038 engage from time to time. We were glad to hear them.
If I refer to the professional standing of the hon. Member for Ashford, I know he will forgive me. In our local Lewisham newspaper, which is not Labour—it is nothing in particular—[Laughter]—I mean that it has no party line; it is a very good newspaper—he was reported under the headline, "Peterborough addresses local Conservatives about the Press." My personal view is that when any newspaper features are written by Members of Parliament, whether it be for the "Daily Telegraph" or the "New Statesman," commenting upon the House of Commons and other Members of Parliament, it would be best if the Members of Parliament were to sign their names so that we should know who is shooting at whom. But that is by the way.
There are these three approaches. I submit to the House, as has, indeed, frequently been submitted, that this is not a party political question. Certainly, it is a question upon which it is legitimate to have differences of opinion, but it is not a party political question. As to the approach which I believe we all ought to seek to make, first of all, taking it by and large, I would associate myself with the Royal Commission in saying that, if the British Press is not the best in the world, there is, at any rate, no better. I quite accept that as a whole and I accept the view that, as a whole, with very rare exceptions—so rare as for them to be negligible—there is no bribery and corruption in the practice of journalism in this country. Let us rejoice that that should be so.
As I said in an earlier debate to which attention has been drawn, one inevitably uses the term "the Press" when one is in fact referring to a whole series of different publications and newspapers. It is inevitable that one uses the general term when one should be specific. I might talk about the "popular Press" and the "quality Press," but I have a respected friend who is the editor of what I call "a popular newspaper" and he is most annoyed whenever I use the term "popular Press." One is therefore in a difficulty about the term to be used, and I merely ask to be excused if I make a slip.
1039 Here we have this great institution giving information, which is its primary function, and expressing opinions, which it is important that the Press should do. It is not for public authority and not for Government to interfere with the liberty of the Press or in any way to seek to control it. We as a nation can boast that, even under the stresses of war, including the Second World War, when we were subject to heavy enemy bombardment, there was no real censorship of the Press.
There were only two actual suppressions, one being of a printed newspaper and the other of a duplicated sheet. There were some warnings to others, but, as many may know, the warnings were meant kindly in order to save the publications from something worse. We got through the war not only without suppressions of any importance—the ones there were were of publications of extreme character—but we really got through without a Government censorship in effect, and what censorship there was the newspapers did for themselves with such advice and guidance as the Government could give them in the public interest. I say that the traditions of our country on the relationship between the Government and the Press are very fine traditions, and none of us here would wish them to be upset.
Nevertheless the public has an interest in the standards, well-being and general conduct of the Press as an institution, because it is a vital influence on us all and upon the home life of the country. So I say that the public is entitled to the service and assistance of a body which could examine, comment and report upon what it considered to be breaches of the good standards of journalism. That is all this Bill proposes; nothing else in any way.
In the Report of the Royal Commission there were perhaps two matters which were principally commented on. One was the practice which had gone on in some newspapers of the undue exploitation or investigation of what is called private grief. For example, if a death occurred it has been the case on rare occasions—on a certain number of occasions; I do not know whether it is rare or not—for a reporter to be sent to 1040 see the widow or the widower, as the case may be, and to bother them at a time when they ought not to be bothered at all. There was the case of Mrs. Donald Maclean, which I do not wish to develop, but which led to a lively argument between a daily newspaper and a Sunday newspaper, in which I thought the daily newspaper got needlessly bad tempered. I am not going to pass judgment on it—
§ Mr. Morrison
I shall not do so for the reason that I do not think it would be fair in the time at my disposal to pass judgment here on that newspaper, and it is not material to the case. I only say that it raises an issue of an ethical and moral character which it would have been useful and competent for a Press Council to investigate, and on which they would have reported fairly. It certainly would not be because of the absence of newspaper people from the Press Council if they did not give the facts and conclusions and judgment as to whether the newspaper was right or wrong.
§ Mr. Morrison
Yes—not for the purpose of rolling the newspaper in the mud. There is no pleasure in that, and anyone can do it by way of argument if he wants to. It would not be for the purpose of rolling the newspaper in the mud or hurting it, but for the purpose of gradually building up a standard of what newspapers should and should not do, and, as my hon. Friend says, to protect the reporter himself from having to carry out orders which probably were unpleasant to him.
It therefore seems to us that in this matter of private grief the question of standards is good. The private affairs of people are sometimes canvassed at length in a passionate belief on the part of some in newspaperland—I say some—that the private affairs of individuals and personal considerations about individuals somehow are "newsy" and exciting matters. It is a matter of taste, and that is not so serious as the other case, but it might well be a subject for consideration and report.
1041 The next criticism is about the mixture of news and views in reporting. This is not a political disease, it happens in all newspapers of the popular character. Undoubtedly there is a growing tendency, or there has been, to import opinions and views into what should be a straight news report. Directly that is done, the effect of straightness and accuracy in the news report is taken away. Sometimes headlines are not truly descriptive of the news story that follows. These are dangerous tendencies about which one ought to be careful.
Then there is the unhealthy sensationalism which takes place. The practices of a number of Sunday newspapers have been referred to from time to time. I do not want to over-stress the argument, and I do not wish the House to think that I am trying to build up a case that the British newspapers—any of them—are a terrible lot. I am not seeking to make such a case. I only say that there is sufficient of difficulty and imperfection to warrant the setting up of a fair-minded body predominantly consisting of newspaper men but presided over by an impartial chairman appointed by judicial officers or someone else who can be trusted to do the job. After that, there should be four lay persons appointed.
Why do we want the four lay persons and the impartial chairman? We want the public to have confidence in the body. We think that it should have a sound majority of newspaper people. That is right and, at the end of the day, it is better that the industry should discipline itself; but added confidence will be introduced if there is an impartial chairman with four lay members to represent the general public mind and outlook. We think that that proposition is not in itself unreasonable.
Therefore, I want everyone to have a sense of proportion about the alleged sins of the Press. We do not want to exaggerate them, but there is sufficient to cause concern from time to time, and it would be a good thing if there were such a tribunal as the one we suggest. It would not try the Press or discipline them, and it certainly would not instruct them. Nevertheless, it would pass judgment which would no doubt have an effect on those conducting the newspapers concerned, and other people, too.
1042 We had a Royal Commission, which reported. There were some mistakes in the headlines when the Report of the Royal Commission was dealt with in the Press. They misled the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs so much that he jumped in demanding a debate one afternoon when he had seen the headlines in the "Evening Standard." He found out afterwards that the position was not quite what the headline described, so even the Report of the Royal Commission caused difficulty. Possibly that would be explained by the rush.
However, the Royal Commission reported, and the House of Commons approved the Report nem. con. The House asked the newspaper people if they would be good enough to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission. It really will not do for anybody to assume that newspaperland has played ball with the House of Commons on this matter. There was a period of, I should think, at least 12 months—I speak from memory—during which no action at all was taken. I remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) put Questions to me at the time when I was Lord President of the Council, and I could not tell him what their attitude was. It was not good enough that a Royal Commission Report and a Resolution of the House carried nem. con. should be so ignored.
Since then there have been some discussions. The proposals that were first made were pretty terrible. They put the proprietors themselves in a very strong position and the working journalists in a very poor position. Therefore, in this business there has been some delay and evasion. That is the only reason why this Bill was brought in. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill would have preferred that, if possible, the newspapers themselves should set up the Press Council. If they had done that there would have been no Bill.
There is no intention under the Bill of Government control or disciplinary powers. The Bill merely requires the newspaper folk to do for themselves what the Royal Commission and the House of Commons asked them to do. At the time of the debate on the Royal Commission Report, I respectfully indicated 1043 that we might have to consider statutory powers to require this to be done but that we much preferred it to be done by voluntary action on the part of the Press.
I submit, therefore, that the argument that the Bill should be lost today or withdrawn is not a fair one. It is reasonable that the Bill should be brought in. It would have been wise if the newspaper proprietors could have stated what were their specific intentions at an earlier stage than this. If they are to be stated by an hon. Gentleman who is associated with the Newsprint Supply Company, we shall be glad to hear what he says, but at this late hour it is not too good, I do not know how specific he can be, and they ought to have said clearly where they were as we went along.
Let us have the Second Reading. Let the Bill go upstairs and be examined in Committee when all those points raised by the Joint Under-Secretary, which were really Committee points, can be fairly and properly examined. There will have to be a Report stage on the Floor of the House. All this will take weeks. We shall be well into the new year before we get to the point of the Third Reading. If in the meantime the newspapers have solved those problems and the Press Council is definitely established or about to be established, then we can consider the position on Third Reading.
Nothing would be lost in that way. But to reject the Bill would be unfortunate—because what is it tantamount to saying? We are in danger of saying that, although a Commission has recommended this, that and the other, and although the House has approved it nem. con., if the industry itself does not take action, there is nothing we are going to do about it. That seems to me to be futile and wrong. In all these circumstances there is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by the Second Reading of the Bill. Let it be examined in Committee and the situation can be considered again on the Floor of the House when we get to the Report and Third Reading stages. I hope that the Motion for the Second Reading will be carried.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)
I intervene for only a few moments in response to two diametrically opposite views which were expressed as to what I would obviously say was the legal position. One was expressed by the hon. Member for Cheetham (Mr. N. H. Lever) and the other by the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter). In those circumstances it is right that I should say something. I want to emphasise that I am speaking in this respect in no party sense, nor in any way as representing Her Majesty's Government. I am giving my view of what I believe to be the law.
It has been stated at least three times during this debate, and twice by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading, that the only sanction under this Bill as drafted is publicity. That, in my view, is most definitely not the case. In Clause 3 it is stated thatIn furtherance of its objects the Council shall take such action as it thinks fit"—Paragraph (d) must be divided into three separate parts which I will call 1, 2 and 3. This is (d) 1—by censuring undesirable types of journalistic conduct and by all other possible means to build up a code in accordance with the highest professional standards and"—Then comes (d) 2—in this connection to consider any complaints which it may receive about the conduct of the Press or of any persons towards the Press and"—Now comes (d) 3—to deal with these complaints in whatever manner may seem to it practical and appropriate;In Clause 5 (1) it says:Subject to the provisions of this Act"—which means nothing whatever, because there are no limitations—the Council shall have power to do anything which in its opinion is calculated to facilitate the proper discharge of its functions.I can only tell the House that, in my opinion, that means that the Council have power to do anything which, in their opinion, without any appeal to the court, is calculated to enable them to deal with those complaints in whatever manner may seem fit, practical and appropriate.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Is the hon. and learned Gentleman arguing that the Council would have power to suppress a newspaper when he says that they can do anything?
§ The Attorney-General
I am saying that is the effect of these words and that if that is not so, it is so grossly ambiguous that it ought never to be passed by this House of Commons. I am bound to say that the Bill as drafted is a constitutional abortion.
§ The Attorney-General
The right hon. Gentleman does not realise that it is possible for a lawyer to speak strongly without introducing political considerations. He finds it more difficult, I know, but that does not apply to me.
That is the view I express to the House, and I want just once more to emphasise that the wordsSubject to the provisions of this Actimport no limitations at all. The words are general, and, in particular, the words, "in its opinion" are extremely dangerous words. They are the same sort of words as were used in the famous case of 18B which excluded the jurisdiction of the court. Therefore, I ask the seconder of the Bill to consider the matter very seriously.
In my submission, it would be entirely wrong for the House to give a Second Reading to a Bill, even if a matter of that kind is uncertain, because we are deciding a principle when we give a Bill a Second Reading. If that is decided—the right hon. Gentleman knows this much better than I do—then when one gets to the Committee stage one would be told that the principle has already been decided, and that, therefore, the point cannot be argued.
§ Mr. Driberg
With great respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman's great legal knowledge, is it not the case that Clause 5 says:The Council shall have power to do anything which in its opinion is calculated to facilitate the proper discharge of its functions.The first of its functions is to safeguard the freedom of the Press—Clause 2—and, therefore, it obviously could not exercise a discipline such as the suppression of a newspaper.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Gentleman seems to be becoming even more ambiguous in the construction of this matter. I do not want to pursue the argument, but I say that we have here a Bill which, in my view, gives the widest possible powers. I believe that the statement made in "The Times" today, and which has been objected to, is correct. It says:The object of this Bill is stated to be the safeguarding of the freedom of the Press, but there are three points in it which, if it became law, might have the opposite effect.I think it might have been put even stronger, "would have the opposite effect."First, a statutory body, with far-reaching and vaguely defined powers, would be imposed on the Press. Secondly, this body would represent the Press 'on appropriate occasions' in its relations with the Government. Thirdly, the chairman and four other members out of a total of twenty-five would be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord President of the Court of Session …It then goes on to say:Such a machine is a potential instrument, half made, for robbing the Press of its freedom and for keeping it under official control by Westminster and WhitehallI can only say that, in my view, that is a perfectly accurate statement.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I do not think I have any interest to declare in this matter, although my connection with the Press is close enough, I imagine, to debar me from any hope of being appointed chairman of the Press Council should the Bill go through.
My connection with the Press has nothing to do with this particular matter, and though I said just now that I hoped to be able to give one or two facts and correct what I think were one or two inadvertent mis-statements in the course of the debate today, I really have no information other than the information that the right hon. Gentleman, or, I dare say, any Member of the House could have obtained by asking all the newspaper organisations that have been concerned in this matter.
Listening to the debate, it occurred to me how much better it would have been if this debate could have taken place on a Private Member's Motion instead of on a Private Member's Bill. If that had been the case the end of it 1047 would have been that we should have realised what a very large measure of agreement there is in the House about the objectives which we have in mind.
As it is, those of my hon. Friends and myself who put our names down to the Amendment cannot possibly give our support to this Bill for reasons which have been given already in the debate and one or two of which perhaps I may mention again. But, as has appeared from the debate, there is a very high degree of unanimity about the desirability of establishing a Press Council on voluntary lines.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) was the only dissentient, but I must confess from my knowledge of the newspaper organisations that there are certainly different degrees of enthusiasm about this matter. My experience is that the closer one gets to the really responsible and controlling elements in the newspaper organisations the greater the doubts about it seem to become.
I think there are three reasons for that. The first is that the particular object of the proposed Council is vague and indefinite. The Press has shown itself to be remarkably ably organised for the doing of any specific job that has to be done, for united action and for a very high degree of self-discipline. But this is something indefinite. The second reason is that there are considerable doubts about what this Council really could accomplish in fields other than those which are already covered by existing organisations. There is doubt whether hopes have not been raised and ideas put forward about what a Council could achieve which we who are perhaps closer to the practical work of newspapers wonder if it could achieve at all.
The third reason is perhaps the most important of all, and that is that the proposal of this Council, particularly as put forward in this Bill, does raise and has raised that fear of a danger to the freedom of the Press against which the newspapers always react so strongly. This, I submit, must be taken seriously because this is not the case of the fears of those newspapers which perhaps think that they may find themselves under the censure of such a Council if it is set up.
1048 We have that fear expressed in "The Times" this morning, and I should like to quote one or two words from "The Times" leading article which have not been quoted yet, because I think they explain what is behind the fear of the most responsible organs of the Press in this connection. "The Times" says:The erection of such an official barrier between the people and their newspapers would be a ruinous price to pay for the improvement which is undoubtedly necessary and generally desired, particularly by many journalists, in the standards of tastes in newspapers and periodicals.The essence of the matter is that it is the fear of something coming between the individual responsibility of the editor, be he the editor of "The Times" or any other journal, and the readers of the paper, some organisation which at some time may be used to come between the editor and the reader and so take away from both the freedom and the responsibility of the editor concerned. "The Times" goes on to say thatFundamentally, the issue is one of responsibility. Newspaper proprietors, editors, and all journalists have a responsibility to the public which must not be usurped, cannot be shared, and should not be weakened or obscured.It goes on to say that a Council voluntarily set up should have support but that the proposal for a compulsory Council is wholly objectionable.
It may be that these fears are exaggerated. I have had 25 years' service on "The Times," and I believe I know the spirit of that institution. I understand the extreme tenderness that exists in Printing House Square on any question of a possible interference with the doctrine of editorial responsibility, of which "The Times" was probably the creator, in the Press of this country. It may be exaggerated, but the point is that the fear is there. It is real and it cannot be overcome by the method that this Bill proposes.
The proposal of the compulsory imposition, by statute, of a Council is one that the Press will resist because of their fear of the ultimate danger to their own freedom. On the other hand, in spite of some doubts and hesitations which have been expressed in "The Times" leading article and in other quarters, we have reached the point today at which all the organisations of the newspaper Press in this country have 1049 arrived practically at the point of agreement upon a plan for a voluntary Council.
A good deal has been said not only by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), but by other speakers, about the long delay that has occurred while the Press organisations have been studying this matter. This is where I would like to give the House one or two facts which I have obtained by the simple process of asking for them of the organisations concerned. It is not true that the Press organisations have ignored the expressed wish of this House in the debate following the publication of the Royal Commission's Report. It may have been some little time before they actually got to work on preparing a scheme.
The initiative in this matter was taken by the Newspaper Proprietors' Association—the organisation representing the great national daily and Sunday Press. It appointed a committee. The committee prepared a scheme. This was submitted to the other proprietors' organisations and, finally, a draft was completed and was submitted to the seven Press organisations concerned in January, 1951. That is to say, the draft was ready and was submitted to the seven organisations within 18 months of the debate in the House. It may be a rather long time, but I do not think that the word "inordinate," which I think was used by the mover of the Motion, is really justified in that connection.
In the interval since then the process of attempting to obtain agreement among the seven organisations has been continuing. There are four organisations of proprietors and three of journalists. I understand that the point has been reached where agreement is very near. The only item, I am told, that is outstanding at the moment is the disagreement among two of the journalists' organisations about the relative representation as between editors and working journalists.
§ Mr. Simmons
Was this information obtained from the journalists themselves or from the newspaper proprietors?
§ Mr. Bishop
I am coming to a point which the hon. Member mentioned in his speech. I did not want to interrupt him at the time, but he said, basing himself 1050 upon a quotation from one of the trade papers, that there has been no meeting of these organisations since last July.
The paper concerned may not have been aware that there has been a meeting quite recently following that July meeting, at which the reply of the journalists' organisations to the revised proposals that were put forward to them was considered. It is quite clear from the report of that meeting that there was quoted a letter from the N.U.J. giving its reply to those proposals. There is complete agreement by the N.U.J. on the proposal as between the proprietors' representatives and journalists' representatives and the only point of disagreement referred to in that letter is the point as between the two journalists' organisations.
I do not want anything I say to have the effect of exacerbating a difficulty which we hope is very near solution. My belief is that the plan is near completion. Contrary to the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South. I believe that if this Bill receives a Second Reading it will not help, but will do harm to the prospect of that voluntary agreement being carried out.
There is one question about which I wish to say a word. It might be put in this way: will the voluntary scheme, when it is produced, be regarded by this House as an adequate scheme for the purpose? In that connection, the main issue which arises is the question of the lay members and, particularly, of the independent chairman, whose qualification is that he has to be someone right outside the newspaper world. All I can say on that point is that my information is that six out of the seven Press organisations were wholly opposed to the idea of having lay members on this Council.
In the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press there is a considerable measure of confusion on the subject of lay members. One chapter occupied a great many pages dealing with that General Council of the Press and deals first with the need for such an organisation. It goes on to deal with all the various things which it might do and how it should do them, and winds up with recommendations as to what the constitution of the Council should be. What I wish to point out to hon. Members who 1051 read the chapter carefully is that throughout the whole of the major part dealing with the tasks the Council will have to perform and how it should perform them there is not one word nor hint of the reason why a lay member should be appointed or what he could do which would be helpful.
The emphasis is entirely the other way round. If I take what I suppose is the most dramatic example which was mentioned by the right hon. Member in his speech, the question of intrusions on privacy, that is probably the matter which has caused more complaint about the activities of some newspapers and newspapermen than anything else. After dealing at some length with this subject and saying why they do not recommend legislation, and so on, the Royal Commission referred to the resolutions of proprietors' and journalists' organisations passed on this subject. They go on to say:We consider that it is for the profession itself to make this venture effective.What they mean by the profession is made very clear in another paragraph, where they talk about the responsibility of the newspaperbeing shared among all those who serve and shape the newspaper's personality, whether they are individual proprietors, directors, managers, or working journalists.They go on to say:We should like to see all those who share this responsibility regard themselves as members of a single profession.Throughout the whole of the chapter, the emphasis all the time is upon the fact that the things they desire to have done can be done only by the action of the profession itself. Nowhere is there a reference to the desirability of a lay member being added until we come to the end and to the brief paragraph recommending what the constitution should be.
The suggestion that there should be a lay chairman seems to me an extraordinary proposal. Among the objects of this Council is to represent the Press in its relations with the Government and with international bodies—and here we have a proposal that the Press is to be represented by a man whose only qualification is that he knows nothing at all about it. Is the Press so poor in distinguished men who have spent their 1052 lives in Fleet Street, and many of whom have also great experience in public work of many kinds?
What I have been expressing is my own opinion. I do not know, and have no means of knowing, what the final proposal of the Press organisations may be. I ask the House to think well on this subject before giving the Bill a Second Reading. Personally, I regret very much that it looks as though a Division is about to take place on party lines, although I do not believe they are pure party lines, because we are all free to vote and speak according to our own opinions.
My own view is that if the Press organisations are left alone a little longer they will produce a satisfactory scheme—and I believe that is what everyone in the House wants them to do; indeed, the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South almost said that if there were an assurance that that would happen, there would be no need for the Bill.
In my opinion, the Bill is not only bad in itself but bad because it will obstruct and stand in the way of the agreement which is so near to completion. I therefore urge the House not to attempt to force the issue by giving the Bill a Second Reading but to accept the Amendment, which urges the Press to go ahead with the job, which it is their job to do and which I believe they can do, with the added help and stimulus of the debate which we have had today.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
I am rising only because I differ, I regret to say, from the Attorney-General in the view which he takes on Clause 5—and I shall be brief. This is a difference between us as lawyers, and I trust we shall be able to deal with it objectively.
The purpose of Clause 5, as I see it, is merely to give the corporation life. A corporation is a creature of a statute; it has only the power which the statute gives it, and the object of Clause 5 is to give it life. It is only giving power to the corporation and does not give the corporation power over others.
In fact, the provision is lifted from the Dentists Bill, and from that part of the Dentists Bill which deals with the Dental Council generally. It did not 1053 come within the disciplinary part of the Bill, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State seemed to suggest. In the disciplinary part of that Bill the powers were very clearly, accurately and precisely defined in detail. This provision comes from the general part of the Bill, which had the object merely of giving the Dental Council life, as it is giving this Council an existence which it would not have, and the power to act as an individual which it would not have, were it not for such a Clause as Clause 5.
There are just two short observations I would make on that. The first is not a legal one, but a practical one. Here, of course, the vast majority of people on the Council—the enormous, preponderating majority—would be Press members themselves.
The second point is a political one, and it is that should there be any doubt at all about the operation of Clause 5. then clearly it is a matter to be dealt with in Committee. The purpose which we have in mind, and the only purpose which we have in mind, in Clause 5 is precisely the same as in the Dentists Bill, and that is, in this case, to give to the Press Council just the powers, and no more than the powers, they would have if it were set up voluntarily.
The whole concept of the Bill and the whole object of the drafting of the Bill has been to set up by statute a Council which would be precisely the same as if it were set up voluntarily. Any difficulties, I am sure, on this matter would be drafting difficulties, and entirely matters to be dealt with in Committee. So I hope we shall not hear any more of the enormity and iniquity of any provision which is included in this Bill. The matter can easily be disposed of in Committee.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
Practically every Member who has spoken in this debate has been at some pains to explain his position. I think I am probably speaking from the purest position of all, because not only have I no connection with the Press, but on the famous occasion of the debate on whether a Royal Commission should be set up I was not then convinced of the need for a Royal Commission and abstained. I remember the occasion particularly well because it was notable 1054 for some mass action on the part of the National Liberals, who, on that particular vote, all abstained as a body.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I remember that occasion, and I hope that perhaps they will do the same thing again.
I think that there is general acceptance in the House of the conclusions of the Royal Commission both with regard to the purpose of the Press and with regard to what, in broad terms, ought to be done about it. There is a certain amount of disagreement from some of our more individualistic Members, like the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter), who is so individualistic that he treated the House to a large number of totally inaccurate facts.
I think, for example, he said that in America there was no Press Council, and despite that fact the "New York Times" had the largest number of readers. Well, the "New York Times" is far down the list. The "Daily News" comes first, and then the "World Telegram," the journal "American," the "Mirror," the "New York Times"; and only the "Herald Tribune" is below the "New York Times" in circulation. Perhaps, the hon. Member was reading his notes upside down. He may have been following some editorial hunch.
However, by and large this has been an amiable debate, and I think that most hon. Members feel that we have had a fair discussion. There has been one unfortunate incident, and I must refer to it. I think all of us were taken aback by the unseemly outburst of the Attorney-General, and I should like to raise one particular point. I do not claim to be a lawyer or to cross swords with him in a legal argument for we know there is already a legal dispute, but he did say categorically that he agreed with the statement in "The Times" that this Bill is a professional instrument for getting the Press under official control by Westminster and Whitehall.
I should like to know, as the Bill merely provides for the setting up of a Press Council in which there is no organic link between the Press Council or the Government or Parliament, how he conceivably can think that that statement is true. If he was giving legal 1055 advice to the House, which he told us he was doing, we should like to know whether he still stands by that particular piece of advice.
§ The Attorney-General
I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was referring to a statement in the Bill that this body would represent the Press on appropriate occasions in relation to the Government, and if, as provided, it is the exclusive means of communication with the Government, I personally agree with what one of my hon. Friends said a little earlier, that there was precisely that potential danger.
I am particularly anxious to add this. If I said anything which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) considered to be insulting or in any way unpleasant, I wish unreservedly to withdraw it, but if I said anything which the House would think objectionable, I was provoked into doing so by what I understood to be the allegation that I altered my legal opinion in accordance with political views, and I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman said that.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
What I said was this to the best of my recollection, and I say it again and I complain. The hon. and learned Gentleman started by saying that he was not approaching this as a politician, nor in a partisan spirit, but purely as a lawyer, as a Law Officer of the Crown—a very high and honourable position, and a great position at the Bar as Attorney-General. That was the way in which he said he was approaching it.
He then went on to make observations that I think were questionable, possibly bad law—though it is not for me to argue that; my hon. and learned Friend has argued that. I think he went on to speak as a politician. Now, I have no objection at all to the Attorney-General speaking as a politician if he wishes to, but he really should not in that case start off as if he were sitting on the bench of the High Court of Justice.
§ Mr. Shackleton rose—1056
§ Mr. Shackleton
I did give way quite a little bit. My right hon. Friend has taken great advantage of me, and I shall be delighted to allow the learned Attorney-General to give a further explanation, but I have not much time. We realise that there was a certain amount of bad temper, which was explicable in the circumstances, and certainly we would not wish to pursue it further. However, I did want to make that particular point, because broadly speaking this debate has been conducted in very friendly terms indeed.
One point is of great importance at this moment, and once again it concerns the purpose of the Press. We know that the Royal Commission did pay a great deal of attention to the conduct of the Press in a number of directions, and I think it is worth examining whether, since the Royal Commission has reported, some of the objectionable tendencies referred to in that Report have continued. I want to make it clear that I, personally, have no war with the Press; I have not been sufficiently noticed, I am glad to say, for them to say very rude things about me.
Indeed, in my own constituency—since there has been a good deal of talk about provincial newspapers—there is the "Lancashire Evening Post," which at elections and on political occasions reports the speeches of all sides very fairly. But I was a little surprised, at a meeting not so long ago when I was asked a question by a member of the audience, who asked whether I approved of the fact that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had accepted an earldom. Having some familiarity with the way the news is presented in this particular journal, I asked him where he got the information from, and he said he got it from the main news column on the front page of the local paper.
Here was an item which was pure comment and speculation, but was none the less presented in a form which, by and large, the ordinary public would take to be news, and this is a matter which continues. Further publicity must be given with a view to putting it right and preventing the misleading of the public in this sort of way.
Mention has also been made of a number of abuses that have taken place recently. I do not wish to dwell on the 1057 case of Mrs. Maclean. I would remind the House that there was one particularly disgraceful headline in which one of my right hon. Friends had his name linked with that of a convicted traitor in the headlines of an evening paper—something which I am sure all hon. Members would feel was so objectionable that some public statement by a responsible body like the Press Council might suitably have been made. However, I think there is agreement amongst most hon. Members that a Press Council is desirable, and in the short time left I should like to deal with some of the main points which appear to divide us.
The first and most important one is the question of the statutory principle, and whether or not a Press Council should be set up by statute. The Joint Under-Secretary got himself rather badly tangled up when trying to prove that because a statute was employed to set up the Dentists Council, which was a more difficult thing to do, therefore it should not be employed for the Press Council. I was quite unable to follow his argument, and I hope that he has worked out in his mind what in fact he intended to say: but certainly the House was somewhat confused when he had finished.
I cannot see what is the objection to setting up something which is relatively more simple by statute, when we have set up, as the House has set up in the past, bodies like the General Medical Council. It is, I think, rather misleading to suggest that the Royal Commission were in fact in all circumstances opposed to the statutory method of establishing a Press Council. In fact the words were:Several of us believe that the Council would not be effective unless it were launched by legislation and endowed with statutory powers.A number of arguments, and good arguments, have been put forward as to how the Council would be able to function more efficiently and be free of certain disadvantages if, in fact, it were set up by statute. The Royal Commission went on to say:We hope therefore that the Press will take the earliest opportunity of establishing an institution …The earliest opportunity is not three and a half years after the publication of the Report. I think that the Royal Commission on the Press have now probably learned quite a lot about the Press since 1058 they published their Report. We know that Sir George Waters wrote a letter to "The Times" about the way in which the Press handled the Report of the Royal Commission. I think that there is no justification for saying that in the present circumstances, after this long delay, the Royal Commission would automatically be opposed to the employment of the statutory method of setting up a Press Council.
Our attitude, and the attitude of the sponsors of the Bill, is this. We believe that it is greatly in the public interest that a Press Council should be set up as soon as possible. We are serious in our intentions in bringing this Bill forward in the hope that the House will give it a Second Reading and that it will go to Committee where we can then discuss many of the Committee points which have been raised.
At the same time, it has been made clear that it is still open for the Press today, after this long delay, to go on and get the negotiations finished. But we are concerned that, certainly in one important respect, it appears that the negotiators are not going to carry out the advice of the Royal Commission, as in fact the House expressed its wish that they should, and that is on the subject of the lay members of the Press Council.
Here again, there are ample analogies and ample arguments from industry and from other bodies for putting lay members on to the Press Council. Indeed, I have a suspicion that the Press Council could have been set up under the Industrial Organisation and Development Act which makes provision for precisely this sort of body. There it is laid down, thatother persons, being persons as to whom the Board or Minister concerned is satisfied that they have no such financial or industrial interest as is likely to affect them in the discharge of their functions as members of the council.That is what I believe the House wants with regard to lay members on the Press Council, and I hope that one of the consequences of giving this Bill a Second Reading today will be the direct encouragement, indeed, a rather stronger encouragement, to the negotiators who are at the moment in the process of trying to set up a Press Council that it is strongly regarded in the public interests that there should be lay members on this Council.
1059 There is, of course, the difficulty that arises with regard to the appointment of the lay members. The sponsors of the Bill would not necessarily stand by the provisions in the Schedule for appointment by the Lord Chief Justice of England and the Lord President of the Court of Session of Scotland. I realise we are in some difficulty in finding a suitable appointing body. I myself would have no objection to the Crown making the appointment. I believe that, by and large, as with the B.B.C. and other such bodies, the Government of the day, with a vigilant Opposition, will do the right thing. Surely there are plenty of impartial people who could be found to make the appointments. Reference has been made to the Liberal Chief Whip and to the position that he has taken up. One function which the Liberal Party might discharge is the appointment of the lay members of the Press Council. There have been a number of other points which are primarily Committee points. However, I realise that there is a serious disagreement about the effect of Clause 5. I want to say on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill that, whoever may be right, whether it is the Attorney-General or my right hon. Friend, the sponsors would be prepared to accept Amendments to obviate the dangers which the Attorney-General and others have seen in the Bill as it stands. I assure the House that there is no hidden desire, such as the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) suggested, to weaken the freedom of the Press.
I say most sincerely that we feel very strongly—I am sure there are hon. Members opposite who also feel very strongly—that a Press Council is long overdue. We know that it has been argued that
§ negotiations are going ahead satisfactorily and that they should be completed shortly. I do not believe that giving the Bill a Second Reading today can possibly hold up or damage those negotiations. It is an entirely false argument. Indeed, we have said that, even now, if the Press will set up a Press Council broadly on the lines which have been recommended by the Royal Commission, the sponsors of the Bill are prepared to withdraw the Bill at some stage in Committee.
§ However, we certainly believe that when the Press have completed their negotiations they may find it for their convenience to ask the Government to introduce a Bill to embody in statutory form the agreement which has been reached. I am satisfied that a Press Council will be very much stronger if it is in statutory form.
§ In conclusion, I merely beg hon. Members in all parts of the House to look at the matter in the non-partisan way in which they have been examining it and to give a clear indication to the Press that a Press Council is needed urgently and that in the meanwhile we shall continue to carry out the preliminary steps which are necessary for setting up a Council. I hope that some hon. Members opposite who I know support the proposal will vote for it.
§ Mr. Simmons rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 116 Noes, 124.1061
|Division No. 26.]||AYES||[4.0 p.m.|
|Acland, Sir Richard||Champion, A. J.||Fienburgh, W.|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Chapman, W. D.||Foot, M. M.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Chetwynd, G. R.||Freeman, John (Watford)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Collick, P. H.||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.|
|Baird, J.||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Gooch, E. G.|
|Benn, Wedgwood||Crosland, C. A. R.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.|
|Benson, G.||Crossman, R. H. S.||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)|
|Beswick, F.||Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)|
|Bing, G. H. C.||Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.)||Hamilton, W. W.|
|Blackburn, F.||Deer, G.||Hargreaves, A.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Delargy, H. J.||Hastings, S.|
|Bowden, H. W.||Dodds, N. N.||Herbison, Miss M.|
|Bowles, F. G.||Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Holman, P.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Edelman, M.||Holt, A. F.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Edwards, John (Brighouse)||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)|
|Burton, Miss F. E.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Field, W. J.||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)|
|Irving, W. J. (Wood Green)||Nally, W.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Johnson, James (Rugby)||Pannell, Charles||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Pargiter, G. A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Parker, J.||Webb, Rt. Hon. M. (Bradford, C.)|
|Kenyon, C.||Plummer, Sir Leslie||Weitzman, D.|
|King, Dr. H. M.||Popplewell, E.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Proctor, W. T.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Reid, Thomas (Swindon)||West, D. G.|
|Lewis, Arthur||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Lipton, Lt.-Col. M.||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|MacColl, J. E.||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|McLeavy, F.||Ross, William||Willey, F. T.|
|Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Shackleton, E. A. A.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Mellish, R. J.||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.||Wyatt W. L.|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Yates, V. F.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B. W.||Smith, Norman (Nottingham, S.)||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Morley, R.||Snow, J. W.|
|Morrison, Rt. Hon H. (Lewisham, S.)||Sorensen, R. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Moyle, A.||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)||Mr. Simmons and Mr. Grimond.|
|Mulley, F. W.||Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Fyfe, Rt. Hon. Sir David Maxwell||Nield, Basil (Chester)|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Gomme-Duncan, Col. A.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Gough, C. F. H.||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.|
|Assheton, Rt. Hon. R. (Blackburn, W.)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfield)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Baxter, A. B.||Harvie-Wall, Sir George||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)||Heald, Sir Lionel||Raikes, H. V.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Heath, Edward||Rayner, Brig. R.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Holmes, Sir Stanley (Harwich)||Redmayne, M.|
|Black, C. W.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Remnant, Hon. P.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Hurd, A. R.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, J. A.||Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Robertson, Sir David|
|Braine, B. R.||Hyde, Lt.-Col. H. M.||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Russell, R. S.|
|Brooke, Henry (Hampstead)||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Ryder, Capt. R. E. D.|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Kerr, H. W. (Cambridge)||Salter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Buchan-Hepburn, Rt. Hon. P. G. T[...].||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Smiles, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Legh, P. R. (Petersfield)||Smithers, Sir Waldron (Orpington)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Lindsay, Martin||Stevens, G. P.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Llewellyn, D. T.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Channon, H.||Lloyd, Maj. Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Longden, Gilbert||Storey, S.|
|Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford)||Teeling, W.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||McAdden, S. J.||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Crouch, R. F.||McCallum, Major D.||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Mackeson, Brig. H. R.||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Darling, Sir William (Edinburgh, S.)||Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (Marylebone)|
|Dodds-Parker, A. D.||Macpherson, Maj. Niall (Dumfries)||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Donner, P. W.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||White, Baker (Canterbury)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm||Marshall, Douglas (Bodmin)||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Drewe, G.||Marshall, Sir Sidney (Sutton)||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. D. M.||Maude, Angus||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Finlay, Graeme||Maudling, R.||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Fisher, Nigel||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr, S. L. C.||Wills, G.|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||Medlicott, Brig. F.|
|Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Mellor, Sir John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Foster, John||Mott-Radclyffe, C. E.||Mr. Ian Harvey and Mr. Deedes.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ It being after Four o'Clock the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.