HC Deb 09 June 1959 vol 606 cc815-7

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to nationalise The Times newspaper. I hope that neither side of the House will be alarmed at the Title of the Bill. There is a very respectable precedent for demanding to nationalise The Times. In 1915 the proposal was made by Lord Rosebery, and it had the very strong support of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who states in his book, "The World Crisis": On agreeing to take office in the first Coalition I pressed the suggestion on Mr. Asquith to take over The Times, as it would have greatly strengthened the Administration. I notice that there is absolutely no reference to compensation. I have a very illustrious precedent.

I do not propose to nationalise or in any way to limit the freedom of all the Press. The Bill does not affect other newspapers; it is a Bill to give greater freedom to The Times under new management; to revitalise the newspaper, and to make it respectable and reliable.

If the version of the situation concerning the Foreign Secretary which the Prime Minister has just presented to the House is correct, The Times has been misleading this country and the whole world. I notice that the right hon. Member for Woodford has now entered the Chamber. I am quite sure that he has come to give me his moral support. My proposal, briefly, is that The Times should become the property of the nation, and that it should be run by a corporation something like the British Broadcasting Corporation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Right hon. Gentlemen opposite say "No" already. That is the first split in the Conservative Party. Only last week we were told by an eminent leader of that party: Whether we favour one system of broadcasting rather than another, I am quite certain that this country has probably the best broadcasting system in the world. The B.B.C. is nationalised. The testimonial is from Lord Hailsham.

I suggest that my Bill is a reasonable one. Under the present situation the House is under a hopeless handicap. How often have we heard Prime Ministers and Leaders of the House quote The Times in support of their arguments in the past? That is now impossible. Not only is The Times out of joint; it is out of action. I do not think that the Home Secretary will quote it between now and the General Election; if he does, it is quite possible that the Prime Minister will take him gently by the arm, in a paternal manner and in a paternal grip, lead him to one side and speak to him from the heart.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

What heart?

Mr. Hughes

He will probably say that the Home Secretary must know—just as the Home Office and the Foreign Office know—that "in these troubled times enough is enough".

I submit that The Times has to a large extent been discredited by the Prime Minister. We need a newspaper that we can quote. We need a newspaper that we can agree is informed, and whose news is beyond question—especially the foreign news, because the Prime Minister has recently been in Moscow and our people are entitled to have the fullest possible news of what he said there. We rely upon The Times to give us that news, but, unfortunately, it censors the speeches of the Prime Minister. I looked in vain in that newspaper for a report of the very important and historic speech which the Prime Minister delivered at the British Embassy in Moscow when, addressing Mr. Khrushchev, he said: This is a truly constructive life's work which you have undertaken. The future before the Soviet people is one of expanding horizons. Across the steppes glows the furnace of industry beckoning to a promised land. This is no mirage which you see before you. It is sober reality. The rate and quality of your progress are indeed extraordinary and so far as I know unparalleled in history. Why did The Times suppress that? I submit that we should know exactly what the Prime Minister says, and I think that I am doing my duty in seeking to bring in a Bill providing that a newspaper which does not do justice to the Prime Minister on these historic occasions should be transferred to public ownership.

As for home affairs, in the columns of The Times we have recently had protests from the Bishop of London and the Dean of Westminster. They protested very strongly, on 29th June, that it had suppressed news of a very crowded meeting held in the Albert Hall under the auspices of different Christian organisations. There was not a word of that meeting in The Times, although a few days before it had published eight inches of a report of a scruffy little Fascist meeting in Trafalgar Square. I am not an enthusiast for bishops, but surely they have a right to protest when they are completely ignored in this way. They say that the newspaper's explanation was that Christianity is not news. If the Bishops had held a meeting in the Albert Hall to repeal the Ten Commandments I suppose that The Times would have given it a page. Here we have signs that public confidence in what is supposed to be a great national vehicle of opinion has been destroyed, and I suggest that this Bill contains the remedy.

There is an illusion that The Times is really a national institution because it has, in some kind of advisory capacity or advisory committee, the Lord Chief Justice, the Governor of the Bank of England, the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, the President of the Royal Society, and the Warden of All Souls. But this is only to prevent The Times from getting into undesirable hands, into irresponsible hands. I submit that at present The Times is in irresponsible hands, and that the time has come when it is a reasonable proposition for this House to take it over and give it a reputation similar to that of the B.B.C.

I could say a good deal more. I am prepared to be very conciliatory during the Committee stage of this Bill, and to accept any reasonable Amendments on Report stage; but I suggest that I have said enough to commend this proposal to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Emrys Hughes, Mr. M. K. MacMillan, Mr. Herbert Butler, and Mr. George Wigg.