HC Deb 17 November 1960 vol 630 cc545-8
34 and 51. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission into the closing of newspapers;

(2) if he will institute a public inquiry into the closing of newspapers.

33. Mr. A. Lewis

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the concern felt by newspaper proprietors, readers, employees and their trades unions at the growing monopolistic tendencies within the industry, accentuated by the recent take-over of the News Chronicle and the Star; and whether, as a means of securing a speedy report, he will move to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the newspaper industry.

35. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, in view of the damage done to the public interest by the further concentration of newspaper ownership, as exemplified in the closure of the News Chronicle, the Star, and the Empire News, he will consider recommending the setting-up of a Royal Commission to investigate the changes that have taken place since the last Royal Commission on the Press reported in 1949, including the association of newspaper groups with commercial television.

49. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will advise the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into all aspects of the Press, with particular reference to the growth of monopolistic control.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I would refer the hon. Members to the Answer which I gave to Questions by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) on 27th October and 10th November.

Mr. Allaun

While it may be all right that there are three or four combines which control our margarine supplies, is it not far more serious that there should be only two or three wealthy groups controlling our news supply and that there are three large groups which now account for three-quarters of our daily circulation of newspapers? Ought not the Home Secretary to feel deeply concerned, since our democracy could be undermined? Can he stand aside and do nothing?

Mr. Butler

I share the regret that expression of opinion should not be as many-sided as possible, and with what, I am sure, we all agree. But when it comes to examining what to do, and I was asked to ask my right hon. Friend to recommend to Her Majesty the setting up of a further Royal Commission, then I must say that such a Royal Commission Report would not find anything that could be done that was not covered by the Report of the Royal Commission on the Press, and I am afraid that that did not amount to a very great deal. Secondly, are the Government or are they not to interfere in the sphere of the Press? I should have thought that hon. Members would greet with horror any suggestion that the Government should interfere in that sphere, and therefore we are left with a difficult situation in which the only remedy is the initiative and drive of the enterprises concerned.

Mr. Donnelly

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered another aspect of the News Chronicle closure, which is that that newspaper was granted a television licence on the basis that it was a newspaper? Will he consult the Postmaster-General about whether its continued holding of its licence is appropriate since it has ceased to be a newspaper?

Mr. Butler

I will certainly consult my right hon. Friend, but if I am to give a considered answer, I am sure that the House would wish me to enter the consultation first, and perhaps a Question can be put down to be answered separately.

Mr. Grimond

Will the right hon. Gentleman consult himself in his other capacity as Leader of the House on whether there might not be a need for an adequate discussion of a Private Member's Motion which, if not already on the Order Paper, soon will be, so that we may have a full debate on the future of the Press?

Mr. Butler

An airing of this subject would certainly be to the public advantage. I cannot interfere with private Member's time, but between us we can examine the possibilities.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider giving us some Government time, since this is an important matter and——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I allowed the question of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), but we have a business question after Question Time and we should not use up Question Time on matters of business.

Mr. Hector Hughes

In view of the acceleration towards a monopoly in the Press, is the Home Secretary in a position to say when Britain will be reduced to one newspaper called "Big Brother"?

Mr. Butler

Not unless the hon. and learned Member would wish to be the editor of such a paper.

Mr. Wyatt

On a point of order. The Home Secretary said that he would like to see a Question on the Order Paper concerning the ownership by the Daily News Limited of its holding in the Tyne-Tees television station, but no such Question would be admissible, unles you rule otherwise, Mr. Speaker, since the Table Office will not accept Questions which relate to the authority of the I.T.A. in this matter.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot rule upon a Question until I see it.

Mr. Gordon Walker

May I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman arising out of that? Will he undertake to make a statement to the House when he has had discussions with the Postmaster-General, in case a Question is not in order?

Mr. Butler

It would be my desire to be at the service of the House and certainly to examine every possibility of satisfying the questions put to me by hon. Members.