HC Deb 11 March 1971 vol 813 cc579-81
Q1. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied with the co-ordination between the Secretary of State for Employment, the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, and the Law Officers, in the formulation of his Administration's policies with regard to the treatment of industrial disputes by the mass media.

Q2. Mr. Eadie

asked the Prime Minister if he will initiate discussions with the Secretary of State for Employment, the Law Officers and representatives of the Press, radio and television concerning the reporting of industrial disputes by the mass media.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

The Government are imposing no constraints on the reporting of industrial disputes by the mass media. No need for discussions therefore arises.

Mr. Pardoe

With respect to the Prime Minister, is he not aware that the freedom of the Press and of other media is indeed gravely endangered by Clause 85 of the Industrial Relations Bill? Does he not realise that the replies given on 16th February to Liberal and other Amendments during the Committee stage by the Solicitor-General did nothing to remove the fears of those who believe that the media are threatened? Will he urge his right hon. Friend either to amend or to withdraw Clause 85 on Report?

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the debate which took place on Clause 85, and very careful consideration has been given to the arguments which were adduced during that debate. I am advised that if there is incitement to break a contract—if it can be proven to be incitement—by the use of one of the mass media in any field, then there is a responsibility on the individual or journal which does it and there should be no difference when there is incitement, if it can be proven, to break a contract in the industrial sphere.

Mr. Gorst

Concerning Question No.2, would my right hon. Friend agree that the grossly irresponsible interviewing on B.B.C. television the other night, when anonymous I.R.A. gunmen were interviewed, would be a more appropriate subject for the Law Officers to be discussing with the B.B.C. with a view to the discontinuation of this practice, particularly at a time when one would have expected the B.B.C. to be turning Queen's Evidence?

The Prime Minister

This is a Question concerned with industrial affairs. Although I did not see the telecast, I have heard much criticism of it. It is a matter which rests on the B.B.C., or, in the case of any independent programme company, on the I.T.A. They have boards of governors and advisory councils. In my view, the responsibility must rest there, and it is not a case in which the Government should intervene.

Mr. John D. Grant

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House could not possibly accept his interpretation of the situation? Is he aware, for example, that many of us feel that his reply suggests an arrogant disregard for the very grave disquiet which is felt by many working journalists in this sphere? Will he therefore reconsider his answer and consider initiating the kind of talks that have been suggested?

The Prime Minister

I have already told the House that careful consideration is being given to this matter by my right hon. Friends. I have gone into it myself thoroughly. The adjectives used by the hon. Gentleman are quite unjustified. This is a matter on which there could perhaps be two legal opinions; at any rate the Government have taken the best advice open to them.