HC Deb 12 February 1976 vol 905 cc614-5
Q5. Mr. Lawson

asked the Prime Minister when he expects to receive the final report of the Royal Commission on the Press.

The Prime Minister

As I informed the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr. Blaker) on 5th February, the date of the final report is a matter for the Royal Commission, but I am sure it fully appreciates the need for urgency on reporting on all the issues referred to it. The Royal Commission is aiming to submit its interim report on the immediate problems facing national newspapers by the end of this month.

Mr. Lawson

Despite the habit of the Prime Minister and his entourage of scattering writs like confetti, and whatever may be the state of those writs, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to present his own evidence to the Royal Commission before it reports? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware—[Interruption.] Three months ago the right hon. Gentleman told the House that he expected—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I could not even hear the question. Has the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) asked his question?

Mr. Lawson

I wanted to ask the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, whether he is aware that three months ago he told the House that he expected to present his evidence to the Royal Commission in the very near future. If a week is a long time in politics, how soon is the very near future?

The Prime Minister

I shall treat the opening words of the hon. Gentleman with the contempt with which his questions are increasingly deserving. I have made it clear that while civil proceedings are continuing—I hope to see them dealt with very quickly, one way or the other—it would be utterly wrong for me to submit my evidence. I intend to publish the evidence as soon as I present it to the Royal Commission. There is no question—I am quite clear about this—of any of the present delay in any way deferring or holding up the work of the Royal Commission, or the presentation of its final report. I understand the sensitivity of the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends about the subject matter that he has raised.

Mr. Hooley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a free Press is rather like a sewer, in that it is essential to public health but is bound to stink?

The Prime Minister

I do not accept that a free Press is bound to stink. In answer to a question about the Press on Tuesday I made a comment about a recent matter, by which I stand, but it does not follow that every newspaper is behaving in the way that I was condemning. There is wide support from my right hon. and hon. Friends, and from a number of decent Opposition Members, of whom there are quite a few, for what I said on Tuesday.

Mr. Charles Morrison

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that television programmes, involving senior journalists, which purport to be, and which probably are, documentaries of events and discussions which have gone on in Cabinet, are a matter of concern and interest which should be referred to the Royal Commission?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Royal Commission is concerning itself with the Press and not with broadcasting. The Annan Committee is inquiring into broadcasting. I did not see the programme that I think the hon. Gentleman has in mind, but from what I am told it involved a number of very distinguished actors, who are not members of Equity, and who wrote their own scripts. I am told that neither the acting nor the scripts were very good.